Wine, Beer & Spirits
Wine has a historical and mythological dimension in Greece. Even from studying Bacchic poetry one may notice a ceremonial consumption of wine. Men in ancient Greece used to soak their bread in wine every morning and that was the only time of day during which they could drink wine undiluted. Other than that wine was always consumed diluted with water, especially during symposiums (gatherings which were a basic social institution of ancient Greece) thus allowing participants to have inspiring conversations avoiding drunkenness, something condemned since the Homeric period. Wine was the symbol of the God Dionysos and was therefore considered to be "God's gift" to human during the ancient times.
Nowadays wine and its consumption is of great importance to modern Greek society and plays a significant role in people's social lives. It is either used to complement a meal or is equally enjoyed on its own.
Greece's terrain and climate conditions enhances the cultivation of fine quality vineyards, producing a variety of high quality wines. Furthermore, the local varieties of grapes, such as agiorgitiko, ksinomavro, asirtiko, roditis, moschato Samou, malagouzia have a unique taste and have become worldly known as exceptional wines.
In the past most Greek families were farmers and were therefore self-sufficient – a main characteristic of the time; each family had a small vineyard in order to produce its own wine for private consumption. Nowadays this tradition has evolved to create small and larger wineries where exquisite varieties of wines are produced with ‘meraki – love and care for the task at hand.
The fertile land in Greece produces quality fruit, nuts and herbs for the production of local spirits such as ouzo, tsipouro, tendura, mastiha, kumquat and Amorgos rakomelo.
Ouzo is a globally famous Greek drink-aperitif. It is an anise-flavored liqueur that is widely consumed throughout the country. Ouzo starts as a strong spirit made from pressed grapes or raisins. Other herbs and berries may also be added at the fermentation stage. The distinctive smell of ouzo comes from the addition of anise (or star anise) as a flavouring, but other ingredients, varying according to the producer, are also used; common ingredients include coriander, cloves, angelica root, liquorice, mint, wintergreen, fennel, hazelnut, cinnamon and lime blossom.
The undisputed king of Greek spirits is no doubt the crystal clear fiery drink made of distilled grape pomace, produced mainly in Macedonia, Thrace, Epirus, Thessaly, and Crete and called either tsipouro, tsikoudia, or raki.
There are slight differences between the three. Tsipouro, is distilled twice and as a result is a bit more elegant in flavor than the single-distilled tsikoudia, which is a specialty of Crete. However, many tsikoudia producers also double distill.
There are three styles of Tsipouro: full-bodied but low in aromas; lean but expressive; and, finally, those that are flavored with anise. The last type, mainly produced in Thessaly and Macedonia, is very close to Ouzo in character but is less sweet.
In Greece, tsipouro is consumed both as an aperitif and as a digestive.
Many Greek restaurants serve a shot glass of tsipouro as part of the cover, with bread and olives; at home, many people consume tsipouro after a meal, together with dessert, or fruit, or even with coffee. In Crete, the local tsikoudia is a round-the-clock panacea and reason to toast just about everything and a drink that defines every social interaction.
All the grape spirits of Greece are interwoven with the social fabric of Greeks themselves. Translate: The spirits are often paired with the greatest of all social vehicles-food.
Other local drinks include: Tendura liqueur with the intense aromas of cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg made in Patra, citrus liqueur from Naxos, Chios mastic liqueur and Corfu kumquat liqueur.
Beer is a famous alcoholic drink with many variations. Its main ingredients are water, barley, yeast and hops and it is produced through the process of fermentation.
There are many kind of beers with different flavours and characteristics. The key factor to clasify a beer is the type of fermentation during the process of its production. The main and most famous beer is Lager, the so called "Blonde" or "low fermentation" beers. Other types of beer in the same category are: amber lagers, bocks, dark or dunkel lagers, Pils / pilseners, rauchbier.
The other main category is Ale, or "high fermentation" beers, like Weiss, Red Ale, Trappist, Stout, Strong golden Ale, Abbey.
Beer consumption is very popular across Greece and it's largely associated with summer vacation since it's (almost) always consumed cold. Greece has a significant tradition of beer production, as the first local beer was produced in the mid-19th century. More and more Greeks are engaged in brewing these days in an innovative and creative way that has made greek beers equivalent to the foreign ones.
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