Words by Denny Kallivoka
Photography by Difford's Guide, video by Angelos Manolakos
Firstly, to introduce myself to those of you outside of Greece, Eleni Nikoloulia and I are the duo behind Difford’s Guide Greece, the local Greek language version of the website you are familiar with. With the help of distinguished literati such as Steve Olson, Ago Perrone and Alex Kratena, we have embarked on a quest to introduce you, and other cocktail cognoscente, to Aegean Cocktails & Spirits.
Our quest starts here in Greece. With locality being such an international trend, a country like Greece with all its amazing raw ingredients has much to offer Greek bartenders, and through their unique vantage point, these bartenders have the power to introduce customers to these Greek products.
Our goal is not for Greek bars to only offer Greek cocktails. Nor to see touristy Greek cocktails with Ouzo or Tsipourito. We merely want to see menus with a couple of great cocktails with a touch of Greece. We feel it's our duty to contribute by showcasing great Greek spirits - both here in Greece and to other readers in the 57 countries Difford's Guide reaches.
How it all started
The penny dropped last March (2016) as Eleni and I we were trying a new batch of tsipouro in Moschato. If it had been a blind tasting, you'd think you were drinking a great new Western gin and you'd wonder how it would work in a Negroni. The reality is that most bar professionals would never give this fine spirit a chance, in as much judging it purely on its characteristics rather than dismissing it as 'just tsipouro'. That's when the idea of a long-term Difford's Guide Greece project was born as its international reach could and should intervene.
I knew it, as I was one of those stereotypes. That was until the summer of 2013 when during a trip on the Orient Express from Edinburgh to London and seated opposite Steve Olson, who I was interviewing, we got to talking about Greek wines and spirits. "I'm a tsipouro and ouzo fanatic" he said. "Some people think tsipouro is like grappa but it's very different, better in fact. There are some great grappa labels but the overall quality is low. On the contrary, your average tsipouro is only marginally inferior to top grappa names but overall, it's of much higher quality".
During the spring of 2016, we contacted Steve Olson so he could deliver his The Most Underestimated Spirit in the World speech at the Athens Bar Show. It was a crowning moment, an apotheosis of tsipouro from one of the men instrumental in taking mezcal out of Mexico and making it a worldwide spirits trend. During his presentation, he was joined by Yiannis Samaras (The Trap), Sullivan Doh (from Le Syndicat in Paris) who only uses French spirits, and Yiannis Boutaris, the creator of 'Kir Yianni' vineyard and the current mayor of Thessaloniki, Greece. At the same time, attendees could sample amazing tsipouro cocktails made by Steve Olson himself. Tsipouro combined with mezcal, in his version of a Martinez or a Punch.
The 1st Aegean Cocktails and Spirits Workshop
This workshop was the first time an event on domestically produced spirits, directly addressing the global on-trade community, of such magnitude had been organised in Greece.
Some of the top bartenders from around the world (Ago Perrone, Alex Kratena, Monica Berg, Gabriela Moncada, Sullivan Doh), joined eleven top Greek bartenders and drinks specialists (Christos Houseas, Giannis Petris, Vasilis Kyritsis, Alexander Gikopoulos, Dimitris Kiakos, Giannis Samaras, Thodoris Pyrillos, Babis Kaidalidis, Dionysis Polatos, George Tsirikos, Anestis Zamanopoulos) to spend three days tasting local drinks and spirits and exchanging ideas on cocktails using Greek spirits.
The initial idea was to promote Greek spirits so that they take the place they deserve not only behind the bar, but also in the mindset of bartenders all over the world. Inviting well-known personalities from the broader bar industry to Greece was the first step towards the implementation of this goal, starting with Steve Olson and his The Most Underestimated Spirit in the World speech in support of tsipouro at the Athens Bar Show.
This May, with the collaboration of Tinos Food Paths, a gastronomic festival recently awarded "the best of its kind in Greece", but more importantly, organized by dedicated people, full of passion, and willing to contribute to the common good, the 1st Aegean Cocktails and Spirits workshop became a reality. During this three-day workshop the participating bartenders had the chance to taste the Greek spirits and ingredients, learn about them, experiment and create cocktails, using: Three Cents Greek refreshments, tsipouro Dekaraki, ouzo Adolo, mastiha M Dry and Metaxa as a base. The cocktails were prepared at the former Ursuline Monastery's garden.
Having visited the T-Oinos Winery, Kontizas Winery and the Nissos beer brewery, the discussion about the future of Greek spirits took place inside a white marble quarry, high up the Vathy gorge. Here a round table was constructed from huge marble blocks, next to the 30 meters high vertical rock-cut. In this iconic landscape, the Aegean Cocktails and Spirits manifesto was structured.
The participants then walked through hiking paths to reach the Falatados vineyards where dinner was served under the light of a full moon. The farewell dinner was organized by the Tinos Food Paths volunteers on the beach of the island where chefs from the island cooked fish soup and fish over a fire on the beach.
The objective of the Workshop was to become the basis of an annual reunion of drinks industry friends from all over the world, and at the same time, to establish a meaningful and effective discussion on global level regarding Greek spirits. Greece's distinct and unique products can easily attract those who seek to discover local and boutique quality brands. The Workshop resulted in the following manifesto.
• Great Greek spirits, liqueurs, beers and wines deserve to find a position in the world's great bars.
• The Greek bar scene is one of the best in the world and it's an important proving ground in the establishment of Greek products in the wider bar scene. If these products are not used in the bars of Athens why should they be relevant to bars in London.
• Difford's Guide Greece, with its international dynamic, has set as a long-term goal, through Aegean Cocktails & Spirits, to contribute to the establishment of Greek spirits and other products in the domestic and the wider bar world.
• The use of the term "Aegean Cocktails & Spirits" refers to quality spirits and other cocktail related products produced in Greece, the country of the Aegean Sea - not just products from the Greek islands.
• Our goal is to see more bars stocking Aegean Cocktails & Spirits and for bartenders to create more cocktails using these products.
• We do not seek to encourage what could be described "tourist trap Greek cocktails", but the creation of quality cocktails with a Greek touch.
• It is time for all of us in the Greek bar industry to demonstrate how proud we are of our identity and our country's produce.
• All produce has the same culinary value regardless of its price.
• We encourage teamwork and collaboration between bartenders and producers.
• Ideally Greek spirits, liqueurs, beers and wines should reflect the place, region, season of production.
• Culinary techniques, both ancient and modern have a heritage bartenders should understand.
This manifesto was formed during the 1st Aegean Cocktails & Spirits Workshop 7-9 May 2017 in Tinos Island, Greece by the following:
From Difford's Guide Greece: Denny Kallivoka, Eleni Nikoloulia,
From Greece: Christos Houseas, Giannis Petris, Vasilis Kyritsis, Alexander Gikopoulos, Dimitris Kiakos, Giannis Samaras, Thodoris Pyrillos, Babis Kaidalidis, Dionysis Polatos, George Tsirikos, Anestis Zamanopoulos
From abroad: Ago Perrone, Alex Kratena, Sullivan Doh, Monica Berg, Gabriela Moncada.