Greek Spirits: Give them a chance

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I’m Greek but I don’t drink ouzo. And I understand why somebody wouldn’t appreciate their country’s spirits. Some argue it happened with Mezcal and Mexicans. However, in the midst of the worldwide cocktail and spirits boom, in this globalization era in which localization has become a world trend, I don’t understand why somebody would look down on their country’s produce.

I question why Greeks, as well as the world bartending community that are keen in tasting new things, wouldn’t give Greek spirits and liqueurs a chance. We are a country with great biodiversity. We have grape distillates with history. Liqueurs and spirits produced by endemic species (i.e. masticha), and many Greek wines are made from local varieties. So, we should at least, give them a chance.
This was the intention behind the project of Aegean Cocktails and Spirits. An idea I had three years ago, “to give Greek spirits a chance”.

Indeed, after attending Aegean Cocktails and Spirits Workshop in 2017, I came away feeling inspired.

This summer, I read Nikos Kazantzakis books (a Greek philosopher widely regarded as a one of the greatest Greek writers of modern times and nine times nominee for the Nobel Prize in Literature) all over again and listened to the music of Manos Hatzidakis (a renowned Greek composer, theorist of Greek music and Academy Award winner for Best Original Song) even more enthusiastically than ever before. I’m rediscovering the cultural legacy of a writer and a composer that I deeply admire, mainly because they represent the very essence of Greece, and what Greece is all about.

This is my dream, my vision: to see the elements and characteristics of our country and its people be embraced around the world once again. Spread through people’s behaviour - the same people that once honoured hospitality as a deity (philoxenia), and expressed it ever since, with every bite and every sip they served, with every toast and every Yamas they cheered.

This vision materialized three years ago in Aegean Cocktails & Spirits, an effort to integrate all these elements in a unified way that would promote Greece and Greek products. Thyme and oregano, for instance, local herbs and Tsipouro (the local grape-based spirit), Masticha, Ouzo (aniseed spirit) and so on.

Unique and local raw materials and products can be found here on the south – east of the Mediterranean Sea. Cultivated over a millennium by local producers, with love and passion, gently gathered at the end of season barehanded, by all family members in small communities, bent over in their effort not to miss the valuable fruits of their year long struggle, as if praising the Gods of Greeks (recent and older ones) for the outcome. In other words, the elements which differentiate us from our global neighbours.
This is why we have to give them a chance.

Last year’s Aegean Cocktails & Spirits Workshop had a lot of uncertainty regarding its outcome. There were doubts whether Greek bartenders would feel the importance of our objective to promote localization. Especially at the beginning, there were awkward moments. Soon enough they proved their calibre by overcoming the long-established misconception, opening their hearts and mind to the ‘new-old’ ingredients. Along with their foreign colleagues who’d flown in specially, they started to rediscover products by smelling and tasting each and every one, making cocktails and exploring their mixability in a totally different manner.

Most welcomed these products, they posted them on social media and placed them behind their bars. Thus, creating a snowball effect which encouraged a number of fellow bartenders and consumers to ask for these spirits by name, Ouzo or Tsipouro.

This year I felt confident from the beginning. Awkward moments belonged to the past, and pride, rightfully, has taken its place, overthrowing generations of prejudice. Top notch Greek bartenders excelling in Greece and abroad, shared this feeling with all of us who were present. After the tasting, our foreign guests embraced our enthusiasm and evoked it further when they learned about the production and distillation methods and the uniqueness of the final product. What really thrilled us though, were their testimonials and their willingness to place these distillates behind their bars.

Aegean Cocktails & Spirits’ objective is the repositioning of Greek spirits. Over the past three years, we have been organising events aiming to place Greek spirits in the amazing Greek bar scene. Our aim is to help bartenders discover the importance of localization, and at the same time, to help Greek bartenders recognise their responsibility in the promotion of Greek products.

At the same time, it is essential we help producers realise a significant part of Greek spirits’ future lay in the hands of talented young people who have succeeded in placing the Greek bartending scene at the forefront of the global bar industry. Two Greek bars, The Clumsies and Baba au Rum are in the World’s 50 Best Bars, and The Clumsies was voted as Best International High Volume Bar 2018 in the Tales of the Cocktails.

Aegean Cocktails & Spirits Workshop 2018 took place between 5-8 May on my beloved Tinos island, in cooperation with the local food festival Tinos Food Paths. This year’s guests included top Greek bartenders, leading international bartenders and influential journalists who joined us and embraced the Aegean Cocktails & Spirits concept. The event started with a party where an Aegean Cocktails & Spirits Pop Up Bar served Greek-style cocktails made with Greek Spirits, namely Ouzo Adolo, Tsipouro Dekaraki, Mastiha Spirit M Dry, Mastiha Omirikon, Metaxa and Three Cents.

The following days comprised of tasting local products, experiencing the philoxenia of the people from the island, visiting local wineries and museums and tasting local food. The idea was to get under the skin of what it means to be local and encourage a scene of pride in that. The video above gives a taste of what happened over those days.

We’d like to thank Tinos Food Paths for welcoming us and organising such a unique experience, and our sponsors who believe in our vision and helped us launch the workshop: Ouzo Adolo, Tsipouro Dekaraki, Mastichas Μ Dry, Masticha Omirikon, METAXA, and the premium refreshments Three Cents.

I am pleased and honoured to have with us this year:
Thodoris Anagnostou, CV Distiller,
Marfi Bali, Upopa Epops
Michalis Botonakis, La Boheme Chania
Tony Conigliaro, The Drink Factory, Bar Untitled London
Giorgos Dendrakis, The Art of Cocktail
Sullivan Doh, Le Syndicat, La Commune, Paris
Kimon Frangkakis, Adro.gr
Giorgos Gargaretas, Grappa Bar, Volos
Chris Houseas, Belvedere Myconos
Dimitra Kamarinou, Ethnikos Kirikas, New York
Vicky Katehaki, Kathimerini, Sky radio
Spyros Kerkyras, 42 Bar & Bar Solutions
Dimitris Kiakos, The Gin Joint Athens
Leonidas Kondylis, Ta Nea
Maria Korachai, Greece Is
Ilias Marinakis, Kokion Athens
Phaedon Papakonstantinou, Baba Au Rum, Athens
Sakis Papayiannis, Bittersweet Trikala
Spyros Patsialos, Hunting Spirtis TV
Dionysis Pollatos, Ipittou Bar, Brand ambassador M Dry
Tess Posthumus, The Flying Dutchman, Diffords Guide Amsterdam
Thodoris Pyrillos, A For Athens, Athens
Angelos Rentoulas, Gastronomos , Kathimerini
Yiannis Simantiras, Bar Academy
Alexis Symonides, The Clumsies, Athens
Nick Tachmazis, Bar Termini, London,
Fotis Vallatos, Popaganda.gr
Anestis Zamanopoulos, Brand Ambassador Metaxa

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