It’s a clear, potent Greek liquor of distilled grape skins, after the wine has been made. At least 43% proof and packing a massive fiery flavour punch. Tsipouro used to be more often drunk in rural and island villages than in cities. Village wine was made in September, and in late autumn urban Greeks would return to village homes to help relatives make tsipouro in backyard distilleries. They would take wine and tsipouro back the cities with them. Until recent years, tsipouro wasn’t commercially produced.
Now it’s hipster cool, drunk chilled, as a base for cocktails, for many occasions day or night. Drink it in a shot glass or a liqueur glass.
Tsipouro – can you even pronounce it? Tsi-pou-ro and roll the rrrr. If that’s too much, try “Raki” with the accent on the i. A restaurant specialising in tsipouro and mezethes is called a tsiporathiko.
I first drank a tiny glass of tsipouro over 30 years ago, made in the rugged mountain villages of Epirus, in the mainland northwest up near Albania. The village I stayed in was so remote it had one telephone, one cafe/general store with a gently subsiding floor and a church. Shepherds would drink it boiled with sugar for breakfast, while tending their flocks on windswept, chilly hillsides. We would drink it the same way when it was snowing outside.
Eclectic tsipouro brands
The raw material is grapes grown in Thessaly. Grapes are harvested by hand, destemmed and then vilified in inbox tanks. At the end of ferment ion, free-run wine is separatel collected and pomace (the grape skins) is transferred tp other inbox tanks where they’re stored under airtight conditions at lot temperature until distillation. The ageing process takes place in French and American oak barrels, seasoned with red and sweet vinsanto wine, for at least five years. The result is a distillate with a variety of varietal aromas, such as dried fruit and bergamot peels, with vanilla, chocolate and nutmeg, combined with a robust but supple body. It has a smooth finish and a fine aromatic aftertaste. The award-winning Dark Cave distillate is diluted with pure mountain water, to release the complex flavours. To think I always drank it neat, in the old days, and never thought of drinking it any other way…. By ageing in oak casks, the tsipouro acquires a deep, rich amber colour.
The Tsililis company also produces other tsipouro products, include your straight up no-other-flavour-than-firewater, and with anise which is the flavour of ouzo.
Manifesto is also used as a base for cocktails, drunk with a twist of orange on the rocks.
This is a personal favourite. Navarino is on the Peleponnese, that craggy hand-shaped peninsula reaching towards the southern Aegean. The grapes come from the Pylos region. Produced at a low temperature, the Navarino tsipouro is soft and aromatic.
Can’t find tsipouro at your local wine cellar? Well, I guess you’ll just have to go to Greece. It’s available at eclectic liquor cellars in Athens, particularly in the upmarket suburbs of Glyfada, Voula and Kifissia. I found Dark Cave at Kava Faidon (or Fedon) on Agiou Ioannou 28, Voula. The nice folk at the store gift wrapped it for me.
WHEN TO DRINK TSIPOURO:
- Brunch on a Greek island by the sea with scrambled eggs, lots of crunchy, freshly-baked Greek bread and a summer salad
- Late morning traditional Greek meze time
- As a cocktail base
- Aperitif before lunch or dinner
- After dinner tipple – click for details
- Drink chilled or at room temperature, just because you feel like it!