Ouzo is an acquired taste. If you are not an immediate fan, don’t fret. Almost nobody is. But it grows on you as meze that accompany it (small plates of tidbits) come and go. Because it is always served with food, even if it is just a few olives and a slice of tomato.
Also, you have to find your own, preferred proportion of ouzo to ice and water. Some people have it straight, but most like some ice in it. Do have some water or ice added to it, since it is quite strong. It will turn milky white (because of the anise) and will last longer. But above all, in order to enjoy it, you have to be willing to kill time, to be ready to laugh and philosophize. Or, to be absolutely still and just look at the world go by. It is not something to do in a hurry or during a business lunch, God forbid.
Ouzo and meze are appetizers, not a meal, although the process can last hours and hours. That doesn’t mean you can emerge drunk from the experience. That’s a faux pas. It is a conversational drink and the reason why you have food as you go is to remain sober so as to enjoy the company.
My favourite ouzos:
Ouzo Pitsiladi, Ouzo Kefi, Ouzo Psihis
How to serve it
-Have tall highball glasses ready (I believe they are also called zombie glasses).
-Present a separate bowl of ice or ice bucket and a little spoon or ice tongs.
-Have a bottle of water on the table too.
-Serve some food: Olives, a slice of cheese, sliced tomato, cucumber slices, sardines, taramosalata or saganaki (fried cheese). To recreate Greek meze at home: Variety, quality, simplicity. As a general rule, the food has to be salty, a bit spicy is okay too, but not sweet or starchy.
-Each person pours their own drink and they dilute it according to their taste. Some want one or two ice-cubes, some add water, some both.
-Say “geia mas” (cheers) and clink your glasses.
Just so you know:
Ouzo production took off at the end of the 19th century in Plomari, on the island of Lesvos.
Ouzo is made from pressed grapes or raisins and added herbs and spices (anise, fennel, cloves etc).
Only Greece has the right to produce it by European Law.
It can go up to 45% alcoholic degrees when mainstream vodka is 40%. It may be sweet but it is not innocent.
Top quality is 100% distilled ouzo.
(All photos are mine)