Tsipouro, a clear distilled alcohol – 40-50%! – is made from grapes (the pulp, leaves and skins) and has been around since ancient times. Warning: it’s not for the faint-hearted.
Indeed, in the olden days, tsipouro was diluted in water and consumed by hardy labourers, enjoyed as a sort of poor-mans wine. Essentially a pomace brandy, the spirit has become increasingly popular over the last three decades in Greece (it was commercially unavailable until 1990), and in more recent years the country’s trendy mixologists have gained global award-winning reputations for cocktail concoctions based on the drink.
How Tsipouro is Enjoyed
Traditionally, and we’re talking callous handed farm lords at the village kafeneion here, tsipouro is drunk in small glasses and never alone, neither in terms of company nor in terms of other consumables. Because of its suddenly hitting potency, it is normally accompanied by at least two meze dishes. In modern times creative and entrepreneurial new generation Greeks have tapped into the tapas concept and have generated an entire drink-dining industry around this factor nationwide, with Volos as a centre point. True tsipouro aficionados in the know to go to Volos, under Mt. Pelion and at the shores of Pagasetic Gulf, where there are by now over 600 places honouring the drink. Head there to savour the largest and most palate-pampering variety of tsipouro brands in combination with near-gourmet mini dishes on the side (see some must-visit suggestions below). Another important tip for how to enjoy tsipouro comes in several forms of one-word advice: Slowly. Wisely. Happily.
History of Tsipouro
Paradoxically, we can thank the monks at the reclusive religious peninsula of Mt Athos for the tsipouro recipe. Since the 14th Century, the large community of monks on the holy peninsula mastered the then-secret art of making this purified spirit by first fermenting and then distilling the grapes to create the imbibable result. The drink was minimally enjoyed during special events such as major religious holidays.
Tsipouro-Making in Greece
The season for producing tsipouro is between October and December, and it can be a wonderful travel experience to visit producers and sample their freshly made fuel after observing the production process.
The Cretans are big fans of tsipouro, which unlike the rest of Greece they call raki or tsikoudia, and will gladly offer several glasses of it to even absolute strangers in their inherently hospitable way. Apart from Volos and Crete, other well-known tsipouro-making/drinking regions are Thessaly and Epirus.
Where to Drink Tsipouro in Athens
Metaxa 2 (Andrea Metaxa 2, Exarcheia)
In the heart of Exarcheia, this cooperative-café is ideal for vegan/vegetarian tsipouro-lovers wishing to eat ethical yet yummy meze dishes.
To Tsipouradiko tou Apostoli (Tron 43, Ano Petralona)
A broad selection of tasty meze dishes like fried calamari and several tsipouro brands to try at this Petralona classic.
I Thessali (Melinikou 2, Votanikos)
Tsipouro from the region of Karditsa in Thessaly, live music, many meze dishes and a youthful crowd who appreciate the reasonable prices.
I Avli (Ag. Dimitriou Square 12, Psyrri)
An out of the way spot that was a near-secret until it became a trendy hideout. Here you can enjoy your tsipouro with fried meatballs and chips.
Voliotiko Tsipouradiko (Ag. Dimitriou Square 19, Psyrri)
On the same street in Psyrri you will find one of the oldest tsipouradika in Athens. Set in a neoclassical building it also features a charming garden; perfect place to enjoy a few drinks and meze with friends in both winter and summer.
Two Tsipouro Cocktails to Make This Christmas!
Pink Tsipouro Fizz
5 ml bitter almond syrup
5 ml lime juice
pink grapefruit soda
Mix first three ingredients, add ice then top with soda and serve with strawberry slices.
10 fresh mint leaves
fresh lime or lemon juice
2 tsp brown sugar
1 shot tsipouro
In a tall glass bash the mint with a small pestle or the handle of a wooden spoon, adding the sugar and lime juice while continuing to break the leaves and extracting their oils. Add crushed ice and pour in the tsipouro. Mix well while topping up with soda.
Main image: Voliotiko Tsipouradiko