Shak­ing up the cock­tail scene

In­gre­di­ents like mas­tic liqueur, retsina and ca­per leaves are in­spir­ing mixol­o­gists

Kathimerini English - - Focus - BY SAKIS IOAN­NI­DIS

We may laugh at the fact that ouzo trans­forms the fa­mous Long Is­land cock­tail into the Makro­nis­sos (lit­er­ally long is­land) in the bars on Mi­los is­land, or that the Tuba Li­bre, a retsina-based drink in­spired by fans of the PAOK soc­cer team, has trav­eled all the way from Toumba in Thessaloniki to Lon­don, but Greek drinks have been mak­ing a splash with bar­tenders and earn­ing ku­dos over the past three years or so.

The star of the bar is a liqueur made with mas­tic gum from Chios, which is al­ready widely used in Greece but is also turn­ing heads abroad.

“When cus­tomers learn how the liqueur is pro­duced from the mas­tic trees, they get even more ex­cited about it,” says Nikos Tach­mazis, a Greek bar­man at Ter­mini in Lon­don’s trendy Soho district, who, along with his team­mate Wil­liam Het­zel, won this year’s Mediter­ranean Cock­tail Chal­lenge, or­ga­nized by Greek liqueur-maker Ski­nos Mastiha Spirit.

“Greek in­gre­di­ents are quite pop­u­lar,” he says. “We use ca­per leaves from San­torini, Greek olive oil, seaweed, olives from Crete, oregano, sage etc. Per­son­ally, I am cur­rently ex­plor­ing cre­at­ing a cock­tail that will bring some­thing very fa­mil­iar to mind, like the fresh­ness you feel stand­ing on top of a hill in the sea breeze.”

Other top fa­vorite liqueurs are kumquat, which is pro­duced in Corfu, the bit­ter­sweet citron of Naxos, cin­na­mon-fla­vored ten­tura from Pa­tra and al­mond-based soumada, while herbs such as oregano, thyme and Kozani saf­fron are used to lend fra­grance to drinks such as gin-based cock­tails, ex­plains Gior­gos Kavak­lis from Spoiled in Athens. The bar­man also makes use of Greek beers from mi­cro­brew­eries, from which he pro­duces tasty syrups and punches, while he also uses them for their rich foam.

“Bar­tenders are a lot more ed­u­cated and well-trained, tak­ing a se­ri­ous in­ter­est in cock­tails over the past few years, and that is some­thing that peo­ple also ap­pre­ci­ate be­cause they don’t like throw­ing their money away,” says Kavak­lis.

Con­stanti­nos Tsat­siras from Otto, also in Athens, says that Greek con­sumers tend to fa­vor bit­ter­sweet and fruity drinks, a pref­er­ence that is likely rooted in the Mediter­ranean diet and life­style.

“I per­son­ally use all sorts of dif­fer­ent prod­ucts grown in Greece, such as pineap­ple, av­o­cado or lime, which are cul­ti­vated in Crete. There are a lot of won­der­ful Greek liquors, but what’s im­por­tant is how they are man­aged by their pro­duc­ers,” Tsat­siras says, stress­ing that bar­men to­day are much more dis­cern­ing and al- ways on the look­out for new things.

“Mar­ket­ing also plays an im­por­tant role,” he says.

As Greek con­tinue to en­joy col­or­ful, fruit cock­tails, over­seas the hot new trend is bit­ters, while bar­tenders are more mind­ful of de­tails like the ice they use and more am­bi­tious about cre­at­ing bold, al­most ar­ro­gant new drinks.

“Bit­ters are like spices. The dif­fer­ent va­ri­eties have in­tense fla­vors with vary­ing de­grees of sweet­ness but also their name­sake bit­ter­ness,” says Mas­ter of Wine Kon­stanti­nos Lazarakis.

The qual­ity of the ice used, the tem­per­a­ture of the key liquor and mix­ers, and the wa­ter that is added are other ar­eas where pro­fes­sion­als abroad are pay­ing close at­ten­tion in or­der to stand out from the com­pe­ti­tion.

“The is­sue is to what ex­tent the bar scene can mo­ti­vate pro­duc­ers. There are a lot of drinks that aren’t patented and don’t have pro­tected ge­o­graphic des­ig­na­tions,” says Lazarakis. “New Zealand, for ex­am­ple, makes vodka and Ja­pan whisky. There’s no rea­son why Greece couldn’t make rum.”

When it comes to his area of ex­per­tise, Lazarakis ex­plains that wine is just not the right choice for a mixer, even though wine con­sumers may be happy to experiment.

“With wine, it’s all about the wine, its tem­per­a­ture, the glass and the food you’re hav­ing it with. Cock­tails are sexy: They have en­ergy, they are phys­i­cal, shaken and stirred, and the bar­man is a show­man. Wine is noth­ing like that, and I’m not at all sure whether it should be in cock­tails.”

Eleven teams from seven coun­tries took part in the Mediter­ranean Cock­tail Chal­lenge, or­ga­nized by Ski­nos Mastiha Spirit.

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