Call it a hunch, but my guess is many of you have never even heard the word “ouzo,” let alone tasted it.
If you do know what ouzo (pronounced oo-zoh) is, then here’s another hunch: Either you’re Greek, or you’re a big fan of the culture.
That’s because the anise-flavoured “aperitif” (a “digestive” alcoholic drink usually taken before a meal to stimulate the appetite) is primarily enjoyed in Greece and other Mediterranean countries, as well as Greek communities around the world like the one here in Columbia.
Get a bottle
With the Greek Festival upon us, there’s no better time to celebrate with the sambuca-like spirit. (In layman’s terms, it tastes like black licorice.)
“(Ouzo is) popular at certain times of the year,” said Mike Reynolds, manager of Morganelli’s Party Store on Forest Drive. “It’s more of a traditional Greek beverage. They do it as shots around weddings, wakes … Around the Greek Festival, it gets popular. It’s like grappa (an Italian brandy) with the Italians.”
Morganelli’s has carried ouzo since opening its doors 43 years ago. Reynolds said on average, the store sells three to four large cases a year. He expects to sell around a dozen bottles during the Greek Festival festivities. He added that several bartenders, including Kat Hunter of Bourbon and Andy Haddock of Terra, have used the liqueur to mix up their craft cocktail menu.
Get a drink
Now, you can add Aaron Klugh of the Kraken to that short list.
At his new bar, Black Market Tavern on Devine Street, stop in for a limited time to try the cocktail he and head bartender Trish Vieler created with ouzo. Even though the spirit’s flavor is difficult to mask, Klugh and Vieler’s mixed drink is more than palatable – It tastes like the center of an orange tootsie roll pop.
The It’s Greek to Me is ouzo, Trader Vic’s chocolate liqueur, pineapple juice and a splash of club soda served on the rocks. It’s a “t’ouzo roll pop” – and it’s delicious.
“We just kept it simple,” Klugh said. “We let ouzo be the blocking behind the cocktail.”
“You’re getting citrus, licorice and chocolate,” said Vieler, whose Greek heritage meant growing up drinking ouzo with family and friends. “I usually drink it by itself, but I like this.”
“Ouzo is everybody’s thought of Greece,” Reynolds of Morganelli’s said. “It speaks to the ruggedness of the country and the perseverance of the people. It’s a survivor.”