narrative: Ismene Kilia
photography: Haris Vekris

Ouzo is Greece’s drink par excellence. It is well known for its sweet yet intense taste which everyone associates with anise. However, apart from anise and other plant-based seeds and berries, it is also allowed to add to ouzo a small quantity of sugar, something that most of the ouzo brands available on the market do feature. And the question is: what happens when the distiller crafts an ouzo brand without any sugar whatsoever? Would sugar-free ouzo be more difficult for the average consumers to turn to since they’re used to sweeter types of ouzo? What is it that makes sugar-free ouzo different in taste from the brands containing sugar? It was precisely all those questions that made us turn to distillers who craft sugar-free ouzo to find out all about the secrets of sugar-free ouzo.

According to Dimitris Anagnostou, Chair and CEO of Samaras Distillery, which recently launched Ouzo Choris (the Greek word for ‘without’), “it is up to the individual style of each distiller whether they will or not use sugar when crafting their ouzo, since Council Regulation (EEC) No 1576/89 does not make mandatory for ouzo distillers to use sugar. That is how, at Samaras Distillery, after carrying out exhaustive market research, getting the pulse of consumer needs, and conducting laboratory research for two years, we decided to replace sugar the natural way, in other words, via grain distillation”.

Would the absence of any sugar in ouzo mean fewer calories as well? Giorgos Papadimitriou, Director of the Papadimitriou Distillery, which produces its ‘100% Ex Apostakseos’ (100% Distilled) ouzo without sugar, stresses: “alcohol has its own calories anyway, so whether a producer adds sugar –the amount is negligible- or crafts an ouzo without sugar, the calories in the ouzo remain pretty much the same”. In the opinion of Manolis Syrrelis, director of the Giannatsis Distillery, “all sugar-free products are now in great demand, but that is something that Dimitris Giannatsis, the initial mastermind behind our ouzo recipe, could not have foreseen way back in the early 20th century”. Samaras Distillery gives us a bit more information on the subject of calories ouzo contains: “One serving of ouzo (approx. 30 ml) contains about 110 kcal. Ouzo Choris contains 84 kcal/serving. Still, that is no reason why sugar-free ouzo should be considered or be advertised as a ‘diet’ product. That is not the goal of the distillery.”

So, what is it after all that makes sugar-free ouzo stand apart? “At Samaras Distillery that product is crafted by means of a special distillation technique so that the ouzo that ensues doesn’t taste dry at all. The presence of grains in combination with the fragrant Lisvori anise from Lesvos [Mytilini] makes that product a pleasant, sweet drink that could soon become everyone’s favorite. And it’s actually the natural sweetness that this sugar-free ouzo has that impresses consumers”. Papadimitriou Distillery states that “our experience of 70 years in crafting ouzo with traditional methods is what makes this particular, sugar-free product stand out in the market”. As to the Giannatsis Distillery’s Ouzo 45, which has an equally long tradition, it goes hand in hand with an especially sweet story: “its balanced recipe is the very same that Dimitris Giannatsis, painstakingly and passionately, succeeded in putting together, with some help from his friends at the coffee shop they frequented where he would be teased or praised over the ouzo batches that he would ‘force’ his friends to sample. Dimitris Giannatsis would methodically ‘collect’ every single one of his friends’ opinions, would evaluate them one by one, and, step by step, would improve his ouzo’s traits and quality. The result was an ouzo which, despite its high ABV, is thoroughly balanced and, despite it being sugar-free, has a lingering, sweet aftertaste”.

How is the market responding? Is sugar-free ouzo acquiring its own fan club? “Although sugar-free Ouzo Giannatsis 45 vol is ‘old’ and based on a traditional recipe, it talks the modern language of today’s market,” says Manolis Syrrelis proudly. The Papadimitriou Distillery tells us that “many ouzo fans in northern Greece consider it a given that our ‘100% Ex Apostakseos’ ouzo is sugar-free,” while Dimitris Anagnostou says that “it seems ‘Choris’ ouzo not only spoke to the souls of many but also to those who prefer tsipouro because it’s made without the addition of sugar.”

There are other distilleries which also produce sugar-free ouzo, a drink that appears to have both a past and a future. For the time being, it’s clear that it deserves the attention of those among the ‘choosy’ ones who have not yet tasted it but are open to new romances….

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