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Friday, March 6, 2015

Meet Tsipouro - Ouzo's elegant cousin

Tsipouro, Greece's version of a must-based brandy distillate, has been produced and consumed for centuries and is traditionally consumed in the countryside.  Until recently, most of it has remained within Greece or within the EU.  Much of it had not made it to the US because of compliance reasons.  However, that has changed.  Greece has submitted the paperwork to the US government that provides the regulations & laws surrounding Tsipouro production, which now allows us to use the name "Tsipouro" on the label (in the past we were obligated to call them "Diluted Grappa Brandy" - not very appealing).

Our portfolio includes Tsipouro from Katsaros Distillery, Tsikoudia (the Cretan name for the spirit) from the Cooperative of Sitia, and in the near future, several spirits from  the Tsililis Distillery which will include Dark Cave, a 5 year barrel aged tsipouro in addition to grape varietal distillates.

Tsipouro results from the distillation of alcoholically fermented pomace (grape skins) which remains in contact with the wine, until distillation. Grape marc distillates exist also in other Mediterranean countries, such as Grappa in Italy, Eau-de-vie de marc in France and Orujo in Spain.  

Copper pot stills at the Tsililis Distillery

Tsipouro's history is a lengthy one.
For centuries, it was the secondary product of viticulture and domestic wine production. It was considered "the black sheep" of wine and it was always related to the life of the middle-class Greek.
Tsipouro was present in everyday moments of rural people, in joys and sorrows and it became a hallmark of the Greek hospitality.

The first reference to grape-marc distillate appears in Ancient Greece during the Hellenistic period, mentioning a drink named "trimma" which was produced by the boiling (distillation) of grape skins.
The art of distillation evolves during the Byzantine era at the monasteries of Agio Oros (Mount Athos), in Athos Peninsula.  The monks of Mount Athos taught the monks of Meteora in the secrets of distillation, in a region where viticulture is witnessed since the Paleolithic Era. In the prehistoric cave of Theopetra, archaeological excavations revealed the presence of grape seeds.

Until the 15th century, the art of distillation of tsipouro expands to surrounding areas. In Epirus, Macedonia, the rest of Thessaly, and Crete as well as in many other parts of Greece. For many centuries, tsipouro was produced amateurishly by villagers as a way of reclaiming grape pomace, which would otherwise be discarded. Merchandising of small quantities was allowed, always in bulk, within the county and neighboring counties, as any kind of bottling was forbidden, in order to enhance the income of farmers and residents of border regions.

In 1883, the official Greek Government established the first law on the taxation of alcohol and in 1896 the first official licenses are given for the production of tsipouro. In 1989, with the relevant establishment of  National and European legislation on drink spirits (Law 1802/1988 and Reg 1576/1989), production and bottling of tsipouro is allowed to official distilleries. This represented a huge shift for the qualitative evolution of tsipouro as it contributed significantly to the development of the culture of distillation and to the flourishing of tsipouro’s industrial production. 

With the latest revision of the regulation for spirit drinks in the EU (Regulation 110/2008), tsipouro is established as an exclusively Greek product produced from grapes which are grown in the Greek land and which are distilled within the country.

With such a rich history, I encourage you to seek out Tsipouro and it enjoy it well chilled straight up.  We are proud to offer several options of this spirit and look forward to increasing the items offered in the near future.

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