If you’ve ever been to Crete, or if you have ancestors that are from the island, chances are pretty good that you’ve had Tsikoudia. In other parts of Greece, it’s known as Raki or Tsipouro. In Italy it’s called Grappa, in Spain it’s referred to as Oruja To Americans, it’s often considered a form of moonshine, especially when they learn how it’s made…
In Western Crete is called tsikoudia, and in Eastern Crete raki.
It is made every autumn following the grape harvest. After the grapes are pressed to produce wine, there are “leftovers” in the wine press: The crushed grape skins, seeds, pulp and stems are then distilled to produce a strong spirit. The name Tsipouro is used throughout Greece, except for Crete, where it’s called Tsikoudia. The European Union protects Tsikoudia from Crete as a unique spirit coming from its original place. Tsikoudia has the same protected status as Cognac or Scotch Whisky.
Tsikoudia, according to the legislation in force, must have 37,5% alcohol.
The entire process of distillation of tsikoudia becomes a celebration in which friends and relatives take part by bringing food and sampling the drink as it is being made. Tsikoudia is an integral part of Cretan tradition and hospitality. Every house has a bottle ready at any moment. Cretans welcome visitors with tsikoudia, festivities begin with the drink. It is accompanied by traditional Cretan dishes and complements roasted potatoes, olives, raw cabbage, cucumbers, snails and nuts.
- As a tourist coming to Crete there is a 100% chance that more sooner than later you will get offered at least 1 glass of tsikoudia. For new visitors, this happens usually after your first dinner!
- Like with most spirits, but this applies certainly to tsikoudia, never drink it on an empty stomach. Have it after your meal or have it accompanied by small mezzedes.
- If you are not used to spirits or have a weak stomach: drink water after each sip.
- Never mix tsikoudia with another drink. Once you start to drink tsikoudia, leave it with tsikoudia that time, so do not change to wine or beer after. This will make black out drunk.
- A few glasses of tsikoudia can make your head very clear, an effect which to my opinion is unique to it. After you get to sleep you will have special ‘tsikoudia dreams’, which can be more vivid than life: it feels like you are awake and very special things happen to you.
- If you do not like to drink an offered tsikoudia: do not drink it and leave the glass full. An empty glass is a sign to your hosts that you liked it and they happily will fill it again. However, after the forth glass you will not mind anymore and may start to like it, eventually start to love it!
- Furthermore, tsikoudia is a medicine for many ordinary diseases, like a cold or a headache or diarrhea.
- OK, off I go! Get the roasted potatoes ready! Cheers!