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There is a wide variety of spirits & liqueurs in Greece, some of which are well-known. Ouzo & tsipouro are two of the most famous, but others, such as mastika and kitron, are unique additions to Greek drinking culture. One of the oldest distilleries in Greece, Karonis Distillery in Nafplio, produces not only ouzo & tsipouro but other spirits and liqueurs, including mastika.

History of Karonis Distillery

I visited Karonis Distillery as part of a press trip sponsored by Jayway Travel. Yiannis Karonis, the 5th generation distiller, welcomed us to the business, which is located in a rural area just outside of Nafplio.

The first part of our distillery tour was their museum, which exhibits old equipment & photos, and historical artifacts from the region’s history. One prominent display includes a book of the first Greek laws, printed in 1833. During this period, Nafplio was the capital of the country.

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Karois Distillery (website) first opened in 1869. It was one of the first five professional distilleries in Greece & one of the country’s oldest companies.

Founder Vassilis Karonis went to France to study and returned with knowledge of distillation. The distilling machines also came from France.

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During the Olympic exhibition in Athens in 1889, Vassilis won his first prizes for his spirits & liqueurs.

Later in the company’s history, they bought their first truck in 1945. The British used the Ford truck during North African operations before it was abandoned. Remarkably, this truck is still in use by a nearby farmer today!

Ouzo Distilling Process at Karonis Distillery

Next, we headed into the other building to see the Karonis Distillery tasting room and production area.

There are several distilling setups of varying sizes. The largest 800-liter copper still is used for ouzo.

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Ouzo production starts with a strong, neutral spirit produced from grapes. 400 liters of this 96% ABV alcohol are used.

Then, several kilograms of the main ingredients, anise & fennel seeds, are added.

Every ouzo distillery in Greece has its own secondary ingredients that make its spirit unique. While Yiannis understandably would not tell us everything in the Karonis ouzo recipe, he said that some ingredients include star anise, orange zest, coriander, cardamom, and ginger.

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This mixture then sits with the alcohol in the still for a few days without boiling, so the ingredients impart their flavor. On the third day, the still is filled to the top with water and then steam-heated. This is when the distillation begins.

The vapors pass through all of the aromatics, condensing as ouzo. It takes 14 hours to distill a full batch. Karonis Distillery produces about 30-35,000 liters of ouzo per year. According to Yiannis, this production method is the optimal way to make ouzo. Such bottles are labeled as “100% by distillation,” which is something to look out for when purchasing ouzo.

Once distilled, ouzo can be consumed within the first weeks after production. Only the middle part of the distilled spirit is kept. The beginning and final liters don’t have the best aromas, so they are discarded. The middle is known as the heart of the distillation.

Karonis Distillery Tasting – Ouzo, Tsipouro, Mastika, and More

After learning about the ouzo-making process, it was time to get to the heart of the distillation ourselves with an ouzo tasting. We tasted not only ouzo but also many of Karonis Distillery’s other delicious products.

The distillery produces two different types of ouzo, each with a different recipe. The classic is 40% ABV and is best with everyday simple food. Ouzo is often consumed with mezze. The other ouzo they produce is a bit stronger at 44%, but that extra alcohol is noticeable and packs a punch. It’s best served with meats, fish, or spicy food, though either can be drunk whenever.

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Most Greeks mix ouzo with a bit of cold water before drinking it. This cold water then turns the drink cloudy, much like raki or absinthe. Adding water makes ouzo much smoother and more drinkable over a longer meal or a night out. In addition to being consumed with cold water and ice, it can also be included in a cocktail with orange or grapefruit juice.

Our next tasting was tsipouro, an un-aged brandy made from grapes. It, too, is strong, at 40% ABV.

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The next drink was mastika, a unique liqueur made from mastic tree resin from the island of Chios. I’d had it in a few cocktail bars in Greece, so it was nice to try it by itself. It has a slight piney flavor, which makes it an interesting cocktail ingredient.

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Next, we had a lemon liqueur that was similar to limoncello.

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Finally, we concluded our Karonis Distillery tasting with the liqueur they have been producing the longest, cherry brandy.

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The cherry liqueur is produced from cherry trees in the nearby mountains. It spends 18 months in oak barrels. I can say that it’s quite delicious!

One of the highlights of my trip to Greece was getting to try all of these unique spirits & liqueurs all around the country, both on their own and in cocktails. I’ll be sure to seek them out as I venture to other bars around the world.

Watch a video of my visit to the Nafplio area here:

Here are some great Nafplio tours & activities.

If you’re looking for a place to stay in Nafplio, check out these hotels. I stayed at the Eudokia Pension & enjoyed my stay.

Enjoy cocktails? Check out my recommendations for the best cocktail bars in Athens, the best cocktail bars in Santorini, and the best cocktail bars in Naxos.

Note: My visit to Karonis Distillery was part of a TBEX press trip sponsored by Jayway Travel. All opinions are 100% my own.

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