Drinks

Mastiha: Greek Liqueur

Mastiha (pronounced ma-stee-ha) is a Greek liqueur that contains mastic, a resin collected from the gum of the mastic tree (the earliest known form of chewing gum) and sweetened with sugar. In Greek, the word “μαστίχα” literally means “to chew”. The dome-shaped mastic tree is native to the Greek island of Chios and mastiha has been a significant part of Greek culture for thousands of years.

This is part of our Greek Week feature on FMMS. Click here to see the rest!

What’s really special about mastiha is its scarcity – the mastic tree is native to Greece and only found on the island of Chios. This makes it both exotic and unique, as it’s developed by the local islanders who have been producing it for millenia.

The production process has changed very little since the ancient times. Growers prune at the base of the tree to allow access underneath. In early summer, they clean and level the perimeter of the trees where the mastic will fall. Next, they spread white soil around the area so that the mastic dries up when it hits the ground (this facilitates the collection). In mid-summer, growers will make incisions in the bark which allow the resin to leak out in drops – often referring to them as tears.

A row of mastic trees in Chios. Image source: www.discovergreece.com

A row of mastic trees in Chios. Image source: discovergreece.com

The mastic that is collected is extremely versatile. Its medical and healing properties have been known for thousands of years. Ancient Greeks used it as a cure for bellyaches and as a breath freshener, Romans used Mastiha-based toothpicks to whiten their teeth, and today it’s used in many more ways: as an antiseptic, in healing skin wounds, in dental fillings, to help improve liver function, etc.

But more importantly, it makes for delicious cocktails!

Today, Mastiha is commonly consumed as a digestif in Greece. It comes in two types: Chios Mastiha – which is brandy-based and hails from the island of Chios, and another type which is similar to Ouzo. The former is what I’ll be focusing on in this post.

Our good friends at EVOO Greek Kitchen in the heart of Little Italy in Ottawa have recently rekindled my passion for this liqueur. Only ever sipping it in small amounts as a digestif in Greece, I never developed a taste for it. But after trying it a bit more and realizing its potential for more complex drinks, I’ve developed a newfound respect and appreciation for it.

My brand of choice is Skinos. “Skinos” is actually the ancient Greek name for Mastiha. It’s the most popular brand of Mastiha in the world and for good reason: It’s smooth, light, and mixes easily with many different flavours.

Skinos can be enjoyed by itself and also mixes nicely with soda water or 7-Up. If you want to venture to the more creative (and delicious) side however, try these three concoctions!

Skinos Fresh

mastiha2_wm

My personal favourite, I discovered this one at EVOO Greek Kitchen. It’s a light-tasting drink, with just the right amount of cucumber flavour. A great cocktail for summer months, the Skinos Fresh can be viewed as a Greek Martini of sorts.

¼ of a large cucumber
1 ½ oz of Skinos
⅔ oz of gin (we like Dillon’s or Tangueray)
⅓ oz of lemon juice
¼ oz of simple syrup
1 dash of Angostura bitters (optional)

Muddle the cucumber, lemon juice and simple syrup in the base of a cocktail shaker. Pour in the rest of the ingredients and add ice. Shake until the shaker is very chilled and pour into a Martini glass. Garnish with a thin slice of cucumber.

Skinos Med

mastiha3_wm

The Skinos Med is a great drink for casual outdoor get-togethers. The intense basil flavour makes it smooth and refreshing. Perfect on a hot day.

1 ¾ oz of Skinos
¼ oz of simple syrup
Soda water
2 lemon wedges
6 basil leaves

Muddle lemon and basil with simple syrup in a Collins glass. Fill the glass with ice and add the Skinos. Stir everything and top with soda water, ice, and garnish with two more basil leaves.

Skinos Old Fashioned

mastiha4_wm

The Old Fashioned is one of my all-time favourite drinks. In fact, it’s my go-to. So when I found a variation on the classic using Skinos, I was excited. This take on it results in an almost fruity flavour, less harsh than its classic brother, but the bitters give it that familiar Old Fashioned-taste. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised with this one.

2 oz of Skinos
4-5 dashes of Angostura bitters (I like to add a lot so that it balances with the Skinos)
1 barspoon of granular white sugar

Pour sugar, bitters, and a splash of water in an old fashioned glass and stir. Pour in the Skinos, add two large ice cubes and stir well. Top with ice and garnish with an orange peel.

These examples are a testament to Mastiha’s versatility. Even after thousands of years, people are still coming up with different uses for it. I love that such a traditional novelty can keep evolving into new and exciting creations and I hope to be able to share more of them in the future.

So raise a glass of Skinos, throw together a Horiatiki salad with a side of Tzatziki, and celebrate like a Greek: eat, drink, and dance!

Hope you enjoyed Greek Week here at FMMS. OPA!

You Might Also Like

  • Eric October 29, 2014 at 8:42 pm

    I am drinking a bottle of it right now, after a friend brought some back from Greece for me. A restaurant owner in ancient Corinth by the name of Nikos introduced me to it over a decade ago, and whenever any of my friends go to Greece it’s the only thing I ask them to bring back. It’s one of the more unique flavors of the world, in my opinion, and it, along with the Greek frappe, makes every trip there that much more enjoyable. Cheers!

  • Mastiha: Ancient Greek Liqueur Part II – Five Men Making Sh!t July 9, 2015 at 9:14 am

    […] found only on the Greek island of Chios. For a detailed description and history of it, refer to my original post. Although it’s wonderful all year-round, it’s especially delicious during the summer months, […]