Rain at the wrong time of the year can ruin a harvest. It can also be a challenge if you have planned for a big outside event. Last Saturday the son of my sister-in-law was baptized. Her husband is from Crete, and in Crete it is tradition to invite the whole village to family events like a wedding or the christening of ones’ child.
They both wished for a smaller happening. We live in a northern suburb of Athens and have a large garden, so we happily offered our grounds for the christening celebration to take place. About 80 guests were expected, 60 adults and 20 children. Usually, September is warm and dry. But on Friday, it started to rain and temperatures dropped. We had to implement Plan B, which meant making space in our living room. Most furniture was carried into the garage, the caterer brought tables, chairs etc. and after a few hours of work the living room was transformed. We also hired a clown to entertain the younger children. The rain on Saturday morning was so heavy that I had to pump out water from our swimming pool to prevent it from overflowing. The guests arrived at noon and we all had a great time. The food was delicious, wine was flowing, and in the early afternoon the time for Raki had come. Most people get easily confused when it comes to Greek spirits, and it is easy to see why:
Tsipouro is a pure grape distillate, similar to the Italian Grappa. 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 the name Tsikoudia was used. The European Union protects Tsikoudia from Crete as a unique spirit coming from its original place, a fact not many people are aware of. Tsikoudia has the same protected status as Cognac or Scotch Whisky.
Raki is an oriental name that refers to the distillation process. Turkey’s traditional drink, Raki, was also originally produced from the residue of grapes left over from the wine making. During the Turkish occupation of Crete, this name was given to the local Tsikoudia. Today, both names – Tsikoudia and Raki – are used in Crete equally.
The Turkish Raki is not the same as the Cretan one. Turkish Raki today is in many cases made from imported spirits that are processed with aniseed, resulting in a taste similar to Greek Ouzo. Ouzo is not a pure grape distillate; the law says that it must be distilled from a minimum of 30% grape residuals. The balance can be distilled from grains, potatoes and other fruits. And of course aniseed and other aromatic seeds and grains are macerated in the alcohol during the production process.
To sum it up, Tsipouro is a pure grape distillate, similar to Italian Grappa. In Crete, Tsipouro is called Tsikoudia or Raki.
Turkish Raki is processed with aniseed, similar to Greek Ouzo. Greek Ouzo is only distilled partially from grape residuals and its main flavour component is anise.
When the last guests left in the early evening hours, the sun came out again. The christening celebration had been a great success. I am really happy for my sister-in-law and her husband; their baby son is gorgeous and already so smart: He peacefully slept all afternoon and spared himself all the attention :)