The Only Ingredient You Should Add To Ouzo

When you were a kid, what type of bottle did your parents bust out at the end of a festive meal, passing shot glasses around as they did so? If you're of Mexican heritage, perhaps it was tequila or mezcal, both distilled from agave nectar; if you have roots in China, maybe it was baijiu, distilled from the cereal grain sorghum. If your folks immigrated from Scandinavia, aquavit, distilled from potatoes, was likely the quaff of choice.

But if you're Greek, there's little doubt that the clear bottle of spirits that often graced the holiday or dinner table — and perhaps still does to this day — was ouzo, distilled from grapes and infused with anise, that licorice-tasting herb (via VinePair). With a robust proof of around 80% (via The Spruce Eats), little glasses of ouzo are often passed around the table after a hearty Greek meal — but if you've ever sipped one straight and found it way too hot and strong, just know your ouzo was missing one key ingredient.

Ouzo benefits from a pour of water before being sipped

Similar to sambuca from Italy, pastis from France, and absinthe from Switzerland, Greek ouzo is a clear, alcoholic spirit that heavily features the flavor of anise, often compared to black licorice (via The Washington Post). A flavor many Americans didn't grow up with, that strong black licorice scent can certainly be an acquired taste — which can help explain why that first sip of straight ouzo can leave a not-too-favorable impression.

But the famous Greek spirit isn't, in fact, meant to be sipped straight, according to the Post. Rather, a small amount of ouzo should be served in a tall, narrow glass alongside a pitcher of water and plenty of ice, the paper notes. The drinker should pour water into the glass almost to the top — turning the quaff a milky, opaque white — and then drop in a couple of cubes of ice. Similar to the way those other anise spirits are consumed around the world, adding the water is a key step to appreciating all the flavors in a good ouzo, since the flavor compounds in anise seeds are not fully alcohol-soluble but do dissolve in water (via McGill University). Once bloomed with H2O, the flavors in the spirit can taste both brighter and more well-balanced — making ouzo enjoyable to sip not only on its own, but alongside food, as well. Fried calamari with a spritz of lemon, anyone?