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Gin VS Ouzo

by Alexandros Alexandrou
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In our effort to resolve essential differences in the production of various distilled liquors the Versus column hosts the differences between spirits, one of which is always gin. This time, we look into the differences and similarities between gin and ouzo.

If you look at the title of the article “Gin vs Ouzo” you may smile a little since you presume that these two beverages have nothing in common. This column aims to do just that, to feature the unique differences between the extract of the juniper berries and various other alcoholic drinks. However, the more informed you are in matters regarding the distillation process, the more common factors you will find when you compare these two seemingly different spirits. For example, if you pour gin and ouzo in two identical glasses, you will hardly notice any visual differences between the two liquids. Both beverages are water like, clear and colourless and will betray their identity only by their distinctive aroma. Another element that links gin to ouzo is the fact that for their production the main base ingredient is pure alcohol, of agricultural origin. This “base alcohol” can come from any raw material (grapes, grains, etc ). It is this neutral grain spirit that is used, especially when it comes to gin, diluted with water and placed the stills. In the case of ouzo, the stills used are traditionally bronze and have a capacity of up to 1000 liters. Similar stills are used for the distillation of gin with great results. Although large firms that focus on the international market may use stills that have a capacity of thousands of liters. The truth of the matter is that many of the new gin brands, do a fantastic job using bronze stills with 600-800 liters capacity that are genuine works of art.

For the production of gin, as I had talked about in the previous issue (issue 6-see Gin VS Tequila), the juniper berries are usually seeped and boiled along with other botanical solids, which lend their aromatic virtues to the previously indifferent, colorless, odorless and highly alcoholic liquid.  Similarly, ouzo is perfumed with a similar technique: a mixture of anise and other aromatic herbs (coriander, cardamom, nutmeg, cinnamon, ginger, angel, chamomile and mastic) are added to the liquid to be distilled. A typical single distillation contains 20 or more kilograms of aromatic solids. The addition of neutral alcohol is allowed after distillation of both gin and ouzo.

Of course, just as we encounter cold compounded gin, where juniper essential oils are added to neutral alcohol, to obtain distillation-free gin, so there are examples of “cold compounded” ouzo, where anethole is mixed with neutral alcohol. Regardless of how they are produced, both gin and ouzo must have a minimum alcoholic strength of 37,5%. On the shelf, we usually come across ouzo with an alcoholic strength of 40-42%. Additionally, all ouzo may contain sugar but no more than 50 grams per liter. In contrast, gin should have minimal or no sugar added. Gin, typically and traditionally does not mature in barrels, as it loses its fresh botanical character, likewise, ouzo is an alcoholic beverage that cannot be aged because anethole oxidizes over time.

A major difference between gin and ouzo is that the first, although identified mainly with Londoners, can be produced anywhere in the world, while ouzo can only be produced in Greece. Across Greece, there are more than 300 producers of ouzo and the labels are at best twice as many since each producer has at least two different styles/types of ouzo. Finally, it is well known that for the most part ouzo consumed with the addition of water giving it a milky-white color, as an aperitif (before the meal). On the contrary, gin is often a part of cocktails. Some of them such as the Negroni, the Dry Martini and the Americano, can be consumed before a meal, while others (Royal Hawaiian, Last Word, Clover club, Southside) can be enjoyed anytime. In the end, both gin and ouzo have their own merit, especially when paired with good company.

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