Raki or ouzo producers are called rakokazanades or rakitzides, after the copper stills (alembics) used in distillation. A special mixture was used for the raki production, consisting of grape must remains, aniseeds and various aromatic herbs. After the straining, they stored the fermentation remains together with some grape juice into pots (or more recently in plastic vessels) for a few days, without however letting this mixture turn to vinegar, while at the same time they added water. This was the basic component for making raki or ouzo. When it was ready, they poured it into raki still pots together with aniseeds, while some added mastic from Chios, onion, apples or quince for the flavour, or coal and barley so that the final product would be transparent.
Since the 19th century, two basic methods of production have been used: distillation, and “cold” mixing combined with “partial distillation”. Concerning the second method, it consists of a simple mixture of alcohol (today produced of beets), aniseeds, aromatic ingredients and ouzo distillate. Today the “cold mixing” takes place in factories with special mechanical stirrers (“brushes”), producing fast and easy large quantities of final product. In many cases, artificial essence –a chemical composition replacing the distillate of aromatic herbs– is also used. In the past, producers that preferred the cold mixing followed the same procedure, except that usually they did not add any distillate from the initial mixture. Of course, the production quantity was smaller, since the mechanical facilities of modern factories were not available at that time.
The fist (and most known) method of production consists of the distillation of the mixture made of wine marc (known as tsamboura or tsipoura), aniseed and various aromatic herbs. In Chios they also used figs as basic material to produce souma, a local alcoholic distillate, equivalent to grape raki. The mixture was placed (adding water) in a lidded copper still pot (alembic) , which was constantly heated on a wood fire , where it boiled for about ten (10) or twelve (12) hours. The vapour produced, was directed through glass tubes to a cooling tank, where it was condensed in large “columns”, that is, in special cylinders that were externally cooled down with water contained in the tank.
Afterwards, the “unadulterated” mixture (adoloto) flowed from a special opening of the cooling tank to a large pail (mastelo). Out of this they collected the “heart”, meaning the middle fraction of the distillation, which was usually subjected to a second or even third distillation, while they rejected or subjected to additional distillation the first and the third fraction, known as “head” and “tail” respectively. Then, they watered down the final product (also known as “stilled raki”, in contrast to the one coming from “cold” mixing), so that it could reach the desirable alcoholic strength. Finally, they stored it in jars (amphorae) imported mainly from Adrammyti of Asia Minor, whereas for the transportation of big quantities they used large barrels, the so-called bobes, and glass demijohns for smaller quantities.
Today, ouzo producers have been obliged to replace the remains of the grapes by alcohol of 96ο and anethole admixture, supplied by special factories controlled by the state . As for the rest, the same procedure is followed except that in modern factories the mixture heating does not come from burning wood under the still pot, but from steam conveyed through special copper pipes of spiral form into the pot. These particular pipes, called serpentines, coiled in the interior of the still pot just above its bottom, so that the mixture obtains uniform heating that lasts about twelve (12) to fourteen (14) hours, depending on the size of the pot.
Raki (ouzo) and the rest of the distillates were always connected to the aspects of everyday life of Lesvos, as well as of Chios and the broader region of Asia Minor (at least before 1922). These drinks were the perfect companions during gatherings, feasts, and generally in social intercourse. They were consumed mainly by simple folk people frequenting coffee shops or taverns after a day of (usually hard) labour. The wealthier people preferred wine, which they consumed at home. A typical quatrain of Lesvos’ oral tradition says:
The Turks drink raki
as well as the Romaioi.
The poor people drink it, too,
in order to forget their debts.
- Interview with Evrydiki Karekou [daughter of a raki maker], in Kalloni, Lesvos, 30/07/2004
- N. Dimitriou, Folklore of Samos, Athens1986: 36-46
- S. Chtouris, D. Papageorgiou, Ch. Bakalis, Ouzo of Lesvos, brochure publication of the Hellenic Foreign Trade Board (with the cooperation of the Chamber of Lesvos)