Bottle #49: Ouzo by Metaxa

Bottle #49 is Ouzo by Metaxa, and this tiny bottle has definitely seen better days. The label is super dirty and falling off. Along the way someone taped it back on, but crookedly. Poor little bottle!

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I wrote all about Ouzo and how it’s made in Bottle #20, Boutari Ouzo. The short version is that it’s a distillation of anise seed, which gives it a strong licorice flavor and a distinct sweetness even when there’s no actual added sugar. There are usually other botanicals included for flavoring, and in the case of Metaxa’s Ouzo, the company’s website mentions iris flower and mastic, which is an aromatic resin or gum from a Mediterranean tree.

Other than that, there’s not really a lot out there about Metaxa’s Ouzo. There is, however, a lot out there about Metaxa. Metaxa is both a company and a name for a Greek spirit. When it was first launched by Spyros Metaxa in 1888 it was called a Cognac. Then, presumably as a result of those key paragraphs in the Treaty of Versailles that I talked about in Bottle #15, Asbach Uralt Brandy, they could no longer use the name Cognac and switched to calling it brandy. But now they can’t even use that term, because Metaxa isn’t really brandy.

So what is it? It’s a mix of Muscat wine with distilled grape spirits, flavored with various botanicals and aged. To be called brandy it could only be the distilled spirits themselves. Now, I’ve not tried it myself, but according to some great vintage ads on the company’s website “it’s miserable in a martini” but you can “snifter it as a fine brandy [because it’s] rich without harshness” or “sip it as a liqueur [because it’s] smooth but not sticky.” It’s certainly been popular for a long time all around the world. And apparently appreciated by royalty – both the old Metaxa bottles and my Ouzo bottle have seals on the label representing royal warrants from the King of Greece and the late King of Serbia. Which King of Serbia? I haven’t been able to find out. And even though Greece abolished the monarchy in 1973, the seals stuck around at least into the 80s.

Metaxa the company has probably been making Ouzo in Greece for a long time, but it seems like it probably wasn’t exported very much until the 1970s. At least that’s when newspaper mentions of it in the US and Canada pick up. That also matches the Canadian trademark filing I found with a very similar label design from 1977. I’m going to put 1974 as a start date for this Canadian bottle, since that’s when the dual language labeling act passed. For an end point I think I can narrow it down to before 1987, based on a pair of print ads from 1982 and 1987, where the Ouzo label has changed.

There’s a non-zero chance that there’s some actual Metaxa somewhere in the collection, and if that happens I’ll have to find another story to tell you about it. Meanwhile, I’ve just got another licorice-flavored liqueur to (not) look forward to. But I’ll tuck it away with the Boutari and bring both of them when I finally go on my bucket-list trip to Greece!

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Bottle #49: Ouzo by Metaxa

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Bottle #49 is Ouzo by Metaxa, and this tiny bottle has definitely seen better days. The label is super dirty and falling off. Along the way someone taped it back on, but crookedly. Poor little bottle!

I wrote all about Ouzo and how it’s made in Bottle #20, Boutari Ouzo. The short version is that it’s a distillation of anise seed, which gives it a strong licorice flavor and a distinct sweetness even when there’s no actual added sugar. There are usually other botanicals included for flavoring, and in the case of Metaxa’s Ouzo, the company’s website mentions iris flower and mastic, which is an aromatic resin or gum from a Mediterranean tree.

Other than that, there’s not really a lot out there about Metaxa’s Ouzo. There is, however, a lot out there about Metaxa. Metaxa is both a company and a name for a Greek spirit. When it was first launched by Spyros Metaxa in 1888 it was called a Cognac. Then, presumably as a result of those key paragraphs in the Treaty of Versailles that I talked about in Bottle #15, Asbach Uralt Brandy, they could no longer use the name Cognac and switched to calling it brandy. But now they can’t even use that term, because Metaxa isn’t really brandy.

So what is it? It’s a mix of Muscat wine with distilled grape spirits, flavored with various botanicals and aged. To be called brandy it could only be the distilled spirits themselves. Now, I’ve not tried it myself, but according to some great vintage ads on the company’s website “it’s miserable in a martini” but you can “snifter it as a fine brandy [because it’s] rich without harshness” or “sip it as a liqueur [because it’s] smooth but not sticky.” It’s certainly been popular for a long time all around the world. And apparently appreciated by royalty – both the old Metaxa bottles and my Ouzo bottle have seals on the label representing royal warrants from the King of Greece and the late King of Serbia. Which King of Serbia? I haven’t been able to find out. And even though Greece abolished the monarchy in 1973, the seals stuck around at least into the 80s.

Metaxa the company has probably been making Ouzo in Greece for a long time, but it seems like it probably wasn’t exported very much until the 1970s. At least that’s when newspaper mentions of it in the US and Canada pick up. That also matches the Canadian trademark filing I found with a very similar label design from 1977. I’m going to put 1974 as a start date for this Canadian bottle, since that’s when the dual language labeling act passed. For an end point I think I can narrow it down to before 1987, based on a pair of print ads from 1982 and 1987, where the Ouzo label has changed.

There’s a non-zero chance that there’s some actual Metaxa somewhere in the collection, and if that happens I’ll have to find another story to tell you about it. Meanwhile, I’ve just got another licorice-flavored liqueur to (not) look forward to. But I’ll tuck it away with the Boutari and bring both of them when I finally go on my bucket-list trip to Greece!

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