With apologies to Homer

Sing, muse, the anger of alcohol purists

and those descended from the great philosophers of southern European countries that put white columns in front of their buildings

when Americans feel the need to light their favorite drink on fire.

 

Ouzo, pride of the seagoing Greeks, made from base spirit distilled from the shattered remains of grapes pressed into the service of wine

then reforged in the heat of a still with the sweet, heady kiss of that sharpest of flavors, anise, soul of absinthe and raki and Pernod —

a flavor that has never really floated my boat

but which, if volume be the judge, does please the palates of Europeans

who all have their own type of anisette liqueur

whose names are myriad.

 

Ouzo is an aperitif, dry and herbal, meant to prepare

the belly of a hero for the influx of a feast.

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And it does contain herbs: sometimes, cardamom, cloves or fennel.

 

Elemental, it is properly drunk with a splash of the coldest water, even ice,

and a cloud will appear in the glass, turning it creamy white,

like the milk of the love goddess Aphrodite

(which would probably be alcoholic, if you think about it).

 

The “ouzo effect” this is called, or also called “louching,”

and its cause, they say, is a compound called anethole, from the anise.

 

I can explain it no better, for lo,

I am a bard, and not a chemist.

 

But it is fire that causes wrath:

Fire, that most divine of elements

corrupted, becomes an insult. The children of the night, those who wear glitter and listen to dubstep in lounges, do sometimes seek to set their ouzo alight with flames,

perhaps to burn away the shame of Tinder-swiping,

sometimes merely as a medium

to flame-roast shrimp

or the burning cheese dish called

Saganaki. Do this not, unless thou wish to incur the wrath

of those gods whose realm is good taste —

drink not like a frat boy.

 

Verily, muse, this libation is a paradox: Best served icy as the haughty divine heart of a sea-nymph, it does burn like fire in the heart (and esophagus) of a mortal man.

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Thus, though it may arrive in a shot glass, one does best if one does not shoot it like a barbarian, but rather sip. The Greeks do thus, with light tapas called meze,

like dolmas, and artichokes, and spanakopita,

in cafes called ouzerias,

where the citizens of Hellas

or those from far-off lands who are waiting for their cruise ships

can appreciate this ichor of the Gods.

 

And for those who dwell in the tree-clad city of Seattle,

beside the sea of orcas and among the wall of gum,

there is Omega Ouzeri, in Capitol Hill,

where one may choose one’s ouzo

from among the many.