Some years back we took a trip to Greece with family. Like every other tourist, we became wrapped up in local traditions and enjoyed every opportunity to drink ouzo, a sweet anise-flavored spirit similar to French pastis or Italian sambuca. Naturally, we brought a bottle home with us, but sadly, it has spent most of its time at the back of the liquor cabinet.
A few weeks ago family visiting for Thanksgiving requested a cocktail made with ouzo. We thought for a moment and realized that for the past few years we hadn’t once opened the bottle. In fact, I don’t even recall stumbling across a recipe that used it. What a shame to let our souvenir go unused for so long. Challenge accepted!
The Greeks normally drink ouzo with a splash of water which dilutes the alcohol and causes it to go cloudy—a louche effect that you also get with absinthe. The only other way we had it in Greece was with orange juice. It only took a moment of consideration to conclude that our cocktail could not use ouzo as the primary ingredient by volume. Its flavor is so pronounced that it would easily dominate the recipe. We decided to try combining it with calvados because, like ouzo, it’s not used very often in our house and we were intrigued by the idea of adding apple to the mix. After squeezing some lemon juice for a basic sour formula, genius struck as we grabbed the cinnamon syrup.
1 oz calvados
1 oz ouzo
1 oz lemon juice
.5 oz cinnamon syrup
Shake with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a large twist of lemon peel.
The cinnamon syrup which was almost an afterthought, really makes this drink in our opinion. Plain old simple syrup might work as a substitute and still produce a decent sour, but the cinnamon is so nice with the apple brandy that it’s worth going back to the Zombie post from October and mixing some up just for this drink. The spice is subtle and not overbearing, and its sweetness doesn’t clobber the lemon. You might need to adjust to your proportions to taste.
As for the ouzo, it isn’t hidden by the other ingredients. It’s right there for you to taste, though not overpowering at all. Ouzo has a strange numbing effect on the tongue that We can’t really explain. We get the same reaction with absinthe, so perhaps there is some botanical similarities—or maybe it’s just us. We’re not generally a black jellybean lovers, but we like this cocktail because that flavor is subtle. It reminds us of the Corpse Reviver #2, but we like this a little better.
Naming a cocktail is always an interesting process. This one went through a couple names before we settled on the Circean (SUR-see-an). It’s a reference to Circean Poison—a magical drink that is both infatuating and dangerous. This comes from Greek mythology, and more specifically, Homer’s Odyssey in which the enchantress, Circe, lures Odysseus’s men and transforms them into swine. Obviously, this drink isn’t all that dangerous, and the only transformation you will experience is maybe an insatiable appetite for precision cocktails. Still, we like the name, and overall, think this ouzo recipe works nicely.