The ancient Greeks knew a thing or two about combatting thirst – and having a bit of fun on the way. Greece’s countryside and coast has always nurtured fat and juicy grapes; having a dedicated god of wine – hello, Dionysus – probably helped, too. Dionysus inspired feverish levels of devotion in his rowdy followers: each spring, as Greece’s vines started to bear fruit, he was worshipped with an unabashed knees-up/‘arts festival’.
Dionysus didn’t get the best start in life. His human mother, Semele, was burnt to a crisp after asking her lover (and baby-daddy), Zeus, to appear before her in his true form. Zeus’ glory was too much for the poor mortal to handle and she died a terrible death, having been tricked by Zeus’ murderously jealous wife, Hera. Zeus rescued his unborn son from Semele’s carcinogenic remains and stitched Dionysus into his thigh (as you do), where the little nipper flourished until birth. Upon entering this world, Dionysus’ next setback was being ripped to pieces by the Titans. Luckily, Dionysus was painstakingly reassembled, like a divine Airfix kit, by Rhea, a friendly Titan, and put under the protection of mountain nymphs by his worried father.
That kind of troubled childhood is enough to turn anyone to the bottle; it’s unsurprising that Dionysus developed both a creative streak and a drinking problem. He was encouraged in this by the maenads: wild women who drank wine like water. Dionysus’ own wild side earned him a loyal band of followers who worshipped him in the woods, routinely reaching ecstatic states of madness and violence (if you bumped into this gang in the woods, rather than shaking your hand, they’d probably rip it off).
The cult of Dionysus may now be a thing of the past (possibly for the best), but Greece continues to produce ambrosial nectars and throat-burning local liqueurs such as tsipouro (pomace brandy, similar in taste to raki). The Greeks didn’t believe in waste: instead of throwing away the skins, twigs, and mash (aka pomace) from the winemaking process, they stored the byproducts and then distilled them in order to make raki and tsipouro.
If you’d like to stage your own Dionysian-style party (sans the demented violence), help out with the grape harvest or make tsipouro at Kinsterna Hotel in the East Peloponnese. This handsome hotel is set on an ancient Byzantine estate in the hills of eastern Laconia, surrounded by vineyards and olive groves. Bed down here and you can stomp grapes during the harvest and watch Kinsterna’s delicious wine being made in the hotel’s old-world wine press. There’s an impressive copper cauldron in the bar, used to make tsipouro – do feel free to have a go.
If you can’t make it to Kinsterna but still fancy making merry with your maenads, here’s a recipe for you, with pomace swapped for raisins, as we don’t expect you to be casually wine-making on a Wednesday night. Also, you might need some form of fermenting and distilling equipment on hand – but if that isn’t an investment, we don’t know what is…
How to make home-made tsipouro
1 Soak three kilograms of raisins in water overnight.
2 Blend into a mush with whatever weaponry you like (a blender would seem a sensible choice), then add one tablespoon of acid blend (a granulated blend of the three most commonly found fruit acids: citric acid, malic acid, and tartaric acid), which is also used in winemaking.
3 Bring four and a half litres of water to a boil, and pour it over the raisins in a fermentor. (This one, perhaps.)
5 Ferment till dry; distill in a pot still when clear.
6 Summon your maenads, drink your tsipouro and do some Dionysian damage. (No dismembering, mind.)