An enticing spirit to sip in all seasons

“Greek brandy” Metaxa’s subtle-but-exotic character is both refreshing and warming

Metaxa 12-Stars, £30, and a Metaxa ginger ale cocktail
Metaxa 12-Stars, £30, and a Metaxa ginger ale cocktail

Metaxa has always been one of those drinks that I’ve seen behind the bar but never given a second thought. That changed, however, while holidaying in Corfu last summer, where the Greek spirit’s presence in every bar, hotel and restaurant provoked me into trying it – and to say I was pleasantly surprised is an understatement.

The vineyards on Samos is where the Muscat wines used for Metaxa are produced
The vineyards on Samos is where the Muscat wines used for Metaxa are produced

Invented in 1888 by a merchant called Spyros Metaxas, it is a genuinely unique drink made from brandy that is barrel-aged before being mixed with Muscat wines from the Greek island of Samos, and then blended with a “secret” bouquet of roses and Mediterranean herbs.

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I had always assumed it would simply taste like a rather cheap brandy, and since my palate can’t abide even the most expensive cognac, Metaxa remained well and truly off my radar. But, encouraged by my wife to adopt a “when in Rome” attitude, I decided to do as the Greeks do and tentatively risk it “long” mixed with Fever-Tree ginger ale and plenty of ice.

Metaxa is made from a blend of Muscat wine and barrel-aged brandy
Metaxa is made from a blend of Muscat wine and barrel-aged brandy

I found it instantly delicious and superbly refreshing during last summer’s Mediterranean heatwave, but it’s also proving rather useful back here in chilly old Britain as a seasonal warmer taken neat, with ice. And, although it is often referred to, erroneously, as Greek brandy, I didn’t find it especially brandy-like at all, since it harbours a whole host of intriguing, subtle-but-exotic flavours ranging from chocolate and liquorice to dried fruits and, most notably, oranges.

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The bottle gracing our drinks cabinet right now is of the £30 “12 Stars” variety, with the number of stars reflecting the level of refinement (three-, five- and seven-star variants, which use different blending processes, are also available). And having seen the enthusiasm with which my festive guests consumed it, I can now understand why it is exported around the world. It’s only a pity I didn’t try it sooner…

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