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.
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.
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.
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.
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…