We love our bubbly, but when recently celebrating New Year’s Eve in Athens, our drink of choice was the Tears of Chios Cocktail served in the Roof Garden Bar atop the historic Hotel Grande Bretagne on Syntagma Square.
At first sip we knew we were onto something special, but we were puzzled….
The cocktail menu itemized ingredients, but what accounted for that that elusive taste?
In Greek, mastiha (pronounced MAHS-teeh-hah) is an aromatic resin harvested from a shrub in the pistachio family that grows on the island of Chios in the northeast Aegean. When the bark of this shrub is slashed, globules of sap form the mastic ‘tears’ used by the makers of Skinos mastiha. In her encyclopedic journey of a book The Glorious Foods of Greece, Diane Kochilas writes that “in a way, the trees have to ‘cry’ for mastic to be harvested.”
Kochilas goes on to explain that in cooking, “the rock-hard, somewhat sticky crystals have to be pounded to a fine dust, usually with a bit of sugar, to keep them from sticking to the mortar and pestle or spice grinder.”
Anthropologist-author-cook Susanna Hoffmann also waxes poetic (without being “sappy”) on the topic of mastic resin. In The Olive and the Caper: Adventures in Greek Cooking, she writes: “I place small open jars of the sap in my kitchen to scent the atmosphere…. Mastic tastes like lush piney vanilla. It smells like the perfume Shalimar, but with a conifer tinge. It is irresistible.”
Made in Chios, available in U.S.
When we returned to Boston we placed Skinos Mastiha at the top of our shopping list because we knew that even without an Acropolis view Tears of Chios would taste pretty great. But the key ingredient wasn’t available! At least not at first try, when we stopped by our neighborhood store.
Greek tragedy? Not at all, thanks to the hugely helpful Jeff Dolin, a buyer at Blanchard’s Liquors, in Allston. On our behalf Jeff initiated some online research, placed a special order, stocked his shelves, and…voila!
Tears of Chios Cocktail Recipe
2 ounces Skinos mastiha
2 ounces vodka
1 ounce fresh-squeezed lime juice
1 ounce agave (diluted 50/50 with water)
muddled grapes or pomegranate seeds and mint
- Dilute agave syrup by adding an equal part of boiled water. Stir.
- Muddle grapes or pomegranate seeds and mint leaves in a cocktail shaker.
- Add the rest of the ingredients and ice and shake.
- Serve on the rocks in a double Old Fashioned rocks glass.
- Garnish with bamboo skewer through a grape and mint leave, or–if you’re making the pomegranate variation–just the mint
Yield: Serves 2
Anita Baglaneas, Owner-Chef of Jules Catering, adapted this recipe from a cocktail menu at the Hotel Grande Bretagne in Athens, Greece
Not just for cocktails
In case you were wondering… The Greek origin of the word ‘masticate’ derives from mastichan (to gnash the teeth), which is related to masasthai (to chew). If you’re looking for something tangible to chew on and you happen to find yourself in Manhattan, head down to the Lower East Side and stop in the mastihashop New York, where you can purchase mastic chewing gum and other mastiha products from the island of Chios. And if you’re inclined to delve further, two books that features mastiha recipes are Mastiha Cuisine Cookbook and The Greek Vegetarian.
Mastic ‘tears’ and shrub: Wikimedia Commons
All other photos: Liz Muir