Ordering a drink at the bar with a foreign flair is all well and good, but sometimes it’s worth going back to our roots and honouring the fabulous alcoholic beverages that have become synonymous with Cyprus.
From a cocktail made especially for a king, to one of the oldest wines in the world to that was once proclaimed the wine of kings, we certainly have plenty to be mighty proud of! My Cyprus Insider gives you the lowdown on three exclusively Cypriot drinks that should go down a treat (each suited to rather different tastes!)
1. Brandy Sour
An exclusively Cypriot concoction, locals love their Brandy Sour which has come to be regarded as something of a national cocktail. The drink is a mix of Cypriot brandy, undiluted lemon squash, a few drops of Angostura bitters, and then topped up with soda water. Cyprus brandy in itself is rather light, with an alcohol content of around 32%, and a slightly sweet aftertaste.
The cocktail was first thought up in the Forest Park Hotel in Platres in the 1930s, made for the young King Farouk of Egypt, who often stayed in the hotel during his frequent visits to the island. But what many don’t know, is exactly why the barman decided to come up with the concoction.
Word on the street has it that King Farouk was rather fond of his alcohol, but being Muslim, could not be seen drinking it. And so, the hotel came up with a plan to serve the king something which appeared to be an iced tea, but was actually an alcoholic beverage that he would love. In this way, he successfully managed to disguise his preference for western style cocktails. News then fast spread across the island, and before long, everyone was talking about this great new alcoholic drink, which fast became a hit with locals and foreigners alike.
Richard the Lionheart once boldly proclaimed Commandaria to be the “Wine of Kings and King of Wines” while gulping away at the sweet Cyprus dessert wine. Today, the glorious tipple stands as the world’s oldest wine still in production, dating all the way back to 800 BC, while its name dates back to the Crusaders of the 12th century.
A sweet dessert wine made from indigenous sun-dried Xynisteri and Mavro grapes, Commandaria is recognized and loved by connoisseurs the world over. It is enjoyed (like port) as an after-dinner wine, and is fabulous with good strong cheese and fresh fruit. It’s usually served chilled (6-9ºC) in a short-stemmed wine glass with inward sloping sides to retain the wine’s rich bouquet.
Not for the faint-hearted, this local ‘firewater’ is a potent distillation of the leftover grape skins and residue (pomace) from winemaking. Mighty strong stuff that locals are really proud of, a few swigs of this tipple will leave you feeling on top of the world. For the brave and the brave at heart, this white spirit contains a whopping 45% alcohol and is usually enjoyed as an ice cold shot.
In the past, a glass or two was enjoyed as an aperitif by the man of the house after a hard day’s work in the fields. And his wife would have been more likely to use it as an alcohol rub or to clean the windows! Today, most Zivania-making is regulated by the government so it’s not as strong as it used to be, but it still has quite a kick. More than that, plenty of village folk still make it at home and the mountain variety can be seriously strong so it’s up to you whether you want to get a bottle from a supermarket or head out to the villages for that extra kick. Want a little bite to eat with your tipple? Zivania is usually enjoyed with a meze of almonds or walnuts, soujouko (a local sweet) and slices of cured meat.
Handy Insider Tip: Make your own Brandy Sour in a tall glass with ice!
- 3 or 4 dashes of Angostura bitters
- 1 shot of Cyprus brandy
- 1 shot Lemon cordial or fresh lemon juice
- Top up with soda water and stir well
- Garnish with a sprig of fresh mint