Cocktails & Spirits

Fos Greek Mastiha: Go Greek at the Setai

You may not have heard of mastiha, but it's likely you've tasted the liqueur's woody flavor in a favorite Greek dish. It's that secret little something you can't quite place — part anise, part pine cone, part rye. 

That flavor comes from the resin of the mastic tree, found mostly on the Greek island of Chios. The small tree is part of the evergreen family and has been cultivated for its resin for centuries by island locals, who prick the tree and collect the substance. The process is slow, with gatherers waiting weeks for the tree to weep its precious fluid. For that reason, it has been nicknamed the crying tree.

The resin is used to make everything from chewing gum to candies like Turkish Delight. In the past, it treated ailments ranging from snake bites to toothaches. It's also used in cooking. Mina's Mediterraneo's Yasmine Kotb uses mastiha in some of her dishes to impart a sweet, herbal note similar to licorice but more subtle.

The most popular use for mastiha is in spirits. The resin is washed with olive oil soap and rainwater; then it's mixed with fine-quality alcohol and heated by wood fire in bronze tanks until distilled. The drink has been popular in Europe for so long it's been said the gods enjoyed the beverage on Mount Olympus. Strangely, it hadn't caught on in the United States until now.

George Zeritis and Pierre Economacos, partners at Miami-based Ambrosia Wine & Spirits, have released Fos Greek Mastiha liqueur, made exclusively for Ambrosia Wine & Spirits on Chios. The attractive bottle is decorated with a traditional evil eye, used to ward off spirits of the undrinkable kind (and, let's hope, hangovers).

Zeritis, a Greek native, says he had to bring mastiha to Miami. "It's such an approachable spirit. You can drink it as a shot, on the rocks, or mix it in cocktails." He adds that the taste, though subtle, is distinct enough to stand up to anything you can throw at it. "Modifiers don't kill the flavor." 

The spirits partner prefers the traditional way it's taken in Greece. "We keep bottles in the freezer and drink it neat, usually after dinner as a digestif." At first taste, Fos resembles ouzo, but the flavors change at the second sip. The licorice taste is replaced by pine notes and hints of orange and spices. 

Zeritis says mastiha is rare. "About a dozen small villages control the harvest, and the trees are grown only on the southern part of Chios." It took more than two years to bring FOS Mastiha to Miami, but it's been worth the journey. "It's been a long but productive period." Getting Fos to Miami is just phase one. The next step is introducing it to the public. Zeritis and Economacos set about introducing the spirit to some of Miami's best bartenders.  

One welcome recipient was the Setai's Philip Khanderish. The bartender — known for creating elegant and extravagant cocktails like the gold martini, a $100 libation made with Russian Standard Gold vodka, Louis XIII cognac, Grand Marnier Cuvée 1880, Riesling ice wine, and 24-karat gold flakes — was inspired by the spirit, so he created a host of cocktails. They include the FOS sour — a light, frothy drink made with Fos, gin, grapefruit, dried rose petals, and egg white. Khanderish explains he used grapefruit because the tartness contrasts the best with the sweet notes in the mastiha. 

The most gorgeous and intricate cocktail is Khanderish's A Day With Dionysus. The bartender sets a tray with several seashell-shaped vessels, resting on a pink sand base of tapioca maltodextrin. The idea of this interactive cocktail is to try all possible combinations, with the "sand" changing the flavors from sweet to tart and back again. The cocktail is a show-stopper, with every patron at the bar pausing to have a look. At $20, it's the most Instagram-worthy drink in Miami right now.

Fos Mastiha is available at the bars at the Fontainebleau, Soho Beach House, Milos, Michael's Genuine Food & Drink, the Broken Shaker, and the Bar at the Setai. Ask for a chilled shot after dinner if you want to be truly authentic, or try this simple and refreshing recipe:

Fos Majestic
  • 2 oz. Fos Mastiha liqueur
  • 2 oz. fresh grapefruit juice
Shake with ice; then strain and pour into a tall glass filled with ice. Top with a splash of club soda, and garnish with mint leaves.
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Laine Doss is the food and spirits editor for Miami New Times. She has been featured on Cooking Channel's Eat Street and Food Network's Great Food Truck Race. She won an Alternative Weekly award for her feature about what it's like to wait tables.
Contact: Laine Doss