By Effie Panagopoulos
It all started in 2008, when I was working as National Brand Ambassador for Metaxa, the old school Greek brandy that you’ll find in many a Greek liquor cabinet. A work trip to Greece turned into a mini vacation, and I found myself in Mykonos, at a beach bar. Like clockwork at 3 PM, the well-to-do tourists popped up on top of their tables, dancing a gloriously drunk version of Sirtaki to some house music remix of the infamous track from Zorba the Greek.
But it wasn’t the champagne that got them drunk. The nectar from the gods feverishly being passed around was mastiha (mas-tee-hah). A friend handed me a shot. Upon tasting it, I had this Proustian rush that brought me back to being five years old in my mother’s village, Kaparelli outside of Tripoli, and my grandmother handing us the spoon dessert known as “vanilia” or “ypovrihio” (submarine). It looked like fluff, and you swirled it around in water, and sucked on it like a lollipop. I knew this flavor. And I immediately thought: “They make alcohol from this?! This is F&#%!*@ delicious… It would be phenomenal in cocktails… Why on earth don’t we have this in the States? I’m going to be the one to make this happen!” Eureka.
The more research I did on mastiha, the more obsessed I became. Mastiha is the ancient Greek superfood: a resin from the skinos tree, which grows in only 24 villages (mastiho-horia) in the southern part of the Greek island of Chios. It is a PDO, Protected Designation of Origin ingredient, protected by the EU, as indeed it only grows here. They have tried to plant the trees on the northern part of the island, and the trees grow, but they don’t excrete the same aromatic resin, with its myriad uses (cooking, oral hygiene, skin care, herbal medicine) and scientifically documented healing properties for the gut.
Mastiha is primarily known as the world’s first chewing gum (hence the word masticate). It was first referenced in 500 BC by Herodotus, the Greek father of history, and first prescribed for medicinal purposes by Hippocrates, the Greek father of medicine. It is anti-bacterial, anti-microbial, anti-inflammatory, and anti-oxidant. There are hundreds of modern published medical studies proving it kills h. pylori, the bacteria that causes peptic ulcers, gastric cancer, and acid reflux. One of the most popular things you can buy from the mastiha shop is toothpaste and mouthwash, since it also prevents gingivitis. It is used as an ingredient in surgical thread, as it has healing and regenerative properties for the skin. Apparently brands like Chanel and Tata Harper have caught on since it’s now being used in anti-aging skin care.
And I make alcohol with it. With 20 years of experience in fitness and marketing spirits, I discovered an elixir that has been a peasant spirit in Greece for over 3,000 years, and created the first luxury version of a mastiha liqueur. Because who doesn’t want something that smells of eucalyptus, tastes like cucumbers, carrots, and a spring garden, and is good for digestion?
They say good things take time. It was ten years, 17 formulas, six distilleries, and more than 180 investor pitches before I launched KLEOS Mastiha Spirit in March 2018, in my hometown of Boston, MA.
There isn’t space here to describe the Sisyphean saga it was and continues to be to get KLEOS off the ground, but I’d be happy to meet at Dante here in the Village, and tell the tales over KLEOS cocktails. Cheers!