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For bartenders, herbaceous Greek liqueur is a gift

Deirdre Auld *

Throughout history, if people grow something, they’re going to find a way to turn it into medicine or alcohol, and often both at once. So it went with mastiha. Since antiquity, the resin of the mastic tree is said to have been used by the Romans in flavoring wines, and as a digestion remedy.

Today the resin, produced from the weeping trees on the Greek island of Chios, goes into cuisines and spirits throughout the Mediterranean. In Boston, the most common mastiha available is the Greek-made Skinos Mastiha, a distinctive, herbaceous liqueur in which the resin is mixed with a neutral distillate. You’ll see it on the shelves of creative bars. West Bridge in Cambridge was using it with cachaca, cardamom, lime, and ginger beer. At Ten Tables in Jamaica Plain, bar staff most recently poured it as a stand-in for absinthe in a riff on Cocktail a la Louisiane. Bartenders at Sarma in Somerville have been borrowing mastic from the kitchen -- (it’s also common in Turkish cooking) for cocktails as well.

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Greek-American Dimitra Tsourianis, owner of Daddy Jones in Somerville, has a playful update on the mastic-based sweets she remembers growing up. “Mastiha is one of my favorite ingredients to incorporate because it’s something that is all over Greece,” she says. Tsourianis serves a spoonful of mastic-flavored taffy with a glass of bourbon flavored with chocolate bitters. “Normally in Greece you get the taffy served with water, but let’s be honest. Dipping something in whiskey is better.” She also likes serving the taffy with chilled mastiha liqueur, whose smell she likens to boiled carrots, and uses the mastiha in riffs on margaritas and sours.

Celery-infused Skinos shows up with Lillet Blanc, basil, and cava in a Freaks & Greeks cocktail at The Salty Pig. Director of operations Deirdre Auld says thy wanted “something light and vegetal for summer, but that wasn’t going to be fruity or sweet like a lot of summer drinks. We wanted to showcase celery and basil, but instead of doing cucumber or mint, still having that earthy flavor.”

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Here the basil really supports the anise and evergreen qualities of the mastiha, while the vermouth adds some sweetness, and the lime brings in acid for a well-rounded sip. She is thinking of showcasing Skinos as a stand-in for gin in classic cocktails like the Last Word, where its piney qualities cross over, or of using it in the role of absinthe in a Sazerac. “It’s actually a digestif, so it’s really great for settling the stomach,” says Auld.

They’ve been saying that for a couple thousand years now.

Recipe:

- Recipe for Freaks & Greeks cocktail


Luke O’Neil can be reached at lukeoneil47@gmail.com.