Tsipouro at Prespa

The secrets of tsipouro can be found deep within the old distillery at Agios Germanos in Prespa.

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At the hands of the best worker, Germanos Damolidis, the coppery cauldron has been singing for the last 50 years between November and January. From the incandescent bowels of the traditional distillery flows the nectar of the Gods, the magic potion that leaves those that have experienced it motionless and breathless. You don’t have to wonder why tsipouro at Prespa looks, tastes, and acts like a magic potion. The answers lay within Germanos Damolidis’ distillery, in his magic hands, and in the caustic comments of old miss Theodora. They lay within the fountain of water that flows beside the cauldron, in the pleasant smiles of the apprentice Vasilis.

The grape clusters that have been waiting since September echo as they are put inside the hot cauldron. The intensity of the wood-filled fire is regulated inside the oven. The frozen water that comes through the stream from the spring above flows continuously in the "fridge," waiting for the boisterous hot steam of the boiling cauldron. The first phase of tsipouro shows up at the mouth of the pipe, the deadly phase: pure alcohol.

It’s not just the technique, the many additional ingredients (aniseed, corn etc), or the varying intensities of the fire that count. It's not just the manipulation of the liquefied steam, or the control of the distillery's "chain." Above all else it’s the atmosphere that counts. At times the atmosphere is cheerful, full of songs from the accordion of the village’s "maestro" (who takes his bath, by the way, in the spring even in midwinter). Other times, the atmosphere becomes solemn, especially during the small hours when your eyes become heavy.

It is impossible to disconnect the drink itself from the simple men of Prespa, from the image of Germanos moving soundlessly through the area. He knows how to smile, to be embarrassed when someone praises him. He is a person with an unidentifiable age and limitless wisdom. Life has never been easy for him or his fellow villagers of Prespa. Life is simple and austere. The villagers' richness is found in their modesty, their love, their pure relation with nature. In the same warm way that their tears will trickle down their cheeks both when they are happy and when they are sad, so trickles tsipouro from the mouth of Germanos’ distillery. Both of them are liquids and very strong ones indeed.

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