FOS Greek Mastiha is a unique Greek liqueur made from the mastic trees (Pistacia lentiscus) found on the Greek island of Chios. Mastic has a haunting, slightly sweet flavor with the same menthol notes found in anise and mint. It was once used to flavor the chewing gum favored by the ancient world (even Socrates needed minty-fresh breath to sweeten his oratories on ethics). However, mastic is neither spice nor herb. It’s a resin made from the sap of an evergreen shrub. It’s a well-known ingredient in Greece, but I’ve never seen mastic mentioned by name on a restaurant menu and I doubt my local Piggly-Wiggly carries it.
I was unfamiliar with the ingredient, so when I heard I was being sent a complimentary sample of mastic-flavored liqueur the first thing I thought of was bathroom grout. Which isn’t exactly a culinary treat. But let me tell you this about mastic – more lyrically known as Mastika or Mastiha in Greece – its sweet herbaceousness makes it the perfect flavoring for a sophisticated liqueur.
When you think of a Greek island you think of balmy breezes and blazing sunshine. At least I do. Considering this liqueur's provenance I was prepared to develop a cocktail that was light, citrusy and maybe even a little bubbly. Something like a French 75 with a splash of Mastiha. The kind of thing you might sip on a veranda overlooking the Aegean at sunset. What’s not to like, right? FOS Greek Mastiha would be a delightful aperitif for those possibility-filled summer hours between sunset and dinner.
However, when I did a preliminary tasting of the sample of FOS Greek Mastiha sent to me, the first thing that came to mind was pine cones and the upcoming winter solstice. Maybe it’s just the season that set my palate in that direction, but I decided to accentuate the slight hint of resin in this liqueur in a cool weather sipper made from dark spirits and a handmade spruce-scented simple syrup. Something more appropriate to the crackle of a log in the fireplace than the ebbing flame of a golden Greek sunset.
I’ve called this Mastiha cocktail Winter Solstice for its whiff of pine needles (spruce-scented simple syrup), dark earth (rye), burning logs (mezcal), and cool herbaciousness (FOS Greek Mastiha). It reminds me of a nighttime stroll through a pine forest at winter solstice.