There, on the bar in front of you, sits a tawny temptress in a tumbler. In its center floats a single frozen rock, like an iceberg surrounded by an amber ocean.
Swirl the glass and inhale the heady scent of honey. Taste it, and picture prunes, figs, and ripe raisins. Let it rest a moment on your tongue, and wait for another wave of flavour: zesty orange peel and the sultry spice of clove.
Swallow it, and feel the heat of the alcohol, like the smoky embers of a fire.
It is as if someone had distilled the very essence of a Christmas pudding.
“But…what is it, really?” you think, closing your eyes and searching for an answer from the spirit world. Could it be cognac? An aged rum? Bourbon, perhaps?
It is, in fact, none of the above. It is METAXA 12 Stars, one of approximately ten expressions of METAXA, a unique Greek liquor that defies categorization.
Founded by Spyros Metaxa in 1888, his eponymous brand is a blend of aromatic Muscat wines, wine distillates aged in toasted French limousin oak barrels, and a secret mix of Mediterranean botanicals.
You might attempt to shoehorn METAXA in among its brandy brethren, but it was officially pruned from that family tree in 1989. Today, it stands on its own, proudly sporting the banner of the “one-of-a-kind” Greek spirit, METAXA.
METAXA 12 Stars was conceived by Constantinos Raptis, who has served as “METAXA Master”—the brand’s torchbearer and key creative force—since 1992. While his lips are sealed when it comes to his botanical blend, aside from admitting to the long-acknowledged presence of rose petals, Raptis does give up a few details about how he achieved his iconic 12 Stars expression.
Most of METAXA’s Muscat wine comes from the island of Samos, from vineyards that rise up on a terraced mountainside. “Generally speaking, we collect the grapes from midway up,” says Raptis, who holds degrees in Chemistry and Oenology from the University of Athens.
“But for this specific style, we get the grapes from the upper part, 400-500 meters, in order to get more intense aroma and acidity.” Raptis also uses more heavily toasted barriques in the 12 Stars aging process.
“I wanted to create a more global METAXA style, to stand with different spirits like bourbon, whisky, aged rums, and cognac,” he says. “That was my first inspiration, but I also wanted to infuse the new style with the character of Greek nature.”
“Most people think of Greek nature as islands, sun, and sea, but it is not only that,” he insists. “There are lots of interesting forests and aromatic herbs, and all of this I wanted to inject into METAXA 12 Stars. I love the country, and I was inspired by it.”
The truly essential secret ingredients, it seems, are heart and soul.
METAXA 12 Stars is available at Waitrose and through Amazon.co.uk. RRP £30.