One of the many great traditions in Greece is the enjoyment of a couple of shot glasses of tsipouro liqueur accompanied by meze in the company of friends. Tsipouro is widely available in great quantities and it is still relatively cheap.
The reason tsipouro is so inexpensive is because it can be homemade. As a result, there is a completely unregulated market around it, resulting in the loss of tens of millions of euros in taxes every year. Now the Greek government has decided to ban the sale of draft tsipouro altogether.
Tsipouro – made from grape residue after grapes are pressed to make wine – is the drink of choice in celebrations in the Greek provinces. One of the reasons tsipouro – or “tsikoudia,” as they call it on Crete – is so popular is because it doesn’t cause dizziness or headaches if consumed in moderation.
Tsipouro is also inexpensive and relatively easy to make. There are countless families across Greece who make their own liqueur at home; everyone is even allowed to make up to 150 liters per year for personal use.
Usually, the tsipouro served in bars, tavernas and restaurants is in draft form, sold to the businesses by small distillers. It can also be served bottled, when produced by big distillery companies. In Greece there are several tsipouradika specializing in many varieties of tsipouro and serving special meze dishes to accompany the drink.
The beautiful seaside city of Volos is famous for its numerous tsipouradika and the delicious meze they serve there.
During the economic crisis, Greeks turned to draft tsipouro and ouzo because it is cheaper than wine and beer.
In 2013, right in the middle of the crisis years, a Finance Ministry committee had estimated that 17 million liters of illegal draft tsipouro were being produced and sold annually without being taxed. As a result, it was believed that the Greek state misses out on approximately 97 million euros in taxes annually — while the competition among producers is unfair.
In 2015, the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) had estimated that 24 million liters of draft tsipouro are made every year in Greece. The OECD suggested that among the various reforms Greece should undertake to boost state revenue is the prohibition of the sale of draft tsipouro.
After two years of going back and forth on the issue, a bill to ban the sale of draft tsipouro passed in the Greek parliament in 2017. However, it turned out to be one of those laws that was never enforced, much like the prohibition of smoking in public places.
However, the Greek government has finally decided to enforce this dormant legislation. The General Secretariat of Commerce and Consumer Protection has started inspections across the whole chain of producers and providers of the beloved drink, including liquor stores, restaurants, supermarkets and bars.
Dozens of businesses were found to be selling draft tsipouro in violation of the law, which states that the distillate product offered exclusively in bulk under the name tsipouro or tsikoudia is prohibited to appear in price lists and other handling and marketing documents.
Moreover, any product named tsipouro or tsikoudia should be bottled.
The inspections and general monitoring of the sale of tsipouro are incorporated in the General Secretariat of Commerce and Consumer Protection’s annual operational control and market surveillance plan.
According to data available to the relevant ministries, there are 51,439 holders of a license to produce tsipouro, with 47,771 of them stating that their annual batch of the liqueur is less than 150 liters, claiming it is made for their own use.
According to the Secretariat, however, there is a great discrepancy between what is declared and the quantities of draft tsipouro found on the market today.
To that effect, the Secretariat is calling on those small producers to modernize their production facilities and abide by health laws. It is also suggested to small producers to take advantage of the NSRF’s programs and switch to branded tsipouro.
According to large distillers, the surge of bulk tsipouro on the market is due to the substantial difference in taxation between bulk and bottled tsipouro, creating a strong incentive to exploit the “small producer” status.
While bottled product is subject to a special tax of EUR 12.75 per liter of anhydrous alcohol, producers of bulk tsipouro are taxed with a lump sum tax of EUR 1.40 per liter of ethyl alcohol.
It remains to be seen if these newly-enforced tsipouro laws will have the same, wide-ranging effect as Greece’s anti-smoking legislation, now enforced as a matter of course.