Recently the editor of www.AirlinesAndDestinations.com had the good fortune to be invited on a press trip to the island of Mykonos and to Athens, courtesy of the Star Alliance and its latest member-to-be, Aegean Airlines ― which looks like it’s going to be a distinct asset to Star, already the biggest and best-organised global airline alliance there is. Our party spent two activity-packed and very enjoyable days on Mykonos, which since the 1950s has developed a world-famous reputation as a 24-hour vacation spot where people from all over the world come for sun, sea, sand and se…veral other reasons.
During our stay on Mykonos, we reporters had several opportunities to sample a wonderful drink called Skinos Mastiha Spirit ― one of which came when our host, Aegean Airlines, kindly and thoughtfully provided each of us with a gift pack of goodies that contained both a box of delicious almond cookies locally made in Mykonos and a 200ml sample bottle of Skinos. At a couple of our group dinners during the trip, Skinos Mastiha Spirit was also liberally in evidence: Thank you, Aegean Airlines and Star Alliance.
The clear spirit ― which comes in a chunky bottle whose frosted-glass design features a clear glass window through which you can see the word ‘Skinos’ on the inside of the back of the bottle ― has about as high a degree of alcohol content as the more famous Greek spirit ouzo, but tastes nothing like it. Skinos is made from the aromatic resin collected from mastiha, or mastic, trees on the island of Chios, which like many other Greek islands lies close to the west coast of Turkey. (The word Skinos is the ancient name for mastiha, according to the bottle-label.)
Reading up on the mastiha tree a little in Wikipedia, I find that it’s a member of the pistachio family and its Latin name is Pistacia lentiscus. More pertinently, however, although the mastiha shrub grows throughout the Mediterranean region, only the trees in southern Chios weep the resin from which the mastic, or masticha, spice is obtained for use in flavoring and aromatizing a variety of products that range from chewing gum through a Turkish Delight-like confection and cookies to several exclusive ranges of cosmetics.
The mastic gum is produced by a cooperative of medieval villages in southern Chios ― and only there. The exclusivity of the mastic gum source has led to the European Union granting the production of the spice in Chios a protected designation of origin (PDO) and a protected geographical indication (PGI) name.
And, of course, the mastic gum flavors Skinos Mastiha Spirit. The flavor is hard to describe, but it is flowery, delicate and sweet ― not at all like the assault of aniseed on your taste buds that you experience when you taste most ouzos ― and very drinkable indeed. But it also packs a punch, since the spirit is 30 per cent alcohol by volume ― about as strong as most whiskies and vodkas.
Connoisseurs in Greece told our party that the spirit should be drunk ice-cold and that it should be kept in your freezer ― and indeed that’s the way we were always served it. (Having such a high alcohol content means that, like vodka, Skinos doesn’t freeze in the freezer.) Some craven drinkers in our party insisted on imbibing Skinos Mastiha Spirit as shots, knocking it all back at once as one would drink many cheaper vodkas and tequilas.
However, I, as a somewhat experienced drinker, believe its distinctive, unusual and delicate flavor doesn’t deserve this treatment: Skinos is more than good enough to drink slowly and savor. It probably is also really nice at room temperature ― indeed, that is an experiment that www.AirlinesAndDestinations.com must try in the near future.
Skinos Mastiha Spirit can be found in the dedicated Mastiha Shop outlets throughout Greece. There is a Mastiha Shop in the extensive duty-free shopping area of Athens International Airport Eleftherios Venizelos where you can buy a 700ml bottle for just under 15 euros (14.89 euros, if I recall rightly.) Once you have bought the bottle you are allowed to take it through the subsequent pre-gate security check as long as it remains unopened and remains in the sealed, clear plastic ‘Athens Duty Free’ bag in which the salesperson will package your purchase.