New York.- By Vicki James Yiannias
James Bond’s famous Vesper Martinis (“Stirred. Not shaken”) may have served their purpose but considering the gins that have been on the market until now, they have been the same old-same old. But Johnny Livanos’s new Greek “Stray Dog Wild Gin,” in Bond’s Martinis and all gin drinks (plus gin all by itself) a savory, smooth spirit designed to complement Mediterranean food, “takes you to a wild place embodied with ‘the Greek Spirit.’”
“Three years ago, on a trip to Greece, I was enjoying some homemade tsipouro in Rethymnon, Crete, when suddenly I had a ‘lightbulb moment,’” Livanos said in a May 14 interview, with the “Greek News”, “I thought: Why not infuse a liquid with this fragrance of wild botanicals, the aroma of the sun-drenched atmosphere of the Greek landscape, the ‘Greek Spirit’, that essence of an untamed life for others to experience? I wanted to embody what happens when we allow ourselves to let life unfold and appreciate the time and the beauty that is right in front of us.”
With his seasoned knowledge of Greek cuisine, wine, cocktails, and hospitality, Livanos leads the bar program at one of the Livanos family’s restaurants in Manhattan, “Ousia”, where he and his brother, Enrico are managers, with Enrico guiding “Ousia’s” service operations.
Livanos’s next step in “capturing the essence of Greece in a bottle,” was to choose the distillery that would create the gin he wanted, a gin would “shine in cocktails and pair very well with food.”
Contacting more than 25 different winemakers by email and telephone, making numerous visits to Greek distilleries and much research with people in the beverage and guest industry, some so helpful as letting him in on industry secrets, he was given the name of master distiller Dimitris Melissanidis, in Aridea, Greece, about an hour and a half drive from Thessaaloniku. Going there, Livanos knew he had found his man, as Melissandes collects wild botanicals native to the untouched mountains in northern Greece.
The process: the herbs are then mixed with Mediterranean citrus and pure spring water from the Aridea Mountains. Says Livanos,“Bursting with juniper, wild mountain sage, rosemary and fennel seed, this is a citrus-forward Mediterranean-style gin. Hand-crafted in traditional small batch copper stills, Stray Dog Wild Gin is named in honor of those who make their own rules and seek out their own adventures!”
Stray Dog Wild Gin is Launching this spring in NY, NJ, CT, DC, MA, MD and IL Stray Dog Wild Gin will be served in bars and restaurants on the East Coast.
This gin has a philanthropic backbone, a portion of all proceeds benefit animal shelters in Greece. Livanos feels that while the dogs in Greece are viewed somewhat similarly to the farm dogs inevitable in the American countryside, rather than as pets that are doted upon, they are generally treated kindly, but there is need fororganized care of homeless dogs.
If there hadn’t been a continuity of connection to and love for Greece in the Livanos family, this second generation project founded on the recognition that the unique nature of the simplest raw products of Greece are intrinsic to the spirit of the place, Johnny Livanos’s Stray Dog Wild Gin honoring the culture where herbs grow everywhere might never happened at all.
The “Greek Spirit” encompasses the Livanos family. “My mom, who is from Sicily, is an amazing Greek cook! She made fantastic yemista last week and makes a pastitsio almost as good as my Yiayia. I think her spanakopita recipe is a perfect example of how she blends Italian and Greek cuisine. Instead of just using feta, she used Ricotta, Parmesan, and Pecorino Romano (Italian cheeses) in the filling mixture, to be a perfect mix of the two cultures,” said Livanos,
Emigrating to the US in 1957 John Livanos worked as a dishwasher prior to purchasing his first restaurant in 1960. Now he and his children own and operate the Livanos Restaurant Group the critically acclaimed Oceana, Molyvos, and Ousia in New York City, as well as Moderne Barn in Armonk, NY, and City Limits in White Plains.
John Livanos’s son Nick, Johnny Livanos’s father, the eldest of the three Livanos siblings, grew up working in the family’s restaurants during the school year and spending his summers in Greece. Nick oversees the business of all Livanos restaurants, sharing duties with his younger siblings, Bill and Corina. Bill also participates in the beverage programs for all of the family’s restaurants, and Coring, who saw the opening of the Livanos family’s restaurant Moderne Barn, focuses on suburban concepts together with Bill. All have completed degrees of higher education and three of the Livanos family members attended the Culinary Institute of America, as well.
For information on the Stray Dog Wild Gin dog philanthropy, please go to: www.straydoggin.com
DIANE KOCHILAS WROTE….
“The first thing that came to me when I took a sip of Stray Dog is that this gin actually has flavor! And then it dawned on me that the flavor is both familiar and elusive. It tastes of the air on a Greek spring day! What do I mean? The subtle complexity of Greek herbs is evident in that first sip. It’s exciting to me that there’s a delicious Greek gin, not just one arbitrarily “made” in Greece, but one that actually tastes of Greece. It’s delicious and I am looking very forward to many more sips of Stray Dog, straight up, or in, as the Greeks call it, a good “tzintonik!”
— Chef Diane Kochilas – Cookbook author and host of PBS show My Greek Table”