With an alcohol content of 40-99%, it is no surprise that the island’s national drink of Zivania is also referred to as ‘firewater’!
The strong drink dates back to the 14th century when the island was under Venetian rule and is still made in the same tradition today. Grape pomace (remains such as pulp, peel, stalks and seeds) is mixed with high-quality dry wines made from the indigenous grapes of Mavro (black) and Xynisteri (white), then distilled and mellowed for a long period.
Distillation takes place in a cauldron (‘kazani’) with three different processes producing different qualities and intensity of the drink. The resulting liquid is clear and highly potent and can be drunk as an aperitif – best served cold from the freezer.
A red variety is also produced with the colour lent by the addition of cinnamon. As it ages it becomes better and more aromatic, and an old bottle is often saved for special occasions.
Before modern medicine, Zivania was an essential first-aid staple in every Cypriot home. It can be used to treat and sterilise wounds, to massage sore body parts, to numb toothache, or to warm the body from cold. It was especially important as a warming tonic for the Troodos mountain villages, where temperatures drop far lower than on the mainland.