The Zizani: A New Cocktail from the Old Country

Zizani cocktail by Zachary Sapato // Photo by Tj Turner

Zizani cocktail by Zachary Sapato // Photo by Tj Turner

I’m a Greek-Mexican-United Statesian bartender and I call Minnesota home. An endeavor to discover more of my cultural history has inspired deep-dives into ancestry websites and multiple travels to “Old Country” locations.

As history can inform the present, a deeper understanding of my cultures give me new creative spaces in drink-making. Putting our authentic selves into drink creation allows bartenders to serve you, the guest, a richer experience through a cocktail and story like no other. The following is a story no one else could tell, mixed in liquid form.

My travels to Zizani—my grandfather’s hometown—in Greece immediately came to mind. The traditions there are so familiar, welcoming, and cozy. It’s where food is endlessly piled onto the center of a table of people talking a little too loud, accompanied by weak drinks drank quickly or strong spirits savored by the sip. My drink needed this moderated chaos, generous hospitality, and loving community.

Metaxa—a Greek spirit made with grape pomace distillate, muscat wine, and botanicals—is where I wanted to start. It was a staple in my childhood home. They drink it in Greece, but to my family it was more than enjoyable, it was magic. Thirsty? Metaxa in a snifter. Sore throat? A spoonful of Metaxa to burn away germs. Teething baby? A little Metaxa on the gums eases the pain.

Cocktails can take many forms, but I wanted to bring the drink into my family history with a balance of sweet and tart. I wanted them to be able to taste and smell the small villages in the hills of the Peloponnesian peninsula. Honey and rose are the sweet secrets in centuries of Greek desserts—acacia honey brings a lighter and more floral feel to this drink. Lemon was an essential addition to evoke the citrus trees that pepper the hills of my uncle’s olive farm.

A journey through the past wasn’t complete without a piece of the present. Aquavit is a Minnesota favorite and including it in this cocktail allows me to paint a more complete picture. In Minnesota, I feel comfortable and connected. My intention for the aquavit was to literally and figuratively represent my chosen home. It adds complexity but also connects and balances the drink’s components.

The bar industry is beginning to examine and avoid cultural disrespect and misrepresentation in drink presentation and creation. In this spirit, drinks are being developed with more personal history, cultural context, and a deeper understanding of ingredients. This has been a remarkable gift to the bar community through more intentional and meaningful cocktails. With less-borrowed recipes and misunderstood (or forgotten) histories, the drinks we create are becoming as interesting as the individual behind their invention.

Recipe for the Zizani



1 ounce Dampfwerk Aquavit
1 ounce Metaxa 7 Star Greek Spirit
½ ounce acacia honey
5 lemon wedges (small Meyer lemons work great)
1 dash rose water
Pebble ice (Sonic sells it in bags)


Combine honey and lemon wedges at bottom of glass and muddle well. Add spirits, use a spoon to mix and combine. Fill glass with pebble ice. Garnish with a lemon wheel and short copper straw.