Mastic—the resin of the Pistacia lentiscus shrub, which is cultivated in a few villages on the Greek island of Chios—can be thought of as the world’s first chewing gum. Herodotus mentioned it in the 5th century B.C.E., and its Greek name, mastiha, means “to chew.” The gum has long been used for its therapeutic properties, but modern Greeks know it better as the main flavoring agent of an aromatic liqueur. This is also how Effie Panagopoulos is introducing it to the world.
“The sap is a superfood, a cure-all, and a do-all,” says Panagopoulos, a spirits-industry veteran, “and I realized that it’s amazing in cocktails.” She became determined to create Greece’s first luxury mastiha spirit, testing 17 formulas, pitching more than 160 potential investors, and going through four distilleries before settling on Isidoros Arvanitis, the home of Greece’s first female distiller, Maroussa Tsachaki.
The resulting product, Kleos, launched last summer in Mykonos and is now spreading across the U.S. Floral and fresh, with notes of eucalyptus, cucumber, and mint—and none of the saccharine sweetness that defines its competitors—it’s best enjoyed on the rocks with a twist or in citrusy, herbal cocktails.
“I feel like this is a calling for me,” says Panagopoulos, who has become an evangelist for the classic spirit. Indeed, her brand’s name comes from the Greek word for “fame or glory attained through good deeds or hard work.” She aims to live up to that promise by hosting Kleos bartending competitions that will focus on how bartenders earn their kleos—namely, what they do to benefit their communities and the world at large. Presumably, the goal is to leave attendees with not only something to sip but something to chew on.