Geoffrey Dean
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Metaxa’s adventurous new spirit

In appointing Mike Horn as its brand ambassador, Metaxa has chosen boldly for the new UK promotional campaign and repackaging of its Greek spirit brand 12 Stars. Horn, a former South African special forces soldier, makes Bear Grylls look something of a soft touch, taking exploration to even harder extremes.

Metaxa's new brand ambassador Mike Horn

Metaxa’s new brand ambassador, adventurer Mike Horn

When the 50-year-old proclaims that “my dreams still scare me – if they don’t, they’re not big enough,” he’s hardly joking. Solo circumnavigations of the Equator and the Arctic Circle lasting 18 months and two years respectively, followed by a two-month journey in total darkness without motorised transport from Russia to the North Pole are testament to that.

Horn is as rugged and grizzled-looking as it gets. Metaxa 12 Stars, by contrast, is renowned for its smoothness, but the two opposites are a good match, as is often the case, as they are both complex and unconventional with a degree of mystery.

Just as whatever drives Horn will never be fully comprehensible to most people, so some of the precise ingredients that make up Metaxa’s 12 stars will always be a secret. It is widely mistaken for being a brandy, being 40% abv and made from distillates, but up to 25% of the blend is Muscat de Frontignan fortified wine from the Aegean island of Samos. What gives it its special aroma and character are the eight botanicals that are macerated in the blend for over a year.

Metaxa 12 Stars

Metaxa 12 Stars

Just one of these – rose petals – is public knowledge, and only because an alert German journalist noticed bundles of them on a visit to Metaxa’s Athens distillery a couple of years ago. She mentioned them in print, forcing the company to admit they were used.

None of the other seven mysterious ingredients were visible during my visit to the distillery in September, but I did manage to extract a couple of nuggets from Constantinos Raptis, Metaxa’s master blender: juniper is not one of the botanicals, and most but not all of the ingredients come from Greece.

Interestingly, Metaxa’s production method has not changed since Spyros Metaxa first made it in 1888. At first, the spirit was labelled as Cognac, but this had to be removed when the French denomination of Cognac was introduced in 1937. ‘Brandy’ likewise appeared on the label until 1987 when new regulations prevented its usage.

Now, ‘Original Greek Spirit’ is the official descriptor on each of the ten million bottles produced every year in various sizes: 20cl for airlines, 50cl for supermarkets, 70cl typically, with the biggest being 3 litres. Brands include 3, 5, 7 and 12 Stars (one star for each year the distillates are aged in limousin oak casks).

The 12 Stars carries an RRP of £30. You can add another £100 for Metaxa’s Angels’ Treasure, which is made of distillates aged between 30 and 50 years. Intense, complex and very long, this is hugely concentrated with a honeyed nose, and dried fruits, sweet spice and toffee on the palate.

Collectors with a very large budget might like to consider Metaxa’s ultimate product, AEN, which is aged for 80 years plus and taken from more than 200 blends, which sells €1,950 per bottle, with only 1,888 made. Massively concentrated, deep mahogany in colour and 45.3% abv, Raptis hails it as it “the out-of-this-world nectar of Cask no 1”.

The 12 Stars however, offers real bang for your buck. Voluptuous, deep amber in colour with 2.5% sugar content, it is an alluring cornucopia of dark chocolate, butterscotch, orange peel, prune, dried fig and sweet spices, with subtle fragrant toasted oak notes adding to its complexity.

Its new packaging is distinctly smart – a blue box opening up to reveal an elegant bottle with Spyros Metaxa’s signature on it along with the company’s emblem, a Salamina warrior medallion. The original was discovered when foundations for the distillery in Piraeus were being dug.

While the new packaging was doubtless aimed at travel retail, Metaxa’s biggest single market, it should raise its profile in the UK and the other 60 countries where it’s exported. Sales are highest in the Czech Republic, but have been steadily climbing in Britain.

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