From Paros and Volos to Mt Olympus and Santorini, innovative Greeks are making beers. And inspired by Greek mythology and the landscape, they give their beers imaginative names. But what’s the hype all about in a country that averages 36 liters of beer per person a year?
Though Greeks still prefer their fine wines and strong “tsikoudia” or “tsipouro” spirits, the younger generations are opting for beer driven by the changing times and trends for less alcohol and more taste. Indicative is the fact that in 2018 non-alcoholic beer was a top seller.
At the same time, many Greeks have decided to support local producers and products made in Greece with the younger crowds keen on backing collaborative initiatives. Let’s not forget, these are sharing times creating a new form of circular economy which gives small groups the chance to create and consumers the opportunity to veer away from monopolies and be have a wide range of choice.
The result? Some 120 craft beers “crafted” by dozens of microbreweries popping up across Greece and the islands. And to think that in 2009 there were only a handful! As the great Greek composer Manos Hadjidakis – who actually worked at the first Greek beer factory Fix (see below) – once said, “it’s the groups of friends that make history”, and that’s exactly what’s going on in Greek beer making right now. Most of the beers you will read about below – from one end of the country to the other – are crafted by friends who got together and decided to take beer drinking one step further making their own very interesting beers.
Ancient Greeks Did Beer Too
Though wine was the “nectar of the gods” and of course, the preferred drink for the higher classes and the more refined, evidence indicates that ancient Greeks also slammed a beer or two.
According to a 2016 University of Thessaloniki study, remnants of a grain that could be used in brewing were found on the Ionian islands of Corfu and Zakynthos.
Historic data also indicates that beer-making was a female activity, privilege and obligation as portrayed on a Sumerian tablets dating back to 3000-2800 BC. The ancient Greeks got a whiff of the idea from their fellow ancients, the Egyptians, and took to making their own beer out of “lykiskos” or the female cone-shaped fruit of humulus lupulus (aka hop) – a species of the hemp family.
Meanwhile, ancient historians Strabo and Diodorus of Sicily mention coming across “zythos” during their travels. “Zythos” is the Greek word for beer derived from the root word “zeo” which means to boil.
Beer Up Greek Style
Greece has come a long way in terms of beer-making in the last decade with at least 46 operating breweries, dozens of microbreweries and eight gypsy brewers producing more than 120 craft beers.
And it seems that some of these beers are making a name for themselves. It’s not by chance that RateBeer, an independent community of beer enthusiasts “dedicated to the pursuit and appreciation of good beer”, seem to enjoy not one or two but 50 Greek beers.
Yes, you could say beer is establishing itself in Greece. In 2019, Athens even held its first craft beer festival, featuring craft beer by microbreweries from Greece and abroad.
In numbers (provided by The Brewers of Europe), Greece produced 3.933.000 HL of beer in 2018. Greek brewers exported some 368,000 HL of beer abroad – 219,000 HL of which to countries outside the EU and the industry employs some 2,000 people.
In the meantime, beer consumption in the EU is also on a rise with beer production breaking the 400 million HL barrier in 2019.
To clear things up, microbrewing means making beers in small volumes, after ongoing experimentation often leading to the production of one-off or short-lived brands.
How Do Greeks Drink their Beer?
So the question is… how do Greeks drink their beer, especially when one has in mind that this is the country of ouzo, tsipouro, Cretan raki, excellent Greek wines, Chios masticha?
For the Greek, drinking beer is a summer pre-drinking activity. It’s a must at open-air panegyria (festivals). Always chosen to accompany meat and souvlaki dishes. Is the preferred drink of the younger crowds, mostly due to the price but also because it’s just convenient? And Greeks love a beer and some popcorn while watching a movie at an outdoor “therino” cinema.
You will notice that Greeks prefer to keep their finished beers on the table… part of the Greek teenage competitive spirit still alive in many older “adolescents” in their 50s and 60s no less motivated by mid-20th century folk song “99 Bottles of Beer”.
Drinking beer in Greece differs greatly from the US or Germany – home to avid beer drinkers – for instance. You will rarely find a Greek getting drunk with beer. Instead, it’s more of a refreshment. That’s why a warm beer (as served in the UK) is an absolute bummer for a Greek. So much so that when ordering a beer, many Greeks will just ask the waiter to bring the coldest beer in the fridge whatever the brand.
Greeks also rarely drink beer at home unless they’re having a barbeque or friends over to eat pizza and watch a soccer match on TV. More than 83 percent of spending on beer is at restaurants and bars.
As of late many Greek consumers prefer to buy Greek-made products in a show of support for local businesses. It should be noted however, that as of late and with the eruption of small or microbreweries, there is a growing number of beer enthusiasts in Greece who are very knowledgeable about all things related to beer.
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Greek Beer: The History
According to Bavarian statesman Friedrich R. von Zentner, the first brewery in Greece was opened by a Bavarian brewmaster in 1840 in Athens to cater to the German soldiers who were serving in Greece under King Otto who was ruling the country as it exited 400 years of Turkish occupation.
Two more followed and by 1905, there were 11 breweries in Greece many of these in the heart of Athens including Fischer at Patissia, Oskar Klein at Agios Loukas, Waweck, Bachauer and Seel.
In 1866, Johann Georg Fuchs later known as Ioannis Fix, decided to set up a small breweryin the suburb of Iraklion winning over not only German beer drinkers but the hesitant Greekstoo.
Fix had come to Greece in 1850 when he was 18 in search of his father who was serving under King Otto. For a while he worked as an apprentice at Melcher’s brewery which he bought after the former’s death. With the interventions of his sons, Fix Hellas became one of best performing companies in post-war Greece.
His tiny brewery grew into a full blown company. His son Karl Johann Fix moved the business which he equipped with technology from Germany to Syngrou Avenue, where the building today hosts Greece’s National Museum of Contemporary Art.
In 1937, you could indulge in a bottle of Fix beer at any Greek taverna for 18 drachmas and until 1960 it was considered the “national” beer of choice.
Besides Fix, Greeks also opened their own breweries including Zakynthos-born LorentzosMamos who set up a brewery in Patra in 1876, and others later in Koloniaki, Neo Faliro, and Ambelokipi.
Where to Buy Greek Beer
First off, the average (pint) price of a beer in Greece is around 1.70 euros at the supermarket. The price goes up when you order at a bar. Due to the small production capacity, craft beers are more expensive but in my opinion worth every penny.
Despite Greece’s numerous microbreweries, don’t expect to find them everywhere. Quite the opposite. They barely account for 1 percent of the total market share but some craft beer makers have distribution deals with larger companies so you can find them at major Greek supermarkets like Sklavenitis or AB Vassilopoulos. Meanwhile, many of these beers are hard to find abroad although some like NISSOS do export and others can be ordered online and delivered.
That said, sampling beers made in Greece should be part of your travel experience. SoI strongly recommend you ask about the locally produced beer wherever you are in Greece. Now almost all of the Greek islands produce their own beer as do mainland destinations.
Below is a list of some main Greek craft beers to look for during your trip in Greece and by all means not all of them. Check them out, you won’t regret it.
Beers on the Greek islands
Tinos – the award-winning NISSOS Craft Beer (Pilsner, Organic, 7 Beaufort/ Thili)
Paros – 56 Isles
Santorini – Crazy Donkey and Volkan made from the volcanic waters
Kefalonia – Kefalonian Beer
Evia – Septem, Mary Rose (red), Β29 organic
Folegandros – Katsika named after the omnipresent goats
Lesvos – Nissiopi and Sedusa
Chios – Chios Beer Dyo Fili, Smoked Robust Porter, Chios beer BBQ
Rhodes – Zythos Vap and Magnus Lager Knights Beer of Rodos
Ikaria – Ikariotissa ale
Crete – Brink’s, Lyra Handcrafted beer and Charma beer
Μykonos – Mikonu craft
Samothraki – Fonias pale ale named after the waterfall
Beers on the Greek mainland:
Katerini (central Greece) – Olympos Beer – the beer of the Gods.
Thessaloniki – Thita-Zita
Sparta – Sparta lager
Stemnitsa – Menalon Beer named after the Arcadia mountain range and available at all villages along the Menalon Trail hiking paths
Kalamata – Sura ale
Mani – Nema, and Neda named after the river in Messinia
Serres – Voreia (Pilsner / Summer Ale / Wit Beer / Stout Beer)
Argos – Zeos
Larissa – Lola beer
Thessaloniki – Sknipa which means “drunk” and Ali
Athens – Noctua named after the Athens night owl, Bios 5, Zorbas, B29 Organic Beer andMarathon.
✓ Truth or Dare…
🍺For the beer lover in Athens, make sure to visit Strange Brew which is a beer bar in the posh Koukaki neighborhood at the foot of the Acropolis. The bar offers the nomadic brewers’ craft beers.
🍺Zythopoia Anastasiou in the heart of Halandri which is both the smallest brewery in Greece and a beer bar.
🍺Noctua which is located in the Gazi area and is open to visitors on apportionment only
🍺And because after your experience with creative Greek brewers you’ll probably want to make your own beer, visit Beeramatistirio (a word play on “peirmatistirio which means a lab to experiment in) and find all you need to set up your own microbrewery.
🎹 I bring today’s intoxicating post to a close with a 1985 tune dedicated to what else? Drinking beer! “Ke Pino Byres” by Greek band Ta Pedia apo tin Patra.