Mon, Mar 18, 2019 - Page 5 News List

FEATURE: Greek microbreweries bubble to the fore

AFP, EVIA, Greece

People taste beer at an exhibition near Athens on Feb. 8.
WARNING: Excessive consumption of alcohol can damage your health.

Photo: AFP

Bent over a barrel, microbrewer Sophocles Panagiotou drew a measure of his Septem Red Ale into a glass cylinder and transferred it to a glass.

A decade ago at the start of the financial crisis, the chemistry graduate and former winemaker took a chance on building his Septem microbrewery in a family field on the island of Evia, about 200km east of Athens.

“It was a crazy idea. At the time, they looked at me as if I were an alien,” Panagiotou told reporters, in his fully automated factory and bottling plant, which produces 12 different beer labels.

Tens of thousands of small and medium-sized enterprises were obliterated by the economic crisis in 2010 that brought Greece to its knees and sent unemployment soaring.

However, the microbrewery sector managed to grow amid the ruins, as local products benefited from a fall in imported goods.

Greece had fewer than a dozen breweries 10 years ago.

Today, there are 45 microbreweries, said Panagiotou, recently elected president of the Union of Greek Breweries, which represents both micro and bigger firms.

The financial crisis, which saw Athens granted a eurozone bailout in return for swingeing austerity measures, helped spur the microbrewery sector.

Foreign suppliers began demanding upfront cash payments that many Greek companies could not meet.

“Habits changed during the crisis,” said Yannis Kefalas, a beer enthusiast and brewer. “Demand is now centered on local products as a way to help the Greek economy.”

Perusing the supermarket shelves for local beers, Spyros Paraskevopoulos said that microbeers offered “extraordinary taste.”

“They are all so different, depending on the region they come from,” he said.

Three years ago, Kefalas decided to quit Athens and relocate to his home island of Ikaria, where he opened his microbrewery, named Ikariotissa after the island. He now exports to Germany and aims also to tap markets in Sweden, Canada and the US.

Given that Greece is more commonly associated with wine and spirits, and does not have a major beer culture, the rise of microbreweries is perhaps even more surprising.

The country consumes and exports wine, and there is also strong demand for traditional alcoholic beverages such as ouzo and tsipouro.

Greece is among the bottom-three beer consumers in the EU, with an annual average of 35 liters drunk per person, just above France and Italy.

While microbeers are becoming more popular, the most widely consumed beers are produced by Athinaiki, one of Greece’s biggest breweries.

It makes more than five different brands of mostly lagers and imports about 10.

On Evia island, Panagiotou said that his production has increased 15-fold over the past decade, from 80,000 bottles in 2009 to 1.2 million this year.

Yannis Marmarellis, a brewer from the northern city of Serres, has experienced a similar growth spurt.

Opening his microbrewery, Siris, in 2014 after his meat factory shut down, he has increased his staff from three to 14 and quadrupled the size of his facilities.

“There is an increase in demand for quality beer,” said Christos Vassiliadis, one of many Greeks who began with a home-brewing kit before graduating to a full brewery.

He now runs Noctua, an Athens microbrewery.

However, producers said that several factors are holding back further growth, including bureaucracy, a habitual Greek bugbear.

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