Craft beer has made its way into and around the Greek Islands of the Cyclades, pioneering breweries like the Santorini Brewing Company, 56 Isles on Paros, Mikonu on Mykonos, Nissos on Tinos, and Chios in the Northern Aegean, are paving the way for the Craft beer revolution in the Greek Isles
I love the Greek islands, a little piece of my heart will forever live there, specifically the Cyclades, with their whitewashed towns, bluetopped churches, and narrow warren-streets hiding a stash of wondrous shops, bars, and eateries. There is no place quite like these windy islands.
The Cyclades are so precious to me that I was recently married there, on the island of Paros, overlooking the deep blue of the Aegean. Paros is an island that seems to balance traditional island life with the relatively new influx of worldwide tourism. Having visited for a few years I can see the changes that tourism is having on the island, and, like all change, its positivity depends on perspective.
One positive change is that Craft beer has made its way to this cluster of Greek islands. When I first discovered the island breweries I was intrigued by the similarity, but also the stark difference between Craft beer in the region compared with the scene I recognised back home.
At the time of writing this there are a handful of breweries, each the sole resident of the island they call home. The island and the surrounding country in which each brewery resides - as is common among all good breweries - inspires both their brand and beer, but - which is also true of all good breweries - presents some unique challenges.
“We were the first brewery to open in this region of Greece, in 2011, and it wasn't easy.” Majda Anderson - a partner at The Santorini Brewing Company in Santorini - told me. Santorini is an island defined by its stark and stunning caldera, a cliff edge lining the northern section of the island which looks out to the volcano that once shaped it, and provides what many will tell you is the best sunset in the world. When asked about the specific challenges of setting up a Craft brewery on Santorini, Majda explains that “the lack of good water is the main one.” Water is an obvious issue - a reliable and high quality water source is a key ingredient of good beer. I’ll admit, I hadn’t even considered the water issue until Majda raised it: of course, tap water on Santorini, and in fact across the Cyclades islands, is not safe to drink; Santorini really has no sources of natural drinking water, and so tourists and locals rely on imported bottled water. Majda solves her issue “by [using] the several desalination plants on the island,” and also, in a manner similar to how non-alcoholic beer is produced, “by our own reverse osmosis equipment, but still, water will always be an issue.”
The other issue is as old as time: bureaucracy. In Greece, beer taxation is high, one of the highest in Europe, especially for small breweries, and the balance currently is tipped in the favour of larger macro brewers, Majda explains, “large commercial breweries [are] able to access the reduced taxation, while producing mass quantities of commercial lagers.” Despite those significant challenges, The Santorini Brewing Company and the other breweries in the Cyclades are thriving.
Manos Nazlidis from Chios Brewery, on the island of the same name a short trip North of the Cyclades in the Northern Aegean, also describes the challenges of brewing on the Greek islands, “we are not directly connected to the mainland, we have no choice but to plan forward and make sure our brewing supplies will suffice and surely keep an inventory of critical spare parts for our machines.” In the Winter, he says, there are particular concerns, “when the weather gets rough, we might lose connection to the mainland for a few days, with whatever consequences that might have.”
During the same Summer The Santorini Brewing Company opened their doors, so too did Chios Brewery. Nissos on Tinos arrived in 2012, followed a few years later by 56 Isles on Paros, and Mikonu Brewing Company on Mykonos. The craft beer scene in the Greek islands was born, and, Alex Kouris at Nissos Brewery on Tinos believes, Craft Beer was necessary for Greece to overcome the woes of the 2012 financial crisis: “The fact that 9 out of 10 beers consumed in Greece were made by non-Greek multinationals was (and still is) quite unpalatable; as unpalatable as the bland, mass-produced beers flooding the country, with quite a few sporting a ‘catchy’ Greek name.”
Greece has a rich history in wine making, and Greek wine has experienced a resurgence in recent years, developing rapidly, which is evident when you travel around each island - especially true in Santorini - and the locals are very proud of it. Wine, in fact, was the drink they favoured, “beer was just something cheap and easy on a hot day,” Majda Anderson told me, and further explains that Craft Beer’s popularity is rising, perhaps not unsurprisingly it is “mainly due to tourist demand”, but also, as witnessed in the UK and the USA, the younger, local drinkers are truly taking up the call, demanding better quality, locally sourced beer, resulting in “a steadily growing younger population of Greek beer-drinkers who appreciate craft beers.”
Pilsner is king on these islands, at least for the moment. Manos Nazlidis from Chios Brewery suggests one reason: “Pilsner and Lager were the dominant styles in Greece for many decades, produced by macro breweries. So it comes naturally for people to begin the journey to Craft Beer from a similar style.” The crisp freshness of a Pilsner is also perfect for Summer days, and drinking a lovingly crafted Pilsner from any of these breweries beneath the Mediterranean Sun just seems natural. Manos further adds “the hot Greek climate favors lighter and fruitier styles of beer,” making Pilsner an obvious choice.
For these island brewers, their beers were born and created for their island environment and surroundings, by local artisans who know that loving your local environment is what it takes to make a great beer. The brewers at 56 Isles brewery on Paros attribute the uniqueness of their beer to “the microclimate of the area and the use of barley grown on the island,” combining the special characteristics that the island has to offer, “the saltiness of the sea, the sunshine and the quality of the raw materials used add to the taste.”
Other styles are creeping in too, 56 Isles have introduced a Wit Beer and an IPA since my first visit in 2019. The Mykonian Mikonu Brewery’s range includes a Blonde Saison, which is perfect in the island’s dry heat and can be tried in bottles around the island or from their taproom - I’m sad to say I didn’t get a chance to visit given my last trip to the island was more of a brief stopover, though the next time I’m there, which is turning into an annual event, I will be sure to call in and take up their offer of a board game and exceptional beer by the self confessed “food geeks, part time dungeon explorers and board-game strategists.” The Santorini Brewing Company has an intriguing suite of styles, all donkey themed following their flagship Yellow Donkey Pilsner, and their recently released an IPA, Crazy Donkey, which was an instant hit in the urban Athenien market. Chios Brewery has a variety of core beers, including a Porter. Manos from Chios Brewery says, when asked what styles he thinks will become popular in the future, “people are getting to know Craft Beer better and start developing a taste for it. IPAs and NEIPAs are getting more popular in Greece, even with new tasters.”
The Greek islands offer a unique place to visit, each different, with its own traditions, flavours, and landscape. The rise of Craft breweries on these small islands is testament to the power of supporting local businesses, using local ingredients, and investing in local people while loving the land in which you live. I am excited to see what the future of brewing will look like on the islands and the variety of styles that will surely pop up.
Iechyd Da, Garin @LoveOurCraft
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Craft beer has made its way to the Greek Islandes of the Cyclades, pioneering breweries like Santorini Brewing Company, 56 Isles on Paros, Mikonu on Mykonos, Nissos on Tinos, Chios are paving the way for the Craft revolution in the Greek Isles
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