By Dimitra Manifava
Like the head on a well-poured lager, Greek microbreweries have seen their numbers rise to around 45 from just 6 in 2009, and that’s with three of those six having closed since then. Indeed, a country map of breweries indicates that almost every region in Greece is producing its own beer: from the Siris MicroBrewery of Serres in Northern Greece, which makes the Voreia range, to the Cretan Brewery with its Charma beers, to Corfu Beer in the Ionian and the Ikariaki Brewery on the island of Ikaria.
So how has such a rapid proliferation of microbreweries come about during the economic crisis, especially as beer-making isn’t exactly a cheap activity?
“There was demand for special and more specialized products. Consumers wanted it. It is basically the same trend that appeared in the wine sector in Greece, although that was 25-30 years ago. From just a few big wineries we went to having a succession of new wineries,” says Sofoklis Panagiotou, who together with his brother Giorgos started the Septem microbrewery in 2009, turning it into one of the most well-known labels in its category with significant exports traveling as far as Australia.
Another reason for the microbrewery boom is that consumers in the past few years have shown a preference for Greek labels and products as a means of supporting local businesses. The names of the beers, meanwhile, also tend to be very “Greek,” like Katsika (“goat”), which is produced on Folegandros, and Sknipa (literally “midge,” but colloquially used to describe the state of inebriation).
So-called economic patriotism seems to be particularly intense in the brewing sector, where even major brewers based in Greece that are subsidiaries of foreign companies are producing beers with Greek names in order to underscore their contribution to the economy and defend themselves from the microbrewery competition.
This competition was shaped to a great extent by companies like Hellenic Breweries of Atalanti (maker of Eza beers) and the Macedonian Thrace Brewery (behind the Vergina brand), which range in production volume between small and industrial scale (over 200,000 hectoliters a year).
So, while microbreweries are growing in number, their market share remains extremely small at below 1 percent excluding EZA and Vergina, and around 8-9 percent with those two brands, according to Panagiotou, who is also president of the board at the Association of Greek Brewers.
Agreements between some of these firms and big alcohol distribution companies have allowed them to have a presence on the shelves of certain large supermarket chains and at restaurants and bars beyond their geographical region.
According to the Brewers of Europe association, however, beer consumption in Greece came to 3.9 million hectoliters, or 36 liters per capita per annum, in 2016, when the most recent figures were available. This is the third lowest rate in the European Union after France (33 liters) and Italy (31 liters).
This article was first published on ekathimerini.com