By Giannis Elafros
It was a nice surprise. The bar of the ship crossing the Aegean sea didn’t just carry Greek beers, but products from two respectable microbreweries. On reaching our island destination, and having travelled up to a small mountain village, beer from a Greek microbrewery was again on the menu at the local taverna.
We had to ask the owner about it. “Tourists often ask for Greek beer. I had brought in some beer, just to try, from a small brewery on a nearby island, and when I served it to the tourists they loved it. So I decided to put it on the menu,” he explained, adding that Greeks also prefer Greek beers, and seem to be gaining interest in microbreweries as well.
“It’s true, we’re seeing an increase in trade and presence from Greek microbreweries, mainly thanks to a large demand. People are requesting our products,” confirms Sofoklis Panagiotou, a vice president of the Hellenic Association of Brewers. “As a result there are beers with Greek labels available for purchase at a lot more locations, including regular stores,”
“We’ve also noticed major interest from tourists, who want to try Greek flavors while visiting Greece. But Greeks are showing more and more interest as well. They want to support domestic businesses, and they are acquiring a taste for quality beer, and for the unique, and often strong flavors coming out of small breweries,” he adds. At the moment there are about 30-35 businesses brewing small batch beer in Greece. Most of them employ 5-15 people.
What is a microbrewery?
By law, to count as a microbrewery you cannot produce more than 20 million liters of beer per year. “That’s a huge production when we’re looking at the Greek market. Only a large company will come close. Most of the country’s microbreweries produce a lot less; between 300.000 and 1.000.000 liters per year,” says Panagiotou.
The business is booming. In 2009, only six microbrewing companies were registered, compared to to the roughly 35 there are now. Still, Greece is far behind in the game and only just finding its feet as a producer of specialty beers. According to the Hellenic Association of Brewers, Italy has 1000 microbreweries, Belgium has 300, Austria has 500, and England has as many as 2000.
Specialty beers make up less than one percent of general beer sales in the country; about 0.7%-0.9%, but at least their visibility is growing. During this time of economic crisis, perhaps it’s only natural that the more expensive small batch beers are chosen less often than the mass-produced, cheaper options.
“Yes, most customers are looking for the cheapest option, but at the same time they want value for money. Greek microbrewed beers have this, especially since they can now be considered in the same league as international competitors quality-wise. We’re already exporting beer. My company, for example, now exports to 12 countries,” Panagiotou continues.
Microbreweries only pay 50% of the excise tax for beer which, to some extent, helps their cause. On the other hand, according to the Hellenic Association of Brewers, Greek beer is subject to the fourth highest taxation in Europe, comparable only to that of beer producers in Scandianavian countries, where incomes are much higher.
“Greek companies pay 5-6 times more tax than those in Japan. We won’t get very far like this,” Panagiotou concludes.
The products are good. The quality is high. The goal: spread it far and wide. That is the message from the producers of small batch, Greek beer.
This article first appeared on kathimerini.gr on 09/09/2017