Greeks Turning to Micro-Brew Beers, More Companies Coming

(Photo by Eurokinissi/Yiannis Panagopoulos)

ATHENS – With multi-national companies controlling most of Greece’s major beer brands market and trying to squeeze out Greek companies, consumers are picking up a taste for home-grown micro-brewed varieties.

While the profits are limited so far, given that microbrews are more expensive but locally made the number of companies has grown from seven in 2011 to 45 this year, the business newspaper Naftemporiki and Kathimerini said, citing figure from The Brewers of Europe.

The Hellenic Association of Brewers – which includes the smaller breweries-  is seeing burgeoning interest in the products that come with names such as Canal Dive,  Crazy Donkey, Blackmak, Volkan, Alexander the Great, Chaos and Strange Brew Jasmine.

Almost every region of Greece is producing its own beer: from the Siris MicroBrewery of Serres and Northern Greece, which makes the Voreia range, and the Cretan Brewery with its Charma beers to Corfu Beer and the Ikariaki Brewery on the island of Icaria

That the phenomenon is happening during a still ongoing economic crisis is even more remarkable given that Greeks have less to spend and are even going for generic beers instead of the traditional popular fare like Mythos, Fix and Alfa, while Heineken has been trying to force out competition from Greek breweries like Vergina.

“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,” 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, said Kathimerini.

Consumers in the past few years have shown a preference for Greek labels and products as a means of supporting local businesses who have responded with naming their neers to be very Greek, like Katsika (“goat”), which is produced on Folegandros, and Sknipa (literally “midge,” but colloquially used to describe being drunk.

Feeling the rising competition, major brewers based in Greece that are subsidiaries of foreign companies are producing beers with Greek names trying to show their economic patriotism and keep customers.

The leaders in the brewed-in-Greece real Greek companies include Hellenic Breweries of Atalanti (EZA) and Macedonian Thrace Brewery (Vergina), which range in production volume between small and industrial scale.

That means that while there’s more microbreweries their market share is still below 1 percent, except for EZA and Vergina, at about 8-9 percent, said 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 has allowed them to have a presence on the shelves of certain large supermarket chains and at restaurants and bars beyond their geographical region where big brands try to dominate.

According to the Brewers of Europe association, however, beer consumption in Greece came to 3.9 million hectoliters (103.67 million gallons) or 36 liters per capita per annum, in 2016, when the most recent figures were available.).

Panagiotou, co-founder of the highly-rated Septem Microbrewer, said that, “…in Greece the margins for growth in the sector are significant, boosted by both the global trend, which is turning to consumption of beer produced by smaller producers, as well as an increasing tourism flow.” He estimated the sector could witness up to 100 micro-breweries in the country over the coming years.