Drinking (Good) Beer in Athens
In the beginning there was Fix. Later there was Alfa. Then came Amstel, Heneiken and Henninger and eventually Mythos. But by then there was no more Alfa and Fix. So for years there were really only three or four choices, all lagers or pils and all tasting about the
same. People had their favorites of course and there is nothing like a cold Greek beer on a hot summer day. But the two or three major companies had a
stranglehold on the country and it was almost impossible to get your foot in the door.
The first micro-brew I can recall is Craft. They had a restaurant brewery on Alexandras Avenue which opened in about 1997 and was similar to what you would find in the USA. They made several nice beers which started out being available only in the restaurant but slowly began appearing on draft in any bar or restaurant that would carry them. They seem to have gone out of business, unfortunately. That is what you get for being a pioneer.
Septem is an award winning microbrewery with a large stable of seasonal beers and every-day beers with new beers being introduced every time I look at their website. Their brewery is on the island of Evia and as far as I know they are the only brewery making American-style IPAs, their Citra and ACE. They also
make a couple porters and like every other beer company their main sellers are pilsners and ales. I heard they were a couple guys who went to Stanford or some University in California and
were so smitten by the beer culture that they took their degrees in chemistry and set about making the best beer in Greece. But this is just a rumor, the kind of story that beer lovers like. Nevertheless every beer I have tried of theirs was good and there is a good possibility that the rumor may very well be true. I predict big things for them. Also brewed at the same facility is Mary Rose Premium Red Ale which is an Irish Ale based on an
English recipe, inspired by the legendary ship of the British royal fleet created by Henry VIII. Mary Rose is a refreshing red ale beer with a unique aroma and high quality ingredients created by the company OK Athens which is known for importing Peroni, Pilsner Urquell and Miller Genuine Draft(yuch) to Greece.
Vergina from Macedonia makes a premieum lager, an amber pilsner and a weiss which I especially like. Peiraiki make a lager and a black beer and are based in the port of Pireaus. Brinks beer is from Rethymnon, Crete and they make unfliltered organic
beer, a blonde and a dark. Right up the road in Chania is Xarma-Cretan Brewery who make a lager, a pale ale and a dunkel. Donkey Santorini Brewing
Company is owned by A Greek oenologist, a Serbian brewer, an English brewing enthusiast, and an American and they make Yellow Donkey, Red Donkey and limited quantities of their Crazy Donkey which lays claim to being the fist IPA in Greece. Volcan is also from Santorini and they make a Santorini Blonde and a Santorini Black.
They use all local ingredients including the famous citron of Naxos, botanically classified as citrus medica– the oldest known variety of citrus.
Zeus Brewing Company are based in Argos, in the Argolis and were another one of the early micro-breweries to open and their patriotic bottles are very distinctive though not easy to find. Three cases magically appeared at the Hotel Attalos for me in 2008 and I wrote to the company repeatedly to thank them and to ask about coming to see the brewery and get some more because I really liked it.
But I never heard back from them. They make a lager, pilsner and a black weiss.
Both Alfa and FIX are labels that disappeared 20 years ago, after the Dutch and German companies who had entered the market in the sixties finally took over. But they have both returned for those who are nostalgic for the good old days. FIX was the first Greek beer, first appearing around 1850 when Yiannis Fix returned to the land of his ancestors to produce beer for the Bavarian officers who accompanied King Otho after the liberation
of Greece from the Turks. The name FIX was synonymous with the word beer for decades until the company disappeared in the nineties and their factory on Syngrou, probably the biggest building in Athens, closed and stood empty for years. The name was licensed to a new company who brought back the old recipe with much success. It is a premium lager with an alcohol content of about 5% which means you can drink it pretty much all day long. Alfa is made by Heineiken as it has always been.
Where to Find Interesting Beer
Still finding anything besides Amstel, Heineken and Mythos may be a challenge especially once you get out of Athens. Most restaurants will only have those beers though cool bars will have two or three micro-brews if you ask and you can actually walk
around and see signs and stickers
advertising the more obscure beers at bars and cafes. There are a number of imported beers in Greece which you can find in bars, cafes and even in
your local periptero (kiosks). I found Chimay in a periptero in Psyhico which I spotted when I passed it on the bus. I jumped off at the next stop and ran back and got some. My local bar in Kypseli, Allotino, in Agios
Giorgos Square, carries obscure beers like
Paulanner Strong Bock on draft and the distributor drives around in a beat up old Fiat with the kegs in the back seat. They also carry the Vergina Weiss on draft and he changes beers every so often to introduce people to new ones.
But where can you go for a large choice of Greek microbrews and imported beers and maybe some food to go with it? In Psiri there is Beer Time which is right on the corner at Iroon Square, right at the hub of the nightime activity in the neighborhood. They have a number of
Greek microbrews and some
Belgians and these individual beer kegs that sit on your table so you don't have to ask the waiter every time you finish your beer. You just pour it yourself. In
the Plaka on Nikis Street there is another place that prides itself in selling all the Greek microbrews as well as some popular and obscure European beers, called Athens Beer. If you make it as far as Kypseli and want to check every cafe on both sides of Fokionos Negri you will find that most of them have one or two interesting beers that you may not have seen elsewhere in Athens. Or you can go right to Beer Tales at #52 Fokionos
Negri where they have a large assortment of Greek, Belgian,
European and international beers and has the best setting of any of these places, being basically in a park. The James Joyce Pub at #12 Astigos Street in Monastiraki, carries Guinness, Kilkenny, Fosters, Carlsberg, and Heineken on draft and Buckler, Bud, Stella Artois, Corona, Coor’s Lite, Pilsner Urquell, Warsteiner and Magners Cider in bottles. Vini Pub at 10 Drakou Street in Koukaki right by the old FIX building has 65-70 imported beers, mostly Belgian.
The past couple years I have been importing my own beer to Greece. Not my own company actually but some beer I made with a friend of mine that I drink on special occasions. I also bring the best American IPAs I can find and if you want to make friends very quickly just bring a couple bottles with you when you visit one of
these beer establishments so they can try it. It is very rare that they get to taste anything like Lagunitas
and the other well known American microbrew companies, much less something from your own town. When I turned
on my artist friend, Andonis Delapitsa, to a well known American IPA he had such an epiphany that he made a painting of the
experience and the company liked it so much they wrote to thank me. So if you love beer enough to have read this whole article bring some with you to share.
And if you think about it leave a bottle for me at the Hotel Attalos in case I run out.