On a recent voyage in the Aegean, I was quite excited to notice the bar of the ship we were traveling in had a wide variety of Greek beers to chose from, including two from microbreweries. They were quite delicious. Later, at a restaurant in a mountain village on a small island, we were even more surprised when we spotted a locally made ale on the menu. The restaurant manager told us it had met with a great response from international visitors. “I brought some over from the island where it’s made in small quantities and visitors who tried it loved it, so I asked the producer to supply me regularly,” he told us. He also noted that Greeks have been displaying more of a preference for Greek beer lately and are starting to discover the exciting variety of ales produced by microbreweries.
“There has been an increase in beers from Greek microbreweries due to higher demand from consumers. As a result, more Greek ales can be found on the market these days,” says Sofoklis Panagiotou, vice president of the Hellenic Association of Brewers. “There’s higher demand for flavors from Greece from foreign tourists while Greek consumers are always on the lookout for better beer made in the country and want to help small domestic producers,” he adds.
Currently, there are around 30 to 35 microbrewery companies employing anywhere from five to 15 people. But what exactly is a microbrewery? The legal definition is a brewery that produces less than 20 million liters of beer per year. “By Greek standards, that quite a large output. Only one Greek company that’s considered a microbrewery comes close to that level of production. The rest produce much less, anywhere from 300,000 to 1 million liters per year,” says Panagiotou.
Greece’s microbrewing industry has grown markedly in recent years. In 2009 there were six microbrewers in the country. Now that number has risen to 35. Despite this increase, Greece is still considered an underdeveloped market in terms of microbreweries, with plenty of room for growth. According to the Hellenic Association of Brewers, there are now 1,000 microbreweries in Italy, 300 in Belgium, 500 in the Netherlands and more than 2,000 in the UK.
Products from microbreweries make up only a very small part of the market, only 0.7 to 0.9 percent, but it is growing. A bottle of beer from a microbrewery is more expensive than one from a big label, something that has stymied the growth of Greek small producers during the crisis years as disposable incomes have shrunk. “Consumers are looking for cheaper products, but also high-quality products that offer the best value for money. Ales from Greek microbreweries belong to this category, and this is proven by the fact that some are also successful exporters. Our company, for instance, exports to 12 countries,” says Panagiotou.
A 50 percent consumption tax is levied on products made by microbreweries, which has made it difficult, to some extent, for them to operate. According to the Hellenic Association of Brewers, Greece has the fourth highest rate of taxation on beers. It’s similar to the levels in Scandinavian countries, where income levels are much higher. “In Greece, we pay five to six times the taxes they pay in Spain, for instance. This hinders us,” says Panagiotou.
The message Greek microbrewers want to send is that they have a high-quality product and are aiming to broaden its reach.