Noctua beer
COVER STORY

A guide to the best Greek beer and microbreweries to freshen up your holiday

By Noctua brewery Athens
READING TIME
As long as it takes to eat a souvlaki

How does a refreshingly chilled beer on a Greek island sound to you? Now make that a craft beer, just the way you like it… lager or pilsner; pale, blonde, red or black ale; IPA or stout? And best of all, it’s brewed just down the road. 

It’s true that Greece is famed for its wine and ouzo, but it has also developed a booming brewery scene. Name your favourite island: Santorini, Mykonos, Crete, Corfu, Rhodes or Chios. Now what if you were told they produce almost 100 (yes, 100!) different beers between them? You can add Athens, Thessaloniki, Patras, Sparta, Olympus and Kalamata to the list, as well as smaller islands like Tinos, Ikaria and Samothrace. 

So, if you love beers and Greece, you’re in for a treat as we introduce you to the Greek beer scene and guide you to some of the best microbreweries in the country. 

There are other Greek breweries, of course, and we’re concentrating on microbreweries rather than the larger, better-known brands already associated with Greek summer. But whether you’re exploring the Greek islands or mainland, you’ll find beer tasting and the opportunity to meet talented beer-makers who have often turned their hobby into a thriving export business. Ready to take your first sip? 
 

Athens brewery tour

 

In downtown Athens, make a point of visiting the Noctua brewery (they make 13 beers) in the Gazi district, as well as the Strange Brew beer bar, south of the Acropolis, where many of the 18 beers they produce are available on tap. Some of their top-rated beers include Noctua’s ‘Night Vision’ black IPA, Strange Brew’s ‘Dr Haze’ imperial IPA and ‘The Wizard’ imperial stout. But pretty much every style of beer is represented here: lager and pilsner, blonde and red ales, black porters and stouts, IPAs… the works.

If you venture into Halandri, a district just north of downtown Athens, you get to the Local Pub, which is a perfect combination of bar and brewery, set in a cosy courtyard. They’ve put out almost 50 beers over the years, with different selections on offer every time you visit, so you can return again and again. 

Finally, if you’re keen to learn more about the art and science of Greek beer-making, visit the Athineo museum of brewing, created by the Athenian Brewery (the largest in Greece) showcasing more than 150 years of local brewing tradition. Their beer bar serves more than 10 experimental house brews. 

Equipped with this knowledge, you can then trawl the many beer bars of Athens, like Tales of Ales and Barley Cargo in the heart of town, Brewklyn in Glyfada, on the south coast, and Bibere in Piraeus, where you will find beers from all over Greece.
 

Crete brewery tour

 

Crete has more than 10 breweries, most of which are open for tastings, so you can enjoy their brews while talking to the producers. Three are in Heraklion: Kasta in the heart of town, with seven craft beers on tap and lots of information on brew styles and technology; Notos, on the western side of town, usually offering all of their seven beers in bottles; and Solo, just outside town (south of the airport) in the village of Kallithea, with five beers on tap and many more in bottles or cans. Again, every style is represented here: lager and pilsner, blonde and red ales, black porters and stouts and IPAs.

Heading east out of Heraklion, there are two more breweries to visit. About a 20mins drive from the airport is Barbantonis, in Hersonissos (Analipsi village), with four beers on offer (blanche, dunkel, IPA and stout). And then there is Helmisons, a nano-brewery set in a rural estate around 1.5hrs drive from Heraklion on the south coast, with gorgeous sea views and another four beers to sample (wit, IPA, dark ale, and APA).

If you find yourself in the province of Chania, in western Crete, there are six breweries to visit. Cretan (Harma), just outside the tiny village of Zounaki, offers the 360º Greek craft beer experience, with 25 brews, merchandise and lots of homemade dishes. Further west, there’s the Lyra brewery, set in the heart of the small town of Kissamos and offering a highly-acclaimed golden ale.

Just south of downtown Chania, you will find Xaos (with 13 beers), then Lafkas and Azatis, with two apiece. Xaos is inspired by the Greek word chaos, Lafkas by the White Mountains (Lefkos = white) that can be seen in the background of the city, and Azatis by wild animals (the word means ‘unbound’ in the local dialect).

Finally, in a rural setting south of Agios Georgios village, in the Rethymnon province, you will find the Rethymnian brewery, with three beers: a lager, a blonde and a dark ale.

Peloponnese brewery tour

 

You could tour the entire Peloponnese on a trail of Greek breweries. It’s worth paying special attention to the city of Patras, home to Kykao, one of Europe’s most creative microbreweries. A group of five friends who turned their passion into a business, they have marketed more than 60 different beers within just three years, spanning every type there is and even some world firsts, like ‘reverse engineered wines’, which emulate Greek wines using just water, barley, yeast and hops.

Just south of Patras, you’ll find the Patraiki microbrewery with five beers in production (a pilsner, weiss, IPA, stout and dark ale) and a little further the Toul’s family brewery that makes a pale and blonde ale and a stout, and has more on the way.

Leaving Patras, you head south to Ancient Olympia, stopping by the Elis brewery in the Birtzikis Estate (around 23km before the archaeological site). The estate includes a winery with an open-air amphitheatre, in which you can taste a variety of wines and more than 10 different brews (a lager, pilsner, pale ale, porter, witbier, red ale, stout and more), as well as local dishes and other delicacies of this fertile region of Greece. 

When exploring the Mani region south of Kalamata, make sure to visit the eponymous Mani brewery and take a tour of their facilities, tasting their four beers (a lager, golden ale, IPA, porter) and great local cuisine.

Transitioning from Messinian to Laconian Mani, you’ll find Sparta (a brewery that takes the name of the famous Greek city found nearby). You can taste their lager and pale ale, before heading north to the Nemea region to visit the Karma brewery, where you can try their lager and pale and red ales. Nemea is another famed wine region, so there are lots of other delicacies there too. And if you visit picturesque Nafplion, make sure to pass by the nearby Zeos brewery (‘zeo’ was the Ancient Greek verb ‘to boil’).

Finally, just before leaving the Peloponnese over the Corinth Canal, visit the Corinthian brewery and try their ‘Canal Dive’ pilsner and ale.
 

Aegean brewery tour

 

The Aegean islands are famed for many things, but Greek beer isn’t one of them. Yet! The first Aegean microbrewery was Nissos, on the island of Tinos, which offers a complete beer experience with six brews, tastings and pairings, as well as seminars and merchandise.

Next up is Mykonos, with its Mikonu brewery and more than ten different brews. Another full experience is offered here, so put on your party hat and prepare for a long stay. After all, this is the island that never sleeps.

Just south of Mykonos is Paros, home to the 56 isles microbrewery, with two beers (wit and pilsner) made with locally grown barley and wheat.

Our fourth brewery of the Cyclades islands is Santorini (no prize for guessing where this one’s found), offering six beers (lager, IPA, weiss, barleywine, blonde and red ales) and some very visitor-friendly facilities. Note the donkey logo! Asses have been used for centuries on Santorini, as the volcanic caldera is steep.

Heading over to the Dodecanese, Rhodes (the capital of this island group) is also home to three breweries: Magnus Magister with three beers (lager, pilsner, and weiss), VAP with some light lagers, and Kounaki with another lager.

At the northern end of the Dodecanese is Ikaria, whose Ikarian brewery (near the island’s thermal springs) makes a lager and pale and red ales, perfect for the ‘panigiria’, Ikaria’s famed all-night festivals.

Just north of Ikaria is Chios, whose self-named Chios brewery offers scores of different beers, from lagers and blonde ales to smoked porters and imperial stouts, as well as a unique beer made with the island’s very own masticha resin.

Finally, at the northernmost edge of the Aegean, is the gorgeous and wild island of Samothrace, with its Samothraki brewery, a family business that uses one of Europe’s cleanest waters, pouring year-round down the island’s many waterfalls.
 

Ionian brewery tour

 

The Ionian Sea is found on the western side of Greece and our brewery tour here starts inland, in the city of Ioannina, about 1hrs drive from the port of Igoumenitsa. Here you’ll find Stala microbrewery and its five wonderful ales (pale, red, cream, farmhouse and IPA), using custom-designed and locally made tanks and machinery.

West of Igoumenitsa is the island of Corfu, with its self-named Corfu microbrewery offering nine beers (two lagers, two pilsners, a weiss, IPA, red ale, dark bitter, and a wheat). Their beautiful facility offers the full experience, with beer-tasting, food pairings, seminars and merchandise. Their annual Corfu Beer Festival has really caught on and attracted a loyal following.

Sailing south from Corfu (or taking ferries and driving down the Ionian coast), you reach Kefalonia and Ithaca, two islands with their eponymous Kefallonia & Ithaca microbrewery, making a lager and a red ale in a beautiful seaside location near the port of Sami.

Further south is the island of Zakynthos, whose own Levante microbrewery makes nine different brews, including a weiss, pilsner and IPA and different types of lager (helles, bock, and dunkel).

The final stop on our Ionian brewery sees us back on the mainland, in the beautiful port town of Nafpaktos on the north coast of the Corinthian Gulf. Here we visit Ploumis microbrewery (within the winery of the same name). It offers an amber lager and a blonde ale for tasting, in addition to a variety of wines. 

Central Greece & Thessaly brewery tour

 

A tour of the breweries of Central Greece starts in Chalkida (80km north of Athens) at the Elixi microbrewery (the name means ‘helix’). Their Delphi brand includes four beers (pilsner, IPA, dark ale, and Belgian triple), and they also make another six, like Marea blonde and ale.

Heading east into Evia, you’ll come to Septem, a particularly creative microbrewery, with two dozen beers on offer, including some very strong and hoppy ones. If you head north instead, you reach Eza in Atalanti. This is a success story, where the managers of a multinational bought the factory and set up their own export-oriented model, now making almost 30 different beers.

From Chalkida, you head north to Thermopylae, site of the famed ancient battle, from which you drive west for 1hr into the mountains to find one of the latest Greek microbreweries, Carpinus and its three brews (Pale Ale, NEIPA and Porter). From there, take the scenic route into an ancient forest, passing the hot springs of Smokovo (a winter dip is a must) and on to the city of Karditsa, home to the Stilvi microbrewery. Drinking their lager and stout as part of a cycling tour (it’s one of the most bicycle-friendly towns in Greece) is a fantastic experience.

An hour east is the city of Larissa and just past that is Omorfohori (‘beautiful village’) and the Pineios microbrewery, which produces three beers under the Lola brand (pilsner, IPA, and pale ale) and three in collaboration with the Anastasiou brewery in Athens (a Maerzen and a Munich dunkel, typical Oktoberfest beers, and a Dortmunder).

The tour ends in the city of Volos, home to three microbreweries making more than 20 beers between them: Local Streets, Argo, and Plastigga. The first two are at less than 10mins on foot from each other, while the latter is a 5min drive away. Make sure to spend some time in Volos. You‘ll need it!
 

Macedonia-Thrace brewery tour

 

Your final Greek beer tour takes you north, starting in Thessaloniki, Greece’s second-largest city. Our first stop is at Sknipa microbrewery, just 10mins east of the airport, where you’ll find 10 own brews and many third-party ones. After that, we head northwest through town to the Ali microbrewery, which produces six beers (a pilsner, weiss, IPA, stout, pale and red ale). Both these breweries were their owners’ hobbies turned into a business.

Leaving Thessaloniki, you have a choice of heading west to Katerini, home of Korfi microbrewery and maker of the Vambeer pilsner and lager, or northeast towards Serres (both an hour’s drive away). Right after Serres, you’ll come to Siris microbrewery, with more than 20 excellent brews of pretty much every type, ranging from summer lagers and fruity beers to red and smoked amber ales, as well as a stout and imperial porter.

Another hour’s drive further east is the city of Drama (yes, the scenery is dramatic!), home to Johnie's, an export-oriented microbrewery making a lager and a weiss. Then just another half an hour south, in the port city of Kavala, you’ll find the Marmita microbrewery, another place where passion became a business. Their five beers (a stout, IPA, saison, and red and pale ale) all have distinctive character and soul.

A 40min drive further east brings you to Solar microbrewery, just before Xanthe, a region of Greece famed for its tobacco production but now growing barley for beer. Four brews are made here: a lager and three ales.

Completing our tour of Greece’s northern breweries, we drive 45mins east to Komotini, home of Vergina, the company that made the revolution in Greek beers possible. At their beer bar, you’ll find their lagers (light, red, dark), their pilsner and their weiss.

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