Tuesday, 27 August 2013

Great Greek beer found in Crete shock


     well, here I am back in Blighty after a quick sojourn through the jumble of frustration and disorganisation that is the island of Crete, still only supporting two breweries 30 years after the microbrewery, and a good 10 years after the swanky brewpub/eatery boom, started in the rest of Europe. I updated the blog on the state of beer in Crete from Sougia, on the South coast last week, but quite a bit has happened in that regard since, which I will try and summarise below.

Firstly - chuff me! Chania and Heraklion, with Rethymnon the two last places visited on the trip, certainly came up trumps and provided a whole slew of new Greek beers. Before that, I established after a meal at the matchless Polyfimos restaurant at Sougia that there was indeed no Craft Brewery beer to be had. Thus proving that one of the older established, erm, craft breweries *coughs* has gone to the wall. Admittedly I already read about this on Ratebeer, but I didn't want to believe it since Craft was a welcome oasis in a desert of drab drivel from the Heineken Amstel and Mythos (now Carlsberg) triumvirate of tedium. Sougia proved that there was a need for microbrewery output by overnight becoming less of a beer drinkers paradise as a direct result of Craft's demise - in the end I settled for endless bottles of Erdinger....

Chania changed all that. Back in 2010 I updated the blog about a bar near where Rudi's Beerhouse used to be which sold a decent range of beers including Fischer Pils from Strasbourg on draught, as well as some stronger Belgian offerings. With Wee Keefy in tow I headed back again, if nothing else to establish it's name (it's recognisable by a weird pink and yellow coloured plastic emu type thing with a pink boa - difficult to miss, but equally so to write out.....)

The bar is called Plaka according to the sign, which is potentially also a word which means fun - strange since by the bar's own admission plaka is a paving stone. I have no idea how both meanings could come from the same word! It was obvious early on that finding out the name was going to provide little more clarity than not, however at least I do have an address for it now - its on Sifaka, up from the main square adjoining the harbour off Tsambeliou. So no excuses for not finding it.

The beer menu now has a weighty list of Greek brewers products, although, we had come on the day when the deliveries had not arrived so the range was slightly reduced. Despite this, and at a classy 10.45am, I had a bottle of the excellent Septem Sunday honey ale, which, to my significant delight, although unsurprisingly sweet due to the addition of honey, was packed with hops including Tettnanger, giving it a very rounded but unmistakably hoppy flavour. It was 6.5% and €4.50 for a 330ml bottle. Given Chania's reputation for taking the piss price wise, that's not ridiculous, considering the import taxes imposed on the island.

Next up was a Volkan Black from Santorini for Wee Keefy and a BIOS 5 pils from Piraeus for me. The pils was a little light but very refreshing, whilst the Volkan was a fantastic tasting dark beer, also brewed using honey. We finished on a Volkan Blonde, which perhaps wasn't as accomplished as its darker sibling but still a good characterful beer. We didn't get to try the Mondays Ale and Fridays Pale from Septem alas, but I was already impressed with their work. The menu also has Krusovice imperial, which at €4.00 a bottle is probably a stronger version of the dark Czech beer. Good stuff all round.

We also found time to visit seminal Chania favourite Bororo just off the harbour near the sadly closed Cafe Krita. The beer range hasn't really changed in the last 8 years so the excellence of Plaka  makes it look a little poor now - and it didn't have the Schlenkerla Rauchbeer Marzen I was after either, the second time a Schlenkerla had eluded me in Crete. Still, I tried the Brinks Rethymnian Dark for old times sake instead -  but it was woeful. Burnt dry and bitter with no balance whatsoever. WK was quick to point the finger of blame at it being bottle conditioned, which it isn't, sort of, but whatever the reason this was a terrible drink. Bororo is still worth a visit though.

Saturday was our final day and we happened across not 1 but 2 specialist beer bars in Heraklion by mistake - plus a couple of duds. Draft on 25 August martyrs street was once a travel guide nod for its range of beer but it has dwindled to having Sol as its most unusual feature and is pricey so we didn't bother. Up the road in Lions Square is a swanky looking bar proclaiming the word Brauerie. There was a sign of fonts and I immediately imagined a swish mainland Greek influenced brew pub. Alas, despite the rather admirable intentions of its lengthy beer menu (a whole paragraph about the taste of Carlsberg? Come on!) and it selling excellent Fix Dark at a sensible price, it is not a brewery or a brew pub - a fact made more obvious by the words which seem to suggest its a vineyard as well. Basically it serves beers and wines. Humph.

A long wander round the port and bus station brought us to St Georges Gate and Eleftheria square from where we found the Beer House at Zografou 16, off Averof ( no website but its on foursquare ). A large imposing building with sleek decor inside and 5 draught fonts including Maisels Wiess. Here we once again came across a distinct lack of advertised product but the lady serving us explained with some remorse that they had been cleared out by a party the night before and the beer order would not arrive until at least 7PM. This meant once again the Schlenkerla would elude me, and when we got to her having to list the beers they had instead of us choosing it seemed all hope was lost. Wee Keefy opted for a Kozel Dark and I reluctantly went for the Mary Rose, which she described as being fruity but not too sweet.

No brewery was listed in the menu so I bought it with trepidation, and only then on the basis of the claim it was brewed in Greece. I needn't have worried - its brewed for OK Drinks in Santorini under license by Septem - and tastes strongly of rather fabulous hops. I did politely advise that describing it as sweet may disappoint or put off punters but was also quick to point out that it was excellent - alas it was the last bottle they had, so I had half a Krusovice (the only draught left!) before we moved on. A fully stocked bar should make this a must visit destination for beer lovers in Heraklion.

The other beer bar was another accidental find, off Milatou in an area near Lions Square filled with Tavernas. The Beer Academy sells a very impressive range of draught keg beers including Schlosser Alt, and an even more impressive range of Greek beers. Add to this the good value food and you have a great combination. Searching on the web and perusing their menu which I borrowed shows the academy to be a franchise but I'm not complaining - because the Greek beer selection was the best we came across all holiday.

Once again the unreliability of such products stood out, since there was no Chios organic, Knights of Rhodes and none of the 4 Septem advertised. There was however a Volkan Blonde from Santorini, and to my surprise the prized offering of a bottle of Nissos Pils from the Cycladean Brewing Company on Tinos. A limited batch beer this was fantastically refreshing to taste but also had bags of flavour to balance it out - no sappy watery lager by numbers, this was a quality pils in its own right. I also had a Volkan as above and Wee Keefy a Bios 5 which wasn't on the menu.

You can't escape the prices in Heraklion (both the Bio at 5% and the Nissos at 4.8 in 330ml bottles were €5.80 a bottle and a 330ml Schlenkerla was an absurd €7.50!) but if Crete is to provide the beer mad visitor any kind of respite from the Heinstelos dominance this is the sort of place that has to work. The food was very nice like I said and I got the feeling that all the draught beer was on, and as with Beer House a full quota of advertised stock would make it a great place to wile away an albeit expensive afternoon.

So, a fine end to our holiday, and one which overall showed much improvement in the availability of Greek beers in Crete even at the same time as we lost Craft brewery from Athens.

For more info on Greek breweries here is a link to the Ratebeer Greece breweries list . It seems Greece is finally, if painfully slowly, starting to catch up with the interest in microbrewery beer in Europe.

Yamas to that!

Wee Beefy

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