It comes as no surprise that on an island that is more known for its grapes and wine production that beer is slightly tougher to come by in Santorini. The island is home to many wine producers but is home to only one brewery, the Santorini Brewing Co. Travelling through the winding roads of Santorini , dodging some very suspect driving from the locals, quad bikes and people hiking on foot roadside, you won’t go 10 minutes without seeing a vineyard, growing grapes in their unique style of small vine bushes close to the volcanic soil for their trademark wines to their delicious signature Santorini Vinsantos dessert wine. But through walking though the busy capital you will struggle to find words “craft beer” on any chalk board.
Walking through the narrow streets and back alleys of Fira or Oia it’s impossible not to notice the multiple t-shirts displaying the branding of the Santorini Brewing Co logo. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a brewery take such a dominant visual among tourist spots than the Santorini Brewing Co Donkey, including some rather obvious knock off merch. Adopting such an iconic image of the Santorini donkey means that Santorini Brewing Co isn’t just appealing to travelling beer geeks such as myself but to all tourists visiting the island. After spotting lots of other tourists wearing the t-shirts and the endless shops selling the goods I can’t help but think this is a masterstroke on Santorini Brewing Co’s behalf.
Santorini Brewing Co started brewing in 2011 when Serbain brewer Boban Krunic, American Majda Anderson, Greek oenologist/winemaker Yiannis Paraskevopoulos and a Brit brewery owner (Rocky Head Brewery) called Steve Daniel, all got together to bring tasty beers to an island dominated by bland tasteless lagers. Santorini Brewing Co brews 4 core beers, Yellow Donkey, Red Donkey, White Donkey and Crazy Donkey. Yellow Donkey is a 5% pale ale brewed with a mixture of European, American and South Pacific hops, creating a smooth, citrus, incredibly refreshing pale ale. Red Donkey is an Amber Ale that has been brewed with a Belgian yeast, giving it a spicy, peppery, bitter flavour. White Donkey has all those classic Weiss beer flavours with a little extra bitterness. Crazy Donkey is the first IPA to brewed in Greece, Cascade Nelson Sauvin hops gives the beer a fruity start and very dry finish. There are other seasonal beers brewed such as Slow Donkey, a barrel aged Barley Wine which has been aged in the same barrels that are used to produce Vinsanto, the islands famous dessert wine (which unfortunately they didn’t have any bottles of). Xmas Donkey is a honey Saison (which I was lucky enough to try!) that is released every Christmas. A lager called Lazy Ass has just been added to the mix too.
If you’re looking for a few bottles to take home or consume at your villa then a trip to the brewery is a must. Located on the long stretch of road towards Kamari beach, you will spot the large logo of Santorini Brewing Co and it’s range of core Donkey beers. Unfortunately you cannot purchase drinks to be consumed on site (which is a shame as a tap room would be incredibly popular and solve some of the islands keg issues bringing a bar in house), but you can sample the core beers while being told the history of the brewery and info on their brewing process. You are also covered for all kinds of merch and gifts to take home.
Greece is home to many tavernas, small restaurants with a laid back atmosphere to slowly sip your drinks and watch the world go by. Bars and pubs as we know them are minimal, a few in the capitals to please tourists and those who enjoy going to an Irish pub in every country they visit will find a couple. The majority of tavernas and restaurants have bottled Yellow Donkey on their menu but comprehensive beer lists are some what of a rarity on the island of Santorini. Most places will have bottles of Mythos or Fix, but draught beer of any sort is less available than I had expected. Santorini Brewing Co only have draught beer in just one bar, Groove Bar in beach location Kamari, which is owned by an Englishman who has previous experience with keg beer. Santorini Brewing Co had once put their beer into kegs so they could distribute them out to many tavernas, bars and restaurants around Santorini but found the massive lack of beer dispense knowledge resulted in lots of pouring problems and a long list of visits to sort out dispense issues. To battle this problem Santorini Brewing Co decided that they would only bottle their beers.
Drinking out in Santorini isn’t cheap, 330ml bottles of craft beer is going to set you back about €8 with 750ml sharers starting at €15 . Even 500ml glasses of draught Heineken can be €7 plus (when you can find it). All this makes a trip to Santorini Brewing Co even more sensible as you’ll be able to pick up bottles for half the cost of drinking out. If drinking and eating at your villa is on the cards then get yourself down the local super markets. Alongside your big macro offerings you will find Greek craft breweries such as Septem, lots of German beer and if you’re lucky a few Belgian classics too.
One beer that is worth seeking out in the supermarkets is the beers by Volkan. Although they do not brew on the island at the moment they do use ingredients that are farmed in Santorini and Naxos. Grape honey is added to the end of the brew, the water used is lava rock filtered water and they use a unique historic fruit to the Greek islands called Kitron Citrus Medica. Originating from Nippur, South of Babylon, Citrus Medica has been around for over 4000 years. The fruit was first brought to Greece from Persia by Alexander the Great, however now days it is rare and there are only 2000 trees growing the fruit. Volkan claim to be the only beer in the world using Citrus Medica. The combination of the honey and Greek fruit creates this sweet, lemon flavour beer that is very well balanced and refreshing. They have a core range of beers which include two Wheat beers, a Pale Ale and a Dunkel.
If you’re travelling on a budget then get yourself down to one if the many street take away restaurants. Unlike the late night kebab shops of the UK, the Greek street food is far better quality and feels much healthier than our Friday night pissed up munch. Pork and Chicken Gyros rotate waiting to be trimmed and put in to a bed of fresh salad and seasoned yogurt, all held together with a crispy outside but fluffy middle pitta bread, not sliced and stuffed with food like I would expect at home but perfectly wrapped around the food keeping it all held together. All of this will set you back around €2-€3. A few of these kebab shop style restaurants also have draught lager to wash back you’re comfort meal, just imagine that over here in the UK, the ability to order a pint with your large donner at 1am! Somehow, I feel that this wouldn’t be the same relaxed behaved atmosphere you find within the capital town Fira if you was to have the same set up in London late on a weekend. The beer is often served in a freezing cold glass, so cold that you’ll see foamy head actually freezing and floating in the beer, although holding back flavour and aroma, I will admit an ice cold refreshing crisp lager washes down the contents of their pitta bread very well.
The finest selection of Greek craft beer, and beer in general, was stumbled upon by accident. While exploring Fira we walked past Pelican Kipos restaurant, we was attracted by the beautiful restaurant surroundings. Exotic plants, lanterns and grape vines surround both the garden, the restaurant and the glass surrounded conservatory section. When we returned for dinner we were surprised to see not only a entire separate beer menu too go with our food but a list full of quality bottles in both 330ml and 750ml sharer format. The list starts with a full range of Santorini Brewing Co beers, followed by a range of other Greek craft beers, German lagers and an interesting selection of Belgian beers. If you’re lucky you will also be served your beer in the matching brewery glass and the staff at the restaurant are all familiar with the beers available. The only thing missing is a beer and wine suggestion for pairing with each dish. If the beer list is a sign of the quality of the restaurant then you won’t be disappointed as the food is top draw. Stylish, delicious, belly filling and there’s even as dish using a dark beer to make the sauce. Mains range from around €12 to €18, which for the top quality of the food is good value but you will be paying more for your sharing bottles and 330ml bottles, which range from €6 to €9. The food, beer list and surroundings were so good we visited twice and I’m so glad wee accidently stumbled upon the best beer venue on Santorini.
Included in the beer selection are Delphi, starting off being brewed in Italy but moved to Greece in 2013. A few beers are on the menu including their excellent unfiltered Lager. Representing the north of Greece is Siris Microbrewery and their range of beers under the name Voreia, which range from a Lager, Stout, Wit beer, Smoked Amber Ale and IPA. Voreia Stout was my favourite of the trip, rich, velvety, chocolate and roasted barley flavours. Ironically, after searching the entire week for decent beer I had this Stout on our last night, only to return home and see my Beer52 box stashed behind my bin that actually included a bottle of Voreia!
If Santorini is recognised around the world for one thing then it has to be it’s sunset, people flock to the best spots to view the sun going down at the end of each day. An island full of wedding venues all booked up so the bride and groom can have that perfect photo in front of the sunset. If being packed up like sardines all squished up at the Oia sunset view hot spots isn’t your thing, then drinking a beer on one of the many cliff side tavernas is a better option. There’s loads of different places to sit, cocktail bars, wine tastings and restaurants all hanging over the vertigo enhancing views. We found ourselves looking over the Santorini sunset in Select Wine and Beer House, a good choice for everyone with a large cocktail, local wine and a suitable beer list. Most of the larger breweries are on offer here (even a draught line) but there are a few gems within the lists, including Septem and of course Santorni Brewing Co.
Although it may be slightly more difficult to hunt down a variety of different beers in Santorini, the beers available are really great quality, especially the Santorini Brewing Co selection. An ice cold glass of Yellow Donkey is the perfect pairing for the glorious golden glow of the sun passing the horizon of the islands while saying cheers to the famous Santorini sunset. ζητωκραυγές!
Disclaimer – All beers in this blog post was paid for and not free. Other than the Xmas Donkey which was given as a gift from Santorini Brewing Co as I brought them some East London Brewing Co beers.