Friday, 30 December 2011

Artisanal beer (Μπύρα περιοροσμένης παραγωγής)

100% Ελληνικό (100% Greek)
I'm part of the growing number of Greek consumers who have become increasingly aware of the Greekness of our food. The trend for shopping Greek these days has been spurred on by the economic crisis. At its most basic level, food is the one element that most people can keep Greek because we have to eat every day and Greek food is easy to find all over Greece at reasonable prices (not so for other products, eg clothes and shoes). If you insist on buying Greek wherever possible, look out for the symbol of the blue-and-white Greek flag and a '100% Ελληνικό προϊόν' sign written close to it. A caveat: Greek products are often more expensive than imported products, sometimes by only a little, other times by a lot (eg milk). For example, you can buy a 1kg packet of Greek rice for 2-3 euro from LIDL, but the larger packaging of 2kg with the more enticing price tag (again costing 2-3 euro) will contain non-Greek rice.

Generally speaking, in our household, we have always bought Greek, mainly because Cretans tend to be region-centric in their food choices, so we consume a lot of fresh Cretan produce rather than generic Greek. Still, I always wonder just how 'Greek' our garden vegetables actually are: we buy plantlets from a local nursery - but where do the seeds come from that these plantlets grow from? The modern world is highly interconnected. We are one big - but not necessarily happy - family.

Beer produced in Crete
In the beer market, Heineken and Amstel have been served since I came to Greece and were once considered the beers of choice, more proof of Greeks' former love of anything foreign. But their Greek rivals have now taken great steps in the home market, and more and more Greeks are embracing their own country's products in this sector. Mythos is probably the most well known of Greek beers all over Greece, while Fix has also gained ground, due in part to its revitalisation and history as Greece's first national beer. With aggressive and highly successful marketing campaigns, Greeks beers are doing well in the Greek taverna market, while Vergina and Alfa are often sold on special at the supermarket and are considered to be very good beers.

Chinese cabbage from Peloponisos
At the same time as supporting Greek products, it's also interesting to look out for new Greek foodstuff on the market, items which we might generally have thought of as imported (eg Chinese cabbage, brussel sprouts and other non-Mediterranean vegetables), or as simply not part of the Greek taste spectrum. In this category can be included the market of microbrewery hand-crafted beer. I've bought some very good specialised beers in the past, both Greek- and Cretan-made, but as with all specialised products, they come with their own problems. The Greek one I tried (BIOS 5) was cheap (0.95/330ml)  but the bottle wasn't returnable; the Cretan one (Rethymnian) had returnable bottles, but it was expensive (1.55/330ml not including the bottle return - you pay 1.85 at the counter). Artisanal beers are all sold in small ornamental bottles (330ml) and often carry attractive labels, adding to their appeal, and generally geared towards the young Greek who wants to look trendy.

Made in Greece - 100% Eλληνικό προϊόν
The beer was sold at AB Vasilopoulos, the pasta and rice are from LIDL.

Just recently, I was intrigued to find a 6-pack of microbrewery beers at a top-range supermarket selling at 4.40 euro (2 euro off the normal price). Each 300ml bottle contained a different beer flavour. The company producing these beers (Craft Microbreweries) claims to be the first Greek microbrewery in the country, producing beer on a limited production basis. I decided to try out this smartly packaged product (looks a bit like a suitcase), and put it as it was into the fridge as soon as I came home. We tried the first bottle - the "Smoked Lager" - yesterday at lunch with our pastitsio. It tasted like dark strong beer, leaving a wood-fire aftertaste in your mouth as you swallowed it.

The verdict: Not my cup of tea. Thankfully, there was only one bottle of this type of beer in the suitcase (the others are all different beer flavours, as mentioned above). The taste did not remind me of any familiar taste in Greek cuisine. Maybe I didn't pair it well with the food (I'm not a wine connoisseur either). Little bottles of beer like this one are generally downed without food in countries where this kind of beer is more likely to be consumed, at the most with just a snack (eg crisps). I needed the pastitsio to take away the woody taste after each swill. I hope the next bottle I open will remind me of beer as I know it in Greece, and not something like a smoking log of wood. Some tastes cannot be changed.

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