Friday, 4 February 2011


(Tomatoes from the book Scatterlight Donkeys & Foxballs Ice Cream)

Last week the New York Times published an interesting article about a small beer brewer in Komotini, in the north of Greece, close to the Turkish border. 'What’s broken in Greece? Ask an Entrepeneur' was the title. It tells the story of Dimitri Politopoulos, who has been struggling for twelve years now to keep his brewery going. From his experience it seems it isn’t only foreigners looking to invest in Greece who are faced with a barrier of laws and rules - the Greeks themselves don’t have an easy life trying to make and sell products.

I wonder where all those dynamic Greek salesmen have gone, who were once at the flourishing heart of Smyrna (nowadays Izmir) during the days of the Ottoman Empire. It was the Greeks and Armenians who kept the economy booming in those days. After the fall of the empire and the creation of the Turkish state, the country was cleared of foreigners and the healthy economy was more or less destroyed.

Who does not know the story of the shipping giant Aristotle Onassis? He fled Turkey and very quickly built up an enormous shipping business, which made him one of the best known icons of modern Greece. Many Greeks also went to the United States where they too created all kinds of businesses. In those days it was still the land where dreams could come true and by hard work and good business decisions you could become a millionaire.

Not in Greece. Except for Onassis very few got rich by dint of their labours. And so it is today. The NYT article makes that clear. For example Mr Politopoulos wanted to brew a new kind of herbal tea made from plants which he grows in the mountains, but a Greek law forbids brewers to make anything but beer - a law dating back to the time when King Otto of Bavaria ruled Greece (1833–1862).

It was he who first introduced beer to Greece. It was after the time the main part of Greece was able to free itself from Ottoman rule and Otto (the second son of King Luther I of Bavaria) was installed by the European powers to be its ruler. He brought with him a royal Bavarian brewer named Fuchs. Otto, however was never very popular with the Greeks and was sent back home in 1862. However, Fuchs stayed and his son founded the first brewery in Greece, producing a beer he called FIX (after Fuchs).
However, if Mr Politopoulos wants to realise his dream of bottling a new herbal drink, he must first get the government to alter King Otto’s brewing law. We all can imagine what a long and tedious procedure that will be.

I do not drink much beer, although I do like it on a real hot summer’s day. Then I prefer the Mythos brand, the most popular of the Greek beers. They are not always available thanks to the Dutch beer giant Heineken which has grabbed 70% of the Greek beer business.

As far as I know there is no beer made here on Lesvos, but there are plenty of Greek brands from elsewhere: Fix Hellas, Athenian, Marathon, Zorbas, Alfa and Vergina, the beer made by Mr Politopoulos. Most are difficult to obtain but I think I once saw a bottle of Alfa on the island.

Everybody knows that Greek tomatoes - especially those from Lesvos - are much tastier than the Dutch variety, but did anyone ever get a chance to taste any beer other than Heineken or Amstel in Greece? I am sure that if you do find any this summer you will, like me, prefer Mythos (or one of the other Greek beers). As for Mr Politopoulos and his dream of brewing a tea from mountain herbs: a great idea and I really hope he will see this dream come true and if he ever comes to Lesvos, I will be happy to accept a case of his Vergina beer.

The law that says brewers can only make beer is not the only example of archaic legislation in Greece. There is another law that says donkeys are allowed to walk anywhere they like along the road - even highways. So while you will still encounter scatterlight donkeys on the track, they will also be in bookstores: my book Scatterlight Donkeys & Foxballs Ice Cream will be out very soon: check my blog for information on how to get a copy.

(with thanks to Tony Barrell)

@ Smitaki 2011

No comments:

Post a Comment