Saturday, 10 May 2014

Beer and Food

My second book, Beer and Food, is out now! The title hints at what it’s about, but let me tell you a bit more…

My goal was to make a book about the topic of putting beer and food together, but I didn’t want it to just be lists of things which taste good. I wanted to go deeper, I wanted to understand how things interact, how the sensations of taste work, the science and composition of different ingredients (like how Simcoe, Citra and many Aussie and Kiwi hops are especially high in the oil myrcene, which is also found in thyme, bay and mango, meaning there’s natural flavour crossovers), as well as giving some great pairings that anyone can try.

I wanted to make it fun and approachable, not just some geek-fest of weird dishes and unobtainable beers – it’s realistic in what people eat and drink. Plus in the book there’s a section about what to eat and drink with a hangover, what beers to have with fast food, what goes best with breakfast or the foods to choose with mainstream brews. The idea is simply that is makes people think differently about how beer and food can be put together.

The book is in four parts. The first introduces the idea of beer and food together, it gives some beer history and goes through the brewing process. The second part starts with the beer style and finds food to go with it, as well as suggesting some general and good matches to go with. Part three begins with the food and then gets a beer to go with it. The final section includes around 50 recipes using beer as an ingredient.

For the recipes, there are some classics like carbonnade and then there’s a load which I’ve developed myself – simple, tasty dishes which benefit from beer being added to them (some of which came from the earlier days of this blog), like beer doughnuts, a beery eton mess, stout mashed potatoes, chicken cooked in Duvel inspired by coq a la biere (which I couldn’t resist calling ‘Coq a la Duvel Doo… still makes me laugh today), or this beauty for ribs cooked in dubbel:

It was a fun book to write. I spent the whole of last summer either eating, drinking, writing, cooking or trying to run as far as possible to have some healthy balance. I lost count of the number of meals I had with at least three glasses of beer and I don’t know how many times I put cling film over the top of a bottle to save it for the next day or to use it in a recipe idea.

I’m really pleased with the book and very proud of it. Hopefully it goes in different directions with beer and food than other books have before.

It’s available on Amazon in the UK and US. It’s also in bookstores all over the place (it’s already been spotted in Australia). There’s a 10-page preview online here. And don’t forget that my first book, Craft Beer World, is also still available (that’s still good and you should also own that one). There’s a Kindle version of that, too (Beer and Food might follow, but not for six months).

If you get a copy then I’d love to know what you think!

The illustrations for this book were done by Nicholas Frith. I love his work!

Sunday, 20 April 2014

10 Beer Chocolate Truffle Recipes

Easter means chocolate. It also means a long weekend of beering (that’s what it means for me, anyway). It’s also a fine time to bring beer and chocolate together and make truffles. The good thing for this recipe is that once you know the basic way of making the truffles you can pimp them with whatever beer and chocolate you want.

The basic Beer Chocolate Truffle recipe
Makes 10-20 truffles

100ml double cream
100ml beer
25g butter
Pinch of salt
200g dark chocolate (or 400g if it’s white or milk)
Something to roll the truffles in

Gently warm the cream, beer, butter and salt in a pan but don’t let it boil. Remove from the heat and mix in the chocolate, stirring until it melts. Put in a bowl and place in the fridge to allow the mixture to cool and set. When ready to go, use a melon-baller or two spoons to create the round truffle shapes and then roll in cocoa powder, ground roasted barley (this works really well if you can get some), crushed toasted nuts or desiccated coconut. Then eat.

If you want to make these with milk or white chocolate then the recipe changes slightly and you need more chocolate to liquid. So a mix of 100ml cream and 100ml beer requires about 400g of chocolate.

Here are 10 of my favourite combinations

Cherry beer and dark chocolate – you can also add dried sour cherries to it

Simply imperial stout and dark chocolate which combines nicely to make the mix extra rich

Get spicy with dark or milk chocolate, dried chilli flakes and cardamom, plus coffee stout

Go Belgian with milk chocolate and quadrupel, perhaps also adding some cinnamon or quad-soaked raisins

Weizenbock with white chocolate and rolled in toasted hazelnuts

Double IPA and white chocolate, plus a teaspoon of honey, then rolled in coconut is really good

An unexpectedly delicious combo is milk chocolate and Rauchbier, giving the equivalent of chocolate covered bacon. A pinch of smoked salt helps boost it all

Black IPA, dark chocolate and orange zest is superb

Recreate PB&J with dark chocolate, a tablespoon of crunchy peanut butter and some raspberry beer. Roll this one in crushed salted pretzels

Bourbon barrel-aged stout with milk or dark chocolate and rolled in coconut is like an adult version of a Bounty bar

This recipe (and the photo at the top) is from my new book, Beer and Food. It’s out on 15 May and you can pre-order it online - below are 10 sample pages. I’m really excited for this book to be released – it’s about the best of beer and food together, there’s some science to how and why beer works well, there’s ideas for pairings, plus a few recipes using beer in them.

Thursday, 13 March 2014

The BrewBurger

The bastards beat me to it.

I had this plan, you see, to try and make the most beery burger the world had ever seen. A cheeky little tie-in to plug my new book – Beer and Food, coming soon! Pre-order it now! – that would challenge me to use as much beer as possible and still get a delicious burger.

And then BrewDog and Honest Burger did it with the BrewBurger. Something so boozy you need an ID to order it.

Despite my DIPA-level of bitterness, I still wanted to eat it. I had to eat it, in fact. I couldn’t not eat it. I mean, look at it. It’s a magnificent masterpiece of meat. And I say this as someone who spends most of my internet browsing (the non-incognito hours anyway) looking at photos of burgers.

The burger stacks 5am Saint candied bacon, Punk IPA onions and a Paradox BBQ sauce along with comte cheese and Honest’s brilliant beef patty. And it’s excellent. The use of beer is subtle, adding depth of flavour instead of just being a gimmick. The meat is always good at Honest and the bun is so soft and sweet. It comes with a Bourbon Baby, BrewDog’s barrel-aged scotch ale which tastes a bit like JD and coke, in a good way – sweet vanilla, molasses, wood, spice.

Having had the BrewBurger, I’m still inspired to make the ultimate beer-infused version because I reckon I can a lot more beer into a burger and still make it taste awesome. For example, in my cupboard at home right now I have hot sauce made with IPA, I’ve got Black IPA ketchup, rauchbier BBQ sauce and three types of beer mustard. I’ve made mayonnaise with beer. A beer-battered onion ring, perhaps. Beer cheese. Beer onions is a gimme. Beer chilli, jalapenos or pickles. Beer in the bread dough. Some hop salt on the fries. Some crushed malt instead of sesame seeds. Anyway...

If you like burgers and beers then try the BrewBurger while you can. In the meantime, I’m going to have to come up with a better idea for this book launch… Beer pizza, perhaps? The beer bakery? 

Monday, 23 December 2013

My Golden Pints 2013

These get harder every year. Mostly because my memory is getting worse thanks to all the beer, but still…

Best UK Cask Beer: Oakham Citra
My drinking has shifted in the last year or two and I now drink way more keg beer than cask beer. One of the best casks I had was Portobello’s Pilsner, in The Gunmakers, but it seemed like a one-off barrel of brilliance and I haven’t tasted it as good again. Burning Sky Aurora was amazing and I can’t wait to drink way too much of it next year. But Oakham Citra is becoming one of the best beers in Britain and that’s the best cask beer I’ve had this year (their Green Devil is also ruinously good).

Best UK Keg Beer: Camden Town Indian Summer
A lot of contenders for this one. BrewDog Dead Pony Club is something I find impossible not to order. I’m loving Beavertown’s Gamma Ray. A couple of Siren beers really stood out – Soundwave and Liquid Mistress. Citronvand by Alpha State was a crackling little beer bursting with big hops. My favourite was the beer that I’ve probably had more pints of than any other British beer this year (given that I worked there one day a week, that makes sense, but still…): Camden Town’s Indian Summer. A hopped-up 6%ish IPA-slash-lager, it’s exactly the kind of beer I love. I’ve already requested that it becomes a permanent beer. And goes in cans.

Best UK Bottled or Canned Beer: Partizan Mosaic Saison
Summer Wine Maelstrom has nailed the Double IPA in a way that no other British brewery has – a bottle that I had this summer was unreal. When Dead Pony Club is good it’s unbeatable. Any of the Salopian small-batch stuff is superb. A bottle of Tap East’s APA was fantastic. But the best… Partizan Mosaic Saison was ohmyfuckinggod good, as was the Amarillo version, and as are all the other variations they do on saison.  

Best Overseas Draught Beer: Nomad Karel
Nomad Karel. No question one of the best IPAs I’ve ever tasted and it’s made using only Czech hops. I drank it on a stag do in Prague and all I remember is basically spending two hours saying how much I loved the beer and that it’s the best beer in the world ever. It was so juicily fruity, so clean, so soft and just perfect. I also had plenty of other good ones: a green-hopped pilsner from Schonramer; Eschenbrau’s pilsner in Berlin rocked; Bells Two Hearted was a perfect IPA when I had it in Philadelphia; Uerige Alt from the brewery is an unmissable beer experience; as is rauchbier in Bamberg, where my first taste was Spezial’s; Naparbier’s Back in Black in Barcelona was as good as any black IPA I’ve tasted; since Lagunitas IPA arrived in Britain I’ve got too drunk on it too many times; all of the beers at Social Kitchen and Brewery in San Francisco; and an Oskar Blues Mama’s Little Yella Pils on draft in Philly was beautiful and way hoppier than I’d tasted it before.

Best Overseas Bottled or Canned Beer: Stone & Wood Pacific Ale
I’ve had a lot of Duvel this year and it’s become a fridge staple. FirestoneWalker’s Pivo Pils almost made me propose marriage to David Walker, then I realised how drunk I was and walked about 50 New York blocks home… (I’m just glad I didn’t drink Union Jack in front of him on the same night or it would’ve got really embarrassing). The single most holy-shit-this-is-awesome beer was Boulevard’s Tank 7 which after one sip made me text Mark and tell him to buy bottles immediately. But the beer I fell headoverheels in love with this year was Stone & Wood’s Pacific Ale. I don’t know how they manage to make a beer that’s so bloody delicious.

Best Collaboration Brew: Fyne and Wild Cool as a Cucumber
Cool as a Cucumber by Fyne and Wild. It’s an amazing beer and I want more! The Wild/Burning Sky/Good George Schnoodlepip was also really excellent. 

Best Overall Beer: Nomad Karel
Nomad Karel for the joyous pleasure it gave me while drinking it. I even went back to another bar the next day to drink more (when I should’ve been chilling for a while before a big night out). It must’ve been that cheeky pint which gave me the stamina to still be sitting in a Prague strip club at 5.30am… (LAD!)

Best Branding, Pumpclip or Label: Partizan
The easiest choice this year: Partizan. I love them all. Alec Doherty's artwork rocks.

Best UK Brewery: Partizan
Partizan. I think every beer is excellent and they make exactly the kinds of beers I want to be drinking. Super hoppy saisons, a wonderful singel, banging pale ales, and the dark beers rock.

Best Overseas Brewery: Schlenkerla
I’ve drunk more bottles of Schlenkerla Marzen than almost any other beer this year and I got to go to the tavern in Bamberg. It’s such a weird and esoteric beer yet it’s remarkable. Go to Bamberg if you can – it’s one of the best beer town’s in the world.

Best New Brewery Opening 2013: Burning Sky
Burning Sky. Gorgeous saisons, plus pale ales and IPAs with more hop flavour and depth than almost anyone else. And there’s going to be barrel-aged beers coming soon.

Pub/Bar of the Year: Well and Bucket
The Well and Bucket. It’s my favourite London pub. Cool place, lots of good beers, sliders. And jointly this also goes to The Gunmakers. It’s my new work local and there’s nothing like walking in there and being warmly greeted by the staff – you can also guarantee some of the best-kept cask beer in London.

Best New Pub/Bar Opening 2013: BrewDog Shepherd's Bush
BrewDog Shepherd’s Bush. It’s an insane beer playground and I expect to drink there a lot in 2014.

Beer Festival of the Year: GBBF
I’ve been to shockingly few festivals this year (I’m a bit bored of big old halls and warm, weird beer – I’d rather go to the pub). I’ll never miss GBBF because it’s the best. Going to Braukunst in Munich was a fun experience.

Supermarket of the Year: Waitrose
Waitrose. Though I think Tesco is getting a lot better.

Independent Retailer of the Year: Bottle Shop
Bottle Shop in Canterbury. It always wins my award because I love it. The Beer Boutique in Putney also deserves a mention.

Online Retailer of the Year: AlesByMail
I use AlesByMail more than any other.

Best Beer Book or Magazine: BEER and BeerAdvocate
So there’s this book called Craft Beer World which I think is pretty good… CAMRA’s BEER magazine is always interesting, as is BeerAdvocate magazine (I do write for both of them...). Sadly there’s just a massive lack of general beer writing in more mainstream media, which is always such a shame.

Best Beer Blog or Website: Beervana
I think Beervana is the best beer blog around. Insightful, interesting, informed and it’s the blog which I wish I wrote (and I’m fairly sure I wrote the same thing last year, so I probably should just start writing that kind of thing…).

Best Beer App: Craft Beer London
Craft Beer London. I use it a few times a week and it’s excellent and reliable (and then on the way home I use the KFC finder app…).

Simon Johnson Award for Best Beer Twitterer: Chris Hall
Chris Hall. Definitely one of the most entertaining voices in British beer.

Best Brewery Website/Social media: Camden Town Brewery
I think most are pretty terrible with streams of retweets praising themselves or just general boring posts like “Brewing our lovely bitter again today.” Very few actually get it right. I think Camden Town Brewery are one of the best, and I say that as the person that used to do it but now doesn’t (so with bitterness that it’s now better without me!). It’s conversational and interesting and not a stream of bullshit – nice work, Zoe!

Food and Beer Pairing of the Year: Schlenkerla Marzen and everythingI’ve spent half the year trying to figure out great beer and food pairings (for my new book! It’s called Beer & Food! You can pre-order it NOW!). My new favourite beer to go with food is definitely Schlenkerla Rauchbier Marzen. It’s capable of some of the most unexpected and brilliant things (Try it with stilton! Try it with chocolate!). A simple one is often the best and with a spit-roast chicken it’s unbeatable. My other favourite new pairing is Sam Smith’s Oatmeal Stout with a good rare steak, parsnip chips and horseradish. It’s amazing.

Monday, 2 December 2013

The Golden Pints 2013

Time to round-up the best of beer in 2013. As we have done for the last few years, Andy Mogg from Beer Reviews and I invite anyone and everyone to share their favourite beers and pubs from the last year.

This time around we’ve made a few updates to the categories, reflecting a few changes in British beer: we’ve broken UK draught beer into cask and keg; we’ve added categories for new breweries and new bar openings; there’s one for collaboration brews, as these are very common now; and there’s a category for the best smartphone app.

We also changed the name of the Best Beer Twitterer in the honour of Simon Johnson, who passed away earlier this year. He had a clean sweep of wins in that category every year that we’ve done the Golden Pints, so it seems like a good way to remember his impact.

Feel free to answer with one word for each category or with whole sprawling paragraphs. Give runner-up choices if you wish, or even top 10s in each category. Blog them, tweet them, paste them into the blog comments below – however you want to do it. The ‘UK’ focus can easily be changed to whatever country you are based in. And you can use the Golden Pints logo when you post.

Here are the categories for this year’s Golden Pints.

·         Best UK Cask Beer
·         Best UK Keg Beer
·         Best UK Bottled or Canned Beer
·         Best Overseas Draught Beer
·         Best Overseas Bottled or Canned Beer
·         Best Collaboration Brew
·         Best Overall Beer
·         Best Branding, Pumpclip or Label
·         Best UK Brewery
·         Best Overseas Brewery
·         Best New Brewery Opening 2013
·         Pub/Bar of the Year
·         Best New Pub/Bar Opening 2013
·         Beer Festival of the Year
·         Supermarket of the Year
·         Independent Retailer of the Year
·         Online Retailer of the Year
·         Best Beer Book or Magazine
·         Best Beer Blog or Website
·         Best Beer App
·         Simon Johnson Award for Best Beer Twitterer
·         Best Brewery Website/Social media
·         Food and Beer Pairing of the Year

Get them posted by the end of 2013 and we’ll try and do a round-up early in 2014!

Monday, 28 October 2013

Craft Beer in Barcelona

It may have been planned as a non-beery weekend away for some October sunshine, but you can’t keep a beer geek away from local craft beers, especially when it’s a major city in a country that isn’t yet known for its brewing... So what’s Barcelona like for good beer and where should you go to find the best?

This was in the process of opening when I was there (early October 2013) and it was only a tweet from a local that sent me there, but I’m very glad we went. With 30 taps, lots of Spanish beers, plus really great imported beers including rarely-seen American stuff, this is the place to go for beer in Barcelona (and a world-class bar wherever you are in the world). It’s very smart and modern, the beer list is on big TV screens and there’s very good food. Naparbier’s US-hopped unfiltered lager was so good I ordered their Back in Black, a chocolate orange of a Black IPA, and that was so good that I ordered their ZZ+ Amber which was also very good. BierCaB is an essential Barca beer stop.

This place is fun. Small and filled with mis-matched furniture, there’s jazz in the background and drawings of cats all over the walls. There are nine beers on tap (six were Spanish when I went) and they do flights if you want to sample some things before you get a pint. They have a good fridge of Spanish bottles and the food menu is vegan – the burgers are good. A porter from Fort was tasty, as was a bottle of Ausesken Cat IPA, which was recommended by the bar staff (though it was quite dark in colour – a lot of IPAs seem to be brown... is this Iberian Pale Ale, perhaps). This is a must-visit beer bar.

A short walk from CatBar, this is a bottle shop and cool corner bar that feels like an old English pub, especially as they had a beer on cask and a humming chatty atmosphere. A list of import beers were on tap with the only Spanish option being on the handpull. The cask was from Ales Agullons and was soft, dry, fragrantly hoppy and bitter – it was superb. The bottle range has a lot of Spanish choice. It’s too close to CatBar to not do both.

A few streets away from the La Sagrada Familia is this little bottle shop which doesn’t look much from the street corner but it opens into a bar with seating inside. BrewDog, Siren, and some other imports were on tap, while the fridges and shelves were loaded with Spanish beers. Go here to get bottles, but stay for a glass while you’re there.

A brewpub in town, not far from La Sagrada Familia. Walking in it’s like an old sports bar, only there’s brewing kits in the back. It has lots of classic bottles plus five of their own beers on tap. Obviously I ordered all of them, though slightly regretted it as they all had some unusual flavours from fermentation, though they were definitely drinkable. Their Imperial Stout was good and worth going for (if a little boozy for 25C weather) – dark chocolate and coffee, plus their associated acidity, some fruitiness, lots of cocoa, liquorice and vanilla, but more weird fermentation flavours. Go if you’re nearby.

I loved this place. A cool, long bar, with stool seating and then tables in the back. A good bottle fridge and food menu – we stopped for brunch on Sunday and the food was superb. The beers were some of the best, too. Fort’s Citra Golden Ale was perfect: fresh and fruity, juicy and delicious. They had a couple of great Naparbier beers on, plus imports. Definitely go here for food and for beer.

Off a small placa, this is a smart bar and bottle shop with eight taps mixing local and imports. Cosy seating in the back, interesting art on the walls, some snacks, and a good atmosphere. There’s a brewery attached but there were no house beers on when I went.

This is a decent-sized brewery in the middle of the city. It’s smart and modern, you can see the tanks, you can order some tapas, and they serve two types of beer: an unfiltered lager and an amber lager. Both are good, very clean, simple, yet quenching in the warm weather. I liked this place a lot and if you want a good, refreshing lager then go here.

I couldn't resist an Estrella with a paella

Barcelona is an amazing city and I love it. Getting lost in winding old streets, seeing the beautiful buildings and being by the beach is a great mix. Big beer dominates, which is evident as the Estrella brewery is pretty much the first thing you see when you leave the airport, but there is a growing number of small breweries.

And what I found was that they are making a wide range of different styles from straight-up pilsner, to American-style pale ales and IPAs, lots of stouts, and even some wild ales and sour beers. Many either seemed a bit sweet or aggressively bitter but the best beers I tasted were equal to the best beers brewed anywhere in the world, which is great (Fort, Agullons and Naparbier were my favourites, though there are no doubt others making really good beers which I didn’t get to try). One caveat is that for every great beer I had, I also had a poor one which had some kind of brewing issue (most often acetaldehyde, diacetyl or just some weird yeast flavours). So it’s currently a bit of a beer roulette.

Next to the Spanish beers, everywhere served imported beers, mostly British with BrewDog, Magic Rock, Buxton, Moor, Siren, and others.

And if you do visit then watch out for opening times: lots of places don’t open until 6pm and many are closed on Sundays.

Barcelona is a great place. You might not necessarily go there on a beer holiday, but if you’re there then you’ll be able to drink some great beers, as long as you don’t mind a few duds in between.

Friday, 25 October 2013

Cooking with beer: Shepherd’s Pie with London Porter

I’ve spent the summer blinkered by beer and food, whether it’s trying to come up with great combinations or using beer as an ingredient in different recipes. So when I get an email from Sainsbury’s seeing if I’d like to shoot a YouTube video for them, I thought I’d have a go at taking one of their Live Well for Less recipes and giving it my own beer tweak.

I cooked up a classic, simple Shepherd’s Pie and included some Fuller’s London Porter in the lamb mix. The beer is perfect for this: roasted, a little sweet, a bit chocolatey and there’s something wonderfully savoury about it when it gets cooked with meat and tomatoes. It gave a delicious extra depth into the dish and worked really well. Reunite the beer and pie and pour the Porter when you eat – it’s a great match.

For the recipe, go to the Sainsbury’s website. The only tweak I made was to forget the mint sauce and add about 200ml of porter, plus a teaspoon of sugar to balance any beer bitterness - this is a useful tip whenever you're cooking with beer and just a little bit of something sweet can help a lot.

Thanks to Nathan Nolan who shot the video and edited it (and let me wear his shirt because my grey jumper made me blend into the background!). He’s cool so you should check out his website, Mr Drink ‘N’ Eat.

Saturday, 31 August 2013

Fix: The Greek word for beer

With a background of financial crisis and a market dominated by multi-national breweries, Fix Hellas made at Olympic Brewery, based near Athens, have focused on their heritage, their provenance, and a quality product to go from nothing to over 10% of the Greek market in four years. In fact, they’ve found that the country’s financial problems have enabled them this astonishing growth.

Thank Fuchs for Greek Lager

In 1832, Greece broke free from the Ottoman Empire, which it had been ruled by since the 15th century. Regaining autonomy as a Kingdom, Otto of Wittelsbach, Prince of Bavaria, became the first king.

With a Bavarian in charge, other Germans followed him. One of those was Georg Fuchs, who worked to construct mines. Georg’s son, Johann, travelled to Greece to be with his father. When he arrived he learnt that his father had been shot dead. Despite this, Johann chose to stay and seeing his fellow countrymen and their thirst for the drink of their homeland, he started importing German beer.

Johann Fuchs (left) and son Karl (right). From here

With a growing population of Germans, Johann decided to build a brewery to be able to make beer in Greece, rather than importing it – this was Greece’s first modern brewery and Johann gave his brewery a slightly-more-Greek sounding version of his name: Fix. By the middle of the 19th century his beer was popular among Greeks and Germans, and his brewery had become a central meeting point in Athens.

King Otto ruled from 1833 until 1863, when a democratic constitution was introduced and King George I took over, albeit with reduced powers to his predecessor. Taking advantage of additional freedom under the new leadership, plus the growing success of Fix, Fuchs moved his brewery and opened a new site in 1864.

The old Fix brewery. From here.
Other breweries were operational at this time and beer was so popular that by 1893 Fuchs had built a large new brewery on Syngrou Avenue, in a suburb of Athens. Johann’s son Karl joined his father in the family business and together they continued the brewery’s success and growth. Always looking to be as technologically advanced as possible, Fix became fully steam-powered and then Karl was responsible for introducing artificial refrigeration to Greece in 1920. When Karl died, his two sons – Yiannis and Antonis – took over the brewery and they built a malting facility to be able to use Greek barley. By now, the brewery had become synonymous with Greek beer and the nearby Syngrou Avenue metro stop was named Syngrou-FIX – the name remains today.

As Athens spread, the area around Syngrou Avenue started to grow and become a more populous suburb of the city. In 1957 the brewery was refurbished and expanded to be a state-of-the-art building, designed by a famed architect of the time, where the whole of the ground floor was glass-fronted to allow people to see into the brewhouse.

But this was to be a peak before a long, slow fall past political problems, internal issues, accusations of operating a beer monopoly, then strong competition from other beer brands like Amstel and Heineken. In 1982, Greece’s most famous beer brand went bankrupt and stopped making beer.

Genesis of a Fixed brand

In 2006, brothers Ilias and George Grekis, of GR INOX which manufactures stainless steel, including breweries, built a brewhouse and small filling line, from which they launched a new lager brand called Genesis. But it didn’t last long.

“Genesis means nothing in Greece,” says Ilias Grekis, a George Clooney-esque man with wide shoulders and a booming, chesty voice. “In Greece you have to make people understand that Genesis means beer.”

Making Greek understand Genesis was a challenge and instead they started to look into the old Fix brand. Then in 2008 they started a corporation with Yiannis Chitos of Zagori Natural Mineral Water and together they took ownership of the Fix brand and the Olympic Brewery – from 1995 the Fix trademark was owned of D. Kourtakis SA, who briefly re-launched the beer without success. But this time it would be different.

“We did research before we bought the brand to see two things: if people remember the brand and how they remember: in a good way or bad way,” says Grekis. “The result was excellent: they had very good memories and 95% said Fix was beer,” with the other 5% linking it to the metro station, which was named after the brewery. “This is treasure, it’s gold.”

The new Fix

“The first challenge was to make a decent beer. A beer that Greeks would like,” says Grekis. “It was a challenge but from the result we think that we have a success there. Fix Hellas has a good market, good marketing, good distribution, but beer is for fun, you drink beer because you like it, not because you have to. I believe that we have success with making good beer.”

The second challenge was distribution. Before Fix, there were only two big companies: Carlsberg and Athenian. Carlsberg make Mythos, perhaps the best-known Greek beer. Athenian brew Heineken, Amstel, Fischer and Alfa (Alfa, by the way, is an old beer brand started by a cousin of Fuchs who built another brewery in Greece, separating the family by doing so). Together they had over 90% of the Greek market. They are also the main importers of beer, so they control the whole market. With water magnate Yiannis Chitos, who has a very good relationship with wholesalers thanks to his water business, Fix found access into the market.

“The third challenge is the consumer. We focus on the consumer because he has the final judgement of the product.” This involved clever marketing and focusing on the Greek provenance and history of the beer.

It was immediately successful from its launch in March 2010, perhaps too successful; in the middle of that year, just as the peak tourist season approached, they ran out of beer. “We sold everything we have,” says Grekis. “We haven’t beer to drink ourselves. This is a terrible time. So we make a decision that we have to increase our capacity.”

Olympic Brewery
Following an initial €4m investment, they spent another €16m in filling lines, filter and cellars for their four-vessel 100HL brewhouse, which produced 100,000HL of beer in 2010. The next year they invested a further €15m to install an additional four-vessel 200HL brewhouse (supplied by GR INOX) while also increasing filling capacity and fermentation capacity which allowed their output to jump to 195,000HL, deliberately stopping there because in Greece there is small brewery tax relief for those producing less than 200,000HL annually (it’s €0.34 per litre for a large brewery versus €0.17 for a small one). In 2012 they made full use of the second brewhouse, which they run concurrently with the original (they brew eight turns through each brewhouse each day) and their output grew to 410,000HL. In early 2013 they invested €4m in fermentation tanks and recycling facilities for filtration, meaning they are able to maximise their brewhouse output and reach 550,000HL. To grow further they need to build another brewery and plans are being worked on.

The Olympic Brewery are also looking into the possibility of building a malt plant in Greece. Fix brews with Greek barley but aside from two private plants for Athenian brewery, Greece does not yet have a malting facility, so the 150 hectares of barley that Fix planted in 2013 will be sent to Germany to be processed.

“We need a malt plant here in Greece,” says Grekis. “I believe that somebody will make this investment. If nobody does it we will see to make it ourselves.” It would cost about €8-10m for 10,000 tonnes, which is the amount that Fix currently uses, so they would want to make a larger malting to be able to produce 20,000 tonnes to also support the growing number of Greek microbreweries. “It would be a plant for all. It’s a safe investment. You will sell it, no matter what.”

A modern brewery

The brewery is a very impressive facility. The two brewhouses sit side-by-side with a small production office between them, monitoring the process. There’s an enormous filtration area and then a spotless, stunning cellar: tiled floors, bright hoses snake across it as the conical bases of vast tanks look like upside-down pyramids. It’s calm, clean, and quiet. Into the packaging area and things get noisy and busy as 28,000 cans and 24,000 bottles are filled an hour – in the summer they will fill up to 60,000 cases of beer a day (which drops to just 3,000 in winter showing the seesaw seasonality of beer in Greece).

There is also a 100-litre trial brewery sitting in the pipes beneath the 100HL brewhouse. It’s in this that they can try out different recipes. They used this to work on FIX Dark, a beer which was introduced in 2012. A schwarzbier, it’s smartly branded and aimed at younger drinkers and while it was initially launched with the winter in mind, it’s selling throughout the year and it’s quickly been successful: it will account for around 8% of the brewery’s production in 2013.

A Fix to the financial problems?

But for a country that’s in financial crisis, how has Fix managed to achieve this monumental growth in such a short time? “The economy is very difficult in Greece, especially for the banks. And if you have a huge growth like we have, you need banks,” says Grekis. “But if you have in front of you a company that is going well with growth, you don’t have problems,” he says.

“The thing is that the crisis has helped us very much as a company. We are an original Greek company. Through the crisis Greek people started turning to Greek products to support their country. Fix Hellas is Fix Hellas. It’s Greek.”

The name – Fix Hellas – suffixes the Greek word for Greece (Hellas), therefore closely aligning it to the Greek people. And where Fix is unique is that it has a long history in Greece, it was the original Greek beer, it’s now an entirely Greek company, employing Greek people, with a Greek-built brewhouse, and using Greek-grown barley, and they have used this to their advantage.

“Why the consumer will pick my product is the marketing – the strength of the brand,” Grekis says. How did they build that? “Millions of Euros!” he laughs, but behind that is a serious statement: there is a large marketing budget, and they aren’t afraid to spend the money, but it’s really just telling a good story that appeals to Greek sentiment and their current desire for Greek products.

The financial crisis had a big impact on their sales. Where wine was once the drink of choice, beer has now became the affordable alternative and Greeks are now choosing Fix over Amstel, Heineken, and the others, because they want to support and buy Greek things. There isn’t a pub drinking culture in Greece and beer was previously a glass of summer refreshment, but that’s changing; beer is becoming the drink of choice. And with clever marketing, quality approachable beer, smart branding and, crucially, a Greek product, Fix has grow phenomenally against the backdrop of a financial crisis and they now have a considerable segment of the market – and it’s still growing.

Fix. It's the Greek word for beer.