Greece - The Culture, Beaches, and Beer
This is my first time in Greece, and we certainly did it right. Taverna's every night (a truly greek thing, the "taverna" is essentially a relaxed restaurant or bar that's literally on the beach), beach trips during the day, and enough greek salad and fresh feta to keep my digestion running properly for years to come. We spent the past week and a half on the tiny island of Corfu, located a couple miles off the coast of Albania, northwest of mainland Greece. It's very much part of Greek culture, but maintains its island appeal; financially aloof and full of European tourists looking for a bronzed physique and an easy escape from reality. Imagine you took Nantucket and plopped it down in the middle of the Ionian Sea. Now replace all the yuppie American white people with yuppie, slightly more tan European white people. I shouldn't be surprised, but there is almost no American presence on this island paradise at all. It seems we stumbled into a European secret.
All kidding aside, it's been a delightful vacation. The people are lovely, and the weather has been stunning. Even though it's been 100 degrees every day, there's no humidity, and easy access to the clear waters of the Mediterranean coast make it bearable and pleasant.
The food is also fresh and uniquely Greek. Every restaurant and taverna essentially serves the exact same menu of traditional and modern greek dishes: Mussouka, Souvlaki, Greek Salad, Sofritos, Spanikopita, etc, but they have been delicious every night. The seafood includes local catches like red snapper, grouper, octopus, and prawns; all extremely fresh and very much present in your evening entree options.
Corfu, being a distinctly touristy destination, is probably not a perfect representation of the Greek people, but it's as close as I could get on this trip. They're really lovely people. They were full of local stories and great tips on where to find any kind of fun adventure, even when their English was pretty spotty. We asked a guy at dinner where we could rent a fishing charter and they scratched a phone number on a business card and said "this is your guy". We didn't catch anything resembling a sizable fish (water was too warm at this time of year), but it was fun anyway. We also rented a small powerboat and took it around the island, where we found some seriously cool little spots to go for a swim. The water, on either side of the island, is warm and crystal clear.
They do not have anything resembling good local beer on Corfu, and by extension (and my assumption), anywhere else in Greece. For the record, the beer we did have was always ice cold and refreshing, which was exactly what we needed after a hot day at the beach. But even their local brewery, called "Corfu Beer", does not make anything an American craft drinker would qualify as a decent brew. I arrived at the first few grocery stores with this sort of shelf in front of me:
I'll say it again. I'm not a snob, and cold beer is cold beer. I drank quite a bit of it. But the culture and clientele of this island paradise certainly aren't clamoring for a full-bodied lager, balanced brown ale, or anything resembling a hop-forward beer. The pictures below are the locally made beer. The beer on the left is an attempt at a classic British "real ale", and it's...ok. As a real ale, it's unpasteurized, so you're getting some secondary fermentation in the bottle with actually yeast swimming around and doing their work while you consume the beer. It's unfiltered, but lacks anything resembling a good bitter's mouthfeel or malt-forward backbone. The IPA was not an IPA and the "special red" wasn't anything to write home about.
So the Greeks helped to bring us a sizable majority of our modern culture, language, entertainment, technology...I could go on all day. That's enough. They just haven't done much for beer, but you can't have it all. They'll catch on eventually, and in the mean time, I'm happy to crush a few more Mythos and enjoy the ocean breeze.
If you've got any suggestions or comments on Greek beer culture, great Greek beer, or anything else really, I'd love to hear about it.