Greece is a Mediterranean country where drinking is a social event. Greeks drink wine, beer, and spirits in a social setting as a way to strengthen bonds among friends and family members, and to escape the main preoccupations of daily routines.
Drinking Culture in Greece
While Greeks consume incredible amounts of wine, beer, and ouzo, public displays of drunkenness are a rare occasion outside the seediest areas of big cities.
The bars in Greece begin to fill around midnight and close in the early morning hours.
Families drink at almost every dinner gathering, and it is not uncommon for the children (even under the age of ten) to have a few sips of the table wine.
During special holidays, of which the Greeks have invented many, the alcohol begins to flow in mid-morning and continues until the wee hours of the next morning.
Easter in Greece is a spectacle to be reckoned, especially in rural areas where religious celebrations, lamb roasting on a spit, and wine consumption converge into day-long displays of joy.
You can purchase any kind of alcohol at the Greek super markets, and you can even order beer or wine at fast food restaurants throughout the country.
Everyone is expected to act civil before, during, and after drinking. If someone becomes too inebriated his or her company is expected to make sure that they do not become a public nuisance.
Driving after drinking is of course not advised and strongly discouraged by a very active police who employ breathalyzers en masse after hours.
Is There a Drinking Age Limit in Greece?
A new law enacted in July 2009 from the ministry of health stipulates a drinking age of 18.
Several establishments around touristy areas have signs posted that no one under 18 will be served alcohol.
Popular cruise lines in the Aegean seem to have different rules depending on the ship. Some serve alcohol to adults over 18, some recognize a 21-year-old limit, and others will allow underage drinking with parental consent. Check with your particular cruise line for clarification.
Even though some establishments have signs posted informing patrons that drinking is not allowed under 18 (or 17, or 16 without a guardian in several cases), enforcement seems to be spotty.
Evidently, there is no age limit to enter bars, and in reality no-one checks IDs either at the door or at the bar.
Beer in Greece
There are many kinds of beer in Greece, but lager beer dominates with three major brands: Amstel, Heineken, Mythos. They are all brewed in Greece, even though the first two are of Dutch origin.
If you want to try a “Greek” beer, you can order the ubiquitous Mythos beer, or the rarely found “Alpha” brand, or the historic “FIX” brand that has a comeback after being popular in the 60’s and 70’s.
Some of the most popular imported bands include the imported Kaiser, Beck’s, and Budweiser.
Beer in Greece comes in large 0.5L bottles or in 0.33L cans or bottles, and contain 5% alc. volume.
If you sit at a table with Greeks, you would not order your own bottle of beer. Instead, the whole company will order a number of bottles that are placed in the middle of the table and shared by everyone. Everyone has his/her own glass of course.
Lagers are More Popular. Ales are Largely Unknown
A chilled lager or pilsner beer is much more refreshing in the heat of the summer, so it’s appropriate that they are the most popular type of beer in Greece.
Ales are better served room temperature. If you have been to Greece in the summer you will probably agree that the idea of a warm beer is not very appealing, no matter how fruity the flavor.
Accordingly, you will be hard pressed to find ales or dark beers in Greece. Only few specialty shops in popular destinations will serve IPAs or dark beer like Guinness.
Local Microbreweries and Craft Beer
For a country that enjoys so much heat, sunshine, and social drinking, it is surprising that micro breweries have not flourished. Indeed, you will be hard pressed to find any other kind of beer besides the mass-produced ones.
That is not to say that micro-brewed beers are non-existent. Santorini Brewing Company brews the popular Yellow Donkey beer–a layered ale, among types. You can find it mostly in Santorini and the surrounding islands.
We liked the Nisos (ΝΗΣΟΣ) pilsner, which you will also find in the Aegean islands.
A good choice for local beer if you are in Corfu is the beers brewed by Corfu Beer company. They make a variety of ales, including a red ale called Special Red, an IPA, and several other ales, lager, and pilsner beers.
Marathon, Volkan (brewed in Santorini) Vergina (brewed in Rodopi), and Magnus (brewed in Rhodes) are other well known craft beers of Greece.
Wine in Greece
Every restaurant in Greece offers a large variety of local and imported wines. Most often Greeks would order a “karaf” which is a pitcher of local table wine shared among everyone at the table.
You can order either a half-kilo (about four wine glasses – good for a company of two over a meal) or a “kilo” pitcher of house wine in the majority of restaurants.
Wine is plentiful and inexpensive in Greece. You can purchase a bottle of wine at the local super market for anywhere between 2.00 and 6.00 euro, and the quality is very good.
Kava Boutari, Kava Kamba, Robola, and Demesticha, are some of the most popular greek wines.
Many Greeks make their own wine, especially in the islands. It’s a hit or miss affair, and as you can imagine the taste varies widely.
Retsina is the wine with the biggest name recognition in Greece. It’s also the wine that everyone agrees that it takes an acquired taste to enjoy.
Retsina is a brand of white wine with a distinct resin taste.
Traditionally the barrels where the wine was placed were sealed with resin which gave its district odor to the contents.
Today the taste is artificially manufactured, and retsina is definitely an acquired taste.
The most popular retsina in Greece is made by Kourtaki.
Ouzo, the other well known traditional Greek drink (besides retsina) is best tried over a table of seafood, and in the company of good friends.
It is famous for the major hangovers it produces the “day after” and should be taken with some care.
Ouzo is a very strong liquor with a distinct minty odor. It is best sipped out of a shot glass straight, on the rocks, or diluted with water.
In a short 1oz glass it’s served straight up, while in the tall glass it’s served with ice, and a small quantity of water.
Ouzo is clear, but adding water turns it into a cloudy “milky” color. This color change is known as the ouzo effect.
Even though ouzo is served in a “shot” glass, you will never see Greeks chugging down the whole shot at once.
Ouzo is best when it’s sipped slowly over conversation, seafood, or small bites of grilled octopus and other appetizers.
Ouzo “12”, “Pilavas”, and “Metaxa” are the most popular brands of ouzo in Greece, although you can find local varieties of good quality in different rural areas.
Other Drinks of Greece
While alcohol producing in home distilleries in Greece is prohibited by law, just about everywhere you go you will find home made alcohol that is liable to blow the top of your head off with the first sip!
Especially if you find your way towards mountainous and remote areas of Greece like Epirus, Macedonia, and Crete, you can be treated to either “Raki” or “Tsipouro”.
Both are similar in taste and volatility and they are distilled from grapes in a local kitchen. The locals seem to take down vast quantities of them while novices would be happy to down a shot glass before the substance takes its toll.
Hangovers can be lengthy after a long night of drinking Raki or Tsipouro, but the mountain air and home cooked Greek food are powerful antidotes for whatever ailment one may be enduring.
Similarly to ouzo, raki and tsipouro are served chilled in a shot glass and sipped slowly over conversation and food bites (cucumbers, meatballs, snails, cheese, or seafood), but it’s rarely diluted with ice or water.