Cyprus is one of my favourite places, a country that is literally split between two cultures. It is known for its amazing food and glorious weather, but what is its beer culture like? Beer in Cyprus is more varied than in most Turkish or Greek islands. But what do they drink in Cyprus?
Keo is the national drink of Southern Cyprus, but Carlsburg is the most popular with a 50% market share. Leon beer is increasing in popularity, and there is a thriving craft beer scene. Northern Cyprus is (like Turkey) dominated by Efes Pilsen and Tuborg, there also appears to be just one craft brewery.
In this article, I am going to look at both Northern and Southern Cyprus, look through the history of the island, the history of beer in Cyprus, and I’ll take a look at the craft beer scene in both the North and South. I will be focussing more on the Southern side, as I have already covered Turkish beer in another article.
This may be a challenging article because there are two sides to Cyprus. A Greek side and a Turkish side. I’ll wade into the politics of the situation later (should be “fun”) but it is important to distinguish this. The Northern (Turk) side drinks Efes Pilsen as their main beer. They also brew Tuborg (owned by Carlsburg). Efes is the most popular beer in Turkey and in Northern Cyprus.
In the south, the most popular beer is Carlsburg, which is brewed under licence by Keo. The most popular Cypriot beer is Keo, Leon Beer is enjoying something of a resurgence, but is still relatively tiny in terms of market share.
The craft beer scene is present in both the Turkish and Greek sides, but more so in the South. I could only find one active craft brewery in the North, and I will talk about that in a bit. Efes, Keo, Carlsburg, and Tuborg are all pale lagers (similar to pilsners). The standard beer that you seem to find in hot, sunny countries. Both Keo and Efes are well respected internationally. Though are quite young compared to the beers of Germany, Belgium, Britain, and Ireland.
Due to its strategic value (it is basically the ideal military base) Cyprus is one of the most invaded countries in history. It has been conquered by the Greeks, the Phoenicians, the Assyrians, the Egyptians, the Persians, the Macedonians, the Romans, the Byzantines, the Arab Caliphate, the Venetians, the Ottomans, and the British. Throughout all of this, the culture has been mostly Greek. Though you can see why Islam has had a foothold on the island too.
I don’t want to ignore the pre-20th century history, but that is definitely a topic for another article (not written by myself). Cyprus would have been influenced by several differing cultures, but for large periods of time it was a united country. When the Ottomans ruled Cyprus it was one country, when Britain ruled Cyprus it was one country. Britain ruled Cyprus for the first half of the 20th century, though it was not a happy rule. Greek Cypriots wanted independence, and an armed movement called EOKA was formed. After a four-year conflict, Britain granted Cyprus independence in 1959.
This did not signal peace, and there was a lot of inter-communal fighting. The issue was that Cyprus was now a republic. Ruled by Makarios III, the Republic of Cyprus was faced with simmering tensions between the Greek Cypriots and the Turkish Cypriots. There was large-scale fighting between 1963 and 1964, and a lot of Turkish Cypriots were ousted from their homes. Over 500 Cypriots lost their lives in this time.
One of the biggest issues at the time was that the population was split into different camps. You had Greek Cypriots who wanted Cyprus to remain a republic (Makarios III was the leader of them). Then there were Greek Cypriots who wanted “enosis” which was Cyprus becoming part of Greece. Then you had Turkish Cypriots who either wanted Cyprus to be Turkish, or wanted Cyprus to remain a republic.
This simmered along until 1974, when Greece sparked a coup d’état in Cyprus. Removing Makarios III and installing a puppet regime. Makarios III only just managed to escape thanks to the British, and claimed in a UN meeting that Greece had invaded Cyprus. Five days later, Turkey invaded the North of Cyprus in retaliation. Large numbers of Greek Cypriots had been evicted from their homes (much like the Turkish Cypriots had several years earlier) and Turkey now owned 33% of the island.
That situation has not changed to this day. It’s interesting to note, that there is still division among Cypriots about what the future should be. Many of the older generation from both sides, would prefer Cyprus to be either Greek or Turkish. But the younger generation (for the most part) would prefer Cyprus to be a united republic. The only real difference between the North and the South (other than culture and religion) is that Southern Cyprus is currently independent from Greece and a republic, while Northern Cyprus is part of Turkey.
Recent archaeological excavations have unearthed a brewery in Cyprus that was 3,800 years old. The archaeologists found evidence of kilns for malted barley, and fig seeds (which could have been used for the yeast but also flavouring in the absence of hops). Though this proves that beer had been brewed in Cyprus thousands of years ago, Cyprus did not brew beer for a very long time afterwards.
Most countries have a historic connection to beer, or beer-like substances (check out my article on beer in Mexico for more information). But until the arrival of the British, there doesn’t seem to be any beer brewed in Cyprus for hundreds (if not thousands of years).
This is down to Cyprus being known for its excellent wine. The first brewery in Cyprus wasn’t founded until 1937, when Leon Brewery was opened by Photos Photiades Breweries. Leon beer was the only local Cypriot beer until 1951, when wine company Keo opened their first (and only) beer brewery.
Leon beer didn’t even last that long! It suspended operations in 1962, and was repurposed to brew Carlsburg, which it did in 1969 (making it the first country to brew Carlsburg outside of Denmark). Which means that Keo was the only locally brewed Cypriot beer.
Carlsburg quickly established itself as the main beer in Southern Cyprus, while Efes Pilsen (which launched in 1969) competed with Tuborg to become the most popular beer in Northern Cyprus. As far as I can tell, there are no major breweries in Northern Cyprus. Efes and Tuborg are brewed locally under licence, but these would be small breweries. Most beer is imported from Turkey.
In 1987, Keo won the gold medal in the Brewing Industry International Awards. If you look at a bottle of Keo, you can still see reference to this win. It’s a big deal, and has helped put Keo on the map.
The Photos Photiades Brewery brought Leon beer back in 2003, and now brews Carlsburg, Carlsburg Classic, Leon Beer, and Krauzer Bräu, which is some form of German-style Pilsner. Over the last few years, several craft breweries have opened in Southern Cyprus, and one or two have even opened in Northern Cyprus (which is difficult since the laws on Beer advertisement changed in Turkey after 2013).
I’ll keep the craft beer separate (as always), but I will combine the beers of both sides of Cyprus. Otherwise, I’m just contributing to further division. Also, I can’t be bothered to create two separate sections. I am NOT putting Carlsburg or Tuborg in this section. Not because they are bad beers, but because they are Danish beers. I don’t care if they are incredibly popular.
I went into detail on Turkish beer Efes Pilsen in my article on beer in Turkey, it is a decent pilsner made from German hops. It is by far the most popular beer in Turkey, and with good reason. Efes Pilsen competes with Tuborg for popularity in Northern Cyprus.
Very similar in style to Efes Pilsen, Keo is a pilsner with a great international reputation. It is the second most popular beer in Southern Cyprus (behind Carlsburg). While Efes is inspired by German brewers, Keo was inspired by Czech pilsners. Keo even brought in Czech brewers to design the original recipe. Keo is unpasteurised, which is very rare for this type of beer. This beer goes very well alongside beer-battered halloumi. Check out my article on the subject for a seriously good recipe.
Brewed by the Photos Photiades Brewery, Leon beer is brewed using the original recipe. Making it technically the oldest Cypriot beer. The brewery follows the German Purity Laws to brew this beer. Leon is another pilsner, but it is very good. While Leon only takes up a small percentage of the market share, its popularity is growing.
While craft beer is certainly a bigger deal in Southern Cyprus, the North has also developed a love for the many varieties of beer that craft encompasses. At the time of writing, there is only one craft brewery in Northern Cyprus (at least one that I could find).
The issue with Turkish microbreweries that I found when I wrote about Turkey, is that the government has banned any forms of advertisement. I’m not sure whether this applies in Northern Cyprus or not, but it does mean that there could potentially be many microbreweries. Without any form of marketing it is impossible to tell.
Due (I think) to Turkey’s stance on beer advertisement, it is difficult to find out what beers they brew. But OO’s Brewing Company definitely appears to brew an American Pale Ale, a wheat beer, a porter, and a white ale. They are based in Western Nicosia and are situated on top of a boutique cafe.
Set up by an English family, you can see the influence of English brewing in their core range. Offering a pint of bitter called Yorkshire Rose, and a London Porter. They also offer an Irish red ale, and several German beers. Aphrodite’s Rock microbrewery also has a range of craft ciders, and it is listed as one of the top places to go in and around Paphos. British craft brewing surrounded by Cypriot weather and hospitality sounds like an ideal combination.
Previously known as Prime Microbrewery, Octo is situated in Sotira, Farmagousta in the southeast of Cyprus. They make great beer, and seem eccentric as hell. Which is always a good trait in a craft beer brewery! They sell Octopus lager and Octopus Session IPA. At the moment, you won’t find any of their beers in local pubs, but it is sold in shops.
A gypsy microbrewery (their words) created by three beer enthusiasts in 2015. Hula Hops brewing has two main beers: Cyprus Citrus IPA, and Cyprus Summer Wit. As crazy as it sounds, I’m not sure that they are aware of how similar their name is to hula hoops!
I’ve been learning Greek for the last year, so I can tell you that Πίβο is pronounced “Pivo”. I could have learned that in 4 seconds using Google translate, so a year well spent! The brewery is run by three brothers and a cousin, who learned how to brew in Prague. This is evident in their beer selection, where you’ll find Bohemian pilsners, Czech dark beers, alongside IPAs, saisons, and Belgian beers. The brewery is based in Nicosia.
Formerly known as “Hop Thirsty Friends”, Humor beer is another Nicosia-based brewery. First opening in 2016, this brewery took inspiration from British brewing, and by 2017 had created two beers of their very own. Humor IPA and Humor Weiss. They expanded further in 2018 and increased their range to include a pale ale and a pilsner.
There are actually quite a few beer festivals in Cyprus, though some of these are very small in scale (not that this is a bad thing). Obviously, thanks to the coronavirus, there are probably zero beer festivals in Cyprus for 2020. Hopefully, the future will see more beer festivals.
Held in the courtyard of Paphos castle, this appears to be one of the biggest beer festival on the island. Lasting only two days, it has a massive range of beers from all over the world. There doesn’t appear to be much representation from Cypriot craft breweries though. I can’t find any on their list of beers. If this is the case, then it is a real missed opportunity. That being said, I’ve visited Paphos castle and it is really cool. A beer festival in that location would be incredible.
If we are judging beer festivals on their websites, then this is by far the worst! It doesn’t even appear to have one. However, I suspect that it may well be one of the best. It appears to have a huge range of international beers, and the Facebook page has a lot of photos of Cypriot craft beers. Hopefully, there is a good mix of the two.
This looks similar to the Paphos beer festival, with many of the same international beers. Shepherd Neame makes multiple appearances in both festivals! No idea why. I recognise the craft beer Humor from Nicosia is there, but again, a lack of Cypriot craft beer on the list. Even so, this looks like a great beer festival.
As I’ve already written this in my guide to beer in Turkey, I’ve just copied and pasted it into this article. I’m plagiarising myself! And the Turkish language I guess.
As I said earlier, I’ve been learning Greek for the last year. So I am going to attempt to do this on my own without checking Google translate (edit: I absolutely checked it).
Matt Smith is the owner of Beer N Biceps. He has a degree in Sports Science, 10 years of experience working in the fitness industry, and has written for hundreds of fitness websites. He is a lover of good quality beer and believes that drinking in moderation can form part of a healthy lifestyle.