SilkTork examines the Turkish beer scene
November 19, 2003
Written by SilkTork
Turkey is known for many things - carpets, tobacco, hashish, coffee, belly dancing, ancient ruins and for refusing to allow America to use its land to attack Iraq - but it is certainly not famous for its beer. Even though Turkey is officially a secular country with a regular Sunday off, it does have a strong Muslim tradition which does not encourage alcohol consumption. Increasing Western influence has relaxed many of the old ways to such an extent that today Turkey mostly has the feel of a modern European country, apart from the small towns and villages inland where life is slow and poor. Consumption of beer is rising, although not at the same rate as inflation which stands at 30%. Inflation has hit Turkey so hard that when you change your money you become an instant millionaire. You need to be - beer costs an average of 3,000,000 Turkish Lira (about $2).
There are three breweries and one brewpub in Turkey. Bov appears to have found a brewery called Antalya, but I found no evidence for this and suspected that it was the Efes brewery group which has small breweries doted around the country and a distribution centre in Antalya. However, Antalya eventually turned out to be Steenberge.
The brewery with the largest market share is Efes. Next is Turk Tuborg. The state owned Tekel brewery only produces one beer. It is not popular and only accounts for about 1% of the market. During my visit I regrettably never had a chance to explore the Taps Brewpub that omhper found in Istanbul.
Efes is everywhere. I traveled extensively in the Western half of Turkey, from the Black Sea down to the Mediterranean Sea, and Efes was available and heavily advertised in 80% of the shops and bars. While it was not unusual to find a shop selling both Tuborg and Efes, the most usual was that a shop would sell just one of those brands. The only draught product was Efes. I never saw Tuborg offered in anything but bottles or cans.
The only other beers I noticed on sale were Miller, Becks and Corona. These were much more common than the Tekel Beer, and are brewed under licence by Efes.
The state owned Tekel company produces a number of products, most notably the Tekel 2000 and 2001 cigarette brands which are regarded as expensive but of finest quality; other Turkish cigarette brands are quite foul. Tekel Beer is drinkable, but is not of the same quality as the cigarettes. As the Turkish government is attempting to sell off parts of the Tekel company in order to raise money, I don’t think Tekel Beer will survive for much longer. It will not be missed.
Turk Tuborg is an offshoot of the Denmark based company. The Izmir based brewery was founded in 1967 and mostly brews slightly poorer quality versions of the brands produced by the parent company. There is the Green Label, the Gold Label and the Red Label in order of alcohol content. All of them use rice in the brewing process, and none of the beers are able to say exactly how much beer is in the container nor how much alcohol the beer contains - the variation is by as much as 10% either way. Quality control is obviously an issue that doesn’t bother the brewery very much - these are simply cheap beers for cheap people.
The Izmir plant also produces the Troy brands which attempt to imitate the Efes brands - there is a Troy Light, a Troy Pilsner and a Troy Dark. All are worse than the Efes brands apart from the Troy Light. When it comes to making a bad beer it’s obviously best to trust the experts. For some unknown reason Turk Tuborg also produces a brand called Venus Pilsner which is rarely seen, but is as equally nasty as the rest of their output. There is a “Fenerbahce Pilsen Bier” listed on the database as being produced by Turk Tuborg, but I never encountered it.
The Efes brewery is the most successful Turkish brewery and is expanding eastward into Russia and China. Owned by the Anadolu Group, brewing began in 1969. The main brands are Light, Pilsner, Dark and Extra. The Pilsner is drinkable, and the Dark is very enjoyable indeed. Quality control is high enough for the company to be trusted to produce Miller and Becks under licence, while the Anadolu Group also holds the Coca Cola franchise for Central Asia. The Efes brand is popular, respected, and available everywhere. The company also produces a non-alcoholic Efes which I didn’t try, and the Marmara 34 brand which was launched in 1999 as a lower priced beer to compete with Turk Tuborg on their level.
With the exception of the Taps brewpub in Istanbul which, through a combination of time restraints and poor transportation, I wasn’t able to visit, Turkey offers little for the serious beer enthusiast. Efes Dark was a pleasant surprise, and it was even more pleasing to discover how readily available it was all over Turkey - dark lagers not being that popular outside of Germany - but it’s certainly not worth fussing about. If you’re going to Turkey, relax, enjoy your holiday, and give the beer hunting a break.
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Inflation has hit Turkey so hard that when you change your money you become an instant millionaire. You need to be - beer costs an average of 3,000,000 Turkish Lira (about $2).
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