Olympic – which really ought to be renamed Icarus Airlines, since as a company it looks very likely to follow soon the trajectory of the doomed early Greek aeronaut – is manned by incompetent twazzocks. They reschedule flights which then arrive so late they take off at the originally scheduled time anyway. They cancel flights completely, repeatedly. But sometimes airline twazzockness works to benefit the beery traveller. When my connecting flight from Athens to Lesvos to join Mrs and Miss Zythophile on their extended break from English August rain was cancelled, it made a trip to the Craft microbrewery and bar considerably easier.
The original flight plan gave a four-hour gap between my BA jet landing at Athens from Heathrow Terminal Five and the Olympic turboprop taking off, with all passengers pedalling hard, for Mytilini airport on Lesvos. The Nut and the Knut had already blogged about Craft in glowing enough words to make me want to try to get there if I had the chance. The original brewery/bar is on Alexandras Avenue in Athens, close to Ambelokipi metro station, which is some nine stops down the line from Athens airport. I reckoned at the worst I should be able to get an hour in the bar, enough for several beers.
However, with the original connecting flight cancelled, this meant I had the leverage to get Olympic to put me on the next day’s flight instead, and gave me the chance to share an overnight hotel room with Jim the Traindriver, who was already in Athens prior to joining Mrs and Miss Traindriver, who were toasting themselves on the same Lesvian beach as Mrs and Miss Zythophile.
Jim T studied Classics at university, so he’s a good man to tour the older sites of Athens with – and he’s also always game for a beer, even when beer isn’t the urgent necessity it becomes after slogging up the Acropolis in 38-degree heat. Normally the only beers you’ll find in Greek bars are the local brands Alpha (which is definitely omega) and Mythos (the least worst of a poor bunch) and, for an undeserved 25 per cent price premium, Greek-brewed versions of Heineken and Amstel. All have the virtues of being wet and cold, and that’s the best that can be said of them. Craft, I’m relieved to say, offers considerably more to the thirsty Athenian.
The bar itself is in a modern building, and divided into two contrasting parts, a front that is light and filled with tables and chairs, a back that is darker, with the serving area, stools and much smaller tables, and he brewing kit at the rear wall. Six beers are brewed: a pilsner, Athens lager, “smoked lager”, a weiss, a black lager and a red beer. You can get a “tasting tray” of samples of all the beers. The black lager was delicious, a chocolaty, rotund, full, dry beer. The red beer tasted old, unfortunately, with a hint of vinegar, and I was much more impressed on a couple of subsequent encounters with the same beer.
The Athenian lager was a sweetish, pleasant, Helles-style beer, which might not impress in, say, Bavaria but is vastly superior to Mythos, for example. The pilsner was nicely bitter and slightly piny. I passed on the smoked lager (one style of beer I would be happy to see vanish) and the weiss and went back instead to the black lager, which fitted nicely round one of Craft’s very fine cheeseburgers.
Sadly, the brewery doesn’t bottle its beers, though it will fill up a plastic container for you at the bar: alas, current rules mean I wouldn’t have been able to get one of those through security at Athens airport, even on a “domestic” flight. I walked into the same “no liquids in containers over 100ml” rule after a “stupid tourist” moment the next day while I was wandering Athens on my own as Jim Traindriver recovered at the hotel from being kept up all night by my snoring. It was a public holiday, and all the shops were shut: I was getting thirstier in the heat, and finally found a store open in the marketplace to buy water. I picked up an unlabelled plastic 250ml bottle, and was slightly alarmed to be charged €3 instead of the 80 cents I was expecting. Outside the store, I unscrewed the bottle cap, took a deep swig, and realised why I had paid so much.
I like raki, and its relatives marc and grappa (though not ouzo, the aniseed-flavoured version: can’t be doing with aniseed), but it’s no substitute for water when water is what you thought you had bought, and at 45 per cent alcohol or so, it sits in your stomach unabsorbed until you finally DO get some water, whereupon, diluted, it rushes with speed into the bloodstream. Worse, I couldn’t put the opened bottle into my suitcase without serious risk of giving my clothes a raki basting, and I felt pretty confident the bottle would be confiscated off me as my hand luggage went through the x-ray machine at the airport. Which it was. Probably as well – farm-made raki could (and probably will one day) substitute as aviation fuel, and my little bottle might well have exploded over the sea and brought the plane down.
Craft has another brewery/bar at Peania, in the Athenian hinterland, and it also distributes its beers to lucky bars elsewhere in Greece. I was delighted, when walking down to the harbour at Molyvos in northern Lesvos (the town also known as Mythimna, confusingly) , to spot people sitting outside a bar drinking something that was obviously not the ubiquitous lemon-coloured lager: investigation showed it to be Craft Red Beer, and in much better form than it had been in Athens: lushly hoppy without being too bitter, over a toasted, deeply flavoured malt base.
The bar, Pirates, has the sort of fantastic view found frequently from Greek seaside bars, being still 100 or so feet above the blue and shimmering Aegean as the road runs down from Molyvos castle, with the northern coast of Lesvos fading off into the distant horizon. It also has an excellent music selection, with the West African kora much more likely to be heard than the bouzouki. (The bouzouki is very fine in its place, but its place, frankly, is Ireland , in the hands of someone like Dónal Lunny.)
A few days later I found Craft beers on sale in the nearby town of Petra, in another “slightly more trendy than your usual Greek bar” bar called Cantina, again with a great view of the sea: the giveaway here was the huge Craft umbrellas over the outside drinking area, right by Petra’s short stone pier and on the edge of the town square. Only the pilsner was available, but as it tasted of beer, which Alpha/Mythos/Heineken/Amstel don’t. I didn’t care. Above Cantina is the Women’s Co-operative Restaurant, which serves, you may wish to know, some of the best food in northern Lesvos.
Cantina was the cheapest place for Craft’s beers I found, at €3.95 for one of the brewery’s special 450ml glasses: the standard price in a Greek bar is €2 (£1.60) for 500ml of Alpha or Mythos. But since you’re getting something five to ten times better from Craft, paying more than twice as much for it is a bargain, even if it is the equivalent of £4 a pint. My tip for searching it out if you’re not doing a stopover in Athens is to look for upmarket bars catering for trendy young locals happy to pay a premium for something different: don’t expect to see it in places offering “all you can drink for €5”.