When you think of Turkey, you may think of kebabs and raki but fear not – Turkey also has some great beers too.
Turkish beers may not have their own distinctive styles such as the German Pilsners, the British Ales, or the Belgian Lambics, but their history of beer production dates back just as far, to the days of the Ottoman Empire.
If you are planning a trip to Turkey there’s so much more to this country than the splendor and history of a nation that sits at the crossroads of both Europe and Asia.
Exotic foods may ensure it remains a popular destination for foodies but a rather unknown aspect of Turkey is the thriving beer trade which, although it is dominated by one national brewer, has, in recent years, seen many smaller Turkish craft beer brewers pop up too.
Let’s take a look at some of the more popular beers in Turkey along with where to go in the country to enjoy that ice-cold beer on a hot summer’s day.
A Brief History of Beer in Turkey
The Turks have been drinking beer since the days of the Ottoman Empire and, some would argue, even earlier with the beer-like fermented drink of boza (a bread-based beverage) dating back to Sumerian times.
However, as the empire had a controversial relationship with alcohol, the beer industry did not grow in the same way it did in Europe.
Drinking alcohol was generally banned in the kingdom as it was against the teachings of Islam, yet imperial members of the empire would continue to consume alcohol.
Minorities in the Empire were allowed to produce alcohol and it is thought the first beers in Turkey were produced in the Eastern city of Ezrum by Armenians who would serve their beers in unique beer gardens called bira bahçeleri.
The first mass production of beer in Turkey started in the late 19th century when the Swiss Bomonti brothers opened the Bomonti beer factory in Istanbul.
For many years the Bomonti brewery was the largest producer of beer in Turkey, even being nationalized by the Government and rebranded as Tekel Birsai. It remained the national beer until Efes came along in 1967.
Efes Beverage Group is now the largest producer of beer in Turkey with an 80% share of the market, and they also brew under license such international brands as Fosters, Miller, and Becks.
Around the same time times as Efes was formed in the 60s, Türk Tuborg, a subsidiary of the Carlberg group, also got permission to open their brewery in Turkey.
Turkish craft beer is forever increasing in popularity, especially with the younger generation who prefer the milder tastes of beers to the intense flavors of raki.
The last 15 years have seen a boom in the craft breweries of Turkey kicked off by the first Turkish microbrewery in 2011, the Gara Guzu brewery of Mugla.
Do the Turkish People Drink Alcohol?
Turkey may still be a large Muslim-majority country but the production of alcoholic beverages such as raki (the nation’s anise-flavored spirit), wines, and Turkish beers have a long history.
Drinking alcohol was actually made legal in 1923 by the Republic of Turkey, and although there are currently strict regulations around the sale of alcohol this hasn’t stopped the healthy growth of a thriving beer industry and the Turkish people’s love of all things beer.
Where Do Turkish People Drink Beer?
The beer culture of Turkey means most people would go to a bar in the city center for a few beers, mostly at the weekends but often it can be in the evening after work.
In cities like Istanbul, it is commonplace to see many traditional-style pubs which are popular venues at the weekends for both younger and older beer drinkers.
Beer gardens remain a popular venue for drinking beer in the summer months, as do any green spaces such as parks or public gardens.
You will often see some of the youths crowded around a Bluetooth speaker drinking beer with their friends in those hotter months. Popular spots in Istanbul include Macka Park, Kalamis, and Moda.
In tourist resorts by the sea, you will also find many Turkish residents sitting alongside foreign tourists drinking ice-cold beer under the sun on a sun lounger by the pool or on the beach.
What Kind of Beers Do They Have in Turkey?
The mass majority of beers in Turkey, especially the larger national beers fall into the lager and pilsner category.
Beers such as Efes, Tekel, Bomonti, and Tuborg can be found in all the stores and restaurants and, in general, are all lagers (Efes actually make several varieties of beer including Dark brown beers).
The craft beer scene means you can now find other styles of beers such as stouts, ales, wheat beers, and, of course, our favorite the IPA, although they can be harder to track down than many of the mainstream lagers.
How Strong Are Turkish Beers?
Efes Pilsen tends to be the most preferred (or largest selling, anyhow) beer brand in Turkey, and the alcohol content of their beers varies between 3% and 7% ABV.
Efes Light at the lower end of the scale tips in at 3% while the flagship beer Efes Pilsener sits at a comfortable 5% ABV. Stronger beers include Efes Extra at 7.5% ABV and Efes Extra Shot (only available in a small 237ml can) at 9% ABV.
Other domestic brands like Tuborg or Carlsberg tend to hover around the 5% ABV mark with stronger premium versions also available.
Obviously, with craft beers, the strength or ABV of the beer varies wildly depending on the individual brewer and the style of beer.
Famous Turkish Beer Brands
Founded in 1969, the parent group the Anadolu Group, which owns the Efes brand, has dominated the Turkish market since the 80s and is ranked as the 6th largest brewery in Europe and the 11th in the world.
The undoubted stars of their portfolio are the Efes brands of beer, which are sold worldwide.
Perhaps the reason they are the highest seller is that although the hops and taste of barley malt are dominant in the Efes beers they don’t have too bitter a taste.
With the extensive range of beers, you can find one with a strength that matches your preference between 3% – 9% Alcohol by volume. Favorites include the Efes Pilsener which comes in at 5% ABV and Efes Dark with its caramel aromas and an ABV of 6.5%
Now owned by the same beer company that produces Efes, the Anadolu Efes group, Bomonti is the most historic beer brand in Turkey. A balanced alcohol with a light formula makes this a favorite beer of many younger or first-time drinkers.
Beginning life in Istanbul in the 1890s, Bomonti was originally created to rival the beers imported from Munich but at a much more affordable price.
A beer garden was established near the original brewery with views of the Bosphorus river, and the nearby streets and neighborhood were even named after the brewery.
Unfortunately, the original brewery and beer garden was demolished after the brewery ceased production and the beer has been brewed at the Efes beer factories since the early 2000s.
With a very close relationship with Danish brewer Carlsberg, Tuborg has been a major player in the Turkish market since it established its base in Turkey in the 1960s.
The Tuborg brewery itself started life in the 1870s in Denmark, which may explain why the Turkish branch of Tuborg not only brews its own beer in Turkey but also distributes many of the imported international beers of the Carlsberg group.
All the beers produced at the huge Tuborg brewery focus on quality being produced in accordance with the German Beer Purity laws and approved by the Technical University of Munich.
Craft Beer in Turkey
Fortunately for the smaller breweries of Turkey, Efes, unlike many other state-sponsored breweries, is happy to share the stage with smaller microbreweries.
Efes even fund Brewstival, a beer festival where their beer experts judge a homebrewing competition. They are quite happy to take a backseat and let smaller breweries show off their boutique beer.
Here are a few names from the last few years that have proved popular with Turkish beer enthusiasts.
Gara Guzu (from the dialect of the region meaning “Black Sheep”) was founded in 2011 by a couple who moved from Istanbul to Mugla to produce a wide range of beer styles from the blonde and amber ales of Europe to the dark stouts of Ireland.
They even produce some more unique, adventurous beers which use beetroot for color.
One of the largest craft brewers in Turkey, their selection of craft beers can be found in almost every decent craft beer bar in Istanbul, although it can be rarer to see in smaller towns.
You will find Gara Guzu mentioned in any of the guides about beer in Turkey.
Their current choice of beers includes:
- Gara Guzu Blonde Ale – a dark golden colored ale with an intensely roasted taste and made with a blend of German and English malts for a 5% ABV ale.
- Gara Guzu Amber Ale – An Amber beer tasting like caramel, this 5% ABV ale is made with a blend of German, English, and American hops.
- Gara Guzu Red Ale – a beetroot-colored beer with an ABV of 7%.
- Gara Guzu Sour – A slightly sour saison-style beer with an ABV of 5.5%
- Gara Guzu Karli Kayin Ormani (Snowy Beech Forest) – a spicy winter ale ABV 6.4%
- Gara Guzu Weissebier – A blend of wheat and barley malts with an alcohol rate of 4.7%.
- Gara Guzu Summer IPA – An easy-to-drink caramel and orange-flavored IPA with an ABV of 4.5%
- Gara Guzu Gara – A porter style of ale with a sweet burnt-roasted flavor. ABV 6.4%
Pablo Bira was first created in 2017 and is a small boutique brewery that has made quite a splash in the Turkish craft beer market. Named after the owner’s dog, Pablo beer is produced in Bodrum.
That sunshiney coastal town has inspired the summertime-influenced offerings to become a big hit with beer lovers across Turkey, with flavors of tart fruits, dry finishes, and even chestnuts.
Pablo Bira tends to expertly take the taste of foreign beers and add a Turkish Twist, such as the American IPA they produce or the satsuma white beer.
A beer brand that was started by the former CEO of Tuborg, his company, the Park Group, bought a small brewery in Cerkezkoy to produce a smaller range of boutique beers.
The Pera beers can be found in most bars in larger cities and come in distinctive cans emblazoned with the number referring to which of the 5 basic varieties it contains.
- Pera 1 – A 100% malt beer with an ABV of 4.1%
- Pera 2 – An Amber ale with an ABV of 5%.
- Pera 3 – A smoked lager, ABV 5%.
- Pera 4 – A hefeweizen-style beer with an alcohol content of 5%.
- Pera 5 – A beer with flavors of gum and cinnamon. ABV 5.1%
Knidos Brewery and Bosphorus Brewing Company
Although it can be a bit of a trek to get to, if you are ever in Istanbul you should check out the Bosphorus Brewing company, as their English-styled pub contains at least 8 taps of their own brewed beers alongside one of the widest range of Turkish craft beers you will find in the city.
Their main brand is an IPA but, hold on a minute – the IPA actually stands for Istanbul Pale Ale. Established by two English guys from Doncaster, the IPA label seems to be more of an in-joke, and the IPA is extremely hoppy although more British in style than American.
If you can taste that English/Britishness in the beer it’s not too surprising, as they import all their hops from Norfolk.
They currently brew up to 5,000 liters of beer every month and are constantly innovating – even trying to brew a Turkish wheat varietal to ancient recipes.
Torch Brewery and The Populist Bar
Located on the grounds of the former Bomonti Brewery, which is now an entertainment complex, the Torch brewery opened its doors in 2016. Using custom-sized equipment they brew an impressive range of beers in the historic but outdated brewery.
Right next door to the brewery is the incredibly popular The Populist Bar, which has at least 12 taps of local beers at any time.
Bomontiada can be a bit far out from where most visitors to Istanbul stay, but the good transportation of the city makes it easy to get there. The closest metro station is Osmanbey.
To sample all the best craft beers Turkey has to offer you really need to head to Istanbul and work your way around the better-known brew pubs and breweries you can find there.
Trendy areas like Besiktas have a whole host of decent craft ale bars including the Craft Beer Lab, the infamous Beer Hall, and an uber-cool craft beer bar/cafe called Limon Besiktas.
Istanbul even has a branch of the famous gypsy brewer Mikkeller, offering a wide range of its own beers in addition to a selection of local and international brews on tap.
Finally, if you want to order a beer in Turkish, the phrase to remember is “bir bira luften” with the pronunciation being “lootfan”.
When it comes to ordering a second beer (which I’m sure you will) simply say ïki bira luften”. See, you’ll be drinking and talking like a local before you know it!