It would be hard to find a better example of entrepreneurial inventiveness, corporate social responsibility and innovative quality products that draw on tradition than Volkan. These Santorini beers—a blonde pilsner and a black wheat lager—have only been around since the winter of 2011 but have already earned accolades. Surprisingly enough, it’s one of two Santorini microbreweries, (the other being the equally well regarded Santorini Crazy Donkey).
Volkan is the inspiration of London-born Princeton graduate Peter Nomikos, an economist and 5th generation descendent of a Santorini shipping and wine-producing family. Vice-president of the Thira Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting the study of archaeology and geology in Greece and Santorini, Nomikos is also the founder and president of Greek Debt Free, a non-profit organization which secures donations and corporate pledges to reduce Greek foreign debt. It does this by buying Greek government bonds in international markets at prices much lower than the amount owed by the Greek government and then helping reduce the debt by cancelling these bonds. Volkan Beers, naturally, was the first company to sign on. Other companies have been slow in joining, though the Olympiakos Football Club has pledged to help. Fifty percent of Volkan’s profits are used to buy such debt.
Local beers are ordinarily brewed with local water, often spring water. But ground water in Santorini is scarce, and what water is available is too saline for brewing. In an inspiring example of entrepreneurial ingenuity, Nomikos had a special filter developed for its brew water that uses millennia-old basalt from the island to simulate the spring water that would have been found on Santorini in antiquity.
Two local ingredients are used in brewing the beer (the hops are obviously imported): Santorini honey and citron essence from the neighboring island of Naxos. Given the extremely dry climate of the island, there are few apiaries on the island, but the bees on the ones that do operate feed on wild thyme, the blossoms of pistachio trees and the plants of the famed Santorini yellow lentil (fava) but most distinctively on the late harvest grapes that are laid to mature in the sun for a month or two at summer’s end before they are turned into the renowned Santorini dessert wine Vin Santo. The citron in the beer is understated but gives a characteristic if not identifiable accent to the beer.
Volkan celebrated the launch of its beer in the winter of 2011 at Gordon Ramsay’s restaurant Petrus. Chef Sean Burbidge created a menu designed to show off the qualities of the new blonde and black beers, with such dishes as roast breast of quail with Santorini fava and a pork cutlet with black pudding and a sauce made of Santorini Vin Santo. It seems to me a fitting celebration for a pair of premium craft beers from a microbrewery with a demonstrated commitment to stimulating the local economy but also a view to establishing a foothold in markets beyond its home in the Cyclades.