Everyone you meet will likely utter one word when one thinks of beer in Turkey: Efes. Named after the ancient city of Ephesus and brewed in Izmir, the brand owns 84% of the market, which makes it the most popular beer brand in Turkey.
Although there are nowhere near as many beer brands in Turkey, say compared to Germany or Belgium, and local creations are few and far between, many European brands are licensed to be brewed in Turkey. The most popular and known is Türk Tuborg by Carlsberg Group. Efes also brews Fosters and Beck's.
Many other brands such as Corona, Guinness, Heineken, and Budweiser are also available in "tekels" (alcohol and tobacco shops), supermarkets, and bars or pubs.
With that being said, here is an overview of the history of beer in Turkey and Turkish beer brands:
The History of Turkish Beer
The history of beer in Turkey dates back to Ottoman times. But as the empire had a controversial relationship with alcohol, the beer industry did not grow as it did in Europe. Alcohol drinking was banned in the kingdom as it was against Islam yet the imperial members of the empire continued to enjoy it regularly. Beer brewing was also allowed in few cities, but the Ottoman tabaa (public) often did so illegally.
Minorities in the Ottoman Empire were allowed to produce alcohol. Hence, the first beers in Turkey are thought to have been made and served in the eastern city of Erzurum by Armenians in unique "beer gardens" (bira bahçeleri).
However, the first mass production of beer in the modern sense started in the 19th century in Istanbul with the Bomonti beer factory by the Swiss Bomonti brothers.
The brewery created Turkey's first national beer, which was called Tekel Birası.
Bomonti remained Turkey's biggest brewery for decades until Efes was founded in 1966 and took over the market in the 80s. Around the same time Efes entered the market, Türk Tuborg received permission to open their brewery.
The historic Bomonti brand disappeared in the 2000s but was revived later by Efes, who produces it according to the original recipe.
Where Do the Turkish Drink Their Beer?
After rakı, Turkey's national anise-flavored tipple, and succeeded by wine, beer is an undisputed favorite in the country.
Although there have been measures to discourage alcohol consumption and stifle production in recent years, the beer scene continues to thrive in Turkey, particularly in Istanbul.
Most people in Turkey go to a bar in city centers for a few beers, usually in the evening after work but mostly at weekends.
Older Turks mostly drink their beers at restaurants and bars. In places like Istanbul, where it is much more common to see traditional pubs or beer gardens (especially in Akaretler or Kadıköy), both the young and old prefer these venues for a weekend or Friday outing.
In seaside towns, you will see many Turks and foreign tourists drinking an ice-cold beer under the glaring sun on a sunbed by the sea or pool.
In cities with green spaces, such as parks and public gardens, you will likely see the youth sitting on the grass and enjoying a few beers with their friends, accompanied by some music from a Bluetooth speaker. In Istanbul, for example, Maçka Park, Kalamış, or Moda are popular spots.
However, it is always best to see if sitting on the grass or drinking in the area is allowed. Always notice what others are doing around you and keep an eye out for any signs, but you will be completely fine more often than not.
Local Beer Styles
Lager-type beers and pilsners are the most popular in Turkey.
The most popular styles produced by Efes are:
- Efes Pilsen 5% ABV (alcohol by volume) – its flagship, close to a German pilsner, a type of pale lager with added rice and sugar
- Dark, by Efes Pilsen –double-roasted malt lager, notes of caramel
- Efes Dark Brown – double-roasted malt lager, flavored with coffee and chocolate
- Efes Xtra – a hoppier lager, high ABV
- Efes Draft – semi-pasteurized
Efes Pilsener also produces strong-beers under the Marmara subbrand, with Marmara Gold and Marmara Kırmızı – red, high ABV being the most popular. The Efes brand also has a gluten-free beer.
The company also has Gusta's wheat beer brand and sells lime or agave-flavored beers under the Mariachi name.
Bomonti, produced by Efes, also has unfiltered versions with a deeper grain taste.
Türk Tuborg’s most popular styles are Tuborg Gold and Tuborg Kırmızı – red and high ABV.
Turkish Craft Beer
Efes has a monopoly over the market and has no actual competition in Turkey. However, the company has recently been encouraging craft breweries and brewpubs to take center stage, most notably at Brewstival, Turkey's first beer festival, which is funded.
The Turkish craft beer scene has been growing more rapidly in recent years, especially in Istanbul, but it is safe to say it is still in its early days.
Here are few names that have proved favorites in the last few years:
Brewed in Muğla, Gara Guzu got its name from the region's dialect (kara kuzu=black sheep) founded in 2011. The brand has many types of beers, from blonde and amber ales to Irish-inspired stouts. It is the biggest and one of the best craft breweries in Turkey.
A microbrewery called Torch, which opened in 2016 and is sold at Populist located in the old Bomonti Brewery, is one of Istanbul's most popular craft beer breweries. They have an impressive range of beers, from Austrian-style lagers to Kolsch-style beer.
The Bosphorus Brewing Company is another big name in the Istanbul craft beer scene. It feels like an English pub, best reflected in their variety of real ales.
Pablo Beer, one of Turkey's first boutique new breweries, was founded in 2017 in Bodrum. From American IPA and pilsners to a satsuma white beer, the brewery does a range of beers with local touches.
Khoffner Brewery in Antalya is great for Bavarian-influenced beers, as does Taps Istanbul, which is considered Turkey's first brewpub.
The Most Popular Turkish Beer Brands
- Efes (dominates the market)
- Gara Guzu