When in 1996 Demetri Politopoulos founded the Macedonian Thrace Brewery (MTB) in the extreme northeast of Greece, he wanted nothing less than to revive national beer production. He logically took a quote by American rock star Frank Zappa as his motto who once said that you can’t be a real country unless you have a beer and an airline. His professed goal was not only to make a beer the Greeks could be proud of and thus end the long lean period where only non-Greek beers were served in his native land; the entrepreneur also aimed to make a sustainable contribution to the economic development of one of the most structurally weak regions in Greece.
High-tech and self-sufficient
Both of his intentions have long been realized. Firstly, at the beginning of 1998 the first Vergina beer was sold, Vergina being the brand name for a lager, a wheat beer (which in 2014 won the bronze European Beer Star) and a red beer, all of which are very popular in Greece. Secondly, the brewery in the Rodopi district has created around 100 jobs to date.
Sustainability is write large at MTB in many respects, for example regarding economy; Christos Dimtsoudis, the plant manager at the company headquarters in Komotini, finds it extremely fortunate that the owner doesn’t take any money out of the company but instead reinvests all profits in the growth of the brewery. In doing so, he believes in using cutting-edge technology and – in order to ensure the best possible quality – to be self-sufficient in his supply of raw ingredients. Successfully so. “In 2013 we began growing barley and doing our own malting. For this purpose we acquired a micro-malthouse with a capacity of 5,000 metric tons; in the following year we already had to double the capacity,” says Dimtsoudis. “With malt we thus have a self-supply rate of 97% and we sell our raw materials to other breweries.”
For some years Dimtsoudis’ colleagues have also been marketing a mountain tea as a chilled soft drink under the name of Tuvunu. What’s interesting is the high level of social and ecological sustainability MTB achieves here. Sideritis or ironwort, the main ingredient in the tea, is cultivated in the surrounding mountain regions. Long-term, fixed price contracts have been concluded with local smallholders whose margins guarantee them a good income. In this remote area this also ensures the survival of the farming community which was threatened when EU subsidies for the tobacco which used to be grown here were cut.
MTB is also especially committed to ecological sustainability in the controlled cultivation of its own barley. The company trains its farmers in the appropriate organic farming methods in cooperation with the American Farm School in Thessaloniki.
Dimtsoudis also considers the most recent investment by the brewery in state-of-the-art technology to fall under the heading of sustainability. The new Innopro ECOSTAB B for regenerative beer stabilization works differently from the lost stabilization method the beer used to be preserved with. In the regenerative process PVPP (polyvinylpolypyrrolidone) is still dosed into the beer flow to extract the turbidity-forming polyphenols and proteins; however, it is then completely removed with the help of stabilization modules. Following successful regeneration, which takes place in the modules themselves, the PVPP is then again available for the next process.
Downsized for batch operation
The persistent interest shown by the Greeks and other medium-sized enterprises encouraged KHS in Bad Kreuznach to also make the new process available to smaller breweries. By downsizing this innovative technology, with the Innopro ECOSTAB B KHS also made its extremely economical system for the regenerative stabilization of beer available in batch operation for line capacities of between 50 and 240 hectoliters an hour – thus perfect for breweries like MTB.
MTB has invested about €180,000 in regenerative beer stabilization and is confident that this will have paid off in four years at the latest. “We used to spend around €50,000 a year on PVPP. Thanks to this efficient technology we’re now saving up to €45,000 a year,” smiles Dimtsoudis. Various other aspects also have him convinced. “The stabilization effect is much better than using disposable PVPP. This is good for the quality of our beers. And as we reuse the filter medium, we’re also improving the sustainability of our utilization of raw materials.” The company is again fulfilling its environmental responsibilities here – in passing, so to speak. Frank Zappa would doubtlessly have been pleased.
Enthused by innovation
The Greeks were made aware of this highly innovative process by Vassilis Georgatos, the area sales manager at KHS responsible for the region. “MTB was delighted with the regenerative beer stabilization process. The Innopro ECOSTAB C system for continuous stabilization is only viable from an output of 400,000 hectoliters a year, however. MTB produces about half this.”