Beer in Istanbul is a touchy subject for a lot of expats, who generally fall into a few camps when it comes to preference. You have your beer snobs that scoff at the idea of drinking Efes or Bomonti, or pretty much anything else you can buy at a grocery store for less than 8TL. We get it, your favorite microbrewery brews on their organic farm on the top of some mountain in Vermont with hops plucked by the hands of virgins; we just don’t want to hear about it every round (who am I kidding, I sometimes fall into this group). Then there are those who drink alcohol like water. They smell permanently of anisette from rakı and will guzzle down whatever swill you throw at them. Finally, there’s the rest of us, who are just tired of having only one or two choices at a pub that are actually from the same company (look it up — Efes owns and brews most beers in Turkey) and occasionally like drinking something a little different. Thankfully, it seems that because of rising beer prices in Turkey, there are two new Turkish options that are becoming more prevalent and reasonable (if you can find them): Gara Guzu and Pera. I’m going to try to guide you to your best option regardless of whatever camp you fall in.
Gara Guzu — which is how “kara kuzu,” or black sheep, is pronounced in a regional dialect — has two styles available right now: Amber Ale and Blonde Ale. Both are a little easier to find than Pera. With that said, I’ve still only seen the Blonde Ale at bars (and only at Joker No. 19 and United Pub, both in Beşiktaş). It ran me 12 TL, but at Koç Market in Cihangir I found both for 5.50 TL. If you really want to try these beers on a night out, the aforementioned pubs have them, as do a few other places in Beşiktaş. I’ve also seen them in Urban Cafe, located off of Istiklal. Finally, you can try your luck in markets around Taksim and Beşiktaş that carry larger liquor selections.
As for their flavors, I prefer the Blonde Ale. In fact, I was surprised at how much I enjoyed it — it’s really delicious. It has a crisp and slight citrus flavor with a slightly bitter aftertaste. It’s a lighter beer with a matching golden color that goes down smooth. The blonde has a 5% ABV so you can put a few down without feeling too heavy. It’s probably best when the weather starts heating up. I suggest eating it with lighter fare: chicken, seafood, salads, and greens. It also can take the bite out of spicy foods.
The Amber Ale is also pleasant. It would be a somewhat run-of-the-mill option in parts of the world with a heavy drinking culture, but here it’s the Dom Perignon of amber ales. It’s got a bitter and hoppy taste, but it’s not overpowering. It has a 4% ABV, and is a good choice if you’re tired of the sweetness of Efes and want something to go with your burger, wings, or anything fried.
Pera, which was allegedly the original name of Beyoğlu, was a little harder to find, but you’ve got more options when you do. They produce a hefeweizen dubbed 2. They also have a malt that’s more of a kölsch called 1. Finally, they have 3 (big surprise on the name) which is a smoked beer. Hefeweizen is a commonly found style, which you may know from Hoegaarden or Blue Moon. The others are styles that you probably can’t find anywhere else in Istanbul. I will warn you now: These last two aren’t for the casual consumer and definitely are more geared for the beer snobs of Istanbul.
The first one I tried was the kölsch, which they labeled as a malt. It has a light golden color like other kölsches and is 4.1% ABV. It’s sweet and smooth when it first goes down, but is followed by an aftertaste that’s eerily similar to how Icy Hot smells. It didn’t leave a great impression on me, if you couldn’t guess, but I’d definitely take it over Miller Lite or something similar. At a store, I found a 50 cl can of this beer for 5 TL. Compare that to the bar, where it was 17 TL. So I recommend picking this one up at a store and drinking it at home with some spicy food.
Next, I tried the smoked beer. Again, this is definitely for the niche consumer. I haven’t seen this one in any bars yet, but I did find it at Tekelist in Beşiktaş (along with the others from this article) for 5 TL. It has an amber color with an ABV of 5.1%. The flavor was difficult for me at first because it tastes like you’re drinking the grease from a grill. However, it grew on me. I’ve heard that if you eat smoked or grilled meats with it, the meat offsets the heavy smoked flavor, which this definitely has. Underneath that you can find a roasted malt, which tastes quite good if you can get over the smokiness.
The last one I tasted was the hefeweizen aka Magic Quality Beer or, simply, 2. I’m biased because I like this style in general, but found this to be the most palatable of the bunch. It’s 5 TL for a can at Tekelist and 5% ABV. It has a sweet taste and a bright gold color. It matches well with any food I can think of and if you’re a fan of more traditional flavors, this beer should be your go to out of Pera’s selection.
Overall, my favorite was Gara Guzu’s Blonde Ale, with Pera’s 2 following close behind. However, I’ll acknowledge that personal preference is individual, so I included a chart to show which one of these you might prefer:
Note: The blonde ale is closest to a wheat beer. The amber is closest to an IPA, American macro lager, or pale ale. The Kölsch, probably Pilsener (with a bite) and the smoked is nearest thing to a porter or stout you’ll find here. The hefeweizen is a cross between a wheat and saison, and if you get sour on the flow chart you’d probably want to get the hefeweizen.
If you know any bars that have a large selection of microbrews there’s a chance they have one of these. Also, you can do what I did and call or message the place on Facebook or check eksisozluk.com. People upload on there pretty regularly with the locations they’ve found these beers. If your Turkish isn’t too good (or nonexistent), or if you haven’t figured out the enigma code that is Turkish to English Google translations, we’ll try to amass a list here. Please comment below if you know places that have these beers on offer — help a yabangee out!
David Jaques is a contributor to Yabangee.