Pivο: Brewing it Czech style in divided Nicosia

Photo: Πίβο microbrewery Facebook page

Sunday’s parliamentary elections, ongoing negotiations over a reunification of the divided island – and maybe football: these are some of the main topics discussed in the garden of the Pivo "πίβο" Microbrewery, recently opened in the heart of Nicosia, the capital of Cyprus. Located on the Greek Cypriot South side of the old town, right next to the UN buffer zone, this is definitely the most Czech pub in the Mediterranean, within earshot of the muezzin call to prayer of one of the mosques on the North side. Four young men from the same family founded Pivo. Radio Prague met one of them to learn more about their Czech connection.

Photo: Πίβο microbrewery Facebook page
“Hello, my name is Alexis Alexiou and we are in the middle of the old town of Nicosia, Cyprus.”

A place with a Czech name…

“Yes, we are in Pivo (spelled Πίβο in Greek) Microbrewery, it’s a new place in town, five months old. We are brewing our own beer, unfiltered and unpasteurized, with our own equipment, and we serve it fresh to our customers here in the courtyard of an old traditional Cypriot house.”

This Czech name is not by chance at all…

“No, it isn’t. We have a connection with the Czech Republic, because my brother and I went to study there almost 15 years ago. It was by chance that I chose to go and study there. I lived there for almost 12 years and with my twin brother we learned there the science of brewing and when we came back we started something new in our country.”

You knew, when you came back, that this was what you wanted to do?

“I knew it from the first moment I smelled the beer in Czech Republic, I knew it would be my life-time job. Of course I did not know how to do it at first. But through the years and with our Czech connections we sorted it out and finally we have a microbrewery in our hometown.”

It’s not only a Czech name, it’s also a Czech way of brewing your beer, right?

Photo: Πίβο microbrewery Facebook page
“Yes, we learned from the best - we learned from the Czechs. Everybody can make beer, but to make a good beer you have to know what you are doing. The Czechs have the know-how, very good raw materials and a big tradition of how to serve beer and enjoy it. And we try to do it our own way from what we learned, not to copy anything. And we are happy to see the pleasure of our customers every evening!”

What do you import from Czech Republic to brew your beer?

“We import some malt, some hops and also the most important ingredient, the yeast, that we buy from the brewing institute in Prague. That guarantees an original character to every beer we brew here in Nicosia.”

So it’s hops from Bohemia, from Žatec (Saaz hops), the malt from Moravia, and also the brewing equipment is made in the Czech Republic, right?

“Yes the equipment is from Plzeň, from a specialized company called Joe’s Garage Beer and Josef Krýsl, a very famous brewmaster, came to Cyprus with his son Petr to help us to set up the microbrewery equipment, a very important part of our business here.”

Cyprus has been hit really hard by the financial crisis three years ago, as you were thinking to launch your business with your brothers and cousin. How hard was it?

Photo: Πίβο microbrewery Facebook page
“It was very hard. It was the time when we came back from Czech Republic. It was almost impossible to start a new business back in those days in Cyprus. But we sat down, thought about it and worked hard to convince the local banks that this was something new, something with potential, a local product in the heart of the old town. In the end we managed to get some money and we started something from scratch. Today we think it is going to work, for sure.”

We are in the courtyard of your microbrewery; I have to say it’s an incredible place, with old ancient history underneath, and recent history right next to us…

“Yes, in the courtyard we have a glass on the floor through which you can see beneath an arch from the Franks and also from the Ottoman period as well. You can see something built five or six hundred years ago.”

“And the next door house, unfortunately, is a dead place – the UN buffer zone where time stopped 42 years with the division of the capital city. They say it is the last divided capital in Europe, with Turkish Cypriots in the North and Greek Cypriots in the South. But we, in the new generations, would rather say that we are all Cypriots, with just some of us speaking Greek and some speaking Turkish.”

So we have here behind this wall some orange and olive trees, also buildings falling down because no one can enter this UN buffer zone. We can only see cats sometimes, and birds… But you mentioned earlier that despite this boarder you have Turkish Cypriots coming as guests here.

Photo: Πίβο microbrewery Facebook page
“Yes, a lot of people from the North are coming to try our beer. And we are lucky and happy to have them here, because we believe that a beer place in a place where all the people can sit down and have a chat. There is nothing to divide us. And beer helps in that respect, it’s a social beverage.”

Maybe the actual peace talks should be held here!

“This is what the Czech brewmaster Josef Krýsl said when he came here to set up the microbrewery, that the two leaders of both sides should come here, have a beer and find a solution that no other politicians have been able to find in more than forty years…”