KEO PLC is one of the two major brewing companies on the island of Cyprus
In 1925, the ‘Greek Company of Wines and Spirits’ (EEOO), entered the Cypriot market by taking over a small village winery at Pera Pedi which was probably one of the very first wineries in Cyprus, owned at the time by W.H. Chaplin, the son of a British wine trader. For a couple of decades this winery used to buy the grapes from local vine growers and produced some good port wine.
EEOO’s connection inCyprus was the well known businessman, Mr. N. P. Lanitis who, from the outset, was assigned the task of supervising the construction of the new wine factory at Pera Pedi. Under Mr Lanitis guide EEOO decided a couple of years later to register a new company that would represent its interests in Cyprus. Hence on the 15th February 1927, a company with the name ‘Cyprus Wines and Spirits Co Ltd’ (KEOO) was formally set up with EEOO as the major shareholder. The company was subsequently renamed to KEO and its logo that was developed in 1951 carried the motto ‘Be Happy and Drink Well’.
Mr. N.P. Lanitis is regarded as the founder of KEO and during the period 1927-1952 he was the Chairman of the Board. He achieved in those difficult first years to turn KEO into a strong wine industry and one of the biggest exporting firms in Cyprus. In 1935, a new factory in Limassol was put into operation and a few years later the brewing factory was constructed in adjacent land.
Today, KEO maintains its headquarters in its very first winery in Limassol and operates three more wineries situated in the Krasochoria region of Limassol District: Mallia, Pera Pedi and Laona. The picturesque southern slope of the Troodos mountain range is the home of a longtime project carried out by KEO. Set near the village of Mallia this ambitious plan represents both the island’s tradition in wine-making and the development of new technologies in viniculture and vinification processes.
Since it was founded, KEO has grown into one of the largest and most prestigious beverage producer on the island of Cyprus with a thriving export trade to much of Europe, the US,Canada and the Middle East. KEO’s rise to the eminent position of the leading wine-making industry on the island, cannot but be attributed to the high quality of all KEO products. This quality was acknowledged with gold medal awards around the world.
KEO – its beer making history
Besides wine making, KEO has been spectacularly successful in beer, producing the ‘Pilzen’ type beer in Cyprus since 1951. Discussions for the establishment of a brewery by KEO started as back as 1937 when the then President of the Board of Directors, Mr. N.P. Lanitis suggested the investigation of the potential for entering into the brewing business. The suggestion was brought to the Board again in 1939 but lack of brewing experience in Cyprus and complete absence of market data on which to base planning and sizing of the new brewery plus the war implications let to a significant delay in materializing the decision of 1939. In 1947 the General Manager, Mr Alekos Economou informed the board that the total estimated pre-war consumption of beer in Cyprus does not exceed 4-5,000 hectoliters, mostly imported from Europe. He estimated that in the coming years consumption cannot exceed 7-9.000 hectoliters. The major decision was reached at the Board meeting of March 1947 and this decision, apparently influenced by the fact that the famous Pilsener Urkuel beer was a well known imported brand, indicated that KEO will, “build a brewery for a yearly production of 15.000 hectoliters of beer of the Pilsen type, with 12% extract and 3.5% alcohol, and also of dark, bottom fermented beer, with maximum monthly production of 2.500 hectoliters”.
The whole project was assigned to the Czechoslovakian company Skodaworks National Corporation on the 28th March 1947 with a total cost of equipment reaching £36.000. The brewery was built next to the KEO winery in Limassol (where it still remains) and was constructed in a traditional Chech design. The foundation stone was laid on the 17th of May 1951 and production started under the supervision of the Chech Brewmaster Trappal, who was assigned the task of training local staff for the following three years. The response of the local market to the new beverage was overwhelming. Production in 1953 reached the nominal capacity of the brewery of 15,000 hl. A new bottling line and a new fermenting cellar were then installed to meet the steadily rising demand. At the same period an attempt to introduce the bottom fermented stout beer (in line with the original company decision) failed.
By 1957, annual production reached 62.000 hl. In 1958, the first major expansion of the brewery was carried out, comprising a second 90-hl brew house unit, two additional fermenting cellars, two new lager cellars, and a new bottling line for 8.000 bottles per hour. Thus, seven years after its commencement of operation, the KEO brewery was producing an annual volume more than four times its original capacity. Fermentation was carried out in closed cylindrical fermentors with a two-strain yeast system. Half of the beer was fermented with a flocculent strain and half with a powdery strain, the two beers being blended equally at racking. Lagering maintained its original character with two months’ storage at zero degrees Celsius. By this time (1957-58) adequate brewing experience was gained by the local staff and the brewery was now run by Cypriot chemists.
The political unrest and inter-communal trouble that started in 1958 (prior to the end of British colonial rule in 1959) had a strong impact on the local beer market: the market remained stagnant for the next ten years. It was not until 1968 that beer consumption in Cyprus reached its 1957 volume. Also in 1969, a second brewery (run by Ph. Photiades Ltd)began operations in Cyprus that was to brew the Carlsberg beer of Denmark under license. The intense competition and marketing activities of the two breweries led to the growth of the Cyprus beer market from 66.000 hl in 1968 to 146.000 hl in 1973. KEO’s market share at the time stood at 72%.
The developments in the marketplace presented significant challenges for KEO Beer. It became clear that a drastic overhaul and expansion of production capacity was necessary. Although a new complete bottling line for 16.000 bottles per hour was operating in 1972, the large number of small fermenting and storage tanks (90 fermentors and 227 storage tanks) presented several handling problems. In 1973, the Danish firm Alfred Joergensen (known to KEO as suppliers of their yeast strains for many years) elaborated a long-term development project for KEO beer production. The project involved the immediate renovation of most sections of the brewery with the objective of reaching a monthly production capacity of 25.000 hl. The eventual capacity envisaged was 50.000 hl per month. Most of the equipment was installed by the summer of 1974. Nevertheless, this brand new equipment was only going to be put into use three years later. The Turkish invasion of July 1974 brought about economic chaos and financial uncertainty to the island. It was not until 1979 that beer consumption in Cyprus reached its 1973 volume.
By 1978, the economy of the island started recovering, led by the expansion in the tourism industry. Beer consumption grew steadily from 133.000 hl in 1977 to 253.000 hl in 1986. During this period, KEO put into operation its new brewhouse of 400-hl brew size, and the first stainless steel cylindro-conical fermentors.
The introduction of the latest technology and strict quality control techniques (coupled with adherence to traditional and proven brewing techniques) brought about international recognition. On the 27th March of 1987, exactly forty years after the Board decision was taken to set up the brewery, KEO beer won the Gold medal at the World Bottled Lager Beer Competition at Burton-on-Trend in the UK. This recognition turned KEO beer into a respected international brand and strengthened its position as the Cyprus beer associated with the island’s sea and sunshine.
The next major round of investment took place in 1992-94, when more than nine million Euros were invested in new packaging lines. A new bottling line (at 36.000 bottles per hour) with computerized controls was put into operation in 1992. A new kegging line (producing 240 kegs per hour) was operated in 1993. In 1994, a new canning line for producing cans in all types of modern multi-packs was commissioned and put into operation in the record time of three weeks.
Since 1994, KEO has been continuing along the proven path of continuous technological upgrade and traditional brewing that is, double-decoction brewing and bottom-fermentation. The result has been consistent: a premium beer with uniquely delicate aroma and flavor. In 2007 KEO commanded a share of around 40% in a total market of 38 million liters, performing particularly well in the tourist market. Together with the other major local brewery, the two industries dominate the local beer sector, sharing between them nearly 90% of the total market.
The Raw Materials
- Malt: This is the key raw material used in beer production. It is made from varieties of European maize that are especially suitable for beer production. The malt is prepared according to specifications supplied by KEO itself.
- Maize : This is used as complementary raw material to fortify the malt ingredients.
- Hops: This is a plant, the flowers of which are used to provide beer with its typical bitter taste and aroma. A special blend of selected European varieties of hops is used in the production of KEO beer.
- Water: The water used in the production of KEO beer is specially processed, so as to contain the required salt elements.
- Yeast : This is a culture of special sacharomyces used in the fermentation of beer. The specific sacharomyces variety is kept in storage by a well-known European scientific institute under conditions that ensure the preservation of its properties. A fresh culture is produced and dispatched to KEO every two months, so as to maintain KEO’s superior and consistent quality.