Quality of Drinks in Crete

AND ‘THE BEAT’… (as in beating the customers) GOES ON AND ON AND…

After continued complaints from Athenians about their drinks not tasting right, and reports of “quick” drunkenness and unusual sickness and vomiting (over and above the normal hangover) on the morning after, government inspectors finally did their own “pub crawl“.

However, in Crete, where this type of alcohol bootlegging has been going on for years on a much larger scale, similar complaints continually fall on deaf ears – a fact that leads most responsible Cretans to believe the government is practicing a double standard – showing favoritism with its own citizens over that of the financially-crucial tourist trade.

After recently carrying out a series of spot checks at 40 establishments that serve alcohol, including bars, clubs and restaurants, what the inspectors from the finance ministry’s financial crime squad (SDOE) found in Greece’s capitol city was termed “outrageous.” Every single rum and tequila drink tested was adulterated, as well fifty percent of the vodka drinks. They found that twenty percent of the whisky was also tampered with.

Drinkers usually consume rum, tequila, gin and vodka in mixed cocktails, such as rum and Coke, tequila sunrise, gin and tonic or vodka and orange juice, which dilute the taste of the alcohol, while whisky is mostly taken neat, or with ice, making the foreign ingredients easier to detect.

The rotgut alcohol is made with cheap substitutes and toxic raw materials which can cause chronic headaches, extreme nausea, temporary or permanent blindness and, in some cases, even death. In Crete, locally made low quality raki is also used.

This type of bootlegging, which was prominent in the days of American gangster Al Capone, is currently practiced on such a scale in Crete that, in comparison, it would have made the Chicago mobster seem like an amateur…

Experienced local observers agree that if the government inspectors were to descend on the bars and clubs in Crete, especially in the Hersonissos and Malia areas, where greed is so dominant they don’t even limit their bootleg alcohol to mixed drinks, they would be astounded at what they would find. Most people agree that this form of bootlegging prevails in one hundred percent of the larger clubs and bars, and to some lesser degree in all the others.

“I’ve been a bartender in Hersonissos for two years,” said a British man who wished to remain anonymous for obvious reasons,” and I haven’t poured a legitimate drink yet – mixed or straight. And the stuff we serve the ‘pub crawlers’ is even worse.”

(Editor’s Note: Pub-crawling, as reported in the July issue of the Crete Gazette, is the illegal practice by tour guides of directing large tour groups to specific bars or clubs in return for hefty fees or commissions.)

A female club manager in Malia, who once worked in a Hard Rock Cafe where, she says, they poured a true drink, said this practice in Greece “just doesn’t make any sense. “Sure,” the anonymous manager told this newspaper, “we serve the bootleg stuff like everyone else, but I tried to talk the owners out of it when I first started working here. Two or three drinks of the raw alcohol and the average customer is on his backside or brawling in the street. If we served a true drink the profit may be less per drink, but they’d be able to drink a lot more and the end result would be the same – but done legally.” She said she became so frustrated trying to explain the logic, she just gave up and went with the flow, no pun intended.

Robert Lopez, a native of Puerto Rico who lived on Crete for seven years, tells the story of his first venture into the Hersonissos nightlife scene with several friends. At their first stop, while his friends ordered beer, Lopez ordered a double Bacardi straight up, no ice. “My friends asked if I could handle that,” Lopez recalls. “I told them in Puerto Rico we’re weaned on Bacardi – our mamas carry rum in their breast instead of milk. Everyone laughed, including the bartender who was pouring the drink.” When he tossed the shot down Lopez said he almost gagged. “What the hell is this stuff?” he shouted at the barman. “That’s what you ordered, Bacardi,” the barman answered. “Are you crazy,” Lopez shot back. “If my mama had carried that stuff I would have shot her.” Lopez said he spotted an unopened bottle of Bacardi on a back shelf which looked like it hadn’t been touched for years. “Pour me a drink from that bottle,” he said. “The dusty one.” What always amazed Lopez was the fact that the barman, even after learning that Lopez drank Bacardi all his life, still tried to pawn off the rotgut on him.

However, not everyone is unhappy with the bootleg booze. “This is great stuff,” declared a chronic hooch hound on a recent night out in Malia. “I mean, the whole purpose of my going out is to get drunk, right? Drinking this crap I can do it a lot faster and save a bundle in the process.” Mr. “Hooch” went on to explain that in other places he’d always order the off-name label because he’s convinced the cheaper the booze the harder the alcohol kick. “Heck, in Crete I can order the “top brands” and achieve the same effect.”

According to financial observers, this practice, of course, cheats everyone – the customer who thinks he’s paying for Gordon’s Gin or Bacardi Rum; the legitimate liquor manufacturers who spend millions on marketing only to have their bottles filled with rotgut; the government tax offices, which are losing many millions of euros due to the untaxed bootleg alcohol, which must be made up by legitimate taxpayers, thereby subsidizing the outlaw pub owners.

And, why is this illegal practice allowed to flourish unhampered by the police or any government agency? many people ask. Ah, that is one of the mysteries of Crete – but one mystery that lawful citizens of this island wish to see solved. Perhaps the agents of SDOE should check out what Eliot Ness and The Untouchables did to bring down Al Capone and his cohorts.

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