Beer is one of the last things that comes to mind when thinking about the Istanbul suburb of Başakşehir, a large district known as one of the city’s conservative heartlands. Tellingly, it’s also home to Başakşehirspor, the unofficial football team of Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP).
Yet tucked in a sprawling industrial complex of Başakşehir is the headquarters of Istanbul’s best microbrewery, 3 Kafadar, which translates to “three buddies.” The name is rooted in the longtime friendship of the three owners, Hakan Özkan, Harun Aydın and Tarık Apak.
Their interest in brewing was sparked by a trip to Oktoberfest in 2013. It was Özkan and Aydın’s first time, and the place was so packed that they had a hard time securing a place to sit and drink.
“After a while we found a tent and tasted our first Paulaner Oktoberfest beer. It was delicious. We loved it. The foam was great, everything was great. After that we thought, ‘OK, if this is beer, what are we drinking in Turkey?’” Özkan said.
“We decided to brew. But at that time there were no hobby shops, no possibilities to find any of the ingredients, so we started to bring everything in our luggage when we traveled abroad,” he added.
The trio established a hobby shop/homebrew setup in the central neighborhood of Mecidiyeköy, and in 2016 went to Belgium, renting space in one of that country’s breweries to make their own suds – the first people from Turkey to do so. Their goal was to produce abroad and sell their beer in Turkey, but they quickly stumbled into the country’s notoriously tangled bureaucratic red tape.
“Our first batches were stuck for four to five months at customs. After a couple of imports, we said, ‘OK but this is too slow. People love our beer, we should invest.’ We started looking for a place, which also took a lot of time because it’s not easy to find a proper place, the regulations are very hard,” Özkan said, which is why 3 Kafadar, which began production in late 2019, is located out in Başakşehir.
“They don’t want the breweries to be set in residential areas,” Apak said, adding that they are happy with their location in the industrial zone because they can find anything they need there.
Obtaining the required permits and licensing took a year and a half, and during that time they built nearly everything in the brewery themselves except for the hard floors.
“We decided to brew. But at that time there were no hobby shops, no possibilities to find any of the ingredients, so we started to bring everything in our luggage when we traveled abroad.”
We arrived on a particularly nasty rainy day at the end of last year, and the fourth member of the crew, Bora Günöven, quickly handed us a pint of their Mosaic IPA straight out of the keg. It was hoppy and rejuvenating, like a good IPA should be. We downed it briskly and asked for another. Other microbreweries have tried their hand at an IPA, and Bomonti, one of the country’s biggest brands, debuted their own last year, though its low alcohol content and weak hoppiness left us disappointed. 3 Kafadar can thereby stake the claim to producing the country’s best IPA.
Their three other beers are a Belgian Blonde, a German-style lager called Okto, and Gece, an Irish stout that just came out. Each one is excellent, so it is no surprise that there has been keen demand in Istanbul stores, bars and restaurants for 3 Kafadar’s beers, during a period when the country’s fledgling craft brewery scene is on the rise.
This has occurred in spite of the exorbitant taxes imposed on alcohol twice a year and a widespread ban on advertising that has been in effect ever since Özkan and Aydın had their epiphany in Munich. To make matters worse, the closure of bars and restaurants has cut sales in half. Between November 2020 and March of this year, dine-in service was forbidden nationwide, a huge setback to the service industry.
“We sell kegs and are based in Istanbul so we can deliver the kegs from our cold room directly to the cold rooms of our customers’ bars and pubs,” Özkan said. Recently, establishments licensed as alcohol-serving restaurants have reopened, though only until 7 p.m., and those licensed as bars have been closed for over a year since the pandemic hit the country.
Unlike some of Turkey’s other successful microbreweries, 3 Kafadar does not currently export; all their attention is devoted to the local market, but they aim to sell abroad in the future. Their beers are currently available in Istanbul, Ankara, İzmir and Antalya – the four cities account for 80 percent of all alcohol consumption in Turkey, Aydın told us with a grin.
The guys behind 3 Kafadar remain committed to sticking to their roots, even as the practice of craftwashing (big beer producers slyly making craft beer under a different name) spreads to Turkey. “Efes for instance, started this microbrewery thing. They are not bottling but only giving the beer to bars in kegs,” Apak said of the country’s flagship beer maker.
“Our aim is a bit different. We want to go just for the craft market. Our aim is to give people good and high-quality beer. A different kind of beer,” said Özkan. And for Istanbullus, one that’s brewed close to home.