A Revolution Brewing in Brazil?’
A beer lover doesn’t head off to Rio with his fiancee in search of a beer utopia. Or does he? Sunny beaches, exciting nightlife, exotic foods and drinks are typical reasons to go. There’s also the excellent natural scenery, unique architecture, bikini-clad beauties though I must point out that there are also some bikini-clad beasts, and staring at them is akin to gawking at a horrible train wreck – you just can’t look away. Besides developing creative methods of securing your cash and valuables from the local pickpockets, this is what most normal couples seek in a romantic Rio vacation. But, we’re not all normal, are we?
Once a beer lover arrives in Rio and begins to sample some of the easy-to-find Brazilian mass-produced, quasi-pilsners, a casual curiosity about the local better beer scene gathers momentum and in time, becomes a quest, and eventually, when better beer is craved, an obsession develops. WHERE’S THE BEER!?!
Before You Leave for Your Trip
It helps to do a little research prior to leaving for any destination where the local beer culture is in question. This is especially true if you’re traveling to a country not really known for its beer culture, or with a loved one who doesn’t exactly share your enthusiasm for great beer.
I began my research well before departing for Brazil by logging on to BeerAdvocate.com and posting the question on the Forum; Where can I find good beer in Brazil? Cory from Indiana (now in Texas) replied with some great advice, not only about some good beers to try and where to try them, but he also provided some good ideas about other interesting things to see and do. Another method for finding places that might serve or sell good beer is a Google search. This way I could locate places near to the source of beer that would be of interest to my fiancee, Kathy. For instance, there’s a very nice village-style shopping mall at 500 Avenida Americas in the Tijuca section of Rio. This upscale mall has many fine jewelry stores, fashionable women’s clothing, a Kopenhagen Chocolate outlet, upscale swimwear, home decorating items, and The Belgian Beer Paradise, plus a new happening brewpub. Get the picture?
It also pays to ask the locals once you arrive at your destination. Though, some of their locals are much like some of our locals; they don’t really know good beer. Then the last and probably most rewarding method, is to set out by foot and explore some of the local neighborhoods and stumble upon some rewarding finds. We located an authentic English-style pub, The Lord Jim Pub located in a neighborhood between Leblon and Ipanema in this fashion.
A Little Brazilian Beer History
The Brazilians have long enjoyed their beer. The Portuguese discovered the land inhabited by the local “Bahians” in 1500. A beer-drinking influx of European settlers mostly from Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands and France followed. Unfortunately, for too many years the locals and immigrants have been subjugated to a limited variety of bland and flavorless brews produced mainly by Brazil’s three largest brewers, all affiliated with AmBev, Skol, Brahma and Antarctica, along with Cervejaria Kaiser (a brewery Coors has their eyes on.)
Does this situation sound familiar? Much like the battle many upstart U.S. microbrewers faced against certain mass-produced mega-swill brewers for shelf space and media attention in the 1980s, small craft brewers in Brazil are beginning to emerge into the market, first by gaining local support, then venturing out carefully into new markets. And two of the big three (more on that later) have responded to this invasion by producing more interesting sub-brands of their own. Advantage consumer! This is not to suggest that there is a major Brazilian micro-brew revolution, if it can be called that. But there are certain similarities to the early years of the U.S. micro-brew revolution. The point being; that if you find yourself in Rio you will not greatly suffer in your quest for finding adequate sources of different and interesting beers to try.
Ok, now that we understand that the citizens of Brazil, the fifth most populated nation on earth are awakening to a better brew, how does this affect the rest of us beer lovers? Well, besides being happy for beer-loving Brazilians, we can be assured that the micro-and-craft brew revolution is continuing to flourish worldwide, and more importantly, some of that tasty beer will be making its way to a packie or pub near you.
The Beers If you happen to see Cervejaria Sudbrack’s, Eisenbahn http://www.eisenbahn.com.br/, in your favorite beer store or bar, do not shy away. This is a quality brewery and the good news is that they have increased their brewing capacity from their original annual output by a whopping ten-fold! Try their Organic Pilsen. It’s mildly citrusy with a hint of peppery spice. Real Nice! The Pale Ale is a cross between a Samuel Smith’s, with the light clovey Belgian twist of an Orval. Their most notable brew may be the Weisenbock, which has been touted by celebrity author and brewer, Garrett Oliver, and the Sheldon Brothers, who will be importing the Eisenbahn label.
Cervajaria Baden-Baden, http://www.badenbaden.com.br/, is brewing up some fantastically flavorful brews. They started brewing craft beers in 1985, making them one of the old standards in the Brazilian craft-brew world. Their Red Ale, a rich and creamy English-style Barley wine (7.5%abv) is worth the trip to Brazil alone! Baden-Baden Cristal is a light, delicate, mildly citrusy Pils with a nice herbal taste in the background. Perfect on an overly hot day. Their mild Stout is creamy sweet with a light smokiness. This deep dark liquid is a good match for Churrascaria, Brazilian BBQ.
Devassa, http://www.cervejadevassa.com.br/, started brewing operations in 2002. Their ingredients are imported mainly from Belgium. They seem to be more of a cross- over, next-step-up sort of brewery. I tried the Tropical Lager, a German-style Lager and their Negra, a Dark Lager. Both were nice, drinkable beers but rather tame. They have begun exporting to London and Bristol in Great Britain.
Cervajaria Schmitt, http://www.schmittbier.com.br/ has been brewing beer since 1986. They brew three different beers. I didn’t have the chance to try them but they do look interesting. Schmitt Ale is a 5%abv English-style ale. Their Barley Wine weighs in at 8.5%abv, and La Brunnette is a 4.5% abv Brown Ale brewed with chocolate and caramel malts. The label of La Brunnette may be suitable for framing! (a real hottie!)
As mentioned earlier, the macros, Antarctica and Brahma have their own quasi-versions of craft beers. Antarctica Original (based on their “original” formula) is a fairly decent, drinkable light Pils-style brew with a pleasant herbal taste and clean finish. They also brew a mild and clean Lager called Bohemia. It’s nothing to write home about, but if it’s offered at a restaurant or bar, it sure beats the plain old macro-stuff. Brahma offers up a low alcohol (3.7%abv) Malzbier. It’s a bit overly sweet and lacking in any upfront flavors, but it isn’t bad, and it goes down slick and fast on a hot day. It pairs well with spicy foods
BTW When you see the word “Chopp” added to a particular beer in Brazil, it means on “Draught”.
Have a Caipirania Instead of a Bland Beer
Caipirania is the national drink of Brazil. It’s made from Cachacca, ground white sugar and fresh limes, muddled and stirred over crushed ice. It is tart, sweet, sour and refreshing! So instead of being bored silly and settling for the standard Brahma, Antarctica, Belco, Kaiser, Skol, Skol Beats (wow is that ever weak! Did someone wave a hop pellet over some seltzer water?), or any cheap mass-produced beer, do yourself a favor and enjoy a Caipirania. Then go out later and find a real beer!
Note: While we’re on the topic of mediocre beer, it should be noted that Heineken is brewed in Brazil too.
So, Where’s The Real Beer in Rio?
Most of the larger supermarkets carry a fairly good variety of beers. The Brazilians date their beer, so check that out before taking them to the checkout. All along the beachfronts of Copacabana and Ipanema you’ll find little snack and beverage huts. Most of them sell fresh coconut juice. A few of them carry Original, Bohemia, or Devassa Chopp. You probably won’t find any of the aforementioned wonderful craft brews here, but the setting of the beach, people and the landscape of architecture surrounded by the awesome natural beauty of Rio is beyond my abilities to express sufficiently in words. Couple your surroundings with the love of your life, a skewer of fresh-grilled shrimp and a tube of mini-roasted peanuts and you’ve got yourself a beer-enhanced gastronomic, visual and sensory delight! There are many small coffee shops and sandwich bars throughout the city. You can experience a part of the local culture by enjoying a cool cerveja break while standing with the locals at a sidewalk setting. You’ll want to check their selections first! Belgian Beer Cafe, or Belgian Beer Paradise http://www.beerparadise.com.br/, as they refer to themselves now, offer an amazing selection of Belgian and select Brazilian beers. Here’s some more info about this unexpected find: http://www.beeradvocate.com/beerfly/user_reviews/7729. The staff were all knowledgeable, friendly and very generous with the quality and quantity of their servings.
The Lord Jim Pub and Restaurant on Rua Paul Redfern, Ipanema/Leblon, offers an English-style pub environment complete with English Soccer League matches beamed in via satellite. If the English and Irish ales (Guinness from Ireland!), wide plank floors, dark wood walls and pressed tin ceilings aren’t enough to make you feel like you’re visiting a pub in the English countryside, the London-style phone booth at the front entrance will. The manager, Tony told me that another Lord Jim Pub was open for business in the Soffitel Hotel in Copacabana and another was in the planning stages in Barra da Tijuca.
An Idea for an Ambitious Beer Adventure
If you’re into adventurous road trips, consider this. From Rio, we drive about four hours south, to So Paulo. Just a few hours west of So Paulo, in the hill town of Campos do Jordo, you’ll find the Baden Baden brewery. Have lunch and a few samples at the brewery. Then head back to So Paulo and try a Bohemia Weiss and Malzbier at the brewery Companhia Brasileira De Bebidas (aka Antarctica). Next it’s back to Rio for a tour and samples at Cervejaria Devassa. Finally, a stop at The Belgian Beer Paradise for a Westvleteren 8 paired with the Cheese and Sausage platter. Follow that with a Westy 12 and dessert. That would be the icing on the cake, so to speak!
Day II. We travel north from Rio, in comfort with a good supply of our collected beer and snacks from our previous day’s travels to Cervejaria Sudbrack for a taste of the complete Eisenbahn lineup. Sound good? Imagine what fun and cloudy memories a group of beer lovers could conjure up in a week of Brazil! It’s one of the reasons I play Mega Millions twice a week! Cheers!