Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Brazilian Craft Beer

At last, I finally got my hands on some craft beer from Brazil!  It was not easy, as most bars and restaurants (as documented here) are tied to one of the mega breweries.  Here is a typical scene from a night out in Brazil - it is with a cell phone camera, sorry, but it captures the essence of the beer experience awaiting most visitors to a Brazilian bar or restaurant: pale, light pilnser without any real pilsner character.  [This, by the way, is a great pizza place in Sao Paulo, despite the fact that only Antartica beer is on tap: Margherita Pizzeria]  The beer is suited to the climate: it is light and refreshing for the hot humid days that typify lots of the country for most of the year.  But it does not have much else going for it.

So I headed down to Galaria dos Paes and lo and behold, there I found Baden Baden and Colorado bottles.  These are 20 ounce bottles and with the very strong Real each cost about $10.  Ouch.  This makes it especially hard to catch on - it is a super-luxury good.  Oh, and apparently beer in the bottle is pasteurized even at the craft level so these bottles probably have suffered from this and the heat.

Anyway, the Baden Baden Golden is just that - golden.  A very pretty beer and one immediately notices a very strong smell and taste of honey.  It was a bit much to my taste - slightly heavy and sweet - but upon reading the label it is not honey that is giving this taste but fruit.  They don't specify which, but I am guessing they use local tropical fruit.  If so, I give them big props - craft beer should be local beer and the sue of native ingredients is precisely what Brazilian craft brewers should be doing.  Taking old world techniques and recipes and transforming them into something local and unique is the way to go. Though slightly heavy to me, the Baden Baden Golden is very well crafted, there is no doubt, it is well balanced, pretty in the glass and wonderfully aromatic.

For a northwest hophead, finding a 7% ABV IPA in Brazil was a real treat.  And the Cervejaria Colorado Indica IPA was a fine example of a NW-style IPA (that is a little bigger than an English IPA).  Exceptionally well crafted and balanced, it lacked in exactly the areas your would expect: being so far from the fine fresh aromatic hops fields of the NW it has all the appropriate bitterness but not quite the aroma and floral/citrus taste we have come to associate with out local products.  Still it is an exceptional IPA and would be at home among the better NW IPAs.

My only chance to drink these beers was while watching the final weekend of the Campeonato Brasileiro where Fluminense of Rio won their game through a nice goal by Emerson (of course) and captured the championship.  As my flight was later that night, I could not drink too much, but I ended up drinking a lot of the Indica and less of the Golden - so in my own personal preference set the Indica won, but on another day who knows?

If I were a craft brewer in Brazil, I think I would be concentrating on making lighter beers (for example pale ales and pilsners) both with better quality and taste and with local adjuncts.  A great example of the latter is Wailua Wheat from Kona - a standard wheat beer with a beautifully subtle touch of passion fruit.  Teaching Brazilian beer drinkers to appreciate quality and different beer drinking experiences it the way to start.  It is hard for me to imagine most beer drinkers in Brazil jumping to Indica.  It seems Baden Baden and Colorado are both following this strategy.  I, of course, jumped to the big stuff, which is what caught my eye, but browsing their selection it seems both are making lighter and accessible beers: Baden Baden mostly lagers and Colorado mostly ales. 

They are even starting to make an international impact, each with a few international awards to their credit.  Hopefully, more will make it for export.  If they can make beers that use local ingredients to great affect then they can offer the world a new experience and perhaps make a good export business.

One of the great experiences I had this time in Brazil was an amazing meal at a restaurant called Mani that serves nouvelle Brazilian cuisine: local fresh ingredients used to perfection to create an amazing taste sensation of local flavors like coconut, passion fruit, banana, manioca, white beans, hearts of palm and on and on and on.  If Brazilian brewers can tap into this same flavor palate and create light fruity and surprising beers, I think they can really catch on worldwide.

I wish them luck and next time I'll know where to find them.