Beers in Brazil

Find out about the various breweries and beers that exist throughout Brazil...

Brazil represents a huge market for beer (cerveja), with significant seasonal fluctuations. In November, the big producers increase production to cater for the extra demand during the summer period and in particular the peak in consumption during carnival (mid/late February-early March).

The best-selling brands in Brazil are Skol, Brahma, Antartica, Schincariol/Novo Schin, Bavaria and Kaiser, which are available almost everywhere. Other brands include Novo Schin and Bohemia. The Brahma, Bohemia, Antartica and Skol brands are owned by AmBev who, in 2004, merged with Interbrew to form ABInBev, one of the world's largest brewers. Grupo Schincariol is now the largest Brazilian-owned brewer and in recent years they have acquired the micro-breweries Baden Baden, Devassa and Eisenbahn.

The big names have huge influence and advertise extensively. It is not rare to see pop ups with loud sounds and voices overriding the commentary during major football games.

Beer is typically bought in small cans of 350ml and supermarkets often now also sell larger 473ml cans. Small bottles of 300/355ml are referred to as Long Neck and larger bottles of 600ml, are called Garrafes. There are now a variety of different sized and shaped bottles and cans emerging, such as the Litrão (big liter), to win over consumers by offering more choice and value for money.

The vast majority of Brazilian beer is the blond lager style, often referred to as Tipo Pils or Pils/Pilsen style. However, most of these beers have little in common with a true Pils.

The mass-produced Brazilian beers typically have an alcohol content volume of four to five percent. However, some specialized beers can be seven percent or more.

Due to significant differences in climate and topography, there is no hop production in Brazil, or significant barley or wheat production. Combined with the fact that the large producers focus very much on quantity rather than quality, the typical beer in Brazil has a very low hop content. Other natural ingredients are usually in evidence in small quantities only. Instead, a high proportion of un-malted cereals are used. The use of corn is common. Fermentation is short, artificial carbonation high and a range of artificial ingredients, stabilizers and preservatives are used. Admittedly, the product may have to travel huge distances by truck in tropical conditions before being consumed. The result however, is a general lack of aroma, a chemical bite and aftertaste that is especially noticeable when the beer is not served at very low temperature. An adjunct hangover the next day, even after consuming only moderate quantities the evening before, is not uncommon.

Brazilian law states that ingredients for beer must be specified on the label. Typical ingredients include water (agua), malt (malte), cereals - unmalted, (cereais - não malteados), hops (lupulo), yeast (fermento), pure dried cane sugar (rapadura), antioxidant (antioxidante), stabilizer (stabilizante) and preservative (conservante).

Serving beer in Brazil

Beer is served at a very low temperature in small glasses called copos, with the bottle being placed in a cooler jacket on the table to prevent it warming. People may actually request a beer using the phrase bem gelada, literally meaning "well icy". Of course, below four degrees centigrade the beer has no flavor (definitely a good thing with the cheaper beers), but in thirty to forty degree temperatures many people, naturally, want a refreshing ice-cold drink and would never consider drinking a beer of even four to five degrees centigrade. In fact, red wine is often served chilled here.

In many bars, the beer is stored in large purpose-built fridges covered in advertising for the beer manufacturer who provided it. Slightly larger curved (sometimes stemmed) glasses may be placed in the fridge to help keep the beer as cold as possible.

Draft beer in Brazil is referred to as choppe (pronounced "shoppy") and is typically the same as the canned or bottled brand of the same name, but unpasteurised. Most of the big producers produce choppe, while some smaller brewers only produce this type of beer. It is typically served in curved glasses, slightly larger than the standard copos, with a large creamy head or colar (collar). The head is often three or four fingers, leaving only two to three fingers of body in the glass when served. If you don't want it served this way, insist on the beer sem colar (without collar) and you may get it with as little as one or two fingers of head. A choppe can be purchased at a chopperia. Other drinking establishments are simply referred to as bars or, in the case of a place that has imported beers, a pub (pronounced "poo-be").

Pubs typically serve pints of various imported keg beers, such as Guinness and Heineken, imported bottled beer and Brazilian beers. Some beers may well have been on tap for longer than is advisable, the pipes may not have been cleaned properly and the beer may have suffered exposure to heat, light and vibration on its journey. All of this may result in the beer being anything from disappointing to undrinkable.

Breweries

A relatively resurgent phenomenon in Brazil is that of the microbrewery or craft brewer.

In the last decade, a few small brewers have started to produce beers using high-quality ingredients and traditional methods. This has stimulated an interest in what in Brazil are often referred to as "gourmet beers". There are currently about a hundred "micros" and "nanos" in Brazil, with about two or three opening every month, and football fans will be glad to know each of the host cities for the 2014 World Cup Football/Soccer is served by at least one such producer. However, not all of these brewers are established by knowledgeable enthusiasts or produce high quality beer.

These small and often independent brewers are usually located in the states of São Paulo, Minas Gerais, Santa Catarina and Rio Grande do Sul, where the climate and geography allow for the required crop production and brewing methods. A number of families came to Brazil during the 19th century from regions such as Bavaria and Bohemia as well as from England, bringing with them brewing traditions which, over time, because of lack of ingredients and economic factors, meant that quality soon became compromised. Recently, however, these traditional practices have been re-embraced and some of these beers are now enjoying international recognition and awards at beer festivals throughout the world. Much of the malt and all the hops have to be imported, making these beers more expensive than their equivalents in many other countries.

Baden Baden, produced in Campos do Jordão in São Paulo state, won a gold medal in the Dry Stout category at Nurnburg in 2008 in the European Beer Star Award - the first of its kind for a South American beer. Eisenbahn Dunkel, produced by the Cervejaria Sudbrack in Blumenau, won a bronze medal in the Mild Beer category. Other notables from the São Paulo region include: the innovative Colorado brewery based in Riberão Preto, which produces a range of bottled beers, including an excellent India Pale Ale and a superb porter, infused with coffee, called Demoiselle (after the Santos Dumont aircraft), which won gold in the Porter category at the European Beer Star awards in 2009; also the Bamberg brewery, which produces classic German style beers (including a Rauchbier), won a silver medal in the smoked/rauchbier category at the same event.

The southern states of Santa Catarina, Párana and Rio Grande Do Sul also have a long tradition of brewing, due to the large number of German immigrants settling in this area. The whole region has a German feel, with people and buildings reflecting this heritage. There are large Oktoberfests in each of these states, with traditional dress, games and food on offer. The Oktoberfest in Blumenau is the largest outside Germany.

During the winter months, Brazilian beer manufacturers produce larger quantities of cerveja escura (or dark beers). These typically obtain their color from large quantities of caramelized sugar rather than by roasting the malt, consequently they are typically very sweet and lacking in any coffee or chocolate notes that are familiar to most fans of stout or porter.

Due to the growing interest in traditional brewing methods and gourmet beers, large supermarkets now often stock a range of imported beers from Belgium, Germany, the Czech Republic, Australia, the UK, the USA and other countries. Also found are beers from Argentina and Uruguay that are generally higher in quality than the Brazilian staples.

Information prepared by Andrew Howitt, British Guild of Beerwriters e-mail