Brazil Goes Nuts for Beer
There are many reasons to visit Brazil, from the history, culture, wildlife and natural beauty to the legacy of the last football World Cup and the allure of the next Olympic Games. But it won't be long, I predict, before another factor – beer – will figure highly on the Brazil tourism checklist.
As in many countries, beer culture here in the world's fifth largest country is a recent development. Only twenty years ago, there were no small breweries.
But, as we've seen in places such as Italy and Australia, once the genie is out of the bottle, it's very hard to put it back.
Today, Brazil is home to more than 300 breweries and their beer stands up to anything found in other countries.
The movement began in 1995 with the launch of the DaDo brewery in Porto Alegre by the splendidly named Eduardo Bier.
DaDo has now moved to the city of Santa Maria and its extensive range typifies the diversifying beer-drinking experience in Brazil, combining classic styles with New Age adventure.
There's an American IPA but also a Double Chocolate Stout, a dunkel called Royal Black and a witbier called Ilex that includes a type of holly only found in South America. DaDo is not so small, either.
The current brewery has the capacity to produce 10,000 hectolitres (6,100 barrels) a month and the business also runs six restaurants/bars in Porto Alegre.
Despite DaDo being first, probably the best-known of Brazil's new breweries in the wider world is Eisenbahn. This was founded in 2002 by Juliano Mendes, his brother Bruno and his father Jarbas. Based in the southern town of Blumenau, they turned beer heads around the globe with their successful recreations of some of the world's great beer styles.
Since 2011, Eisenbahn has been part of the Kirin group, the Japanese giant having acquired the drinks company that bought Eisenbahn in 2008, although head brewer Gerhardt Beutling is still in place and Juliano remains a consultant.
Many of Eisenbahn's beers have won international awards, most notably the Dunkel and the Weizen, but don't overlook the many other beers, in particular the excellent Oktoberfest, when available, and the classy Champagne beer, Lust.
Kirin now has numerous beer interests in Brazil – an indication of the direction of the market. These include the Devassa and Baden Baden breweries, acquired a year before Eisenbahn.
Devassa, brewed in Rio de Janeiro, is a gimmicky small range of slender-bodied beers that are pleasant enough but really don't set the world on fire. The name means 'loose woman'. Paris Hilton once advertised it.
Baden Baden can be found a couple of hours north-east of São Paulo in the elevated settlement of Campos do Jordão.
The town is a weekend bolthole for the people of São Paulo, who come for the hiking and mountain air, and has the strange appearance of a German or Swiss village, with its chocolate-box timbered buildings, busy beer terraces and floral window boxes.
Baden Baden began life here as a bar-restaurant in 1985. The bar is still open, a vast beer hall of a pub on three floors, but it is now a separate business from the brewery, which was established a few miles away in 1999.
Built to match its surroundings, in alpine-chalet style, the brewery produces beers aimed at the food-pairing market, with combinations suggested on each label.
They are presented in chunky 600-ml bottles, a generous measure that has become the standard format across the 'craft' sector in Brazil.
I particularly like Baden Baden's Bock but, with a range that covers everything from Weiss, that offers everything you would expect from a weizen, to Red Ale, an impressive, US-style barley wine, this is a selection that hits nearly every spot.
Some Baden Baden beers, and indeed some Eisenbahn beers, are now produced at Kirin's major brewery in Itu, a couple of hours north-west of São Paulo. This is one of the biggest breweries I've ever visited.
Employing 2,000 people, it has its own medical centre and fire station, and attracts 80,000 paying tourists every year. Most of the production is given over to soft drinks and the light lager brand Schincariol, but a dedicated brewmaster looks after the Baden Baden and Eisenbahn beers that have been relocated there.
Small breweries now operate all over this vast country. Many of their beers I tasted during a recent tour of São Paulo's best beer bars – FrangÓ (already featured on these pages); BrewDog's typically urban-industrial outlet, housed in former car workshop, with parking bays still marked on the floor; and the impressive Emporio Alto dos Pinheiros (EAP), a busy bottle shop-cum-restaurant.
I tasted beers from the Wäls (since acquired by A-B InBev), Amazon, Colorado, Bamberg, Seasons and Schornstein breweries, some modelled on international styles, others boldly declaring their provenance – like DaDo with its holly beer – by including a twist of an exotic local ingredient.
If you've never had a beer with a little taperebá, priprioca or cumaru in the mix, that's hardly surprising. The results are mixed, certainly for a palate uneducated in such flavours, but there are successes.
Amazon's Stout Açaí, laced with açaí fruit, is a definite winner, as is Colorado's Ithaca, a supremely easy-drinking imperial stout featuring the rich caramel notes of rapadura sugar.
The challenge for the new breweries of Brazil is both domestic and international. For some, simply cornering a share of a market dominated by the likes of A-B InBev's Skol and Brahma, is ambition enough; for others, particularly established brands such as Eisenbahn, Baden Baden, Colorado, Bamberg and DaDo, exports are the next step.
Very few Brazilian beers are available in the UK – with Amazon the most prominent – but justice would dictate that the situation changes in the next few years.
The quality and character of Brazilian beers deserve a wider audience.