Whilst Brazilian beer consumption (per capita) may lag behind us binge-drinkers from Europe, the demand that its much larger population creates means that as as a market and producer it is the third largest in the world.
A few other factors also contribute towards making beer Brazil’s alcoholic beverage of choice:
- Brazil is very hot + beer is very refreshing = Kerching!
- Its climate is not particularly conducive to producing wine, apart from in the South.
- Apart from cachaça, spirits come from outside of Brazil and are quite expensive (see my post on imports).
What are the most popular beers?
In the last ten or years so most major Brazilian beers have been absorbed, through various mergers, into the mother of all brewers – Anheuser-Busch InBev (AB InBev). For example, of the five most consumed beers in Brazil in 2011 , the top three are from AB INBev:
- Skol (32.7%)
- Brahma (18.5%)
- Antarctica (12.3%)
- Nova Schin (10.3%)
- Kaiser (4%)
Unsurprisingly, the other two are also products of conglomerates, with Nova Schin brewed by Brasil Kirin (subsidiary of Japanese company Kirin Brewery Company that also owns Eisenbahn, Baden Baden and Devassa), and Kaiser which is mostly owned by FEMSA (the largest beverage company in South America).
Beer then is not just Brazil’s favourite beverage, it’s also big business.
How are Brazilian beers served?
In a supermarket beer is most commonly sold in a 350ml can (size of a Coke) and bottled beers are usually sold in 355ml quantities and called Long Necks.
In botecos (bars – which I’ll talk about more next time), beer is most typically served from a bottle with a garrafa (600ml) the most common, followed by litros (litre). They are poured into copos (small glasses) and bottles are usually shared between whoever is at the table.
Alternatively, beer may be served in the form of a chope (draught beer) in glass bigger than a copo and with a large, frothy head.
So, what are Brazilian beers actually like?
Brazilian beers are almost always labelled as being Pilseners (Pilsners), including the top five that we looked at above.
However, I say labelled because their actual resemblance to a traditional Pilsen is debatable, with most lacking the hoppy flavours that you would most normally expect. In fact, you could say that they lack any taste at all, although they are served so cold that any flavour is nullified anyway.
In part this is understandable because it is so hot in Brazil, and so the aim is to refresh rather than taste. Accordingly, Brazilians will go to all lengths to keep their beer as cold as physically possible:
- Botecos, bars, etc store their beers in huge refrigerators with digitised indicators to reassure you that your beer is being stored at a temperature of at least -4c.
- The bottle is brought to you inside a cooler or bucket of ice (depending upon the type of establishment you happen to be in).
- Bottles are, as noted above, shared between whoever you are with and the beer is drunk from small copos.
- Canned beers are served in smaller sizes than in Europe.
The net effect of this is that Brazilian beer must rank as being the coldest drink known to mankind, and given their relative tastelessness I’m pretty sure that if you blindfolded five people and asked them to taste each of Brazil’s most popular beers, most might find it difficult to differentiate between them.
What’s the alternative?
Brazilians who prefer a beer with a bit more taste – a bit more anything quite frankly – turn to imported beers. Typically these include the big name brands, such as Heineken, Stella Artois and Budweiser.
However, there are also a growing number of bars and supermarkets in São Paulo (not sure about elsewhere in Brazil) that specialise in offering imported microbrews from the UK, Europe and elsewhere. Unfortunately, they tend to be quite expensive (I refer you again to my post on imports).
But, Brazilians needn’t so readily dismiss what’s being produced within their own borders, for over the past ten years or so there has been a steady growth in the number of Brazilian microbreweries – numbered now at over one hundred. Using decent ingredients and with a bit of love shown to the brewing process, the result is that Brazilian microbreweries now produce a range of tasty, good quality beers.
And dear reader, to help highlight some of these beers I will, just for you, put myself through the strenuous task of tasting and showcasing a new Brazilian beer each week on the blog, as well as introducing some of the breweries that I discover – starting this week with Eisenbahn, which I visited in January.
If you have any particular beers that you think deserve recognition (i.e. that I should taste) then please let me know.