quinta-feira, 14 de janeiro de 2010

Brazilian Battle of the Beers

Brazilian Battle of the Beers
January 11, 3:35 AM
Beer Examiner
Charlie Papazian

Brazil is not exactly a beer drinker’s paradise. It is home of some of the biggest selling beer brands in the world and original home of the current management of the world’s largest brewing company, Anheuser-Busch Inbev. Brazilians love what they have grown to know as beer.
What is beer in Brazil? To 99.99% of the beer drinking market it is not just light lager. It is very very light lager that reigns in the minds of Brazilians as simple, mindless and convivial refreshment. Always served ice cold. There is not other way to enjoy it.
Most of the share of beer mind, beer market and access to it is locked up by Anheuser-Busch Inbev with mega brands such as Skol and Brahma and with diminished brands such as the once competitive (now owned by Anheuser-Busch Inbev) Antarctica. Brazilian brewed and formulated Stella Artois is positioned as an import; higher priced “premium” brands such as Bohemia also fill what little shelf and bar space there is after Brahma and Skol have had their play.

There are about 80 craft “microbreweries” in Brazil according to estimates by some of the leading craft brewers and beer enthusiasts. Most are independent, but a few such as Devassa, Baden Baden and Eisenbahn have recently been bought by Schincariol, a relatively small brewery in Brazilian terms, producing millions of barrels of their flagship lagers.
There are some Brazilian beer enthusiasts, homebrewers and craft brewers that want to make a little room in the lives of Brazilians for what they have grown to love as beer. More about my recent visit with Brazilian craft beer enthusiasm, homebrewing and craft brewers in a future article.

For now I, as most Brazilians, am stuck with the choices available. Well, I shouldn’t exactly use the word “choice.” It is far from “choice.” If you don’t like very very light sweet tasting pale cereal and adjunct lager you’ll have to “refresh” yourself with water or the national drink, caipirinha, a cocktail made with cachaça (a Brazilian rum), ice, sugar and lime that will knock you on your butt. As they say liquor is quicker; not exactly refreshment but for the same price as a mega beer brand, water and cocktails are about the same price.
Battle of the Beers – Brazil

These 5 beers were bought off the floor shelves at a large Northeastern supermarket. Later chilled cold and tasted side by side. All are cereal/sugar adjunct light lagers and are available throughout Brazil. All were in cans except Stella Artois. All beers were very very pale in color.

Antarctica - (brewed by Anheuser-Busch Inbev) - Clean, not complex. An infinitesimal perception of more bitterness than Skol and Brahma, but it would be hard to characterize this by saying “hop bitterness.” Because of slightly more bitter bite Antarctica is the most refreshing. Best balanced of these 4 mega brand cereal light lagers.

Skol –The sweetest of these 5 beers. Notably fruity/winey and sweet in aroma and flavor. Aftertaste is satiating with sweet aftertaste turning sour after one beer.

Nova Schin (Schinchariol ) – This light lager is close behind in bitterness to Antarctica, but not by much; one might even say they seem equal. Overall character mirrored other mega brands.

Brahma – Mighty Brahma was the flagship brand of the original company, now significantly replaced by Skol in the marketplace. This beer was slightly smoky in character. It had infinitesimally “more” flavor and offered a tiny bit more refreshment than Skol in my opinion.

Stella Artois – Originally a Belgian made light lager it is also now made in Brazil. It’s not a mega brand but positioned as a fancy import in green bottles. This sample was skunky in aroma (light struck) and flavor. More bitter than any of the above mega brands. What bitterness is perceived is harsh, mostly likely due to exposure to light on supermarket shelves. Overall balance lingers, mostly of skunk bitterness. A bottle of Stella purchased at a restaurant in Belo Horizonte was not light struck and overall balance was very sweet. Unusually milder and sweeter than European and American samples of Stella Artois I recall tasting. The Belo Horizonte beer was similar to other mega brands in character.
Additional observation. Bohemia, a brand owned by Anheuser-Busch Inbev was once an independent brewery, with a reputation among beer enthusiasts as being brewed closer to the pilsener tradition of Germany. It is sold for a higher price than the mega brands; positioned as a super premium brand. There are sweet banana fruity German like wheat variations and dark versions of the brand. But the variations are hard to find except at specialty bars in the south of Brazil. The light lager was mild, sweet and had very little if any perceived hop qualities. Not distinct from other megabrands.

Kaiser beer is also a megabrand light lager. Occasionally availble at stores and rarely available at restaurants (at least in the nort). It's bitterness levels begin to approach Antarctica and Schinc, but once again it's not a beer you could remotely qualify as having hop character.
All of the above seemed to satiate my palate quickly with a sweet aftertaste that turned sour when attempting to enjoy more than one.

Most of the best beaches are in the north of Brazil. Most of the better beer choices are in the south. Enjoying a choice of beer on the beaches of Brazil is not what tourists locals can expect. For the most part the choice is Skol in cans or Skol in 600 ml bottles.
Thirst for variety and fresh craft beers will persist for years to come, but there is a glimmer hope. Side by side, homebrewers, beer enthusiasts and small craft brewers are trying to change the scene against almost unbeatable odds. More to come…

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