Portugal may be known for its abundance of wines, but beer also has a centuries-old history here, with production rooted in local traditions. It’s a story that has quietly been forgotten, but it seems like now is the right moment for a revival.
Portugal’s beer landscape has since the 1940s been dominated by the Sagres-Super Bock duopoly, whose common lagers are nothing to write home about. Created out of a merger between previously competing associations, these two new brands (grouped under Central de Cervejas e Unicer) had a huge impact on Portuguese beer habits. The new industrial focus on a simple and standard product effectively wiped out hyper-local hops culture.
“Before that point, in many remote parts of the country, people were making beer at home with their specific methods and ingredients – a tradition that was lost also due to the cheap price of the industrial beer,” says Rui, beer connoisseur and co-owner of Cerveteca, one of the few places in Lisbon specializing in beer. In its bar, located on the corner of one of the quietest gardens you can find in the city center, it is possible to choose from more than 100 varieties of craft beer, many from Scandinavia, Belgium or the US, but some also from Portugal, including Dois Corvos, made in a former wine factory in the eastern Lisbon neighborhood of Marvila, or Lx Beer, produced in 30 varieties. Though it is doubtful that they will change the historically unchallenged leadership of the two national brands, a small but growing galaxy of micro-breweries is investing in diversity, experimenting in new (and old) flavors.
Opened in 2014, Cerveteca is for those who want the right beer for the right moment; aside from the intriguing collection on the shelves, the bar has 12 taps from which ever-changing varieties of ales are poured, from winter beers that are darker and have a stronger taste, with spices such as cinnamon, cardamom or anise, to summer beers, normally lighter, fruity and fresher (but never too cold, according to Rui, who insists that this deadens the flavor).
Although Rui learned how to homebrew beer when he was living in Barcelona, a solid trend in that city for quite a while now, in Lisbon, he couldn’t sell his own product even if he wanted to. Old legislation allows for craft beer to be sold in one specific neighborhood of Lisbon’s city center, with the urban plan of the capital still limiting the production to the area around Rua da Trinidade (close to downton Rossio). The Trinidade factory – one of the first to produce beer in Lisbon – was later integrated into Central de Cervejas.
“This measure was a result of political pressure from the major companies, which wanted to control the market of beer production, also impeding restaurants in the capital who were crafting their own beer,” Rui says.
It makes sense then that the only brewpub in the city that can sell its own beer is located in this area. Duque, which opened in 2016 along the scenic steps that connect Rossio to Bairro Alto, is a welcoming venue serving pilsner, lager, IPA, porter, Russian imperial stout, Belgian brown ale and other beers. The menu has nine draft options, including some of Duque’s own brews, as well as many options in bottles. It’s a great place to crack one open and taste some of Portugal’s newfound heritage.
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