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In February, the Rio state assembly took an unprecedented measure and passed tax breaks for microbreweries that produce less than 6 million liters of craft beer a year. We don’t actually endorse such foregoing of public funds in a place like Rio, where a recent survey found 28,000 elementary schoolchildren to be illiterate and where a responsible young woman is told in a public health clinic that it will take her four months to get an appointment for an STD test.

But we appreciate the legislation for what it recognizes: that as Brazil takes on greater prominence on the world stage, it’s also doing so at the tap. Weak Antarctica and Brahma beers flow in botequins here as abundantly as sewage into Guanabara Bay (only a third of Rio’s waste is treated). But there are increasing numbers of well-crafted domestic beers out there. We recently assembled a panel of tasters to pick our ten favorite Brazilian cervejas artesanais and found much to like.

All of the beers on this list except for the Amazon Red Ale are from Brazil’s southeast and south, which are the heart of Brazil’s Europeanized culture and bring us such famous German-Brazilians as Gisele Bündchen and Cardinal Dom Odilo Scherer, who was a top candidate for the papacy last year.

Bierbaum Gold Extra Tipo Pilsen, from Treze Tílias, Santa Catarina: Effervescent and deeply amber. Bitter but also with no aftertaste, which is something we sometimes like.

Imperial Ouro Puro Malte, from Trindade, Goiânia: Very malty, with a sour element. Perfumed.

Bamberg Camila Camila Clara Pilsen, from Votorantim in the state of São Paulo: A bit flat, but with a strong finish. “It tastes like a New Englander’s personality,” said frequent Culinary Backstreets consultant Andrew Fishman.

Backer Cerveja Pilsen, from Belo Horizonte, Minas Gerais: Crisp and wheaty. We are partial to all things from Minas, as many a great Rio journalist comes from this neighboring state.

Coruja Extra Strix Lager, from Forquilhinha, Santa Catarina: Lots of carbonation. Refreshing and bitter, though one taster referred to its smell as “skunky.”

Brazilian beer, photo by Nadia SussmanAmazon Beer Red Ale Priprioca, from Belem, Pará: Our low expectations for this beer, which we expected to be a novelty fruit drink, were far exceeded. Priprioca is a root we had only heard of through makeup products (yes, we live in Brazil, but Rio residents are city slickers compared to their countrymen in places like Pará). Herbal and less bitter than a traditional ale.

Baden Baden Red Ale, from Campos do Jordão, São Paulo: Very deep flavor, effervescent. An ale goes against many of the basic qualities cariocas look for in a beer (lightness and crispness, easy drinking), so we give our gringo endorsement to this underdog.

Paulistânia Puro Malte Lager, from Cândido Mote, São Paulo: Zippy crowd pleaser. Pleasantly neither bitter nor sweet. “Almost a little grassy,” says CB photographer Nadia Sussman.

Schmitt Barley Wine, from Porto Alegre, Rio Grande do Sul: Very wheaty, very amber and bitter. We could taste its 8.5% alcohol content – and were pleased.

Eisenbahn Puro Malte Extra Tipo Pale Ale, from Blumenau, Santa Catarina: A gateway IPA. Not as punchy as it could be, but smooth and flavorful. Blumenau hosts what it claims to be the largest Oktoberfest in Latin America, which it backs up with a rather nice chart of liters of beer consumed each year for the past three decades.

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Nadia Sussman

Published on May 06, 2014

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