Brazilian beer: opinion of an American tourist
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I read this message on another board. It was written by an American tourist who had been in Brazil a few times, and was trying to bring his point of view to other fellow travellers. Prices refer to late 2004.
"I'll give you the lowdown on beer in Brazil, since it sounds like you are still figuring the bar scene out. As you discovered, Brazilians are a lot more open and social than Americans. Once you learn Portuguese, you will find you can walk into virtually any bar in the country by yourself and walk out with a bunch of new friends. Its never hard to find a drinking buddy in Brazil.
The vast majority of all the beer drunk in Brazil is out of the large 600 ml (about 21 1/2 oz) bottle you discovered. Ask for a "garrafa" of cerveja. The custom is for everyone at the table to drink out of little 6-oz glasses from the same bottle. The reason for this (besides being social) is that Brazilians are nuts for super-cold beer. When a Brazilian orders a beer "bem gelada," he expects it to be served below freezing temperature. Beer this cold warms up fast, so everyone pours from the same bottle, and then orders a new cold one straight from the fridge.
The standard 12 oz bottles are called "longnecks" just like in the US. (although they pronounce it Brazilian-style "long-i-neck-eh"). Sometimes 12 oz cans, "latas", are available, but are not as common. I've seen cans more at outdoor parties, "blocos" (block parties), the beach and other places where portability and disposability are issues. Most Brasilians don't want to go out to a bar and drink canned beer, though.
Most lower end bars serve only garrafas. These bars, with their plastic tables and chairs out on the sidwalk can be found in every neighborhood in every town in Brazil. Mid-scale bars, often indoors and equiped with a little nicer decor, may serve both garrafa and longneck. Upscale bars and boates usually only serve longnecks. The garrafa is generally cheaper per ounce than a longneck, which explains why they are nearly universal at the lower end bars. A typical price at a street bar for a garrafa is about R$2.50 (sometimes as low as R$1.95), while a longneck will usually run about R$1.50 at a mid-scale bar, or up to R$4.00 at a boate or upscale bar.
Brazilians drink a light pilsner type beer almost exclusively. Dark beers, ales, and more flavorful, hoppy beers are very much in the minority. To a beer aficionado, Brazil is a vast desert wasteland. The most popular pilsner in Rio/SP area is, by far, Skol. Its a reasonably drinkable brew. I find Brahma, another very common beer, equal to Skol. Bohemme is decent too. Antarctica tastes very watered down to me. Nova Schin, Lokal and the rest of the cheap beers, in my book, are good for nothing but a hangover and a case of the beer shits. Basically, though, they are all just standard pilsners like Miller or Icehouse here in the States.
The most common dark beer around is Caracu. I love dark beer, but Caracu is way too sweet and not hoppy enough for my taste. Even sweeter is a dark beer called Maltzbier -- I'm talking sweeter than Coca Cola here. The best dark beers in the Rio area are usually imported from Europe.
The chope (also spelled chopp sometimes) is not a brand. "Chope" is Brazilian for draft beer, as opposed to "cerveja", which is always bottled. Unlike here in the States, you don't often find the same brand name available in both draft and bottle. My Brazilian friends insist that chope is brewed completely different from cerveja. I don't buy it, but I got tired of arguing with them on the subject. Mostly you don't order chope by brand name. Most bars, if they have chope, will only have one kind of light chope and maybe one kind of dark chope. Ask for "chope claro" if you want a light beer, and "chope escuro" if you want dark.
My opinion is the same as yours that chope usually is a bit better than the average cerveja. However, I have found that most places usually don't serve their chope as cold as the cerveja, and chope often costs over twice as much as cerveja in the garrafa. After a time in Brazil, I developed a taste for the stupid-cold beer that Brasileiros love so much, so I usually order the cerveja -- as long as its really "bem gelada."
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