Tastings School - Drinking cerveja in the sun

Tastings School

From basics to more advanced topics, the Beer School has all the info to expand your knowledge and enjoyment of your beers, ales and lagers.


Drinking cerveja in the sun

Joe Strange goes beer hunting in Lisbon, which isn't as difficult as you might think.

Dutch but more than the Swiss, and not bad for a wine country. (One can’t help but wonder if that would inch upward if there was better stuff to drink).

You can join the Portuguese in their love affair with beer at any of several local cervejarias (beer halls). Lager and seafood are the attractions at these unique restaurants, which often feature beautiful tile work known as azulejo. One of the most popular among tourists, thanks to its mention in every guidebook, is the Cervejaria da Trindade. It’s worth a visit for the ambiance, but don’t stay long.

Neither the food nor service are worth mentioning. The beers are Sagres, the main Centralcer brand. If you must have one try the Bohemia, whose malty character might remind you of a passable German Märzen.

Luckily it gets better. Our next destination is the Carnaxide location of Cervejeira Lusitana, a chain of 10 pubs that dot the Lisbon metro area. This one is in a busy working suburb best reached by taxi. Look for the pub’s logo on a large building looming over the petrol stations and parking lots. Inside the space is slick, airy and modern. There’s some brewing equipment in the corner for show.

In fact Lusitana once brewed its own beer at Carnaxide, but that’s no longer the case. The 10-year-old chain says that UNICER now makes the beer – as much as 12,000 hectolitres yearly – according to the original recipes. As it turns out, they’re not half bad. And they get better when you drink them with the typical Portuguese dishes. No wonder the place is packed at lunch.

Lusitana makes a pils, an amber, and a “stout” that’s more like a dark lager or Schwarzbier. All are agreeable, thirstquenching lightweights. The highlights for me are two German-style wheat beers, one pale and one dark. While possibly bottom-fermented, both offer more character and slightly more body than the rest. The golden Weiss comes into its own next to some bacalhau – this creamy and hearty dish of cod and potatoes finds a palate-scrubbing counterpoint in the light, lemony beer. Then the Weizendunkel takes it up a notch with a bit of caramel sweetness.

They don’t get many tourists out in Carnaxide, but for me they manage to produce a speedy waitress who speaks English. After watching me sample all the beers and a few different dishes, she takes the initiative and offers to call me a cab.

Smart girl. She’s seen our type of idiot before. By the way, you need not drive to the suburbs to find a Lusitana pub.

The most central location, more convenient to hotels and Metro, might be Picoas Plaza near Parque Eduardo VII. For lots of boats and seaside peace and quiet try the Lusitana out at Cascais Marina. Finally, there’s one inside the Vasco de Gama shopping mall – very near our next destination.

On we go, then, to the República da Cerveja. The “Beer Republic” is perched on the Tagus riverfront in the Parque das Nações, northeast of the center. This was a run-down industrial complex before an ambitious project to reclaim it and host the 1998 World’s Fair.

Now it’s a recreational area loaded with shopping, cafés, cable car rides and an Oceanarium. To get there take the Metro to the end of the red line, Oriente. Send the kids off to play and find the pub.

Like Lusitana, República is big and modern but has added charm thanks to several tables with a view of the water. The place may have found some inspiration from American brewpubs, but again there is no brewing here – this is another UNICER outfit. In fact it may be a sort of laboratory for the company’s stranger ideas; you won’t find these beers in a Portuguese supermarket. A chalkboard in the corner tells you what’s on tap. Or read all about it in the colourful newspaper that serves as the pub’s menu.

República’s range includes a pale lager, an allmalt lager, and a vaguely Kölsch-like spring beer.

After that things get manlier (oi! – Ed). There’s the sweetish and malty Bock of 6.8% ABV, the subtly smoky Malte de Whisky at 8%, and the mildly bitter Natal, another strong one at 8%. These are flavourful lagers that put hair on your chest. Not entirely balanced, maybe, but a nice change in a land full of quaffers. There is one more beer here – another refreshing Weiss that is probably bottomfermented.

It’s similar to the one at Lusitana and makes a perfect match for the grilled fish.

Another winning pairing here is that amber-coloured, pure-malt lager with a trio of strange but tasty artisanal sausages. Hey, at least the sausage is handcrafted.

So, we’ve satisfied our thirst for beer.

Now we can move on to some real local culture: ginjinha. This typical Lisbon drink is a sweetish brandy-like liquor made from fermented sour cherries. At a hole in the wall called A Ginjinha in the city centre, you can have a shot of the stuff for a paltry €1. Note cherries in the bottom of the cup; guidebooks warn us not to eat them for fear of sickness or hallucination. Unable to resist a dare, we gulp them down with no ill effects. Yet.

Then we’re off to Lisbon’s chapter of the Port and Douro Wine Institute. This is a small and classy lounge with armchairs and a fireplace. The barman might not speak English but the menu does, a little.

It tells you stories about each style and offers a wide range of vintages and prices.

The place is not to be missed by any beverage enthusiast.

And while you sit there in an armchair, swirling your port, you can think about all the used wine barrels that must be sitting around this country. What sort of ale could a creative Portuguese brewer age in those things? In what sort of beer would he steep those sour ginja cherries?

What sort of person would dare to open up a real brewpub here? They’d probably have a bit of idiot in them. Let’s hope they’re out there, somewhere, making their idiot plans. Then let’s all go there and bring them lots of idiot business.

Passeio das Tágides, Pav. SS – 04
1990–280 Lisboa
Tel: +351 21 892 25 90
2795-505 Carnaxide-Oeiras
Tel: +351 21 425 93 50
Edificio Europa
1070-158 Lisboa
Tel: +351 21 017 43 78
C.C. Colombo, Loja 2086
1500-392 Lisboa
Tel: +351 21 715 14 24
Edificio Vasco de Gama, Loja 3029
1990 Lisboa
Tel: +351 21 895 80 71
Almada Forum, Loja 301
2810-500 Almada
C.C. Continente Amadora, Loja 36
2720 Amadora-Lisboa
Tel: +351 21 418 75 25
Cascais Shopping, Loja 1090
2645-543 Alcabideche
Tel: +351 21 469 39 84
2750-800 Cascais
Tel: +351 21 484 79 81
R. Viriato 13, Loja H 0.1
1050-227 Lisboa
Tel: +351 21 316 02 83
7000-508 Évora
Tel: +351 26 674 17 77
Loja 12, 1070-169 Lisboa
Tel: +351 21 093 87 21
1200-303 Lisboa
Tel: +351 21 342 35 06
060_064_journeys_BW22.qxp 16/1/09 15:08 Page 64