The Portuguese Bar Scene
Until very recently, you would have found beer enthusiasts struggling to muster much hype about beer in Portugal’s brewing scene, which in nearly all bars and pubs revolves around drinking Super Bock (pap) and Sagres (only marginally better) while occasionally choosing imported beer from Germany, Belgium and England. Even the Beer Museum in Lisbon struggles to impress with either the heritage or the current state of play for Portuguese beer (though their own brew is actually pretty good, a thick Vienna style lager). If you can find Sagres Bohemia on tap anywhere (relatively unlikely) hang around as that’s as good as it will generally get.
Beer is never going to be as big as wine or port, but I have been assured they are making some progress towards micro-brewing, very much a niche market at the moment but it’s clear these pockets of resistance will keep growing, because of how few Portuguese are switched on to any of the potential flavours and styles, and simply don’t associate it with anything else than mild refreshment on a hot day, or something to accompany a cig and a football match (though the latter probably applies to most European countries).
In the meantime there is still a reasonable amount to enjoy about the home spun nature of a lot of bars, many of which carry the near ubiquitous title “Cervejaria“. Don’t get over excited though! Although this signals beer will be on offer, get read for more Sagres and Super Bock.
In terms of atmosphere the traditional Fado bars are like enjoying a performance in someone’s kitchen or living room. What they are currently losing in beer choices they are compensating for in raw authenticity and the folk tradition of being entertained in a local pub. There’s a long way to go for beer, and it remains to be seen if the inevitable puncture through the glass ceiling by aggressively marketed craft beer keeps the vitality and down to earth nature of the bar scene or goes down the same soulless exposed industrial chic look.
- 2018 Update: Porto’s bar scene has expanded to incorporate craft beer, and likewise Super Bock’s parent brewers have brought out a series of craft style beers to try and corner the market. An interesting moment for Portugal but certainly late to the party.