Beer: Cheers to Brazil

06 November, 2015

Not everything is quite what it seems. Sitting at a terrace table, taking in mountain views, surrounded by thesort of buildings you see dripping with snow on Christmas cards, it would be easy to think you were in Switzerland or southern Germany. The truth is you are some 6,000 miles away. This is not alpine Europe but Latin America, more precisely a town in Brazil just a couple of hours’ drive from the teeming metropolis of São Paulo.

Campos do Jordão is a breath of fresh air – quite literally. This prosperous mountain resort is where the folk from the city come to escape the heat and the smog. They pack up for the weekend and head for the hills, recharging their batteries with a couple of days’ of hiking. The town trades off a Teutonic atmosphere conjured by its collection of gingerbread houses and black-and-white timbered shops and hotels. Not surprisingly, there is plenty of beer drunk here, although not necessarily of the foamy, lederhosen variety you might expect. For Campos do Jordão is the home of Baden Baden brewery, the place where they brew the International Beer Challenge’s supreme champion beer.

The story begins 30 years ago, with the opening of a German-style tavern in the town. Built on three storeys, it is a vast but comfortable mix of restaurant and beer hall and does a roaring trade. In 1999, the owners decided they needed to add a brewery and Baden Baden was born. It is housed just across town in an attractive chalet-style building that is, like its parent pub, deceptively spacious. It wasn’t the first new brewery of the modern era in Brazil, but it was close, dispatching its first beers only four years after the pioneer, DaDoBier. Today, the pub and brewery are separate businesses, the latter being sold to a giant Brazilian brewer and soft-drink maker in 2007, which in turn sold it to Kirin of Japan four years later.

CLINICAL EFFICIENCY

Today, the brewery has an air of clinical efficiency. With a capacity of only 20hl, it retains the innovative flexibility of a small brewery and still has the feel of a hands-on operation. But Kirin has brought with it improved practices that have seen the quality of the beer, according to its brewers, significantly improve. The fact that Baden Baden claimed two of the trophies at this year’s IBC would seem to support that assertion.

They brew no fewer than 13 beers here, from an American-style lager called Cristal to a doppelbock called Celebration and a US-type barley wine labelled Red Ale. All are impressive in their own way, although the two IBC champions shine out.

The first is Bock, filled with chocolate and coffee notes, which was judged Best Lager above 5%; the second is Witbier, a polished take on the Belgian wheat beer style that wowed judges with its finely balanced perfumed and fruit flavours. They didn’t just give it the Best Wheat Beer award – they said it was the best beer in the whole competition.

Baden Baden’s beers are aimed at the gourmet market in Brazil. Served in generous 60cl bottles, they are skilfully put together, offering harmonious flavours rather than strident notes, each label suggesting food-pairing ideas.

The brewery is just one facet of the Kirin operation in Brazil. The Japanese company’s headquarters here lie in the town of Itu, to the north west of São Paulo. It’s an enormous complex, employing 2,000 people and supported by its own fire station and medical centre. Here they brew Schincariol, the easy-drinking lager the business was built on before Kirin arrived. It’s a huge seller. They also brew some of the Baden Baden beers that have outgrown the original brewery, and do the same for a few beers that are sold under the Eisenbahn name.

BEST-KNOWN CRAFT

Eisenbahn is probably the best-known Brazilian craft beer maker. Founded in 2002 by Juliano and Bruno Mendes and their father Jarbas, the brewery is based in Blumenau, another German-influenced part of the country, and it, too, was acquired by the makers of Schincariol.

That was in 2008, again before the Kirin takeover. Juliano is still closely involved as a consultant, German brewmaster Gerhard Beutling remains at the helm, and the Eisenbahn range keeps on growing. Highlights include a smoky but not too medicinal Rauchbier, a right-on-the-mark Weizen, loaded with banana, bubblegum and vanilla notes, and an impressive Oktoberfest beer. Eisenbahn, too, has a strong record in the IBC, winning gold this year for its Vienna lager, 5 Anos, and doing even better by claiming the overall Best Lager trophy last year for its Dunkel.

But the Brazilian beer renaissance is not confined to the Kirin group, a fact that has not bypassed the world’s biggest brewer. This year has seen AB-Inbev acquire both the Wäls brewery, whose beers also impressed IBC judges, and the Colorado brewery. Others remain independent and are thriving. Bierland, like Eisenbahn based in Blumenau, is another regular winner in the IBC, this year picking up a haul of medals that guaranteed it the title of South American Brewer of the Year.

The next stage – for all these companies – is export. It’s a dog-eat-dog world but Brazilian breweries definitely have the quality and style to succeed in an international environment.




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