The beer culture in the Azores is fairly limited. That’s not to say that there isn’t plenty of beer being consumed on the islands or that there isn’t a beer history there. But you won’t easily find any sign of craft or artisanal breweries or brewing. Beer in Portugal in general has a long history, going back to the time of the Roman empire and Portugal makes alot of beer for its size. A couple of factors led to there being few breweries though — one factor was the historic discouragement of beer brewing and consumption attributable to powerful wine interests; the other factor was the nationalization and consolidation of brewery businesses after the 1974 military coup. Reprivatization did not occur until the 1990s. The result has been that the vast majority of the beer market is now controlled by just a couple of large brewery companies. In recent years, there is a growing craft brewing industry on mainland Portugal (read about my craft beer adventures in Lisbon here) but not so much in the Azores.
Preparing for my visit, I made contact with an Azorean named Rui Leal by finding his entertaining beer blog called Cerveja e Tremoço. Rui told me ‘craft beer movement’ is still in it’s early days in the Azores. There is one large, commercial brewer on San Miguel Island called Fábrica Cervejas e Refrigerantes João Melo Abreu. In addition, there are home brewers, but only one small, artisanal brewery called Cerveja Brianda (Terceira Island) currently producing for public sale.
Rui himself is working on a project to stand up his own artisanal brewery he calls “Quinto Toiro” (www.quintotoiro.pt) also on Terceira Island but he tells me he is somewhat of a perfectionist so he is not trying to rush it. “The more I try good beer (for the blog and research), the more demanding I get with my recipes.”
It wasn’t uncommon In the Azores when striking up a beerversation to hear people bemoaning the narrow range of offerings. The two big mainland brands Superbock (Carlsberg affiliate) and Sagres (Heineken affiliate) are found everywhere in the form of what I would call macro-lagers. Not bad beers in my estimation after a hike in the warm, sunny climate but beer snobs and craft beer fanatics definitely turn their noses up at these.
The Mello Abreu brewery in central Ponta Delgada on Sao Miguel Island, founded in 1893, is the local brew and their main offering is called Especial — a drinkable macro lager. Nothing “especial” but a fine thirst quencher after a day of hiking. Another Melo Abreu beer is a Schwarzbier-style offering called Munich — this is a malty, dark beer with light sweetness, bittering, and carbonation. There is also a non-alcoholic dark beer (Preta Doce) that I wouldn’t recommend (hard to drink – strangely sweet).
The Melo Abreu brewery buildings and grounds look fairly shabby on the outside although a nice taproom called Cervejaria Melo Abreu provides the public face for visitors. Melo Abreu also appears to be a big producer of soda pops. I became enamored of one called Laranjada – a malty tasting orange soda. This was nice on a hike for making a radler or shandy or just on its own. It was not uncommon to see beer and soda mixed. Beer with lemon soda is called a radler, with 7-up – ‘panache’, with Coca-Cola – ‘diesel’, or with gooseberry – ‘tango’.
A common Portuguese snack to accompany a cold one is ‘tremoço’ which is a small bowl of brined lupini beans. I quickly learned how to separate the edible part of the bean from the husk but gently squeezing the bean between my back teeth and I have to admit I got a little hooked on the beer and tremoco combo. I have successfully searched out sources for tremoco back home.
A traditional tasca is a great place to search out for pairings of hearty foods and beer or wine. I’ve included a few pictures in the gallery below from a tasca called Tasca in the old part of Ponta Delgada on Sao Miguel Island. The pairing of their fava bean and pork shoulder stew with rough bread and a Melo Abreu Munich was quite nice! If you are lucky, you may even be able to catch a Fado performance … but that’s a whole ‘nother story.