Monday, February 20, 2012

[A Beer a Day] The American Adjunct Lagers of Portugal: Super Bock vs. Sagres

If one thing the USA should be given credit for, its the ability to brusquely take the ideas of others and jackknife it into a niche, no matter how laborious, formulaic, or manipulative it may be.  I can't go so far as to say that we don't improve the shit out of many of these things, but often we strut around like we're innovators of the earth and fail to acknowledge predecessors.  I don't know how the Germans, Czechs, and Belgians felt when we finally decided that we no longer needed their expertise in order to produce their crafts pertaining to brewing, but I imagine it was a pretty sour walk home.  They were, and always will be, the masters.  And we will always be the disciples.

Only recently have we decided to start giving our sources credit for the ideas we've trademarked under our system of legal charters.  Where once Budweiser, Coors, et al brewed "American beer", we can now find shelves upon shelves of proper homage to the motherland in the form of Czech Pilsners, German Rauchbiers, and Belgian Quads -- all brewed and labeled right here in the United States -- to name a few.  For that, I'm proud of our small brewers for honoring their heritage, while InBev and MillerCoors continue to browbeat us with patriotic drivel.  This is why the perception of American brewing is so poorly regarded worldwide, when -- in large part to small craft -- we have augmented our philosophies to align with a more unified, universal beer culture.

I'll tell you something odd about visiting Europe (and I'll talk later someday about the same feeling I had in South America), is that their beer culture is not nearly as berserk as I expected it to be, and not nearly as zealous as it is here in America at the moment.  They're like Oscar Robertson sleeping their way to another triple double, while we are the Jeremy Lins of the beer world, getting randy about a crossover layup.

When Melissa and I traveled to Portugal for our honeymoon, I was surprised -- but not really -- that a party culture like Lisbon and an artisan culture like Porto drank beer modeled after American rubbish.  I guess in mass amounts, people will find that their endgame is to get painted, and I can totally respect that.  However, I am really bewildered that they would look 4,200 miles across the Atlantic to St. Louis for macro inspiration, when the very brewers that beget American brewing in the first place lay less than a quarter of that distance to the east.

I totally subscribe to the drink-and-let-drink philosophy, and I've certainly imbibed on The Big Three with pleasure (and then, everyone has a favorite local for mid-week drinking -- here in Texas, it's Lone Star/Pearl Light).  I'll tell you what, go to Billy Bob's in Ft. Worth or a Longhorns tailgate on a Saturday night, and tell me that this Lone Star Beer you are drinking is not the best thing you've ever tasted.  Boozing is a lot like real estate: Location, Location, Location.

When some of the guys and I were in Argentina, back before the Malbec craze took over every shitty Real Housewives Wine Bar from Scottsdale to The Cape, we drank a bottle of wine at La Cabrera that had to be the best tasting fermented grape juice on the planet.  Didn't matter what the price was, or the vintage, and I barely remember what it was called -- but what I did know was that between four dapper dudes, consumed with excitement, and sitting at one of the best steakhouses to have ever existed, this was the best fucking wine on earth.

And so it brings me to point of this post:  the two giants of Portuguese brewing -- Super Bock and Sagres.  This is sort of like scrutinizing Miller vs. Bud -- and it is because those are two of the biggest brands in the country -- but relaying back to one of my prior points: nothing tastes better with crawfish in April than a Pearl Light.  Judging beer like this is to analyze the ambiance, the situation, your surroundings; in other words, the full experience.

Super Bock Lager | Unicer Brewing | Le├ža do Balio, POR
This is Super Bock, brewed just outside of Porto -- a region known more for wine (and if I ever start a wine weblog, I will begin with my undying love for the entirely overlooked Portuguese wine industry) than for beer.  However, because Porto is to Portugal what Boston is to the United States, there is a very pleasant blend of the industry class mixed with the creative class, and therefore, there needs to be an accessible beer for both.  Super Bock is just that nice beer to appease this spectrum, and besides, both sets are pairing it with a Francesinha anyway -- because food and beer are the great uniters.

This particular glass of Super Bock -- which is not even a bock beer at all -- was enjoyed, ironically speaking, on the 4th of July at The Casa de Casal de Loivos in the Duoro region of Portugal overlooking hillsides upon hillsides of vineyards.  Just married, feeling pretty damn good about life, a chilly pool on a warm day at the top of the earth, I had to rate this American-style lager a perfect ten.  How could I not?

ABV: 5.6%
Acquired: And I'm being honest here: I pushed a little poolside button, and a traditionally dressed Portuguese chambermaid brought me this exact set-up on a silver platter.  Like I said, the full experience.

Sagres Lager | Sociedade Central de Cervejas | Vialonga, POR
This is Sagres, brewed just outside of Lisbon in a region known for getting downright festive on the most mundane of nights.  Lisboetas are essentially the Chicagoans to Porto's Boston.  Super, super friendly people who drink perpetually and like to talk to strangers.  In the part of town called Bairro Alto, a maze of Portuguese bars called tascas stretch for dozens of confusing blocks.  Seriously, its like the Legend of Zelda, and there was no use trying to find a specifically-researched bar, or one you just left and wanted to return to.  Also, you can drink outside as you walk or loiter in the streets, which are wide enough for a only Smart Car at best -- so the mass of people milling about make one street look like the next.  It's like Mardi Gras in New Orleans if Mardi Gras was held on random Tuesdays in the summertime.

At this point of the night, we've bounced around several tascas, and happen upon one that I recognized from the recommendation of several locals: Tasca do Chico.  There is fado and there are footy scarves.  I'm fucking relishing each moment in here.  I snap a pic of my goblet and the woman behind the tiny bar hands me a plastic cup to take my beer onto the street, whereupon I am promptly offered a trunk-load of pot to purchase.  I pass.  The beer is cold and rich, and not like anything mass-produced in America at all.

Although miles -- literally/figuratively/etc -- from the experience at Casa de Casal, it was still a wildly fun night that ended in a very small bar drinking Sagres and being swallowed by an entire bar doing freestyle fado. Thus, ...

ABV: 5.1%
Acquired: Tasca do Chico, Lisbon, POR


Anonymous said...

Just a note: it's not "Barrio Alto", it's "Bairro Alto". Barrio doesn't exist in Portuguese Language.It is a Spanish Word. And Portugal IS NOT Spain (...yet...).

Anonymous said...

Just another note: in last paragraph, it's not "Sagreses", it's just Sagres. If you where trying to use plural to refer to several Sagres, well, it doesn't exist. Either one or ten, the word is always Sagres.

Eric said...

Thanks for the notes. I will correct those. Thank you for reading! Are you Portuguese? Can't wait to go back and drink more Sagres!

Anonymous said...

Yes,I'm Portuguese. Was just googling around (aka, wasting life time), then somehow ended up looking for how foreigners rate Portuguese beer (not very well, from what I could found, the best seems to be the Czeck, Belgian & German are ok) and your blog was placed 3rd in the search. I will come around every once in a while to take a look. Keepup the (hard) work :)

Ana Moreira said...

Eric: most importanly, you should be eating Lupini beans when drinking your Sagres or Super Bock beer. In Portugal, Lupini beans are called Temocos (c sounds like an s)...its salty, yummy, brininess...nothing goes better with Portuguese beer than Tremocos! Ok, our sausage, our bread, our cheeses, our olives, our Frango Chourasco (portuguese bbq chicken)...damn it, pretty much all Porguese food is great with those beers and the wine in Portugal is DELISH! -Ana