By now the 2016 Summer Olympics are in full swing and Team America is most certainly kicking some major ass in Rio de Janiero, Brazil. Over the past few days, you have no doubt been barraged with puff pieces during Olympic broadcasts covering the local customs of Brazil’s hardest partying region. Scenes of glistening bodies on Rio’s infamous beaches, samba dancing and copious drinking are surely gracing your television screen making the tropical paradise south of the border seem even more glamorous and desirable for tourism.
What they are likely not telling you is that Brazil is the world’s third largest beer market consuming 3.5 billion gallons of beer annually – that’s more than 62 gallons of beer per capita.
Brewing in Brazil has a long history that dates back to the 1830s when German immigrated to the South American wonderland seeking new opportunities and prosperity. Naturally, the beer-loving Bavarians brought with them a thirst for the frosty beverage and the skills needed to quench that thirst. In 1853, Bohemia Lager began production and became the first mass-marketed brew in the city of Petropolis, Rio de Janiero. Bohemia, now under the ownership umbrella of Anheuser-Busch/InBev, lays claim to being the oldest beer still brewed in Brazil. Later, in the 1880s, Antarctica and Brahma lagers joined Bohemia and together the three brews claimed nearly 98% of the Brazilian beer market.
As is the case in much of the world, mergers and acquisitions ran rampant in the Brazilian beer market. The majority of the market belongs to AmBev, the owner of the Brahma, Antarctica, Bohemia and Skol brands. Brazil’s largest brewer was formed in 1999 from the merger of the two biggest brands, Brahma and Antarctica. In 2004, Ambev merged with Belgium’s Interbrew to form InBev which merged with Anheuser-Busch in 2008 to form the world’s largest brewer, now known as Anheuser-Busch/InBev.
Brazil’s big beer brands are omnipresent in the countries bars, on its beaches and at barbecues. Brazilians consume these light, refreshing lagers everywhere and at almost any time. According to local custom, they are served on draft in small cups at least half full or more of foam supposedly to keep the beer colder longer – it doesn’t, but who can fight long ingrained custom.
Craft beer is making a slow emergence into the Brazilian beer scene and today Brazil sports a few craft breweries and more are coming online all the time. Sure, in the summer heat of Brazil’s tropical climate, an ice-cold – I mean so cold there is a layer of slush at the top of it – lager is perfect to beat the heat but, more and more, craft brewers are taking that venerable style and amping it up with hops infusions and indigenous fruits.
While mass-produced lagers may remain at the top of the heap in Brazil’s beer market, as in the rest of the world, craft beer is slowly chipping away at that mountain. So, as you watch the rest of the Olympic Games, kick back with a cold Brazilian brew and cheer on your favorite athletes.
A few Brazilian beers you can find locally include:
Xingu Black — Cervejaria Kaiser
Black and silky, this Brazilian beauty is rich with dark, roasty flavors of chocolate and coffee. Enjoy with a Brazilian steak for an unforgettable experience.
Palma Louca Pale Pilsner — Cervejaria Kaiser
A smooth representation of a Brazilian pilsner. Keep this one covered in ice as you enjoy beach volleyball from the Rio Olympics.
Brahma — Companhia Cervejaria Brahma
Pale yellow with light, grassy hops, this typical Brazilian lager is also one of its oldest. Slip on a thong swim suit – guys, too – and head out the beach with this buried in ice.