My entire knowledge of Portuguese beer comes from frequent trips to Nandos. In fact, the first beer I ever bought (underage) was in the Nandos on Edgware High Street. But if my articles on Polish and Mexican beer have taught me anything, there is a lot more to beer in Portugal than just that.
The two most famous beers in Portugal are Sagres (brewed by Sociedade Central de Cervejas) and Super Bok (brewed by The Super Bok Group). These two breweries control 90% of the beer market in Portugal. There are several smaller breweries in Portugal and many craft breweries. Pale lager is by far the most commonly drunk beer in Portugal.
In this article, I am going to take you through a brief history of Portugal and talk about how it has affected beer. I will name some of the best beers in Portugal, before looking at the fast-growing craft beer industry.
For the most part, beer in Portugal can be split into two groups. You are either drinking a Sagres beer or a Super Bok. There are several varieties of each, but they all come from the same two breweries.
While there are some smaller, breweries out there such as the Madeira Brewery (which is responsible for Coral beer) they are far behind the other two. Craft beer is becoming more and more popular, but it is still a drop in the ocean compared to Sagres and Super Bok.
It is important to remember that Portugal is not a big beer-drinking country. According to statista.com, the Portuguese drink 51 litres of beer per capita. This is one of the lowest amounts in Europe. As with Spain, France, and Italy, this is more down to Portugal being a big wine producer.
The history of Portugal is inextricably linked to the history of Spain. With the larger country having invaded it several times. For most of the middle ages, Portugal was part of various Muslim empires. Then it won independence and became allies with England. It then created one of the largest Empires of the time, from Brazil to Africa, to India, to Japan. Mostly focused on trade. After being taken over by Spain (again) its empire began to crumble, as other nations took over the territory, and Brazil declared independence.
It was invaded by France during the Peninsular war, then (with Britain) ousted the French as Napoleon’s forces were kicked out of the Iberian peninsular. Portugal actually fought in WWI but after that was taken over by a succession of dictators until revolutionary forces removed them.
I’ve looked at a lot of articles on beer in Portugal. They all appear to start with the statement that there is a long history of beer in Portugal. This is all based on a Roman called Pliney mentioning that tribesmen in Lustiana drank beer. But the truth is that Portugal as a country didn’t exist during Roman times and that there isn’t much of a history of beer in Portugal. Quite the opposite.
For large periods, beer was banned as it was believed that beer would hurt the wine industry of Portugal.
The production and consumption of beer was therefore forbidden, except for foreigners. Beer could only be imported. It could not be produced. But in 1710, King John V also banned the importation of beer, because this drink was considered harmful to the national economy
This has had a huge influence on beer in Portugal. The two main breweries were not founded until the late 19th century. Before that, there were only a handful of small breweries. None of them lasted long. Unlike Mexico, which benefited from the influx of German and Austrian immigrants, Portugal has not been affected by the beer traditions of other nations.
Super Bock was founded in 1890 by Portuguese brewers, and Sociedade Central de Cervejas (brewers of Sagres) was founded in 1934. Again, by Portuguese brewers. The Super Bock group isn’t even exclusively a beer brewery, they sell a lot of wine, and sell several types of water. During the dictatorship, no international beer companies were allowed to operate in Portugal, and the two breweries were both owned by the state. This created a duopoly, which seriously harmed Portuguese beer.
Since the 1960s, beer drinking in Portugal has grown a lot. According to ilovebeer.it beer consumption in the 60s was just 5 litres, now it is 51 litres, so clearly, beer has become a lot more popular.
With just two main breweries, don’t expect this to be a very long list! However, all of the beers that are in this section are great. I don’t want you to get the impression that I don’t like Sagres or Super Bok. I do. It’s just that there isn’t a lot of variety.
Sagres Dark is a Munich-style dark lager (known as a Dünkel). This is as close to stout as you’re going to find in Portugal without going down the craft route. This is a decent beer, that managed to reach the lofty heights of being in both the “Great Beer Guide” by Michael Jackson and the “1001 Beers You Must Try Before You Die” book. Which is a pretty good achievement!
It is odd to find a beer this strong in Portugal, it is even odder to find an Oktoberfest-style beer that is good! Sagres Bohemia is quite sweet, but not overly so with strong caramel flavours. Sagres Bohemia won gold in the 2018 Monde Selection Awards.
As with the Sagres Preta, the Super Bock Stout is not a stout. It is a dark lager. But it is a very good dark lager. If you like your German dark lagers, then you’ll enjoy the Super Bock stout (you’d probably enjoy a German dark lager more though).
There doesn’t seem much point in putting the many pale lagers that Portugal has to offer in this section. They are fine, Super Bock, Sagres, and Coral are not exactly pulling up trees with their lagers. But they don’t have to. If you are living in Portugal, surrounded by glorious sunshine, delicious food, and gorgeous countryside then you don’t need anything more than a nice cold lager. It works. If I was in Portugal today, the first beer I drank would be a Sagres or a Super Bock.
Considering the fact that for the majority of the 20th century there were only two breweries in the whole country, the amount of craft breweries that have opened in Portugal over the last few years is staggering! Here are just a few of them.
Algarve Rock may not have the largest selection of craft beers (just five at the time of writing), but they are well made. You’ve got a stout (a proper stout, not a dark lager), a pale ale, a red ale, a pilsner, and an IPA. None of these beers is particularly adventurous or bold, but there is something to be said for good beer brewed well. Having been to the Algarve ten years ago, I can say that these beers are a welcome addition to the Sagres/Super Bock duopoly.
The first-ever craft brewery in Portugal! Sovina is based in Porto, and due to their website being entirely in Portuguese, that’s all I can tell you! Again, the selection is small. Lager, wheat, amber ale, IPA, stout, or bock. But I couldn’t write about craft beer in Portugal without mentioning the Godfather!
I am going to make a bold guess here: “Letra” is Portuguese for “Letter”. I say this because every beer in their craft-beer range has a different letter. You have “Letra A” which is a blonde ale, “Letra B” which is a Bohemian Ale, then you have C through G. In that there is an oatmeal stout, an IPA, an Imperial stout, an IPA, and a couple of other beers. Letra has been brewing beer since 2013, and though its range is quite small compared to many craft beer breweries, compared to Algarve and Sovina it is practically bursting!
This is the first real craft brewery on this list. That’s not me being unfair to the others. But Musa is much bigger in terms of beer selection and reputation. Their beers are amazingly well designed. All of them named after classic Rock bands, albums, legends, or songs. For example, you’ve got Saison of 69. Which is clever, but gets less clever each time you think about it (bonus points for anyone who gets that lame Simpsons reference).
The website is spectacular, the label design is beautiful. Each beer has its own Spotify playlist on the website. HOW COOL IS THAT? You’ve got session IPAs, Vienna lagers, oat stouts, and multiple collaborations with other brewers (including Letra).
The final craft brewery in this list is Maldita, and it is by far the most successful. Maldita’s barley wine was declared Europe’s best barley wine in 2014 by the World Beer Awards. Their Robust Porter claimed silver in the International Brewing Awards 2015. That said, they only brew three beers: English Barley Wine, Robust Porter, and Bohemian Pilsner. None of these beers are particularly inventive, there isn’t even an IPA! But two of these beers have won international recognition. That’s pretty impressive for a microbrewery.
It would be impossible to name all of the best bars in Portugal. There are too many, and it’s a very subjective subject in any case. So I’m just going to name four bars in Portugal if you like them then great. If your favourite bar isn’t on this list then please comment below and I’ll add it.
This is a combination of a craft beer shop and a craft beer bar based in the historic area of Porto. There is a huge selection of Portuguese and international craft beers, mostly bottles or taps, with seven taps for draught beer.
Quimera (or Chimera in English) is a brewpub that is situated in the Royal tunnels that were built in the 18th century. Those are a lot of ridiculously cool words in just one sentence. They brew their own beers at Quimera, which is pretty awesome. The food is New York deli meets German Oktoberfest, and they will serenade you with traditional Portuguese live music.
Just a very nice craft beer bar in Lisbon with a huge range of craft beers and nice seating. It may not be the best bar in Portugal, but it seems very popular with a great selection of Portuguese craft beers, Belgian beers, and international craft beers.
I’m going to let you in on a little secret. When I write articles of this length, I don’t always do things in order. For example, the “Best Bars in Portugal” section was/is being written after I wrote the “Beer Festivals in Portugal” section. Why? I can’t say, I guess I’m just whimsical. Anyway, while researching the beer festivals, I discovered the Porches craft beer festival (see below). It was set in a Bavarian Beer Hall in the small Portuguese town of Porches.
How cool is that? The beer looks well looked after, as it is German beer you know it is going to be amazing, and it is situated in Portugal which means almost guaranteed sunshine. So I am adding it to my list of best bars in Portugal. Even though it is technically a Biergarten, and I have seen no reviews so it could be absolutely rubbish. I just have a feeling that it is amazing.
For a country with such a small beer scene, Portugal sure has a lot of beer festivals! Okay, it may not be able to compete with England (which has a beer festival every weekend as far as I can tell) but I was still surprised. Obviously, at this time of writing (2020) all beer festivals are understandably on hold, so I’m using information from 2019 to base my research on.
Situated in the Algarve region of Portugal, Porches is 16km from Albufeira. The craft beer festival here is relatively tiny, boasting 2,000 visitors in 2018. What I love about this beer festival is that it is housed in a German Style Beer Hall. Imagine drinking a small craft beer, but you’re in a German Oktoberfest style beerhall, but the beerhall is in a tiny village in Southern Portugal. With Portuguese serving staff dressed in traditional Bavarian outfits, while speaking English. This truly is the end game for globalisation.
Based in Faro, the Almeda Beer Festival combines the common beers of Portugal (Sagres, Super Bock) with International Guest beers and some craft beers from Portugal. 2019 was only its second year (30,000 people attended in 2018), and it is likely that 2020 won’t happen. Hopefully, 2021 will see a return to the Almeda Beer Festival.
Another beer festival in Algarve. The Silves beer festival is held in the town of Silves (surprisingly). It lasts 5 days, has free entry, and showcases over 50 craft beers as well as the standard Portuguese beers. It’s held at the Silves football club’s ground, who celebrated their 100th year as a club in 2019. The whole festival sounds adorable.
The best way to order a beer in Portugal is to speak fluent Portuguese, that will help you to order your pale lager perfectly with no fuss. However, if like me you spent your childhood learning how to complete Tekken 2 on the PlayStation instead of learning languages then you’ll just have to parrot the following phrase:
Thank you is Obrigado (if YOU are a man) or Obrigada (if YOU are a woman).
Pro Tip: Speaking Spanish will go down about as well as a cup of cold sick. So remember it is cerveJA not cerveZA
Matt Smith is the owner of Beer N Biceps. He has a degree in Sports Science, 10 years of experience working in the fitness industry, and has written for hundreds of fitness websites. He is a lover of good quality beer and believes that drinking in moderation can form part of a healthy lifestyle.