Noi Brewing, winners of three medals with Mondial President Jeannine Marois.
When Montreal’s Mondial de la Biere festival debuted its Rio de Janeiro edition in 2013, I felt like the craft brewing scene in Brazil was about 15 years behind the US. Four years later, I feel like it has in many respects caught up. The Mondial, now in its fifth year has reflected the meteoric rise in craft brewing in the Rio area and is now widely regarded as the pre-eminent beer festival in Brazil.
At its outset, there were maybe 20 or 30 brewing companies in the Rio area. In the festival’s second year gypsy brewers 3 Cariocas put the local beer scene on the map by winning one of two platinum medals awarded in the MBeer judging contest for their IPAnema session IPA. There are now around 150 brewers in the Rio area, most of them gypsies (contract brewers) brewing at any one of about a dozen regional breweries scattered throughout the state of Rio de Janeiro or in the neighboring state of Minas Gerais. Breweries are still not allowed in the city of Rio itself. (Politicians did vote to allow them a couple of years ago, but so far the law has not been implemented).
Some of the hubs are old and established, some of them are new. Lagos brewery, located in the surfing town of Saquarema, an hour and a half north of Rio, is a brand new brewery purpose built for gypsy brewers. It took the 4-person partnership two years to put the project together. Opened in April of this year with a 30-hecto (25-barrel) Brazilian-manufactured brewhouse, they already have 20 or so clients, including well-know gypsies like Hocus Pocus, Three Monkeys and 3 Cariocas. Gypsy breweries don’t necessarily stick with just one brewery, but may make different batches at different locations. Since they seem to be forever coming up with new recipes this works fine.
Brazilian craft beer lovers are extremely plugged into social media and the digital world. Everyone in South America uses What’sApp to communicate. Through the internet, the brewers are onto new US brewing trends like flies on you know what. Last year, New England IPAs were everywhere. This year, as in the US, it’s about Sours. Perhaps it was the sheer glut of IPAs in the judging competition, but none of them earned medals; sours, however were quite prevalent. There are no style categories in the MBiere contest, and only 10 gold medals and one platinum medal are awarded. (This year, because of ties, there were 12 gold and two platinums).
For the third year, Pier Maua hosted the Mondial. It’s a waterfront docks area, alongside the Museu do Amanhã (Museum of Tomorrow) that was redeveloped in anticipation of the 2016 Olympic games. The festival features three halls, plus an outside waterfront promenade featuring a fleet of food trucks and two music stages. Breweries large and small are interspersed throughout with perhaps a larger concentration of local brewers in the final hall, and hence more crowded. The Cariocas (the name for a Rio native) love their local brews, a thread that runs through craft beer all over the world.
In the first hall, Samuel Cavalcanti, the charismatic owner of Bodebrown Brewery, holds court, greeting guests and posing for pictures, while his staff pour some 20 different beers from their 4-sided booth. He is the Sam Calagione (Dogfish Head) of Brazilian beer, a modest rock star, with 10 years under his brewery’s belt which recently expanded in his home town of Curitiba (an hour’s flight south of Rio). Bodebrown brews run the gamut from their classic Pilsner or Wee Heavy Scotch ale to cult favorites like the super hoppy Perigosa IPA and Cacau IPA, originally a collaboration with San Diego’s Stone brewery. Belgian styles like their Tripel Montfort and Flanders Red, their barrel-aged Atomga series, and more recently sours (Sour Punk American Wild) are all in the mix. Special for the fest were Cerveja do Amore, a 14% version of their fruit beer and Hair of the Bode (goat) barrel-aged barleywine which won a gold medal.
Nearby, Ethos, a new gypsy brewery, launched three beers: Direito, a session IPA, Primeiro Milagre, a grape saison and New Bahia, a New England-style double IPA. The Mondial’s own Gabriel Pulcino partnered with Pedro de Luca, brewer at Rio’s Allegra brewery for this startup. A German-trained brewer, Pedro has formulated several craft beers for Allegra – Oatmeal Stout, Helles Rauch, American IPA and a Grand Cru – but he says he has over 100 recipes to try out for Ethos!
When he launched into brewing seven years ago, ingredients were difficult to source, Pedro said; now that’s all changed. With the rise of interest in craft beer, importers have stepped in to service the new market. Pedro can get malt from the UK, Germany or the US and choice hops from the US as well as South American hops from Argentina. The government has even been researching hops that can be grown in Brazil, and craft malteries are popping up in the south.
“The biggest issue is yeast,” Pedro said, “But that is changing too.” He described Rio’s gypsy brewers as a loose-knit “unorganization.” “We have a WhatsApp group, and we get together every month or so to taste beers and play poker.”
In the second hall we find Marcelo Carne de Rocha, referred to as the Godfather of Brazilian beer, because his Colorado Brewery was the first brewing new wave US-inspired beers in the town of Ribeirão Preto, a couple of hours west of Sao Paulo. He has fallen out of favor with some beer geeks since he sold his brewery to AB InBev (trying to build a new brewery in Sao Paulo forced his hand, he said), but Colorado’s beers have not changed. Indeed, barrel-aged Guanabara (an imperial stout) won a platinum medal. And he still holds true to his mission of using native Brazilian ingredients in his beers. His head brewer, Fernanda Ueno, said there was something of an AB InBev backlash in her home town, but not at the Rio fest. “Here, they treat us well,” she said. “In Ribeirão Preto, they treat us like shit.” Another high flying craft brewery that sold to AB InBev is Wals located in Belo Horizonte, six hours inland from Rio. But, unlike Colorado, it did not seem that the original owners were present at the fest. They were also curiously missing from the medal stand.
At the gateway to the third pavilion, the jovial 3 Cariocas were perpetually swamped. Although they had a smaller booth than many of their competitors they were among the fest’s best sellers, and they kept their medal string going with a gold for Quebra-Cabeca 3 Cariocas imperial milk stout. Moving on, past a (real) tattoo parlor, the third pavilion featured polished gypsy brewers Hocus Pocus. They opened a cool bar in the Botofoga area of Rio and are working on a brewery project. At the fest they featured a smoothie machine to add vanilla ice cream to their I Love Milk NE Double IPA. Further in the back there was Contabrando. Victor Montenegro, former GM of the Mondial and really the man who had the vision to bring the fest to Rio, is a partner in this beer truck that pours beers from a variety of breweries at many different events.
To say the Mondial Rio is popular would be an understatement. All but one of the five days were sold out at 10,000 capacity per day, and breweries are clamoring to get in. There were more than 150 breweries at this year’s Mondial, and there was a waiting list of 50. Some of the large breweries take a booth for individual brands – Grupo Petropolis, the brewery which brews mainstream Itaipava, for example, staffed three large booths for their Black Princess, Petra and Weltenberger brands, the latter brewed under contract from the Germany monastery.
Jeffry, a craft brew, but with deep pockets, staffed a booth in each hall, touting their new brewery under construction in the foothills outside of Rio. At one station they were canning crowlers for demo.