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Friday, October 2, 2009

The Session #32: Eastern Beers

It's an interestingly vague assignment for The Session this time, from Girl Likes Beer:

I would like you to pick your favorite beer made east form your hometown but east enough that it is already in a different country. It can be from the closest country or from the furthest. Explain why do you like this beer. What is the coolest stereotype associated with the country the beer comes from (of course according to you)?

December, 2000: my first and so far only trip to Portugal, though I'd happily return. Cathy had a business trip to Lisbon, and talked me into going along because it fell on our wedding anniversary. We walked all over Lisbon with her boss and his wife, in beautiful weather, then took the train out to Sintra on our last full day. We had a great time, though one of the best moments was solitary; I sat in the little square in Sintra, smoking an excellent little Cuban cheroot and drinking a glass of 40 year old tawny port.

But you know... There's the stereotype about Portugal: it's a wine country. It's Portugal, right? Well, aside from the fact that the table wines we were served were pure-D shit, and wine geeks to the contrary, vinho verde does nothing for me, I do love, flat-out adore port, and you can find it most places. But, and here's a big but, Lisbon is a beer town.

I mean, beer is everywhere. People were drinking it at sidewalk cafes, they drank it in the restaurants where we stopped for great fresh fish (mmmm....grouper) and "small dry cheeses from the hills" (a translation on the menu, and they were good, too), we had it in the 'beerhall' we visited, Real Fabrica (which was very cool, and had big-assed tanks of fresh beer that were filled from tanktrucks through ports in the sidewalk, I think), and there was even beer available at the bar inside the national Monument of the Discoveries, down on the Tagus. I didn't see anyone drinking wine except us, and I didn't do it anymore than I had to -- except for port.

But...for the most part, the beer's cold, and fresh, but pretty much uninspiring. There was UNICER SuperBock -- which most definitely was not either -- and Sagres, Then, our last night, after we got back from Sintra, we were looking to spend the last of our escudos, and stopped in another cervejaria, Ribadoura (honest to God, this is all from memory). It was a seafood beerhall, it was brightly lit, all the seafood was on offer in chilled display cases (barnacles...yuck. They looked like necrosed fingers), and they were drinking beer! I got a big-assed shrimp omelette that was very good.

But I wanted the dark beer I saw people drinking! Well, you know how you'll say a person in a foreign country "didn't speak a word of English"? That was our waiter. We tried English, German, and Spanish: nothing. Finally, I smiled, stood up, walked to a nearby table, said "Pardon me" (same in Portugeuse and English; different pronunciation -- a phrase I try to learn in the language of any country I visit) to the beer drinker there, and pointed to his dark beer, then nodded, smiling. Ah! Sim!

What I got was Sagres Cerveja Preta, a tasty dark lager that put me in mind of the better Munich dunkels. We were on foot, so I had a few more. It was good with the shrimp omelette, it was good with everyone else's dessert (I had decided to drink mine...), it was good. It was easily the best beer I had in Portugal (although the ridiculously tall pilsner glasses of cold Sagres at the (I'm not kidding) Hockey Caffee in Sintra had a strong situational appeal on a hot day).

And since Portugal is just about exactly due east of here...that's my story and I'm sticking to it. Saude!


jp said...

It is so true. There is a complete misnomer that people in the Mediterranean, Adriatic and southern Atlantic regions do not know from beer. I’ve seen people drink quite a bit of good beer in Sicily, Malta, Southern Italy, the Grand Canaries, Spain, Greece, Croatia and North Africa. In fact one of the best stouts I've ever had was in the Egadi islands of the coast of Sicily.(granted, it was from Denmark) but it was brewed exclusively for the region. Malta has a great brewery, as does the Sicilian city of Messina, as does the Canaries (tropical, dorada)

Erlangernick said...

On our July hols in Genova / Cinque Terre, we enjoyed more beer than wine, but it was all bloody expensive.

Anyway, "better Munich Dunkel"? Is there a good one, let alone a "better" one? Come back to Franken and I'll show you a Dunkel or two.

Lew Bryson said...

Lord, it's Nick. Bummer about the prices; everything was cheap as balls back then. Franken chauvinist.

Unknown said...

There is an historical connection between England and Portugal that goes back to a son of Edward III (John of Gaunt, whose son Henry by his first marriage became Henry IV of England)marrying the daughter of Pedro the Cruel of Castile (I think?) and their daughter married a king of Portugal. One of their sons was Prince Henry the Navigator, who sponsored the Portugese explorations around Africa to India. Goa was a Portugese colony in India until it became English when Catherine of Braganza married Charles II, and then it became the East India Company's toehold to take over India. Plus, the English have been dealing in sherry with the Portugese since the 1700s. Tons of English ex-pats hang out in the south of Portugal as well. What I'm trying to say is there has been about 7 centuries of close Anglo-Portugese connection, so of course they drink beer by preference.