The most respected beer bar in Brazil is Frangó, in São Paulo. It’s an inviting place that rambles down a hillside in a comfy residential neighborhood. Frangó is run by Valdecyr Piccolo and his two sons, Cássio and Norberto. Cássio is the driving force behind the great beer, and has traveled widely in Europe and U.S., bringing beer culture back to São Paulo with him. It’s as good as a beer bar gets. Inside, the place glows warmly, a Brazilian version of a Dutch “brauncafe.” Shelves with bottles and glassware are everywhere; the remaining wall space is plastered with breweriana. It’s a well-traveled pub, cozy and bustling and smelling like good beer and food. Frangó is famous for a fried stuffed dumpling called a coxina. It’s a shell of elastic manioc dough encasing a small pile of finely chopped, spit-roasted chicken, and a dollop of Brazilian cream cheese, deep-fried to golden crispness. It is a bar snack supreme, barely oily and full of great chicken and cheese flavor, and fabulous with beer, of course.
Thanks to the beer culture spread by the Piccolo’s and others, some more adventurous beers are being brewed these days, although they still represent a microscopic slice of the market.
One long-time player in the market, Cervejaria Colorado, introduced a characterful line of bottled products in 2007 that includes a honey wheat, an IPA brewed with a partially refined cane sugar called rapadura, and a lush porter that incorporates some high-quality Brazilian “blue” coffee. The Indica India Pale Ale is relatively light-bodied with an assertive nose of fresh hops, rare in Brazil, with nutty overtones and a complex caramelized sugar finish. The coffee porter, Demoiselle, is super smooth and creamy, pure mocha, with dry and elegant espresso notes on the finish.
Marcelo Carneira da Rocha is the driving force behind Colorado, located in Riberão Preto, a small city in the heart of sugar cane country a few hours drive north of São Paolo. They have been brewing since 1995. A sophisticated businessman with a contagious enthusiasm for beer and the culture surrounding it, da Rocha is one of the leading voices for good beer in Brazil.
In addition to inspiration from Europe and North America, da Rocha seeks to incorporate Brazilian flavors. He is producing a special “Vintage” barley wine using a type of black rapadura sugar, and has recently purchased aging tanks made of umburana wood from a local cachaça distillery in which to age some strong beers, possibly spiked with the richly flavored jacotiba fruit. With the bounty of fascinating flavors that can be found in Brazil, the possibilities for this approach are nearly limitless.
One of da Rocha’s co-conspirators in good beer evangelism is Marco Falcone of Falke Bier, in Minas Gerais, just outside Belo Horizonte. He’s a former hydroelectric engineer who took early retirement in 2004 to pursue his passions and now operates a spotless, small brewery on the same lushly tropical property as his home. It’s a family affair; both his son and his father help in the brewery. Falcone has the world’s smallest plot of barley—about a meter square—and at 30 feet tall, probably the largest hop plant as well. The stem is woody and as thick as my arm. Sadly, in these latitudes, this lonely hop plant bears no fruit.