Written by Charlie Papazian for examiner.com
There is a special beer awaiting beer enthusiasts, but for now it languishes in the “cellars” of a small Brazilian microbrewery because the government regulatory agencies can’t figure out how to approve such an astounding example of the brewer’s art. On New Year’s Eve I savored a sample. It was one of the best imperial stouts I’ve enjoyed in my life. It was a good way to end my year and start another. But the beer remains imprisoned.
Founder and brewmaster of the Colorado Brewery, Marcelo Carneiro da Rocha.opened the unlabeled bottle just before midnight. It is 10.5% alcohol by volume, made with English malts, Styrian Golding hops among others and black rapadura sugar. Brewed in early 2009 he reveals that a sampling of the beer in June met with polite “not quite ready, a bit astringent” remarks. But I can assure you due to the government’s slow not-yet “approval” process the beer has aged exquisitely.
With gentle licorice notes and a perfect balance between roast malt bite and hop bitterness the yet to be named “Colorado Imperial Stout” is smooth as velvet and has developed into a world class beer.
One of the key ingredients is black rapadura. Rapadura is a unique sugar produced with unrefined sugar cane juice. The juice is evaporated until natural sugars form a hard sugary cake. There are amber and dark versions. It is one of the cheapest forms of sugar in Brazil and is looked down upon by most Brazilians as not worthy of consideration – for much of anything. Its taste is complex and delicious. In beer it contributes a wonderful complexity for dark beers and a background foundation for light ales or lagers. Hints of caramel and authentic molasses are but a couple of characters attributed to rapadura. Granulated rapadura found in some specialty stores and supermarkets in the USA are rather bland and refined compared to the cake blocks sold in Brazil.
The Colorado Brewery is one if not the first pioneering micro/craft breweries in Brazil, it began brewing in 1995. Called the Colorado Brewery because the brewing equipment was purchased from a Fort Collins, Colorado, USA based manufacturing company at the time.
Photo left: Marcelo Carneiro da Rocha listens to his beer.
It’s not easy being a pioneer and to survive. Former brewer and now Mayor of Denver, Colorado John Hickenlooper always reminded brewing entrepreneurs, “The pioneers get all the bullets, spears and arrows, while the settlers that follow get all the land.” Brazil has become a wasteland for beer variety and choice. Megabrand beers dominate the landscape in every nook and cranny of the marketing, distribution and retail, bar, restaurant and leisure beer drinking community.
Marcelo has learned from his beer travels in the USA and elsewhere that educating beer drinkers is an essential and very slow process. Some Brazilians now want to learn about better beer, ales and lagers from their own travels and through the emerging homebrewing networks sprouting up in various metropolitan areas.
Brazilian born beer enthusiasm has been contagious, but by no means is it anywhere near epidemic proportions. It’s a start. Marcelo and many of the other approximately 80 small and independent craft brewers in Brazil are supporting the homebrewing community. They offer meeting places and ingredients with which homebrew enthusiast can brew and learn about beer.
There are no homebrew supply shops in Brazil. Homebrewing in Brazil is an all-grain affair, right from the start. In the USA and several other countries beginning homebrewers can easily immerse themselves into the joy of homebrewing with the use of malt extract syrups and kits. That’s not the case in Brazil.
I was invited to attend a homebrewing, beer enthusiast brew-in and barbecue at the Colorado Brewery in Riberaő Preto, a small city about a 3 1/2 hour drive northwest of the world’s 7th largest city, Sao Paulo. Surrounded by endless sugar cane fields, there is brewed Colorado Indica IPA, Colorado DeMouselle (coffee) Porter, Colorado Cauim Pilsener (made with cassava/manioc as an ingredient) and Colorado Appia Honey Weiss (wheat) beer (made with orange blossom honey and light rapadura as ingredients??
There was also something else brewing that particular day.
Brazilian homebrewers were stirring their pot of American-style IPA. Formulating their brew with German pilsener, caramunich and aromatic type malts was relatively easy. Determining dosage and hop rates was a more animated affair. Given bags of American grown Northern Brewer, Amarillo and Cascade hops courtesy of Marcelo and the Colorado Brewery I encouraged them to be judicious with their hopping, while still understanding they wanted to make a 20 liter batch of “hop whompus” inspired super hoppy brew.
I hope to receive word in the coming weeks how the beer turned out. Perhaps comments will appear below. I’m quite sure hop bitterness exceeded the threshold of excess-differentiation; 80+ bitterness units may be a conservative guess.. I suggested doses of hops late and in secondary to achieve the hop aroma that’s allusive in most Brazilian craft beers.
Brazil is both a mild temperate country in the south and tropical in the north. Beer does not receive cold storage during transport through the distribution system. Most beer sellers only refrigerate the beer they expect to sell within 24 to 48 hours. Draft beer is usually not refrigerated at all, but rather warm beer is run through a chilling “jockey” box.
If you’re fortunate to have a microscope nearby to read the packaging it is evident that most beers have additives “antioxidant #316(Sodium erythorbate)” and “stabilizer #405 (Propylene glycol alginate)” to their beer. The Brazilian environment is tough on beer.
With regard to the hop qualities that Brazilian beer enthusiasts were just beginning to discover, appreciate and seek, it is little consolation knowing that heat, time and rigors of transport diminish hop quality in commercial beer quickly. Hop qualities diminish quickly in any beer attempting to suggest hop character.
The best beers in Brazil are enjoyed best near the brewery where they are made. The very best is homebrewed and craft brewed. Brazilian beer enthusiasts have embarked on perhaps the world’s most challenging undertaking. They wish to transform their country into a country recognized as a culture of better beer.
They face almost insurmountable odds, with a virtual monopoly of the beer market by Anheuser-Busch Inbev with such brands as Brahma, Skol and Antarctica. The “beer force” may be with beer enthusiasts, but the beer muscle and beer minds are currently overtaken by Brazil’s megabrand light lagers. To the pioneer beer enthusiasts, craft brewers and homebrewers – may the force be with you.
Offer a toast for the better beer pioneers of Brazil. Once upon a time, long, long ago, insurmountable odds also existed in the U.S.A.