I began 2006 in Lisbon, where the beer scene is dominated by two giant brands: Superbock and Sagres. The former is slightly more high-profile, and makes three main beers. The basic Superbock is a fizzy lager made with extra glucose to bring the alcohol content up to a whopping 5.6%. This unfortunately gives it the thick sugary special-brew taste which is a little off-putting in an otherwise decent lager. Superbock Stout is also made with extra sugar, making it very sweet and quite flat, almost reminiscent of the Guinness Foreign Extra stout, but not quite as good. Finally, Superbock Green is a light, sparkly, lemon-flavoured summer beer - Hoegaarden meets Lemsip. It is a mere 4% alcohol and very easy to drink: doubtless marvellously refreshing on hot days.
In competition, Sagres's plain lager is drier and hoppier than Superbock's, but lacks the oomph of its rival. Instead of a stout, there is Sagres Preta - a deep, dark, smoky ale with a powerful bock flavour: quite delicious. There's also Bohemia, a warm red ale, smooth and easy-going despite a strength of 6.5%. My only criticism is that it's a little too smooth and could use a fuller flavour. Finally, Sagres sell a straw-coloured party lager called Imperial, which comes in 330ml bottles with a funky label. It tastes of almost nothing.
And so to the micro end of things. Until recently, the excellent Frog chain of brewpubs had a Lisbon branch advertised on their web site. Then it disappeared. I assumed it had closed down, but went along to the address anyway in the hope that the good work was being continued under a new brand. There, to my surprise, stood the Frog at Expo brewpub, completely as was, advertising the full range of homemade beers. Inside it was a different story, however: no Frog beers were actually on tap, leading me to suspect that the Frog chain has left the business but the new owners haven't bothered rebranding yet, and that microbrewed beer is not in the business plan. Disappointing, but there you go. Nearby at Parc das Nacoes is the only working brewpub I found in Lisbon: República da Cerveja. It's quite a pleasant, modern, bar and restaurant. The blackboard selection of beers was impressive, but only two were actually on tap on the day. Artesanal is quite a dull fizzy lager, a little drier than Superbock but really not very different. Natal is the Christmas ale which had the requisite strength and deep colour, but was served too cold and lacked flavour. Nice pub, shame about the beers.
Given that Lisbon is in southern Europe, with a thriving high-quality wine industry, I think I did quite well on the beer front to find such variety. The fondness for dark ales and stouts was certainly a pleasant surprise, as was finding a large bottle of Chimay Bleu for less than €6 in a supermarket. Nevertheless, I wouldn't count Portugal as one of the places one goes for the beer.
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