Porto Beers and Bars

Last month we headed out to Porto, Portugal, for a long weekend. We didn’t have high expectations for the beer there as the micro-brewing revolution that has reached many parts of Europe hasn’t quite hit that area yet – Sagres and Super Bock are the big beer names there (when we asked our taxi driver what his favourite beer was, he replied “Ah, I love Super Bock”!) And of course, Porto is all about the port wine, which is fantastic (especially the white port). But there were a few surprise beer discoveries along the way, and some decent pubs/bars too. Here are some of the bars we visited and the beers we tried.

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Uma Velha Tinha Um Gato

IMG_0922Or, loosely translated, ‘A Grandmother had a Cat’. Yes, I know. When I asked the smiling waiter why the bar had such a strange name, I was told it was because a grandmother had a cat. OK.

This was one of a handful of bars on the lovely Praça da Ribeira, overlooking the Douro River in Porto’s old town, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It was our first evening there; we sat at a table gazing out across the river at the twinkling lights of the port houses reflected in the dark water. I ordered a Super Bock stout which I enjoyed; it didn’t have the fullest body, but it was pleasantly creamy and easy to drink, and by the time I reached the end of the bottle I was left wanting more.

Galeria de Paris

IMG_1076This brown wooden cafe bar, in the student/night life area of the city centre on Rua Galeria de Paris, was a pleasant surprise, with lots of old collectables in cases around the room such as computers, toys, telephones, dolls, and even half a car sticking out of the wall. The ornate golden tap on the bar served Sagres. We ordered two bottles; one of Sagres Preta (stout) and a regular Super Bock (€3.50 for both – bargain).

IMG_1077The Preta was very drinkable – there were more roasted flavours than the Super Bock stout and it had more body, although I didn’t necessarily prefer it over the Super Bock; both were decent enough stouts. The regular Super Bock was pleasant enough, as far as lagers go. I’m not particularly a lager fan, but I did enjoy the sweet caramel finish.

We’d been in the cafe/bar for about 20 minutes when the waitresses began to put tablecloths on empty tables, transforming the place into an evening restaurant with only a few simple pieces of material. When it was just our table and another that were still occupied, with the waitresses lingering in the corners, tablecloths in hand, we decided it was time to move on.

Mercearia das Flores

IMG_1074This little light and airy deli/cafe on Rua das Flores was a breath of fresh air – it sold all kinds of Portuguese produce, including the ubiquitous port, but surprisingly, it also sold bottles of locally-brewed beer (actually, it wasn’t a surprise – that’s why we came here in the first place). Beers from Porto brewer Os Tres Cervejeros lined the shelves (brand name Sovina) with varieties including an IPA, a helles, a stout, a wheat beer, and an amber. They also do a seasonal Bock and Christmas beer.

IMG_0864There were also beers from Cerveja Letra brewery – beers brewed by two scientists from Braga, down the road from Porto, with each of their beers named after a letter: Letra A, Letra B;  you get the picture. Their beers included a wheat beer (Letra A) pilsner (B), a stout (C), and a red ale (D).

We munched on lovely lupin beans (they go so well with beer) and a sheep’s cheese sandwich (which tasted of the smell of the country) whilst drinking Sovina Helles on draft – a clean, refreshing, delicate lager. We were told that their draft Sovina beer changes as soon as the cask runs out, so we tried our best to help it along its way, but despite our keen efforts we had to be content with buying the other varieties in bottles.

IMG_1057Out of the bottles we purchased, the Letra B (pilsner) stood out, this cloudy beer packed with lovely sherbet and floral flavours. Delicious. The Sovina IPA was thirst quenching, but would’ve been even better if loaded with more hops. The stout was rich and pleasant. All in all, these beers were a great find.

The ladies in the deli also told us about new artisan beers that had just been produced by brewery Vadia, not far from Porto, so we searched them out in a nearby restaurant and bought the Vadia Ruiva. It wasn’t massively impressive – not a bad beer, but not that exciting either – but these are beers from a brand new brewer, and that’s a great thing to see in itself in Portugal.

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Caves de Cerveja

IMG_1027On the opposite side of the river from Porto, in Gaia where the port houses dominate, there is a large beer bar/restaurant at the far end of the Cais de Gaia waterfront (just keep walking…). A contemporary building in a modern entertainment complex, it is themed as a microbrewery, with faux brewery equipment by the doorway, producing a strange bright green liquid – just a gimmick (I hope…). But in reality the beers available are brewed by big producers Unicer and Republica da Cerveja.

IMG_1022It’s a pleasant environment, with large picture windows, a long stainless steel bar with several taps, decent enough food (such as the famous francesinha sandwich served in beer and tomato sauce) and friendly waiters.

IMG_1026We munched on fries whilst perusing the beer menu, and ordered small glasses of several of them – handily, the beers were offered in a choice of pour size. The creamy stout was good, but I reckon it was the Super Bock stout in disguise. The Abadia Super Bock was strangely just like Super Bock, although it’s meant to be stronger, and a wheat beer; it was a challenge to tell any difference. The Puro Malte (100 % malt, it says on the tasting notes) was just an uninteresting light lager (for me). The Cerveja Artisenal was very similar to Super Bock, but just a touch sharper. So all in all, the stout was the best. To be fair, as I don’t particularly enjoy lager beers, I’m not really the best judge on these styles – but all I can say is, give me the Sovina Helles over these lagers any time.

While we were there we learnt that mixing beer with soft drinks is popular: mixing beer with 7up is called panache, with Coca-Cola it’s called diesel, and with gooseberry it‘s called tango. You learn something new every day.

Casa da Horta

IMG_1089Whilst not a bar, this establishment – a cultural and environmental association that aims to promote sustainable and alternative ways of living – has a vegan/veggie restaurant that just happens to serve bottles of Sovina. We enjoyed a bottle of organic Sovina IPA in a cave-like basement setting surrounded by local artwork and dreadlocked staff whilst enjoying a soya and veg stew with rice. Nice.

A few other beer bars/pubs to visit

There are many, many bars in Porto – far too many to mention – but these listed below are beer-oriented (if you want port and wine then every other bar offers them; they’re pretty easy to find). We didn’t have time to visit the bars below, but they were firmly on our beer to-do list.

Bonaparte, Foz do Douro
A popular Irish style pub in the popular suburbian seaside setting of Foz, a short tram or bus ride away from the city centre on the main road (Av. do Brasil) opposite Praia de Luz beach cafe. Guinness and bottled beer available.

Ryan‘s Irish Pub
Another Irish pub on one of the main streets (Rua Infante D. Henrique) close to Porto’s waterfront. Narrow and long, dimly lit, stools lining the wooden bar, and Guinness on tap as well as Kilkenny and bottles of beer available.

Portobeer, at Porto Palacio Hotel 
A contemporary restaurant/’beer hall’ in this 5 star hotel a little out of the city centre. More restaurant than bar (with veggie francesinhas on offer) plus a large-ish beer list, including regulars Sagres and Super Bock.

 

Porto is a wonderful place to visit, and I have no doubt that in a few years the beer scene will have evolved dramatically. The country is on the verge of a major change with regards to beer, and with breweries such as Os Tres Cervejeros, Vadia, and Cerveja Letra already making an impact, the number of artisan brewers can only increase, and beer in Portugal can only get better. And that’s an exciting thought.

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Published in: on April 28, 2014 at 6:13 pm  Leave a Comment  
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