The beer situation in Brazil is an interesting one. Brazilian beer is often maligned (I should know, I am chief maligner), yet I have met more serious beer enthusiasts in Rio than in any other city.
To give an example, my brother-in-law Rodrigo regularly meets up with a group of friends for tasting sessions. They taste 2 national beers and 2 imports and rate them according to a complex set of criteria. When I was lucky enough to be invited to one of these sessions, I was really surprised at the level of
obsession knowledge they showed. The scores from the last 3 years of tastings were stored and analysed in a spreadsheet! These guys take beer seriously and really know their Amber Ale from their IPA.
The truth is that although the most commonly available (i.e. mass produced) beers in Brazil are pretty boring, there are plenty of excellent, well made Brazilian beers if you can track them down (for an ongoing review, check out the Good Beer Guide at The Book is on the Table). But what if they don’t stock these cervejas artesanais near you? Well then you can Faça Você Mesmo! (Do It Yourself!)
Back in the 90s, a group of physics students at UNICAMP (State University of Campinas) got together and started making (and drinking!) beer. They became known as Os Lamas and as their expertise grew, they decided to open a ‘Brewshop‘, a place to buy everything you could want to make excellent beer, from imported malts, hops and yeasts to all the necessary equipment.
Leaf-cutter ant beer
As well as selling brewing equipment and supplies, the Lamas also run classes, tasting sessions and devise recipes. Their latest brew, dubbed Saison de Saúva, is causing quite a stir.
For the uninitiated, Saison is a style of Pale Ale that originated in Wallonia (the French speaking region of Belgium). It has an alcohol level around 7%, is highly carbonated and should have a fruity flavour.
So that clarifies the “Saison” part of the name. Now what about the Saúva?
As well as the lemony leaf-cutter ants, the lamas also add preserved figs and tucupí. Tucupí is an ingredient from northern Brazil, made from a variety of cassava/manioc known as Mandioca Brava (literally ‘Angry Cassava’). It is ‘angry’ because without the proper treatment this stuff, being full of cyanide, is poisonous.
The root is grated, soaked, squeezed, left to separate and then boiled for hours to eliminate the poison. Eventually you are left with a delicious, tangy sauce that is used in classic dishes of Amazonian Brazil like pato no tucupí (duck stewed in tucupí) and tacacá.
The finished beer comes in at a feisty 7.8% alcohol and is described as spicy, fruity and citric. For the brewers out there, you can find the full recipe here. If any of you are interested in some other (less anty) Brazilian beers, Rodrigo also recommends, Baden Baden’s Stout and Tres Lobo’s India Pale Ale (he wanted to add another 20 or 30 recommendations, but I stopped him there!).
And for those of you who prefer your saúvas alive, I’ll leave you with some footage I caught last time I was in the Amazon.