Beer lovers who come to Portugal are often disappointed by the range of Portuguese beers that are on offer. Essentially, there are just two: Super Bock and Sagres. Although they do taste different, enough that most people form a preference for one or the other, they’re both the same style of beer: a light-bodied pale lager.
Things are starting to change: there are now a handful of craft beer producers in Portugal, although craft beer is still a very new phenomenon in Portugal. Don’t go into a restaurant or café and expect to see craft beer on the menu just yet. You can get it, but you’ll probably have to go to somewhere that’s a little more hipster.
Sagres and Super Bock are both worth a try, though. They’re light, cheap, and easy to drink in the warm weather. They’re a big part of Portuguese culture as well, and have been for quite some time.
Under Salazar’s regime, the beer industry was heavily protected by the government and foreign companies were not allowed to set up shop in Portugal. This allowed two companies, Unicer – Bebidas de Portugal, S.A which produces Super Bock and Sociedade Central de Cervejas, S.A which produces Sagres, to own the entire Portuguese market with no real competition.
The industry was nationalised after the 1974 Revolution and, in theory, the Portuguese beer market was open for business. Bars could think about stocking international beers, new breweries could open up in Portugal, and international companies could set up shop here.
But that didn’t happen. There was no appetite for innovation, either from consumers looking to try other beers or from new and foreign breweries looking to compete with the two super-brands. In Portugal, you drank either Super Bock or Sagres and that was it. And, for the most part, it still is – except on Madeira where you drink Coral, and on The Azores where you drink Especial.
Which is better: Super Bock or Sagres?
It’s worth trying both when you come to Portugal (and Coral and Especial if you visit the islands). You probably won’t be able to try Super Bock and Sagres at the same bar as it’s a little like the Coke or Pepsi situation: bars tend to stock one or the other. It’s also worth trying their other styles of beer such as Stout and Radler, which are generally only available in bottled form.
Other styles: Abadia, Green, Stout, Selecção 1927, Sem Álcool, Sem Álcool Preta
If you’re visiting Lisbon, you can also try several unique Super Bock brews at the Super Bock Experience in the Time Out Market including Bengal Amber IPA, Czech Golden Lager, Munich Dunkel, and Bavaria Weiss. You may also be able to taste one of their new small batch brews like their Christmas Brew, Cascade Blonde Lager, British Colonial Stout, Scotish Smoked Lager, Imperial Stout, and Rice Lager.
Can’t make it to Portugal? Super Bock is stocked by Drink Supermarket, and Beers of Europe. Depending on the individual store, you can also buy Super Bock in Tesco, Asda, and Sainsbury’s. Super Bock is also available in Ireland, Australia, and Germany, but in the US it seems very hard to find.
Other styles: Brune (Preta), Bohemia, Radler
In Lisbon, you can try all of Sagres’ range at the Cervejaria Trinidade. Formerly a 13th Century Convent (that brewed its own beer), this is now a popular restaurant/beer hall that’s owned by Sagres.
In the UK, Sagres is available on Amazon.co.uk. Beers of Europe also stocks Sagres Bohemia, Preta, and Radler. You can also find Sagres in Australia, Ireland, and Germany, but it’s also difficult to find in the US.
Even though they are similar, most people who try both come away with a preference for one or the other. Most Portuguese will have a passionate preference, although this might be influenced by other marketing factors besides taste.
Sagres is made near Lisbon, for example, while Super Bock is made in the North. North of the Mondego river, you drink Super Bock. South of it, you drink Sagres.
Then there’s the fact that each sponsors different football teams: Sagres sponsors Benfica, Braga, Olhanense and Académica Coimbra, and the Portuguese football team. Super Bock sponsors Sporting CP, FC Porto, and Clube de Futebol Os Belenenses. Most people are likely to go with the brand that sponsors their team.
Another big pull for Super Bock is the fact that the controlling share of Unicer – Bebidas de Portugal, S.A, the company that makes Super Bock, is Portuguese-owned. In an industry where most European breweries are owned by international companies, that makes a big difference.
Other Portuguese macro-breweries to look out for are Cristal, Tagus, Cintra, and Topázio. You’re unlikely to find these on tap very easily, but you may find them in bottled or can form.
Portuguese Craft Beers
Craft beer is slowly becoming more popular in Portugal, but don’t expect to go into a bar and see a wide range of national and international craft beers on tap. Yes, craft beer is becoming more readily available, but it’s not a big scene like it is in the United States, the United Kingdom, and Germany.
There are some craft beer bars in Lisbon, Porto, and a handful of other places in Portugal, as well as a few craft beer shops.
Some labels to look out for:
- Mean Sardine
- Post Scriptum
Read a bigger list of craft beer labels, and where to find them, in our Portuguese craft beer guide.
How to order a beer in Portugal
Uma cerveja means a beer, but it may lead to the barman asking what size you want – especially in The Algarve where they’re used to serving foreigners big pints of beer – so it’s better to just say the size.
Also, many tourists visiting Portugal tend to pronounce cerveja in a Spanish accent (ther-vay-tha) when it should be pronounced the Portuguese way (sir-vay-jah). The Portuguese would much rather you spoke English than Spanish to them.
Uma imperial (20 cl) is the standard beer size in Portugal. Bottled beer comes in 20 cl measurements as well, but these are called minis e.g. Super Bock mini and Sagres mini.
Tip: If you are ordering two beers, it’s “duas imperiais” (im-peer-ee-eyesh) as opposed to duas imperials.
In the North of Portugal, rather than ask for “uma imperial” you ask for “um fino.” It’s the same thing, but just a different word.
Want something slightly smaller than a imperial (or fino)? Ask for a lambreta (15 cl).
At 50 cl, uma caneca is mid-way between an American and British pint: an American pint is 473 ml and and a British pint is 568 ml.
“uma garafa de”
Garafa means bottle. If you’re at a bar that has bottled beers, you would ask for “uma garafa de…”
Radlers & Beer Mixes
It’s not uncommon, especially during the height of summer, for people to mix beer with a soft drink. The most common combinations are:
- Sprite/7-up and beer: Panaché
- Red currant juice and beer: Tango
- Coca-Cola and beer: Diesel
Portuguese food that that pairs well with beer
If you’re trying to decide whether to order beer or wine, maybe it’s worth thinking about what you’re going to eat first. While most Portuguese food pairs with either, and it’s often just a matter of taste or what mood you’re in, there are some foods that just go well with beer.
Francesinha – Porto’s beast of a sandwich, the francesinha, is definitely made to go with beer. This sandwich contains ham, steak, sausage, melted cheese, and a beer and tomato sauce. it’s also served with chips.
Bifana – Keeping on the sandwich trail, the bifana is also a good beer accompaniment. Unlike the Francesinha which contains multiple types of meat, the bifana is just a simple pork sandwich that’s topped with mustard.
Seafood – Some people like to have beer with their mariscada, and others prefer wine. I’ve seen people drinking both in Portugal, and it’s often just a matter of preference and the type of venue that you’re in.
Petiscos – The Portuguese equivalent of tapas, petiscos are snacks or small plates that you have in a bar alongside a glass of wine or a beer. A typical petisco might be cured ham (presunto), cheese, or flame-grilled chouriço (chouriço assado), all of which go extremely well with beer.
Have you tried Portuguese beer? Which did you prefer: Super Bock or Sagres? Or, did you manage to try another of Portugal’s macro or micro-brewery beers? Let others know about your experience in the comments below.