Where to Drink in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Destinations by | Jul 2016 | Issue #114
Illustrations by Sam Brewster

The preparation for the 2014 World Cup and, more recently, the Summer Olympic Games are slowly transforming Rio de Janeiro, Brazil’s second-largest city. The familiar sights—the Christ the Redeemer statue, the Sugarloaf Mountain cable car, the 18th-century aqueduct known as the Lapa arches, and the famous Copacabana and Ipanema beaches, are still there, fortunately. The traffic persists, too, a little worse due to construction roadblocks. But changes have come in the form of new buildings, like the neofuturistic Museum of Tomorrow and new or revamped sports arenas. Change hasn’t bypassed the city’s beer scene, either.

Although it’s unclear whether the Dutch produced beer during the colonization of Northern Brazil in the 17th century, brewing only started to flourish here after the arrival of the Portuguese royal family to Rio in 1808, bringing with it Portugal’s English allies and their British-style Porters and ales.

Today, the city is home to one of the biggest industrial breweries in Brazil, AmBev’s Nova Rio plant, producers of popular light beers like Brahma, Antarctica and Skol. In the city of Petrópolis, visitors to the German-style Cervejaria Bohemia (now part of AmBev) can trace the city’s beer history back to the brewery’s founding in 1853.

Bars where you can enjoy beers and appetizers as the day goes by, called a boteco or botequim, are a cultural institution in Rio. For many years, places like these served only light lagers: Antarctica, Itaipava, Brahma and Skol. And they still do, in general.

Over the last two years, though, cariocas (as the residents of Rio are called) witnessed the appearance of more than a dozen craft brewery brands, most of them “gipsy” productions, including Hocus Pocus, Oceânica, Motim, 3Cariocas and Three Monkeys. These young brands have found fertile ground in Rio due to new beer-focused bars and the botecos themselves, some of which are open to new styles and flavors.

Rio’s high temperatures play an important role in beer consumption and quality. Between being delivered and stored, the occasional keg may be seen sitting in the street on days nearing 90 degrees Fahrenheit, and many bars  refrigerate bottles only when cold ones are gone. Both things tend to affect the experience of sipping local crafts in their best shape. Happily, however, the number of bars with good cold storage and serving systems is growing.

Due to zoning law restrictions, there currently aren’t many breweries in the city proper. Besides the AmBev plant, only Allegra (which produces its own brand as well as contract recipes), Classico, Fraga and a microbrewery inside the Vice-Rey Restaurant are officially operating. A decree signed by Rio’s mayor at the end of 2015, however, aims at reducing bureaucracy for new brewing projects. The main craft breweries in Rio de Janeiro State are outside the capital, in places such as Angra dos Reis (Mistura Clássica), Niteroi (Noi), and Penedo (Penedon Brewpub). Meanwhile, many gypsy brewers produce in the neighboring state of Minas Gerais.

114Destinations2Walking along the sidewalk (or calçadão, as locals call it) in Copacabana Beach can be sweaty during hotter days. Fortunately, there’s As Melhores Cervejas do Mundo (The World’s Best Beers) nearby. The shop has four local taps (they offer growler fills) and around 200 bottles to enjoy there or on the beach.

Adega Pérola is one of the most typical interpretations of the “boteco.” Opened in Copacabana in 1957, it has preserved a rustic ambiance—the walls are filled with old pictures and newspaper reviews about the place. From the appetizers counter, order a dish like squid vinaigrette, olives and Portuguese tremoço paired perhaps with a bottle of Noi Amara Imperial IPA.

A few minutes walk from the beach takes you to Pub Escondido, CA, named after Stone Brewing’s hometown. Its 24 taps pour mainly local beer, like Vertigem, an American-style IPA by Mistura Clássica. This year, the same partners opened Birreria Escondido, CA in the Botafogo neighborhood, a 16-tap pizza place inspired by the Pizza Port concept.

The first American outpost of Delirium Café—the famous Belgian franchise—is in Rio, at Ipanema. Located in a small blue house, it has 10 taps, but focuses on a 400-bottle selection, mostly Belgian, paired with the house burger, mussels or a steak. A new location opened in the neighborhood of Barra this year, with 20 taps.

To the west, in the Leblon neighborhood, Brewteco sold only light lagers since opening in 1966. More recently though, it has added two taps and a craft bottle selection to its menu. Drink your beer of choice sitting or standing at the bar outside. A second spot with 21 taps and a focus on Brazilian brews opened in February in Barra.

Botafogo is becoming one of Rio’s best places to find good beer. For late-night dancing and drinks, head to Teto Solar, a bar that shares space with the Solar Cultural Center and stays open a little later than others (3 a.m. on weekends). Enjoy a jazz show here while appreciating a Motim Canudos Saison or another style from the 12 taps. Or grab a seat outdoors at one of Rio’s oldest craft beer bars, Boteco Colarinho, and watch the passersby in Nelson Mandela Square with a local draft, like Mistura Clássica Amnésia Imperial IPA, from one of nine taps.

Located close to Praça da Bandeira, Botto Bar takes its name from co-owner, homebrewer and brewing consultant Leonardo Botto. Its 20 taps pour both imported and domestic beers, such as Oceânica’s Slow Down Session IPA. To drink from a yard or boot-shaped glass, patrons must add one of their shoes to a basket, to be retrieved with the vessel’s safe return. A second bar in Botafogo will open for the Olympics.

Just a stone’s throw away is Aconchego Carioca, a beach-style bar and restaurant. For lunch, try Camarão na Moranga, shrimp with catupiry cheese served inside a pumpkin, or snack on Bolinho de Feijoada, a small fried pastry stuffed with the ingredients of the famous Brazilian meat and bean dish. Pair your food with Tropica’s Arequipa, a Session IPA with yerba mate, or something else from the bottle list. If there’s a line for seats, visit Bar da Frente (literally The Bar in Front), a tiny place on the other side of the street. As at other bars in Rio, you’re welcome to stand or sit outside under a shade tree and pick out a local brew like 3Cariocas Session IPAnema before your turn comes.

It’s a short journey west, in Tijuca, to find hundreds of bottles in coolers and on shelves lining the walls at Yeasteria. Order a bottle of Three Monkeys Brownie Ale, or try a selection from one of three taps.

About a mile from the Maracanã Stadium, Cerveja Social Clube offers five tables and a strategically placed sofa from which to enjoy its two taps, generally pouring a local beer like W*Kattz Saison, along with bottles from other Brazilian states. Don’t miss the Overkill, a burger with bacon served on spent grain bread.