Monday, February 1, 2010

Chope - Brazilian-style beer

One of the many components that contribute to a distinctive national or regional culture is the prevalence of a particular alcoholic beverage. For example, Italy or Spain are places where the most typical and traditional alcoholic drink is wine. In Germany and the Czech Republic, beer holds the pride of place as the most traditional drink, while in Russia it would have to be considered vodka.

Although Brazil produces a small quantity of decent domestic wine and foreign wines are available, beer (cerveja in Portuguese) is overwhelmingly the most popular alcoholic beverage. Wherever Brazilians gather, in homes, in restaurants, on the street or at the beach, beer is inevitably available. With no licensing laws (and a relaxed minimum age of 18) beer can be bought at supermarkets, bakeries, gas stations, or from the syrofoam box of a curbside seller.

Brazilians predominantly drink light lager beer, and prefer it VERY well chilled. It's often served at temperatures slightly below the freezing point, although with its alcohol content the beer will not be frozen. It's probably due to the tropical climate, but cold beer is a universal rule. Brazilians gag when they hear talk of British ales being served at cellar temperature.

Beer at home, at the beach, or on the street during carnaval is sold in 355 ml. cans, in 350 ml. "long-neck" bottles, and in 600 ml. bottles. But the Brazilian beer tradition is not limited to such packaging. In many regions of Brazil (but not all) the most highly-regarded beer is draft, poured directly from the tap. In Portuguese, draft beer is called "chope", which is pronounced like SHOW-pea, with the accent on the first syllable. Sometimes it's spelled as "chopp" but the pronunciation is the same. It is widely available in street-corner bars, in restaurants, and in chopperias, which are large establishments similar to a brew-pub and which specialize in chope, snack foods, conversation and music.

Brazilian chope is normally served in rather small glasses, due to the hot climate. A large mug or stein of chope would likely become warm before it is finished, thus it's better to have several small glasses of chope  rather than one large one. A well-poured chope of the Brazilian style has a large, creamy head, with three "fingers" of foam being considered the optimum, and a chopp without such a head might be refused by bar patrons. For the uninitiated, this head might be considered something of a rip-off, but in fact it serves a purpose. The foam acts as a thermal insulator, and protects the cold chope from becoming warm too quickly.

Chope is made by all the large multinational Brazilian breweries such as Brahma, Antartica and Skol. The small, local brewing industry is just starting in Brazil, and is probably at the stage that such breweries in North America were about ten to fifteen years ago, although every year the number of these small enterprises is growing.

It's well worth trying chope when in Brazil, and it's easy to order. If you ask for "cerveja" that means that you want bottled beer, "chope" will get you draft beer. All you need to say is "chope, por favor" and hold up one, two or three fingers depending on how many you want. They will arrive very quickly, very cold, and ready for the drinking. Saúde!  (That's "cheers" in Portuguese, and it's pronounced saw-OO-gee).

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