Portugal is a nation characterised by phenomenal seafood, delicate pastéis de nata custard tarts and waterfront backdrops awash with sunshine. While jugs of sangria and wine flow amply, the Portuguese craft beer movement is in its infancy. Things are picking up speed, however, and 2016 has heralded a dramatic shift away from the stranglehold of Sagres and Super Bock in every bar. A recent trip to Lisbon revealed a growing appetite for different styles of beer and the rebellion against generic pale lagers. Just last month, the city saw its second microbrewery and brewpub, Chimera Brewpub, emerge.
Up until 2014, it was nearly impossible to source craft beer in Portugal. The first taproom and bottle shop to open its doors was Cerveteca Lisboa in Lisbon and the city’s first microbrewery, Duque Brewpub, opened in February this year. Duque boasts 10 taps where Portuguese breweries are represented- including offerings from their on-site microbrewery, Cerveja Aroeira, and an expansive selection of bottles.
Located on a quintessential Lisbon sidewalk- a cobblestone street that requires an laborious ascension up a series of steps- Duque is an unassuming venue. The exterior might be unmistakably Lisbon, replete with a motley of colourful Portuguese tiles, but the inside is a trendy taproom befitting of East London. The bar is lined with taps on the far wall, surrounded by shelves crowded with bottles, and the day’s menu is inscribed on a chalkboard. Dark, heavy wooden fittings, concrete floor and ironic kitsch paintings lend a touch of hipster to the venue.
There are two booths, several small tables and single stools against the wall. More seating is available outside on the street, but the bi-fold doors of the pub were thrown open, making it effortless to glide between the indoor and outdoor space. The servers emulate the trendy spirit of the pub and would pass for Shoreditch locals, but more crucially, they demonstrated a good depth of knowledge and enthusiasm about Portuguese beer.
During our visit, American accents were ubiquitous amongst the crowd with the exception of a German couple sat adjacent to our table. It was mid–afternoon, so it was difficult to gage how popular Duque is with the locals. Even in the sunshine, the atmosphere was congenial- servers navigated customers through the bottle menu and a soundtrack of 70s and 80s classics wafted through the air. While I was determined to sample a spectrum of styles, the searing temperature quashed my desire for any porters or stouts. Both were proffered on tap.
I immediately honed in on the Pique-Nique Hibiscus Saison from Lisbon-based Passarola Brewing. In the glass, it was a cherry coloured pint with a juicy opaqueness. This was an attractive beer that elicited envious glances from neighbouring tables. Despite its appearance, it was slightly unbalanced for my taste- the aroma was salty and tart with soft raspberry notes. The first taste was both astringent and bone-dry and I detected no sweetness to counterpoint the sharpness of its taste. As it warmed and developed in the glass, it became more palatable, but I was eager to move on.
A more successful punt was the Ora et Labora cherry beer in bottle from Post Scriptum Brewery, based in Porto and brewing since 2015. Pouring a darker and frankly less appealing off-brown colour, this was a juicy, viscous beer with an authentic cherry flavour. The fruit characteristics were subtle, sour and refreshing. It was both sublime in the sticky weather and an impressive effort. I’d eagerly try more of Post Scriptum‘s range purely based on this– the styles available on Duque’s bottle menu were extensive and included everything from an Imperial Stout to a Doppelbock.
Still yearning for something thirst-quenching, I opted for the Avenida blonde ale from another Lisbon brewery, Dois Corvos. Flawlessly executed, this blonde beer packed powerful aromas of bready malts and banana and delivered the smooth creamy mouthfeel that you’d expect from the style. The sweetness was subtle on the palate and it finished with a lingering and pleasant bitterness. This was slick and sessionable, further demonstrating that there’s life beyond lager in Portugal.
As a springboard for a Portuguese beer odyssey, Duque Brewpub is superb. In a picture-perfect location posed on top of one of Lisbon’s ubiquitous inclines, surrounded by the soft bustle of local businesses, it’s an ideal spot to perch and people watch. Exclusively serving local beers, it’s impressive to see the range of styles covered, demonstrating how ambitious and confident Portuguese breweries have become in only a matter of years. The evolution of craft beer is unquestionably happening in Portugal and a trip to Duque Brewpub confirms that they’re making up for lost time.