Only moments after crossing the threshold of Cerveteca Lisboa, we were engaged in conversation with Rui Matis about kettled sour beer. Fresh from attending a craft beer festival, he enthusiastically expounded the advantages of the process, which is a hot topic currently dividing opinions in the industry. His unbridled enthusiasm for beer was unmistakable and it came as no surprise when he then introduced himself as the co-proprietor of the bar, which he runs with his wife.
Adjacent to the implausibly picturesque Praça des Flores in Lisbon’s centre, Cerveteca Lisboa is the city’s first craft beer bar and bottle shop. Before they opened in 2014, it was impossible to get even BrewDog to import to Portugal due to a perceived lack of interest in craft beer. Matis is a fan, however- as evident from the expansive selection of BrewDog available in bottle and the presence of Ship Wreck on tap that day- and he now imports and distributes the brand across Portugal just to guarantee his own stock.
The interior of the bar is comfortable, airy and welcoming- a world away from the cold industrial fittings or flimsy communal banquet tables of London’s slick taprooms. The space is fitted with modest fixtures, cosy tables and stools upholstered with coffee bean sacks. Patrons have ample space as well; during our visit, drinkers arrived in tandem and triples, enjoying free-flowing conversation without fear of being drowned out by a din of music or boisterous neighbours. The bar is positioned against the front wall with the rotating offerings across their twelve taps scrawled on a chalkboard. The bottle shop comprises of several wooden shelving units and a large fridge, featuring an admirable range from International breweries. A second fridge hosts a smaller selection in the far corner of the room. While Cerveteca Lisboa doesn’t exclusively focus on Portuguese examples, it does frequently represent them on tap.
In the interest of sampling the majority of the diverse menu, we ordered two flights of five one-third pints to share, leaving the selection entirely to Matis. We requested that the local breweries were all included, but couldn’t turn down the opportunity to taste recognised favourites To Øl and Lervig Brewery along the way.
Matis returned with our flights, each glass marked with the menu’s corresponding number and arranged from the softest to the heaviest beers on the palate. In addition to this, he obliged us with a traditional Portuguese bar snack, lupin beans. These flat, yellow legumes were salted and muddled with rings of red chilies, served in a glass. Like edamame beans, they required some dexterity to pry the bean from its slippery soft shell, which was then discarded. The salinity and mild heat married best with the bitter, hop-laden beers.
Our first Portuguese offering hailed from Lisbon’s Dois Corvos with their Avenida blonde ale, a beer that we had already relished on our trip to Duque Brewpub a few days before. Revisiting this beer, I found it extremely tart and more astringent than I remembered. Despite this, it remained an easily palatable beer with a plethora of fruity aromas.
Oitava Colina, another Lisbon-based brewery, was the next local example with their Urraca Vendaval, an IPA. Unquestionably a creditable attempt at the style, it gave off citrus and resinous notes on the nose and tactfully balanced strong hop character with hints of sweet malt for a pleasant bitter finish- a prototype IPA, but a respectable rendition nonetheless. In the uncomfortable afternoon heat, it was particularly drinkable.
The standout example of Portuguese brewing came from Mean Sardine Brewery in Mafra and their collaboration with Brouwerj de Molen: Ginja Ninja. Ginja refers to the widely venerated Portuguese liqueur Ginjinha, made from Morello cherries, which is a cloyingly syrupy tipple. Although an unexpected bedfellow to an imperial stout, this well-executed iteration exhibited only a mild sweetness from the Ginja. Its nose was dominated by deep roasted espresso beans and flavours of coffee and rich chocolate coated the palate with a smooth, creamy texture. The sweetness of cherry liqueur was only the backbone of the flavour profile, but it tempered the more dominant characteristics nicely. Extremely balanced and curiously drinkable in a warm climate, I would happily revisit this beer.
Cerveteca Lisboa felt more like an inviting neighbourhood bistro than a swarming bar- its quiet location, which is just off the beaten path, makes it unlikely to stumble upon haphazardly. But it’s worth eking out when in Lisbon. Enjoying a languid tasting session on a hazy afternoon here was one of the highlights of my trip to Portugal. Matis and this bar have done something seminal for Lisbon, opening up channels for further import of global beers and wider distribution of local breweries.
Most significantly, Cerveteca Lisboa is a genuine premise fueled by the city's evolving beer culture. It maintains an inclusive approach, creating an open communal space that is unfettered with gimmicks, trends and pretension. Here, you are simply drinking good beer in good company.