For the last few years a large sign at Faro airport has declared ”/saa-grsh/ – it’s Portuguese for beer!”. While a now replaced giant sign on an apartment block as you drove into Faro shouted ‘Superbock, Very Typical’. Both companies spend a large chunk of their marketing budgets to ingrain themselves into Portuguese culture and persuading visitors to drink them! Unfortunately, this can mean to newcomers to Portugal, it appears there is only two beers to choose from. While this is largely true when it comes to bars and draught beer, it’s not especially true when it comes to Portugal’s small but booming craft beer scene. In general though, most bars will have either Superbock or Sagres on tap, but usually both in bottled form. Should you prefer the other. So, which is it? Super bock or Sagres? Read on to find out!
Beer in Portugal – A Brief History
To understand why this is a question at all, we need to look back into the history of Portugal. Between 1933 and 1974 Portugal was ruled by dictatorship, and only two brewing companies could operate, both owned by the state. The first and older was Unicer – Bebidas de Portugal, S.A. (now called the Super Bock Group), the second and slightly younger was Sociedade Central de Cervejas, S.A. (behind Sagres). During the dictatorship, foreign companies were banned from operating inside Portugal, which allowed these two breweries to cement themselves as the only beer producers of Portugal.
Following the Revolution in 1974, markets were opened to allow foreign companies to operate and distribute their products within Portugal. Despite this, neither company experienced much competition as they were both firmly entrenched. Only in recent years, and with the ‘craft beer boom’ felt across the world has there been a shift in Portugal’s beer market and perhaps taste. Not that you’d notice though, both companies still hold on to an approximate 93% of market share (47.2% for Super Bock and 46% for Sagres). This results in Super Bock vs. Sagres still being a lively debate today!
Super Bock and Sagres – A Quick Introduction
Unicer – Bebidas de Portugal, S.A. is now named after their primary product and called The Super Bock Group. Of the two companies, Super Bock is slightly older being able to trace its founding to 1890. Sociedade Central de Cervejas (SCC), behind Sagres can trace its lineage back to 1934. Sagres was founded near Lisbon, while Super Bock was founded near Porto, which adds in a slight north/south divide to the rivalry. Nowadays, Sagres (SCC) is actually owned by the Heineken Group. It’s one of the small factors you’ll hear when people argue or attempt to compare the two beers. Not that Super Bock is that much different, Danish brewer Carlsberg also owns a significant stake of Super Bock.
What beers do they sell? Tasting notes of Portuguese Beer
Between the two companies, they have a massive product stack that drowns out most competitors. Interestingly, and unknowingly to a lot of people, both companies also operate brands and sub-brands outside of their core names of Super Bock and Sagres. Super Bock’s product list is larger and includes Stout, Abadia, Selecção 1927, Coruja and Cristal. Sagres’s product list is smaller but includes Preta, Cascade, Bohemia and Radler.
Super Bock Beers
Super Bock is the primary product and comes in several varieties, Original, Stout, Abadia, and Green. Super Bock Original, is the companies first and most popular beer. It’s a light bodied golden lager.
Super Bock Stout, is their version of a stout. Whether this can really be called a stout is usually always debated. If anything, it’s more of a very dark lager or a very light stout. Despite this, it’s still very pleasant to drink! Abadia is a more ruby style lager that is slightly stronger (6.4% vs 5.0% of Original).
Selecção 1927 is Super Bock’s attempt at an upmarket offering inspired by famous world beers. Bavaria Weiss is its attempt at a German Weiss Beer, Japanese Rice Lager is a Japanese inspired premium lager. Bengal Amber IPA if you couldn’t tell from its name an attempt at an Indian Pale Ale. Munich Dunkel is a German inspired dark lager. Porter. Obviously, the keyword here is inspired, they are brewed for the domestic market and not specifically for the people from the region that inspired them. You’ll only find these in premium bars or large supermarkets, not in the more typical cafes and bars.
Whereas Selecção 1927 goes for the upmarket, Coruja is Super Bock’s direct rival for many of the newcomers from the craft beer market. They feature eye catching designs and come in four varieties. An India Pale Ale, American Amber, Hoppy Lager and a Session IPA. They eschew the premium packaging of Selecção and can be found in standard 330ml bottles and 6-packs at supermarkets.
Cristal is the cheapest beer offered by Super Bock and has a reputation for being the beer of students and fisherman! You’ll rarely find anyone saying something good about it, other than its price! The cynics will tell you it comes from the same factories as Super Bock, just with lower quality control.
Carlsberg – Just to throw in some confusion, Carlsberg is produced and sold by Super Bock in Portugal too. It’s a direct rival to other premium euro lagers, and you’ll usually find it next to Heineken in your supermarket.
Sagres or Sagres Branco to give it’s official name is described as a light golden lager, with a delicate bitterness. This is the main rival to Super Bock’s Original and is always what’s being referred to in the age-old argument of Super Bock vs. Sagres.
Sagres Preta, is Sagres’s rival to Super Bock Stout and of course Guinness. In our opinion, Preta is actually more stout like and darker tasting than Super Bock Stout. It’s described as a dark coloured beer, with a medium body, and a pleasant caramel bouquet.
Sagres Cascade is an attempt at a more premium lager. To differentiate itself it’s made with a different type of hops that adds a more floral and citrus flavour to the beer.
The Bohemeia brand actually has 6 different types of beer including Original, Puro Malt, Bock, Stout, and Trigo. They are all slightly stronger than the typical lager and were supposedly inspired by fine dining and by having a particular craft beer to match with your food.
Heineken, okay, so not strictly offered by Sagres, but part of the parent company. Heineken is often called the worlds most international lager and it might be the most well-known. You’ll find it in some premium bars and restaurants, or in bigger supermarkets.
Other Portuguese beer to drink? The Craft beers of Portugal
In recent years Portugal has had a significant rise in homegrown breweries that are all trying to take a slice of the large market occupied by Superbock and Sagres. If you head to any proper bar or pub, or even the beer aisle in a supermarket you’ll see a much wider range of offerings. The really unfortunate thing though, is that the majority of craft beers or alternatives that are worth trying can be much more expensive then the usual offerings. That said, if you’re a fan of beer they’re definitely worth a try! Here’s a few of our favourites and by no means is it a definitive list.
Cerveja Musa is one of the most popular craft beers from Lisbon. With bright graphics, and musically inspired names you’ll definitely notice these bottles. Twist & Stout, Red Ze-ppelin and Mick Lager to name a few of them.
While many of the new brands create lively and colourful personalities for their beers Letra springs the other way. Letra translates to letter and each style of beer is simply named by a letter: A for a blonde ale, B for Pilsner, C for Stout, D for Red Ale, E for a Belgian Ale, F for a American style IPA, and G for an imperial stout. Letra comes from the north of Portugal, the University of Minho to be precise!
Sovina – Cerveja Artisanal
Sovina was one of Portugal’s first craft brewers, first being involved in the sale of micro-brewery equipment before creating their own beers! Similarly to Letra, they have a simple style and really let the great beers speak for themselves. Definitely try their Helles style lager, its one of the best.
Cerveja Nortada are a brewery based in Porto, although they’ve now grown into more of a macro-brewery and are 50% owned by the owners of Estrella Galicia. They produce great beers in a range of styles, with one or two specialties a year. Their current popular oddity is a blueberry stout!
Algarve Rock are relative newcomers to the scene being founded in 2017, but they’ve quickly earned themselves the reputation of producing the best craft beers in the Algarve, and depending who you ask, Portugal. One of the most unique is their Piri-Piri Pilsener, but they do have a wide array of more usual alternatives.
Frequently Asked Questions about Beer in Portugal
How to order a beer in Portugal?
Cerveja is the word for beer in Portugal and is pronounced ‘sir-va-jah’, however you’ll probably want to be more specific than that! The following is a quick guide on how to order your typical beers in Portugal.
Uma Imperial – 200ml is the standard measure and normally what you’ll receive if you simply ask for a beer anywhere. It’s usually served in a tall thin glass.
Um Fino – An imperial but in the north of Portugal, Fino is the word for thin and refers to the glass its served in.
Uma Caneca – Is a 500ml glass. It’s about the closest you’ll get to a British pint in Portugal, and usually only available in more touristy areas. The Portuguese tend to drink smaller measures of beer.
Uma Garrafa – A garrafa means bottle. So usually you’ll have to specify which bottle Uma Garrafa de Super Bock Stout for example.
So, to order one of any of the above it would be uma (insert beer preference) por favor. For two beers it would be duas (insert beer preference) por favor. If you don’t know your numbers yet, then pointing or counting on fingers usually works just as well!
How much does beer cost in Portugal?
Well that really depends on your location, if you’re drinking at a bar, what kind of bar, or if you’re purchasing from a supermarket. Anywhere you approach that’s touristy or in a tourist location, you’ll be paying upwards from €2 for an imperial and €4-5 for a caneca. The rule of thumb is the same everywhere. The nicer and more popular an area, the more expensive the beer is! I’ll give some examples of Faro because I know the city well. The waterfront and harbor front bars will serve an imperial of national draught for around €2.50 and around €4.50 for a caneca. Around the corner at a popular sports bar, imperials are €1.50 and canecas are €3.50. A little bit further away from the touristy parts of the city you’ll find a range of bars popular with the locals, here you’ll find an imperial for €1.00, and bottles for €1.50. It’s rare to find local bars that serve canecas as they’re really only popular with tourists. On the last rung of the ladder you’ve got your dive bars, the kind of bar you have to know is there, because it doesn’t look like a bar at all. One of our locals will serve a plastic cup of Cristal for just €0.45.
Why is beer served in small sizes in Portugal?
There are several theories as to why beer is often served in small sizes, between the price, the temperature, and moderation. Summers in Portugal are hot, and drinks get warm quickly, so the main theory is the small size allows you to drink it all while its cold. The second one, is price. The smaller servings and bottles have less beer in them, so can be sold cheaper. The working population have small salaries compared to western Europe, the difference between paying €0.50 for a ‘Supermini’ and its 150ml of beer and paying €1.50 for a 330ml bottle is quite large. The final one is moderation, the small servings allow people to drink in the afternoons, or even the mornings before work! If you head to any local café during lunchtime, you’ll see a wide array of people drinking during lunch and heading to work afterwards. Small sizes allow you to have one or two and supposedly, you’ll be fine enough to go back to work.
Why is Super Bock called Super Bock?
For our German speaking visitors, this is often a point of confusion. Bock is a style of strong German beer of which Super Bock is not. Bock originates in Germany specifically the town of Einbeck. The beer from Einbeck was originally referred to as a Einbeck, then due to regional accents became Ein Bock, then simply Bock. In the 1930s, Unicer fused the idea of refining a Bock and created a super bock so it became Super Bock.
Sagres or Superbock?
Honestly, you should probably try both. You’ll find they’re both easy drinking lagers that pair extremely well with the climate! In our opinion though, we prefer Superbock, to us it has a better taste. As for their other offerings, you’ll find they’re usually a bit more expensive than the original variations in bars and cafés. If you do feel like splashing out for a premium beer or ale, then you should skip both Sagres and Superbock’s attempt at craft beers, and go for the real thing. Right now, we’re very fond of a Letra D, it’s a red ale produced by the Letra mentioned above.