For many years, the entire country of Portugal had two big beer brands: Sagres and Super Bock. Although Portugal has a storied history of wine, with brands like Sandeman and Taylor’s running beautiful, terraced vineyards along the Duoro River for almost 300 years, the same spirit of craftsmanship and culture hasn’t extended to beer.
But that’s changing. Portugal has 70 craft breweries, with Fábrica Nortada — Nortada meaning “Wind From the North” in Portuguese — leading the charge. The multi-leveled brewpub sits on a busy street in the Portuguese city of Porto, famous for its port wine as well as the Livaria Lello, the bookstore that supposedly inspired J.K. Rowling’s depiction of the library at Hogwarts.
“We want to bring craft beer to the masses,” said Diogo Guerner, Marketing Director at Nortada. “We’re in a market that doesn’t have much of a craft beer culture, but we want to be the wind of revolution.”
Inspired by breweries from the US and Barcelona, Guerner sees Nortada on a passionate mission to make craft more democratic.
“It shouldn’t just be for the connoisseur,” Guerner said. “Everyone likes beer, but until now, it’s been very expensive.”
For someone in the United States who’s used to drinking the latest double dry hopped IPA with marionberries and lactose, the brews at Nortada may seem boring or pedestrian. Think Sierra Nevada or Founders as opposed to Other Half or Trillium. But for the Portuguese consumer, who is used to walking into a bar and ordering “a beer” as opposed to any distinct style, it’s the perfect gateway toward a more experimental palate. The brewery is clean and welcoming, the kind of place you might meet a friend to drink a few beers over a football game, or a plate of bolinhos de bacalhau, the delicious potato and codfish fritters that seem to be on every menu in Portugal. The staff is knowledgeable and friendly, and everyone is passionate about beer.
When I visited, the menu included a lager, a dark lager, a Vienna lager, an IPA, a pumpkin beer, and a Weiss beer, as well as guest taps from a brewery in Brazil. With the help of my brother, his wife, and Sam Audet, a new industry friend that helps run the epic Festibiere de Quebec, I tried every beer in the lineup. I was particularly impressed by the lager, the Weiss beer, and the IPA, which I would drink over a Super Bock any day of the week. They’re proof that the winds of beer in Portugal are changing.
The brewery has big plans for the future. Although it was only started on April 7th, 2017 — the brewpub recently opened on February 15th, 2018 — Nortada is putting out 40,000 liters (about 700 barrels) of beer per month. By next summer, the brewery hopes to bump that number to 100,000 liters — almost 2,000 barrels.
As Nortada continues to educate Portuguese drinkers about craft, expect to see more experimentation coming out of Portugal. Beer-port hybrids? Festivals at storied wine estates? The drinking world can only hope.
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