Rob Stansel headed to the Douro with aspirations of becoming Canada’s first Master of Port. After a three-day master class on Port led by the industry’s best palates and the ever-thirsty Bishop of Norwich, Rob and nine other Canadian sommeliers sat down to an exam. Rob didn’t emerge as one of the final five that will compete next year for the coveted title…but with a certificate of participation in his back pocket and teeth decaying from 3-days of drinking sugar rich tawnies, he knew there was only one thing to do: drink a rabelo-boat-load of local beer and re-calibrate his palate back to its usual, hop-soaked state.
Catraio was the first craft beer bar & shop to open its doors in Porto. That was in 2015. Now, the city is buzzing with similar spaces, devoted entirely to spreading the gospel of artisanal: good beer, brewed with integrity, by passionate locals.
“These are honest people,” noted a bar patron seated next to me, speaking of Porto’s emerging craft scene. “They love good beer, and they brew for those who appreciate that.”
Turns out said bar patron had designed a label for his friends at Mean Sardine Brewing Co., a label, I’d noticed, with grapes drawn on it. It was a Portuguese grape ale, brewed with jampal, a grape so autochthonous that Decanter recently described it as “near-extinct”. Someone at Mean Sardine knew someone at Manzwine, where the grape had been re-discovered by Brazilian ex-footballer, André Manz. His 2017 jampal crop wasn’t destined for bottling, it seems, so why not pour the must into a barrel of imperial saison and see what happens?
Brewer Daniel was more than happy to explain each step of the fermentation to me, as I sipped on his ‘A Walk in Madeira’ Passion Fruit IPA, into which he’d tossed Madeira-wine-soaked barrel staves because again, in the spirit of vinous brewing, why the hell not?
The dialogue between craft beer and wine, I quickly discovered, is happening on both sides of the Atlantic. Here in Canada, brewers and vintners are collaborating to create hybrids that defy categorization. Take Burdock’s ‘Bumo’, an ale brewed with grapes from Niagara’s Pearl Morissette. Is it ale, or is it wine? When it tastes this good, no one really cares, but the discourse is fascinating: how do we talk about this stuff?
Dan Tanner, of Tanner & Co. Brewing Ltd., in Chester Basin, Nova Scotia, is a somm-turned-brewer with a backyard of vines he’s put to good use.
“In this part of the province, vinifera doesn’t ripen very well,” he explained, “but what do you do with 400 plants?”
In his case, you make a Cabernet Franc Milk Stout, among other aromatic, wine-tinged ales that both speak to his experience in the wine industry, and pique the palates of his tap room’s patrons. “The trend is local. People want interesting and different.” Working on a three-barrel system in a 20 by 20 foot space, Dan can’t keep up with demand, but he’s happy to pour pints and tell his beers’ stories, working “behind the counter” as much as possible.
Portugal’s craft beer scene is in much the same state as Canada’s: still finding its feet, but already sprinting, and eager to re-interpret the concept of terroir as something that can be expressed in grain as well as grape. Or both.
Margaret Orlowski learned the art of homebrew in Vancouver. Upon re-locating to Lisbon in 2012, she started brewing out of a small communal kitchen and quickly began converting local palates. Now she’s single-handedly running her nano-brewery, AMO, which opens to the public on Thursday and Friday evenings as a space for art, spontaneous musical performances, and beer-friendly tapas. Like Dan, Margaret is happy to be small and quality-focused. She has yet to brew a grape ale, but notes that the Portuguese are very proud of their regional, artisanal products – wine and cheese, particularly – so there is a general enthusiasm about the trend, which is bringing the communities of wine and beer together.
“The craft brew community in Portugal is very supportive, sharing, and exciting, and our consumers are thrilled to have these craft beers. There’s a feeling that we’re doing something very new here, and that fact that I’m from Canada, that I’m a female brewer and business owner, doesn’t seem to make a difference for them.”
That sense of community was palpable at Porto Beer Fest, where I happily sipped my way through a variety of vinous brews, thinking all the while: where else is this happening, and how do I get there?...