September 12, 2019

ARTBEERFEST -- Alexander Beer puts Caminha on the map!

Nighttime festivities at the
Packed like Portuguese sardines.
A big beer festival in a tiny town.  Over 30,000 visitors came to the ARTBEERFEST in Caminha in northern Portugal, population pushing 18,000.

This year's ARTBEERFEST is the sixth -- and they just keep growing every year.  Most of the visitors come from Portugal and neighboring Spain, but also from all over Europe and even America.

And of course, this year there were Mr. & Mrs. Old Blogger from Israel.

The festival did not cover a huge area; just over two compact courtyards in the center of town.  But that was enough space to have 50 craft brewers pouring their beers; brewers from Portugal and Spain, Greece and Scotland, Norway and the U.S.  For the first time, there was also an Israeli beer -- Alexander.

The old blogger joins Filipe Macieira (left)
of the Letra Brewery, and Octavio Costa,
ARTBEERFEST impresario,
for a stroll through Caminha.
Portuguese whom we met in our Lisbon hotel never heard of Caminha.  The woman in the Portuguese Tourist Office never heard of Caminha.  Caminha wasn't even mentioned in the popular Lonely Planet guide book, for heaven's sake (though it does appear on the map).

"We picked Caminha for the ARTBEERFEST because that's where I live," says Octavio Costa, the head of OG & Associados, responsible for organizing the ARTBEERFEST and more than a dozen other beer festivals and Portugal and Europe.

"Beer festivals bring people together," gushes Octavio, "and this is a cool place to do it."

Caminha welcomes visitors
Octavio recalls that launching the first ARTBEERFEST six years ago was, "like planting a tree in a desert.  Portugal is a wine country, and craft brewing here was in its infancy.  We attracted just 16 brewers from Portugal.  Little by little, we gained recognition across Europe and more brewers joined every year.  Last year, we had the first beers from the U.S. and Brazil.  This year we have 50 breweries represented."

Octavio has been interested in bringing an Israeli brewer to the ARTBEERFEST for several years.  "I'm half-Jewish," he announces, "and I want Israeli beers to have visibility here."

[Many Portuguese will tell you that they can trace Jewish roots back to the forced conversions and the Inquisition in the 15th and 16th centuries.]

A couple of years ago, Octavio approached the old blogger to help him find an Israeli brewer who would exhibit at the ARTBEERFEST and consider making a collaboration beer in Portugal.  I tried, but without success.

The collaboration team that almost was:
Ori Sagy of Alexander and
Gonçalo Faustino of Maldita (center),

joined by Alexander brewers
Sahar Nevo and Elad Gassner.
In the end, it was Mikkel Borg, who brews beers all over the world under the Mikkeller label, who
introduced Octavio to Ori Sagy, owner of the Alexander Brewery in Emek Hefer.  Ori did not have to be persuaded very much to agree.

For the future, Octavio is thinking big.  "I would like to bring Portuguese and other brewers to Israel.  Yes, I think we can arrange a beer festival in Israel on a par with those we are organizing in Europe.  That would really put Israeli beers on the map."

"As we say," I told Octavio, "'If you will it, it's no dream.'" 
In Caminha, I met Ori Sagy on the last day of the festival with two of his brewers, Sahar Nevo and Elad Gassner.  He had completely sold out all of his beers except the Amber Ale, so that's what we drank.

All the participating brewers arrive for
the ARTBEERFEST in Caminha.
"We sold about 300 liters over three nights at the festival," Ori told me.  "How do I know people liked our beer?  Well, because quite a few asked for tastes and then came back and bought three, four or five more beers."

The best laid plan for Ori bringing Alexander to the ARTBEERFEST was to have been a collaboration beer -- the first collab in fact between an Israeli and a Portuguese brewery.

A promotion for Portuguese
craft beer awaited us at the hotel.
The Portuguese brewer was already picked out: Maldita, a seven-year-old craft brewery in Aveiro that has won over 40 European awards for its beers.  I even met the owner, Gonçalo Faustino, at the festival.

I was dreaming of drinking a great beer and writing a great story.

My dear readers, I have to disappoint you -- about the beer that is.  The story may still be worth reading.

A technical hitch prevented the beer from being brewed on the day after the festival, and since Ori Sagy had to leave right after that, the collab beer was put on hold indefinitely.

However, Trudy and I did get to drink some fine beers at the ARTBEERFEST.  Here are a few of them:

Ruben from the Dos Santos Brewery
offered some specialty beers on tap.
The first Portuguese brewer I met was Ruben from the Dos Santos Brewery in the Algarve region.  I toasted with two of their specialty beers: Groselha, a pale ale infused with red currants, and Burguesa, a Rauch (smoked) Bock.  Both were firsts for me.

Daniel Ramiro, head brewer at the Mean Sardine,
didn't let me say, "Enough!"

From Ericeira came beers from a brewery named Mean Sardine.  Sardines are the closest thing to a "national fish" in Portugal, being served in many dishes and sold in decorative cans to tourists.  Mean Sardine's head brewer Daniel Ramiro was pouring two Imperial Stouts: Ginja Ninja, brewed with cherries, and Portucale, made with dried figs steeped in port wine, another famous Portuguese product.  Both were delicious, delicate and balanced.

Daniel insisted that I try three other Mean Sardine beers -- a Barley Wine made with mazcal, and two very piney IPAs: a Black IPA (Voragem), and a West Coast IPA (Tormenta).

Seven Island brewer Costa Pougatsias (left)
welcomed visitors under the Caminha full moon.
The Letra Brewery in Vila Verde Braga is six-years-old, and according to partner Filipe Macieira, that qualifies it to be one of the first craft breweries in Portugal!  Their Letra F, an American IPA, was the only beer I tasted.  It was indeed an American IPA, made with American hops, full of citrus and tropical fruit flavors.

A one-man band kept visitors entertained.
Moving on to other countries, we found the best sour beers in the festival at the Seven Island Brewery booth.  "We're still gypsy brewers," said owner Costantin (Costa) Pougatsias, "but next year, we're opening up our own brewery on Corfu (Greece)."

The Bahama Papa contains coconut, pineapple and passion fruit, while the Very Berry is brewed with raspberries and blackberries.  I have never tasted more enjoyable kettle-soured beers, with an excellent blending of fruit flavors, a sour level that lets them shine through, and a malt backbone that never lets you forget you're drinking beer.

Andrew Pearson (left), founder of the
Scottish group Beer Without Borders,
cut an inspiring highlandish figure in his kilt.
I washed these babies down with a Mango Double IPA that was fruity and ultra-bitter and 8.5% ABV.

It was no surprise when Costa told me that Seven Island has won eight awards in European competitions -- and that's before they even have their own brewery!

I also met some U.S. brewers who had come to the ARTBEERFEST.

Just being tourists:  The old blogger and Trudy
near the famous Sintra Castle.
Stillwater Artisanal from Brooklyn offered me their Insetto, a sour ale brewed with plums and dry-hopped.  From the 18th Street Brewery, also in Brooklyn, I downed a short glass of The Fox and The Hunted Porter.

Gigantic Brewery from Portland, Oregon, a city known for its many excellent craft breweries, honored me with a Double IPA aged in gin barrels, another first for me and a literal eye-opener.

On a touring break, drinking fine
Portuguese wine:
Keep that a secret! 
Lastly, the Thin Man Brewery in upstate Buffalo, New York, wet my whistle with their flagship IPA, Three Prong Spear.  Owner Jack McAuliffe told me that the three-year-old brewery sells its beers along the east coast and Canada, has just opened their second brewhouse in Buffalo, and has brewed a collab beer with Seven Islands.  Shame it wasn't around for me to taste.

I thought I had one too many when I saw these guys walking around in kilts, which I was sure were not the Portuguese national costume.  I blinked a few times but they were still there, so I went up and introduced myself.  Andrew Pearson, friendly and loquacious, shook my hand and told me the story of Beer Without Borders, an organization he founded to forge close links between Scottish and European craft brewers. 

"We participate in festivals, encourage collaboration beers, and support exporting into each other's market," Andrew said.  "This is our first time at the ARTBEERFEST and we brought four Scottish breweries with us.   We won't let Brexit separate us from Europe!"       

Trudy and I enjoyed meeting the people, drinking the beers and absorbing the ambiance at ARTBEERFEST.

As is usually the case with me at beer festivals, friendly brewers insist that I try another beer, and another taste of this, and a sip of that.  And I was raised too polite to refuse.

Mass-brewed beer, but very pleasant:
Super Bock and 1927 beer on tap in
a Lisbon restaurant.
When the time came for us to walk back to our hotel -- a 15-minute walk along the Minho River with Spain on the opposite bank -- Trudy was kind enough to hold my hand and lead me in the right direction.  I managed to put one foot in front of the other all the way back to the hotel.

It was a great ending to a beer-centered festival.  The music and the food stayed in the background and the beer stayed in our bellies.

Enjoying Sovina Amber Ale, a widely available
Portuguese craft beer. 
We drank other beers while in Portugal (Lisbon and Porto), but they were mostly from the industrial brewing duopoly: Sagres and Sagres Bohemia Original (owned by Heineken), and Super Bock and 1927 (owned by Carlsberg).  The only other craft beer we had was Sovina, enjoying the Amber Ale (bière de garde) and IPA in Lisbon.

We thoroughly enjoyed visiting Portugal, a country that is becoming one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world.  And the ARTBEERFEST in Caminha was the cherry on the whipped cream -- or as we prefer to say, the foam on the beer.                 


  1. Wonderful article, Doug. You made me feel that I was actually there! Two thumbs up!


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