“All because of a snow storm on a Saturday afternoon.” It was this way Rui Gonçalves, a Portuguese living in Luxembourg, summed up how the idea that lead to the Portuguese Craft Beer Weekend, held at the Moeder Lambic Fontainas in Brussels between 21 and 23 April, came up.
I had the opportunity to exchange a few messages with Rui, one of the responsible for this, and he told me about the circumstances and events that took 4 of the main Portuguese craft Breweries to Europe’s capital city.
It was on a snowy day, early 2016, that Rui, went to Mi Orge Mi Houblon, one of the best beer shops in Belgium (99 pts on RateBeer). The lack of customers, due to bad weather, allowed him to engage in a pleasant conversation with the owner of the establishment, Chris Gillard. As you would expect, the theme “Portuguese Craftbeer” became the center of the conversation. It didn’t take long to come up the idea of proposing a weekend at the Moeder Lambic, dedicated to Portuguese. Rui’s enthusiasm gave Chris Gillard, who has good relations with the Brussel’s bar, the idea. Rui asked some brewers for samples. There was also some support from Octavio Costa, who has been promoting several craft beer events in Portugal. After trying a few beers Chris Gillard, who is also an international beer judge, started thinking about going to Portugal for a few visits.
However, several events were postponing this trip. There were advances and retreats, issues of a commercial nature and even health problems, but finally, at the beginning of 2017, Chris Gillard arrived in Portugal. The Belgian, in two days, visited the Letra, Post Scriptum, Dois Corvos and Mean Sardine and was amazed. After returning, apart from kicking off the Portuguese Craft Beer Weekend event, he tried to order beers to sell at his shop. Later, Chris Gillard told Rui how the customers of his store liked the beers coming from Portugal, quickly draining the stock.
As for the Beer Weekend itself, looks like it was a success. I was there on Saturday afternoon (second day) and I could see how Moeder Lambic’s taps, loaded with Portuguese beer, had no time to rest. This was the tap beer menu:
Moeder Lambic Fontainas has a very nice and relaxed atmosphere. It is surely one of the best bars in Brussels when it comes to drink good beer. It’s a bit expensive but the beer selection is awesome, on tap and in bottles, and the staff is really helpful and friendly.
I really enjoyed how the employees, behind the counter, were trying and commenting the different beers. Seeing this, I couldn’t resist to questioning an employee about it. I asked her an opinion and the reaction of customers to the “invited” Portuguese beers . She seemed very honest when answering. She confessed that she was expecting a dozen or so of boring Pale Ales and IPA’s when she heard about the event. Then, she changed her mind after seeing such a variety of styles and, especially, after trying the beers. She said that the colleagues were also expressing a positive opinion.
As for customers, she mentioned that there were clearly two types. On one hand, the tourists that walks in looking for Belgian “classics” shows less interest in these beers but still they were receiving them well. On the other hand, the regulars, that go looking for these proposals, asking advice and leaving their opinions. She told me that generally the feed-back was being very good. I still had the opportunity to talk for a good half an hour with a regular customer of the bar. He was very interested and positively impressed with the beers. He noticed I knew most of them well and asked me some for advice and guidance. Too bad my, which is not a small one, was parked in the meanest car parking in Brussels and therefore I could’t sample many beers.
From the participating brewers, Filipe Macieira shared kindly a few words on the subject:
“The event was a success. We were in a country with hundreds of years in brewing tradition and where people from all over the world come to for that reason. The fact that we can get in a space like Moeder Lambic demonstrates the quality that Portuguese craft beer is showing. Feedback from the costumers was amazing and they know now that in Portugal there is more than just Sagres and SuperBock.“
Rui gave me also the information that in Moeder Lambic the event had left a very positive impression. Chris Gillard confirmed this and stated that there was still enough stock for a few of the beers to stay a little longer as“guests” at the bar. At Mi Orge Mi Houblon the availability of Portuguese beer will continue. Another important consequence, is the invitation of some Portuguese Brewers to participate in BXL Beerfeest in Brussels in the end of August. It seems that this Portuguese Craft Beer Weekend was able to help Portuguese Craft Beer Portuguese to spread and conquer new markets. And all this because of a snow storm on a Saturday afternoon…
Portuguese Craft Beer Weekend (Facebook)
Mi Orge Mi Houblon