Must Do in Rio
- Cristo & Sugarloaf
- Feira Hippie de Ipanema
- Hang out around Bar Urca
- Hocus Pocus & Overhop
Rio de Janeiro is a city of opposing extremes. It is arguably the most beautiful major city in the world, yet massive poverty in the surrounding favelas creates a prevalent air of uneasiness for and culture of crime against the visiting tourist. Gazing out my 12th story balcony overlooking Ipanema Beach, I was in awe at the white sand beaches, clear water, and breathtakingly luscious green mountains, yet I couldn’t overlook the favelas dotting the scenery, a constant reminder that the streets were not very safe because a large class of people had no legitimate means to make a living beyond crime and illegal activities. I know this is a beer blog – don’t worry, that’s coming soon – but I can’t avoid thinking about how the socioeconomic characteristics of a city affect one’s travel experience there.
With that groundwork laid out, I can now report that there is definitively beer in Rio. I was in Brazil for 3 weeks for work, and the last 2 would be in Rio. Week 1 was spent outside Sao Paulo, and you can reference my previous trip there to get an idea of what their beer scene is like. Along with some coworkers, I landed in Rio Friday afternoon and immediately began to soak in the beauty. From most spots in the city, you can observe the statue of Christ the Redeemer, Cristo, looking down, providing comforting watch over his people. The mountains spread about and around the city are stunning. They rise sharply amongst the urban landscape, offering tropical green refuge from the concrete jungle. Once checked in to our hotel, I stood on my balcony, admiring Ipanema Beach across the street. The sound of waves crashing against the shore played a constant relaxing soundtrack, and I immediately popped open the best beer available in the mini-fridge, Witbier from Cervaja Praya. Nothing special but that view greatly enhances any beer.
Dinner was at one of the best sushi places in the city, Sushi Leblon. While I will say that it was solid, it’s nothing special in the grand scheme of sushi. However, after a week plus of eating tons of heavy meat (and especially beef), raw fish was a nice change of pace. The requisite Sapporo was had along with a bottle of Brazilian sake which was quite nice at a very reasonable price. A post-dinner night cap of Interstellar IPA was had at the charming Aconchego Carioca.
Saturday was a tourist day, and our destination was the most obvious and most popular tourist spot in Rio, Cristo. Provided the tram is functional, taking that up the mountain is the way to go. It’s a unique experience and offers some great views along the way. The real winning views, however, are found at the top. After braving through long lines and many crowds, we deserved to soak up an incredible vantage point of Rio.
I also deserved some liquid refreshment to reward me for my dogged perseverance, and I had wisely smuggled just the ticket to celebrate the occasion. While not the typical beer you would think of enjoying during a hot day at a religious monument, Smells Like Pepo Spirit was the 11.5% refreshment I needed. This Dogma collaboration with Mikerphone was thick and boozy, seemingly chock full of the maple syrup it boasted as an ingredient.
With a bit of sacrilege out of the way, the afternoon was spent low key walking around Ipanema. Shockingly, there is no craft beer being sold by vendors on Ipanema Beach. There is plenty of Heineken though, and caipirinhas are sold on the cheap. Some light indulging on the sugary cocktail eventually led to dinner back in Leblon. For my own personal dessert back at the hotel, I treated myself to chocolate and raspberry courtesy of Hubbard’s Cave. Chocolate & Blackberry Pot De Crème was a phenomenal play on the increasingly popular fruited stout trend. The blackberries were jammy and worked with the cacao to create a liquid form of raspberry filled hard chocolates.
Sunday was a pretty chill day. I had a fantasy football draft in the morning, and I’ll spare you the riveting details and drama involved there. My drink of choice for the 10 AM start time was PBJ from Dogma, a refreshing little 12% stout which stuck close to its namesake. A late lunch with the group was had at Fresh & Good which delivered on its promise. Magic Trap from Hocus Pocus paired nicely with the burger I was craving, and I have to say that it was a pretty legit burger. After eating, we made a stop at Feira Hippie de Ipanema, the Hippy Fair, to scope out local goods and eventually buy some artwork and a necklace for the lady (good tip for everyone to do this for their own special lady). This Sunday market features extensive local arts, crafts, vintage goods, and many random things that are wonderful to explore. Before calling it a night, I went to the conveniently located Lord Jim Pub a block away from our hotel. They have a nice selection of craft bottles, and I went with Hocus Pocus APA Cadabra and Orange Sunshine, a decent Pale Ale and Blonde respectively. Time to get rested for the week after that.
After the work day, dinner consisted of shitty Thai food accompanied by a feux-craft Appia from Cervejaria Colorado. Things had to go up from there, and Brewteco was just the place to lift the night’s quality into respectable territory. Leblon is Brewteco’s oldest and smallest location, and it had a really cool feel to it. A tiny bar area with only a few seats and tables encouraged people to stand around and hang out on the sidewalk while drinking their beers. I was digging the vibe, and the beer list was very impressive by Brazilian standards. TOMORROWLAND from Farra Bier got the party started. This hazy Double IPA was just what I needed. I proceeded to take things to the next level with LAYLA, a nice and roasty 12.5% Russian Imperial Stout from Cervejaria Mistura Clássica. The nightcap was Farra Bier ALL IN IPA, a West coast style that poured an intriguing hazy amber hue.
Tuesday’s dinner featured Sushi Leblon once again, and this time I paired my sake with a witbier / saison hybrid that was brewed exclusively for the restaurant. I was very impressed with the prevalent wheat that melded nicely with the barnyard quality.
Wednesday we kept with an Asian flare and ate at the widely touted best Indian restaurant in the city, Taj Mahal. It was indeed pretty legit Indian food as confirmed by myself and my coworker who has an Indian wife. The spice was not at the level where I would have liked it to have been, but the flavors were top notch. I drank an appropriately named Taj (assuming it’s made for the restaurant) that was interestingly made with ginger and thus classified as a ginger beer. It was pretty refreshing and drank very easy for 7%. I was quite satisfied that we had managed to find good Indian food in Brazil.
Thursday was getting close to the weekend and time to have some brewskis. Brava from Cervejaria Buzios was a decent pre-dinner hotel beer I’d picked up at the local supermarket. It was nice Brazilian dinner night, and the upscale Casa Camolese was our destination. This sprawling new building housed a restaurant, a cafe, a live music area, and a microbrewery, creating a memorable experience with phenomenal food and pretty solid beer. Greta was called a NEIPA but it is more accurate to say it was a Pale Ale with some nice fruity hops. Zaza was their decent enough witbier. The dinner wasn’t complete without a caipirinha or two to close things out.
After work on Friday, I started the weekend right with One Love by Overhop. This brewery’s striking label designs pair well with their generally hop forward beers, and this classic West Coast DIPA was a nice reminder of where the IPA craze began. This was designated Brazilian steakhouse night, and Rubaiyat at the racetrack was the spot we chose. The views over the racetrack were very cool, and the restaurant had a comfortable modern style. My steak was expectedly killer, and I washed it down with a witbier and a couple caipirinhas. Dinner was succeeded by another Brewteco trip as we were obviously hooked on the charming neighborhood vibe and excellent selection of this craft beer watering hole. Highlights included a nice refreshing and light sour, SPRING BREAK, from Farra Bier, and another easy drinker in IPL ANEMA, a cleverly named IPL from 3Cariocas.
Saturday was a day of adventure, and the legendary Copacabana Beach was our destination. We rented bikes from the very convenient shares located all throughout the city, and we cycled along Ipanema and then the length of Copacabana. Biking in Rio is very easy as the tourist parts of the city are all flat and cycling infrastructure is the most expansive in South America. As with everything else in the city, safety is always a concern, but commonsense should keep you out of trouble. After a nice ride down the beach, we walked to Gelato Sat’s, a traditional Brazilian restaurant with incredible fire roasted meats. My coworker and I split a half meal at the suggestion of our waiter, and it proved to be plenty of food for the both of us. I accompanied my steak with Therezópolis Gold, a nice Brazilian lager. We bought some walking beers at a nearby bodega and strolled Copacabana, checking out the sights and sounds of the most popular beach in Rio. It was fairly crowded, and we were told that summertime (the US winter) is very crowded and much more dangerous. That’s something to consider if you are thinking about visiting Rio. Even though our walking beers were tiny little things, they packed some huge flavor. Event Horizon from Hocus Pocus was a legit NEIPA.
My other tiny beer was also from Hocus Pocus and was also a very nice NEIPA. O Mago utilized experimental hops to give it strong citrus and piney flavors. It indeed did not suck sitting on the beach enjoying some awesome beer.
After a relaxing afternoon soaking up sufficient rays and praying I wasn’t too burnt, it was finally time for pizza! Our work colleague recommended we try Mamma Jamma, and I am very thankful for his wonderful suggestion. The pizza was legit, and we drank a nice bottle of wine to accompany the pie. Happy to finally try some za in Rio, I retired to my hotel fully satisfied.
Sunday we met up with our colleague to check out Sugarloaf Mountain. This UNESCO heritage site rises over 1,200 feet above the water in dramatic fashion and offers amazing views of the city. We chose the non-lazy route up the first half of the mountain and enjoyed a nice albeit crowded little hike. As is requisite, we had a beer at the midway point and stood in awe of the citywide view.
In my opinion, Sugarloaf offers the best view of the city as you can see Cristo as well as all the major beaches, downtown, and cities and mountains further east. I highly recommend completing the ascent by taking the gondola from the midway point up to the top to get the full unadulterated view. It truly is breathtaking to see all of Rio at once. Once we had rode back down, we took a short cab ride to Urca, a small enclave in the city tucked behind Sugarloaf. The thing to do here is grab beers and empanadas from Bar Urca and eat them while sitting on the stone wall overlooking Guanabara Bay. While you’re snacking and drinking, put your name on the list for the restaurant and prepare to enjoy an excellent meal of Brazilian specialties after waiting for a bit. The caipirinhas are also top notch at the tiny and crowded restaurant, so don’t pass up on those. This was one of the coolest experiences I had in Rio as it made me feel more like a local and less like a dopey tourist doing all the typical things tourists do. I was grateful to have a colleague to show us around the best local spots.
I still felt like going out after the long and busy day, so I took an Uber to Botafogo which is seemingly the center of beer in Rio, containing several renowned beer bars and brewpubs. My first destination was Boteco Colarinho, one of the older restaurants serving craft beer in the city. I couldn’t pass up the rare sighting of a Black IPA, and Massacre from Dead Dog did a decent job at handling the style. The pizza itch needed scratching again, so I walked to Birreria Escondido, CA. The name is a nod to Stone Brewing based out of Escondido, CA, and I imagine that Stone had something to do with opening this spot although I could not find anything about it. I did find that it was modeled after Pizza Port, the CA makers of amazing pizza and beers. While it did not seem that this spot was making their own beer, they did have a great tap list to go along with some nice za. My beer of the night was Atomga Au Framboise from Bodebrown. As the name implies, this was a raspberry stout that clocked in at 10% and continued my streak of enjoying fruited stouts.
The last week of work had begun, and I wouldn’t allow that to limit my fun. Make sure to sing that rhyme to yourself. We were finally going to check out a brewery tasting room, and I was very excited about Hocus Pocus DNA. While they do not brew on sight, they did have an excellent selection of their own beers as well as some guest taps. I was very impressed by everything. I started off with not-their-beer and was thankfully rewarded with legit Brazilian haze. 4 Billion Trucks from Croma had a super pillowy mouthfeel that I love along with strong flavors of pineapple and mango. SuperSymmetry from Hocus Pocus was a big Triple IPA that drank silky smooth, and Elephant’s Graveyard was the 12% peanut butter dessert stout I needed. Also the burgers and fries I had were great. It was an overall top notch experience at this tiny brewpub.
Tuesday was another sushi night providing some relief from the standard fare of heavy meats and starches. Post-dinner was rather predictable: like a shining beacon calling us through the dark night, we once again went to Brewteco. I was in the mood for some hazies, thus opening with a Strawberry Milky Way IPA from Three Monkeys. While not quite Tired Hands, this milkshake IPA did have excellent fruit flavor that steered clear of cloying territory. Underdog from Cervejaria Octopus was another nice NEIPA with some very cool label art. The addition of white grapes was an interesting choice that lent a sweet and subdued quality to the hop profile. A single hop IPA, Azacca Lover from Dogma, finished out the night. Wednesday would be another tasting room night, and Overhop Experience was located 2 doors down from Hocus Pocus. This brewery has an interesting origin story as it began in Ontario, Canada and then opened an outpost in Brazil. I’m not sure of the connection there, but that’s certainly a unique way to go about international expansion for a small to moderate sized craft brewery. I started out my tasting with Rising Sun, a hazy DIPA that hit some nice notes. Next up was Pizookie, a chocolate cinnamon oatmeal stout that hit its flavors spot on. I’m not the biggest fan of cinnamon in beers, but this was a mere supportive flavor that did not dominate the tasting experience. Last and certainly not least was Hazy, an appropriately named NEIPA that drank damn nice and would serve as a drinking staple were I to live in Rio. To duplicate our tasting room experience from the previous night, we had burgers and fries which proved to be very legit. This marked the third occasion I had a hamburger in Rio, and all of them were very good with no Brazil caveats needed.
For my last night in Rio, I wanted to check out a new spot. It turns out that the new spot was a different location of a by now well known spot, Brewteco. This new location, Brewteco Barra da Tijuca, required a lengthy traffic laden Uber to reach. The digs were much larger than its Leblon counterpart including a lot of outdoor space. It didn’t have that cozy neighborhood feel, but it did have a larger draft and bottle/can list. I got the party started with a sour NEIPA, Agrume. While not very hazy, it did have a nice tropical tartness to it. Galaxy Detox was a super dank hazy that could have easily been tossed in a glass bowl and lit up. Dessert beer was Black Mist, a Russian Imperial Stout loaded with coffee, vanilla, cocoa nibs, and aged on oak chips. It was a solid representation of the style and an appropriate place to end my night of drinking.
My final day in Rio had arrived, and I was left with the memories of a city that existed on two opposing plains, an ever present conflict between an incredibly vibrant and beautiful place and one where you cannot walk down the street without some stress, knowing that someone could very well be casing you looking for an opportune mugging. I very much enjoyed my stay and checking out the city’s beer scene, but it is not a place I would rush to visit again. It’s unfortunate that the city is not safer for tourists. Maybe in the future the local government will clean up their act and deal with its lower class population in a more productive manner. If Rio had the safety of most other international cities I’ve visited, it would easily be one of the best cities in the world. Until then, I enjoyed it for what it was and soaked up as much culture as I could in my limited time.