It was a fairly uneventful 9-hour flight to Belo Horizonte (after an hour delay on the tarmac before take off) and any anxiety apparent due to travelling to a new continent for the first time had been erased after chatting with Belgian artist, Robert Empain at Lisbon airport before boarding. Robert previously worked in advertising and was involved in creating a couple of ads for Duvel in the late 90s / early 2000s. It probably wasn’t a coincidence that talking about beer helped to calm the nerves…
Prior to arriving in Brazil, I had written to Cervejaria Wäls, a family-run brewery 7km from the centre of Belo Horizonte. Head brewer, Jose Felipe Carneiro replied that unfortunately they were holding a private event that weekend, meaning a visit wasn’t possible, however he recommended checking out 2 pubs that they run in order to try out some Wäls brews – Stadt Jever and Empório Serafina.
The first day in Belo Horizonte was spent walking around the city on my Jack Jones and, as it was close to the hostel, I decided to call in on Empório Serafina on the way home. By chance, Jose Felipe was there when I visited and he went through the detailed history of Wäls, starting with his father, Miguel, brewing a pilsner to serve at his 15-strong fast food chain back in 1999.
The Wäls’ range expanded in 2007 with the introduction of the Bohemia Pilsner (Brazil’s first premium pilsner) and 3 Belgian Strong Ales – the Dubbel, Trippel and Quadruppel. Interestingly, the Trippel is brewed using coriander seeds and peel from the ‘orange of the earth’, which is only found in the state of Minas Gerais.
The X Wäls was next up – an American premium lager first brewed in 2009 in order to show Brazilians that there was more to beer than the commercial brands they knew. The Wäls Brut was launched the following year – one of a handful of champagne style beers available in the world. Apparently Wäls are the only brewer in the world to carry out the entire process onsite.
This year has seen the introduction of the Wäls Petroleum, a Russian Imperial Stout that was first brewed by DUM Cervejaria in Curitiba. Jose Felipe was so impressed by their recipe that he suggested that they brew it commercially. The partnership beer that is available now comes in at 12% and includes cocoa powder sourced from Cacao Barry.
The Wäls Witte was also released this year and contains the same orange peel as the Trippel, as well as Jamaican pepper, cumin, cardamon and coriander. Pete Slosberg, one of the craft beer pioneers in America, gave it glowing reviews and mentioned that Pierre Celis (reviver of the witbier style) would have loved it.
The most noteworthy Wäls beer of 2012 however, has to be the “42” named after Douglas Adams’ Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything.
This saison / farmhouse ale (again, unprecedented in Brazil) came about after Jose Felipe presented to Google Latin America in Belo Horizonte. The Google Team suggested a collaboration similar to that between Google USA and Dogfish Head that produced Urkontinent. Ingredients here include Californian almonds (representing Google headquarters), pineapple, champagne yeast and Brazilian coffee and lemons.
While you definitely notice the difference in price between the regular beers in Brazil and those on offer at Empório Serafina, the difference in quality can’t be ignored and the 3 Wäls beers that I tested out (Petroleum, Witte and 42) were all brilliant.
With 9 new beers since 2007, it might seem like things can’t get any bigger for Cervejaria Wäls, but Garrett Oliver (Brewmaster of the famous Brooklyn Brewery) is heading to Belo Horizonte next month for yet another collaboration – this time using sugar cane juice. Definitely one to look out for…