Portugal – a mini adventure

Beer, EU, Portugal

Name of beer: Sagres mini

Beer description: 5% lager

Portuguese word for beer: cerveja

Date joined the EU: 1986

Have I visited? Yes

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The country

So we have reached our final accession country from the 1980s. Hereon in, all the countries to come are younger Europeans than me. Portugal joined the EU in 1986 and has made its mark on the union ever since, counting one of its own countrymen as Commission President from 2004-14 and hosting the signature ceremony of the most recent iteration of the EU Treaties (I’m thrilled to discover you can watch the whole shebang on YouTube. What a time to be alive. It’s even better than watching UEFA cup draws or the results part of Eurovision).

I’ve visited Portugal only once – a long weekend to Porto about five years ago, which obviously featured port wine for the most part. I did have one beer whilst there – a customary Super Bock. I really loved the city, particularly the public transport, architecture and gastronomy.

Portugal is definitely a country that you don’t associate with beer. The market is dominated by Super Bock and Sagres. Together, these two take up 90% of the beer market so it’s fair to say that there is not so much variety and the craft beer scene is pretty slim pickings. I guess like their Iberian neighbours, beer is more functional fodder for the Portuguese. A refreshing means of quenching one’s thirst in the hot sun, but not much beyond that.

The Parliament

The Assembleia da República (Assembly of the Republic) is a unicameral Parliament comprising 230 members, all directly elected for a four-year term. Interestingly, although the members are elected from 22 constituencies, once they arrive in Parliament, they are expected to represent the entire country rather than just the constituency that voted for them.

The Assembleia possesses the usual parliamentary competences relating to legislation, supervision/scrutiny and the budget, but also a few fun bonus extras. For example, the Portuguese President is not permitted to absence himself from Portuguese territory without the consent of the Parliament, except for private holidays of strictly no more than five days. I would definitely take this prerogative very seriously if I were a Portuguese parliamentarian. “A six-day skiing holiday in the Alps, eh? DENIED. GOOD DAY SIR.” This is perhaps why I’m not a parliamentarian.

The Assembleia meets in the grandiose São Bento Palace in the heart of Lisbon. The building still possesses two chambers, dating back to when the country had a bicameral parliament prior to 1976. After the establishment of the single chamber system, the Senate Chamber became a general purpose meeting room for conferences and the like.

The beer

The Portuguese treat for our delectation was a mini bottle of Sagres. And it really was mini at just 20cl. Gareth got a mere thimbleful.

Sagres is produced by Sociedade Central de Cervejas – a brewery founded in Vialonga in 1934, but now controlled by Heineken (a recurring theme). The beer is named after the village of Sagres, the most south-westerly point of the European continent and closely associated with the Portuguese Age of Discovery. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Sagres is one of Portugal’s major export products, now found across the world.

We paired the Sagres with a spicy prawn stew and couscous, and it went really well with this flavoursome feast. The beer was quite transparent with some bubbles and a thin head. It was a pale golden colour and had a sweet, quite malty smell to it. I felt that it was light and full-flavoured, but without being overwhelming.

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Sagres and spicy stew

I could imagine that it would be very refreshing in the hot weather, something that Gareth said he could definitively confirm from first-hand experience. I think he just wanted an opportunity to be smug about the fact that he has been to Lisbon and I haven’t.

Overall, we found our mini bottle of Sagres to be pretty decent. I said that although it was not particularly special, it was more enjoyable than most mass-produced beers. Gareth agreed adding that it was not “sour and horrid” like some Euro-lagers.

So, after this brief sojourn on the Iberian Peninsula, it’s onto the 90s. Let the shell-suited raving commence.

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