Saturday, June 9, 2012

Going Out For a Beer in Sao Paulo!

A few weekends ago it was my friend’s birthday, so a group of us went out to celebrate it in a British style pub. It’s only been a few months since I was last in a Landaaaaaaan boozer, yet within the first few minutes of being there and soaking up the (almost) familiar atmosphere, I was reminded of just how different going out for a beer is in Brazil, compared to going out for one back in the UK….

Hot Beer V’s Ice Cold Beer

It's me and my pint!
As I stood at the bar with my Brazilian friend, there was no doubt in my mind that when the bar woman got round to serving me, I would be ordering my lager in a PINT GLASS (Wheeeeeeeeeeey! I’m so MANLY!)! Just before ordering it I asked my mate Kiko if he wanted one too. He looked at me in disgust and then replied, “Andrew, I ABSOLUTELY no want a beer in a pint glass!” We then had a conversation that went something like this:

“You know that after you drink 75% of your beer, the rest is absolutely hot?”
“Well, it’s not reeeeeeeally going to be that hot is it?”
“Andrew, it will be very hot, and disgusting!”
“Well your idea of hot, and my idea of hot are obviously very different”.

A few minutes after having this conversation, the bar woman returned to put my pint down on the bar in front of me. As I picked it up and took my first sip, out of the corner of my eye I could see Kiko, putting me off by screwing his nose up at it. Then he ordered himself a small bottle of the same beer. Drinking out of a pint glass might have cost me a bit more then a bottled beer, but having a bigger drink meant I could park my arse down on my seat and talk to everyone for longer than I would have, had I ordered a small bottle (which, I’m sure everyone who listened to my riveting conversations at the time would agree, this was OBVIOUSLY a bonus!). By not caring too much about my beer being ice cold, I didn’t need to go to the bar quite as often as he did either.

You’d be surprised how many times I’ve had similar ‘hot’ beer conversations with other Brazilians. For them it seems that unless their beer is ICE COLD, they really don’t wanna know!

Kiko and his three-sip bottle of beer!
Over here people don’t drink beer out of pint glasses, they drink their beers out of much smaller glasses, which makes sense when you think about how hot the weather gets over here. When I went to Ubatuba a while back, the Brazilians I was sharing the holiday house with (I’ve just made it sound like I was staying in some sort of time share apartment haven’t I!) offered me SO MANY half drunk cans of hot beer, insisting that the beer was just too warm for them to drink. Well when I drank them, I found that the beer was definitely still cold by my standards, much to their disbelief! 

Obviously I don’t like my beer warm, but drinking beer that doesn't contain ice is something I think of as being normal.

Drinking in Bars

If you’re going out for a beer in Sao Paulo, a great place to start is one of the many simple bars found on the street corners (these places are called botecos in Portuguese). Chairs and tables are usually set up outside for you to enjoy the weather, and the bar staff (generally) come out to keep your beers, and of course your bill, topped up! 

They love their beer bottles over here! For more on the bottle dance, 
check out my other

When you order a beer, unless you specifically ask for a can, you’ll be given a large bottle of beer in a cooler, and then asked how many glasses you would like to go with it. If you’re out with friends then you wouldn’t buy a beer just for yourself (this is social suicide!), you are expected to share it out! It might be boiling outside but with the help of this bottle cooler, the beer bottle is going to stay cold. Because the glasses are small and everyone is drinking out of the same bottle, the beer isn’t going to get too hot either. 

Photo courtesy of Darbs photo album!
A lot of bars also serve up their version of a draft beer, otherwise known as chopp. For anyone thinking of coming out to Brazil and drinking a chopp, I’ll tell you in advance….it comes with a giant head! I remember the first time I saw the waitress bring over my beer in a small glass, with a HUGE layer of foam on the top of it, and I really felt like asking her for some more beer to go with the head!. As a Brit I always feel like I’m being ripped off whenever I get a massive layer of foam on top of my beer, because that’s at least one mouthful of beer I’ve paid for that I’m missing out on.

Here is the part I TOTALLY ripped off Google for those of you who might be interested, chopp isn’t pasteurised, it has a smoother and lighter taste than bottled beer and is generally served at 3 degrees… but for me, when it’s 40 degrees outside I REALLY don’t care what my beer tastes like, I just want plenty of it (Wheeeeeeeeey! I’ve just made myself sound like a right tool/ LEGEND, haven’t I!)
Chopp beer/head!

Randomly, in Sao Paulo you aren’t limited just to bars, restaurants and clubs when you fancy drinking a beer (the whole clubbing experience is an interesting one, and is a whole blog just asking to be written!). Oh no! Sao Paulo has one more extremely popular beer venue that people like to flock to with their mates. So where else do they like to go?

That’s right, they like to go to…..the petrol station!

And no, I’m not kidding!

Drinking at the Petrol Station

On any given weekend in Sao Paulo, it’s pretty much a guarantee that there will be a crowd gathered on a petrol station forecourt, just yards away from the petrol pumps. Here, tables and chairs are set out for people to use, allowing them to sit amongst the passing cars, with a beer in one hand and maybe even a cigarette in the other (that’s right, I said cigarette! It’s pretty common to see people lighting up at their tables on the petrol station forecourt over here! It's not seen as amazingly dangerous like it is in the UK!).

The beer isn’t particularly cheap, so I’m not really sure what the appeal of drinking amongst the smokers and diesel fumes is, but hey, if you’re in town and fancy a beer, don’t rule out the petrol garage…it’s always an option!

In a city renowned for it’s poor infrastructure, getting the metro home after drinking isn’t really a viable option for many. You could get the bus, but getting a bus home isn’t always a pleasant experience, especially with a belly full of beer (at this point I feel I should introduce you to this fantastic blog I came across on the subject of buses in Sao Paulo, written by Andy Martin, another British ‘gringo’  bus-in-sao-paulo-in-5-simple-steps-2/). So perhaps it won’t come as a big surprise when I tell you that in Sao Paulo, people drink and drive.

Drink Driving In Sao Paulo

For me, drink driving is a BIG deal, perhaps because I’m British and every year in the UK, usually around Christmas time, the government funds those god-awful drink driving adverts that scare the shit out of you, and make you never want to drive your car sober….let alone drunk.

Well there doesn’t seem to be the same sort of social stigma behind drink driving here, which may have something to do with the fact it only became illegal in 2008. The Brazilians I’ve talked to recognise there is a problem with this drink driving culture, but they also admit drink driving isn’t really something that’s seen as a huge deal.

I was recently talking to a student who told me that people fear the police catching you drunk at the wheel more than they do about having an accident happening in the first place. Whether this is a reflection on Brazilian attitudes in general I’m not sure, but even being caught by the police isn’t necessarily a big deterrent…because if you have enough money, you could potentially bribe your way out of any future repercussions.

There is even a Twitter site in Sao Paulo, set up for people to tweet the location of where the police are carrying out the breathalyzer tests. So with an Iphone and a bit of forward planning, you could avoid the police breathalyzing your drunk ass all together!

Having said that, the government of Sao Paulo announced this year that they plan to tackle this problem. So what do they intend to do? Well, they intend to put breathalysers in bars and clubs so people can monitor their own levels of alcohol….if they choose to! I’m not going to lie, I don’t really see how this will make a big difference to the problem, BUT I do look forward to checking how pissed I am after a night out at some point in the future (before getting the metro home, of course)!

There you have it, a beginners guide to drinking beer in Sao Paulo…

So I’ll see you at the petrol pumps in an hour, remember your lighters!


  1. Drunk driving wasn't legal before 2008 - it was criminalised that year (before it was a mere traffic offence iirc).

  2. Hey Costo, thanks for pointing that out!

    I guess it says something when the students I asked had no idea about it being illegal before 2008!