The definition of beer in Brazil has just become looser than you might think

. Jul 13, 2019
The definition of beer in Brazil has just become looser than you might think

When talking about alcoholic beverages, it is cachaça that might be seen as the national tipple of Brazil. But the country’s favorite drink is a glass—or bottle—of beer. A recent study by the national information center on alcohol and health showed that, for 62 percent of Brazilians, no other alcoholic beverage beats a good, cold beer.

But is the beer Brazilians are drinking any good?

Well, until recently, the answer might well have been a firm ‘no’.

A 2012 </span><a href=""><span style="font-weight: 400;">study</span></a><span style="font-weight: 400;"> by the University of São Paulo showed that </span><a href=""><span style="font-weight: 400;">mainstream beer brands</span></a><span style="font-weight: 400;"> replace barley with corn (a non-malted cereal), at a 45 percent rate, as a cost-saving measure. “It’s because corn is cheaper,” said the coordinator of the research at the time, professor Luiz Antônio Martinelli. Some brands also use rice instead of barley.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">&#8220;A good beer is made from pure barley malt—changing it for corn inevitably affects its quality,&#8221; said beer expert Sady Homrich at the time.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Then came the golden age of craft beer in Brazil. Another study showed that, over the past decade, Brazilian beer drinkers changed their habits, prioritizing quality over quantity. Among high-income Brazilians, 68 percent of beer drinkers are now becoming pickier when choosing their liquor. But the trend is also observed among those with a lower purchasing power (52 percent). “Brazilian consumers, especially the younger ones, are attracted by new, interesting flavors when trying new beers,” writes Ana Paulo Gilsogamo, food and beverage expert at consulting firm Mintel.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Then, on June 8, President Jair Bolsonaro signed a </span><a href=""><span style="font-weight: 400;">decree</span></a><span style="font-weight: 400;"> that sent beer lovers running to the hills.</span></p> <h2>New beer regulations</h2> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">The Brazilian government passed new legislation that changes regulations governing beer production. Previously, beer was defined as a drink resulting from the fermentation of brewer’s yeast and malt. Malt is known as beer’s most important ingredient, since it is largely responsible for creating a strong, distinct taste. Under the old law, other ingredients such as rice, corn, and fruits could not exceed 45 percent of the malt’s volume.&nbsp;</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Under the new legislation, which had been in the works since 2013, the Agriculture Ministry removed the 45 percent limit for the additional ingredients, suggesting the possibility that&nbsp; Brazilian beer could now be made entirely with corn or rice instead of the traditional malt. Although brewers support the new law, many worry about an eventual diminution in quality.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">International denominations such as “lager”, “pilsen,” or “export” will no longer be required to appear on labels, and regulations governing the addition of food coloring, flavoring and alcohol have also been removed. Moreover, chemical processes used to stabilize the drink are now permitted, and the decree strikes out previous bans on the use of water coming from outside factories, and on the use of soap to increase foam.&nbsp;</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">The new regulation also allows for animal-derived ingredients such as milk and honey to be added to beer, a change welcomed by craft producers.</span></p> <h2>What do these changes actually mean?</h2> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Under the previous law, any changes to regulations required presidential approval. Since specific regulations are now only mentioned under the informative instructions, the Ministry can change them more quickly. This is good news for beer producers, since regulations will be able to keep up with technological changes in beer production and be updated as required.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">The decree is also promising for small-scale producers. Although artisanal producers usually do not add large amounts of corn and rice to their beer, the less bureaucratic regulations allow for innovation.&nbsp;</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">“We’re going to have increased activity. We’ll be able to launch new labels [and new types of beer],” said Lapolli. “A lot of [beer] couldn’t be launched because legal restrictions didn’t allow it.”</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">In terms of quality, it is hard to know the actual impact of the new regulations. In fact, the current 45 percent limit for non-malted cereals remains in force, as it is established by a normative instruction of the Ministry of Agriculture, which is responsible for regulating the production of food and beverages in Brazil.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">“We’re not going to start having beer entirely made out of corn. Back in 2014, it was agreed during a public hearing— including even the big industrial producers— that we would maintain the [45 percent limit on additional ingredients],” said Carlo Lapolli, president of the Brazilian Association of Artisanal Beer.&nbsp;</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">However, with the new decree allowing for a loosening of brewing practices, the future adherence to those voluntarily agreed norms is uncertain. The quality of mass-market Brazilian beer will remain in question for a time to come.

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Martha Castro

Martha Castro worked as an intern at The Brazilian Report in 2019. She is a Brazilian journalism and political science student at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois.

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