Last Updated :13/07/08
ell, I knew we wouldn't score much beer-wise... and I was right!!!
Let’s get one thing straight now – this wasn't a beer scooping trip by any stretch of even my fevered imagination; no, this was simply a visit to one of our favourite cities to soak up the atmosphere and indulge in a few glasses of what must be our second favourite drink – Port. Beer would have a walk-on part in the form of a branch of Super Bock’s Republica Cerveza and a possible (although highly unlikely) brewpub up by Boavista roundabout, but that wasn’t the raison d’ětre of the trip – although port, the city itself and the newly revitalised tram system most certainly were!
I’d visited Porto three times previously and Sue once when we’d witnessed the minimum extent of the city’s famous tramway system – the first on the Iberian peninsular - which had dwindled down to a pitiful kilometre trundle down to Massarelos depot alongside the Douro. This, thankfully, had been remedied and a veritable plethora of routes were now open in the city with the latest, up to Batalha, having been opened in late 2007 which provided the additional kick I needed to book our flights with Ryanair from Bristol.
Bristol isn’t our favourite airport, not by a long chalk, and it’s not even our closest as it lurks out in farmland on the southern side of town, but for under £40 return in these days of spurious “green” taxes and extra charges for anything excepting personal consumption of oxygen (and that can’t be long coming) you just can’t grumble! To put the icing on our proverbial cake, a week before departure I received a morsel of good news; Ryanair’s booking system was going to be replaced over the weekend we were away and so, as we couldn’t check in online, all charges were to be waived for desk check-ins… which was going to save us a fiver! Result…
Sunday 24th February 2008.
A very disturbing experience.
Our flight was at the typically early Ryanair time of 06:00 so we were rather glad it was Bristol and not Stansted we were flying from, although it still necessitated a sleep-depriving 02:30 departure from Worcester in order to get there on time. I’d booked us into a parking site 5 miles away from the airport on account of the ludicrous price of Bristol’s on-site parking, and all went well until we were within – and I’m not exaggerating here – 200 metres of the entrance when we came up against a blocked road full of flashing blue lights! Sue enquired as to what was going on and was told there was a car on it’s roof and, consequently, the road was closed!
This necessitated us finding, in the middle of the night with a very un-cooperative satnav, a way through a maze of windy roads to the other end of the lane we’d just been at, a diversion of some 5 miles which did nothing for my nerves… but eventually we arrived at the parking site where it immediately became obvious that those employed in the wee small hours in this area weren’t, let’s say, the sharpest tools in the box.
I don’t want to say where the parking was lest I receive complaints (although I doubt any of those we saw that night could use a computer and personally I’d not trust them with anything more advanced than a crayon) so let’s just say we explained to the woman behind the desk what had happened and that the road was closed – and she took some convincing despite the fact we’d just been there and she hadn’t – before she translated our explanation to the turniphead who drove the minibus into a perplexing series of grunts and hand signals whereupon his face cracked into a wide grin of semi-understanding at the situation… and there was me thinking most folks in the UK spoke English not some random primeval tongue!
“No tickets on Sundays”
The bus transfer to the airport was soon accomplished with the aforementioned worzel just about capable of operating a motor vehicle and so, once checked in, we loitered around in the lounge with no gen as to what time our flight was expected as all the departure screens had stuck a few hours previously and weren’t showing any flight details… eventually we went through security where we had our semtex-like toothpaste checked “just to make sure it’s what it says it is on the tube” – nothing else we take corresponds to it’s container so it’s a good job they checked that one as, had our terror-inducing clothes washing fluid cunningly hidden in a shampoo bottle been found, I’ve no doubt we’d be on the “Axis of evil” list for sure…
The flight passed quickly and we were soon arriving in a drizzly Porto where the huge airport took me by surprise; I knew it had been expanded for the recent Euro footy championship but I’d not expected it to be as big as it was and certainly not with marble floors throughout! Once through security we tried to purchase an “Andante tour” ticket from the information kiosk but, as I’d expected, we were told that they couldn’t issue them on Sundays and so we had to purchase a single zone 4 ticket to Trindade station where, so we were assured, we could get one from the ticket office and even claim back the 50 cents deposit we’d paid for the rechargeable tickets we now held.
We caught the slick new metro – it’s actually a plastic tram network not an urban railway despite the name and so counts as yet another system – to Trindade station where, after a few minutes’ searching, we found the ticket office well hidden along a disused platform and, predictably, closed for another twenty minutes until 10:00! Luckily for us there was a café on the opposite platform so we indulged in a bica (Portuguese very strong espresso coffee; if you’re familiar with the Italian ristretto then you’ll know it’s really just a few tar-like dribbles in the bottom of a tiny cup!) and pastei du nata (custard tart) until the staff appeared at the travel centre to open up. The transaction was remarkably easy and we were soon in possession of our 3-day “Andante tour” tickets which had cost a measly €11 each and, more surprisingly, we’d got the euro deposit back from our other tickets too! This was all going too well…
We scored the yellow route as far as the northern terminus before heading back south again across the river. The route passed over the top deck of the Dom Luis I bridge and we really wanted to see the view from up there… as the tram left Sao Bento station our faces were pressed against the glass and the view didn’t disappoint as the tram inched it’s way across the bridge, the view encompassed the entire hillsides of Vila Nova de Gaia and Porto and was so impressive that we alighted just across the bridge and walked back over, soaking up the incredible vista. The last time we’d been there the lower level had seemed to give a good view but nothing compared to being high on a 100+ year old Eiffel-inspired bridge, with trams passing every few minutes, gazing out over one of the most enthralling views I’ve seen anywhere!
After viewing a cat dossed on a roof below which looked suspiciously similar to ours who, hopefully, was still at home and not down below us, we wandered across the bridge and then up a narrow street towards Praca Batalha where we’d be able to check into our hotel. Now I knew that the new tramline to Batalha was open but wasn’t quite sure where it went, so when we reached the square and saw a very old beige-painted tram clanking towards us there was only one thing to do – scoop it in! After a few attempts (a pattern repeated throughout the trip, annoyingly) our Andante tickets validated on the contactless reader and we settled down in the amazingly heritage little vehicle for the ride.
A plaque inside the tram informed us that this vehicle was almost 100 years old (being a very rare example of a proper Philadelphia-built Brill car) although it had been refurbished the previous year, but the most interesting thing was the route we travelled which ran down (and up) amazing gradients before we reached journey’s end at the Carmo terminus –it was some ride, so good that we did it all again in the opposite direction! I know that 95% of readers don’t want to hear me gibbering on about trams so let’s just say we were as impressed with the route as the tram itself and it took some willpower to get off at the correct stop for our hotel and not do the whole route yet again…
Having checked in, requesting a tram view as we did so, it was up to our room to sort out the bags and prepare for an afternoon out. Our room was on the corner nearest Praca Batalha and so had windows on two sides affording excellent views of the square, church and – most importantly – the tram route! We then spent the remainder of the day wandering around the narrow lanes of Porto and riding the superb little trams all over their system including a trip out to the current western limit where we sauntered along the sea wall and watched the Atlantic waves crashing against the breakwater. Eventually even we’d had enough (for one day!) of the trams and so it was decided that it was time for some liquid entertainment – which in Porto means only one thing: port scooping!
After finding a café where we topped up the caffeine levels with a very welcome bica and cake we headed up into the old town towards what sounded like, as far as my investigations had revealed, about as close to a port “scooping pub” as it was likely we’d find anywhere in the world so, naturally, this just had to be investigated. Vinologia is situated close to the mouth of the road tunnel under the city and a short distance up from the Ribiera and we were soon sat inside gazing reverently at the vast collection of bottles behind the bar – all of which seemed to be available for scooping!
The barman was very sociable but it soon became clear that the main focus of this bar was to sell set tastings to tourists in order to persuade them to buy full bottles of port and the idea of wanting to know exactly what bottles were open behind the bar didn’t seem to have dawned on them. With the way the bottles were arrayed it was almost impossible to tell what the majority of them were although we managed to locate several winners with a little effort which involved physically getting behind the bar and rummaging amongst the bottles, something which the barman seemed to find very amusing! Maybe a menu would prevent such things happening, or maybe they just don’t get that many port scoopers in?
We had a deadline of 20:30 for the last funicular back up to Batalha and so, resolving to visit again the following day, we supped up a final round of expensive yet massive ports including a 1953 Da Silva white port – aged white being possibly the rarest style of port available – before wandering off along the Ribiera to the funicular where, after a minute trying to find the entrance doors and flapping that it was going to storm off without us, we finally got on board not 30 seconds before the strange vehicle strained itself up the hill to Batalha. You may be wondering why we didn’t stay in Vinopolis all evening and walk back, the hotel being less than half a mile away… well, go and have a look at the feckin’ hills we’d have needed to walk up and you’ll see why; I’m a scooper, not a bloody mountain goat!
Monday 25th February 2008.
Next morning dawned bright and so, determined not to pay the extortionate €10 or so the hotel was charging for breakfast, we wandered off to find some coffee and cakes for much less financial outlay. After wandering around a market and finding nothing but frozen fish and flowers – not my favourite combination for breakfast – we checked out the famous Majestic café close to our hotel which seemed to be milking it’s position as a tourist destination by charging twice what everyone else was and so we took refuge in a cutesy little place across the road where we had some superbly smooth and strong bicas and pasteis du nata whilst planning our day’s itinerary.
We began by walking down to the Dom Luis I bridge for some more photos in the morning light and a spot of cat-watching (even more of the cats now resembled ours, worryingly) before taking the metro to the huge Corte d'Ingles supermarket at the Gaia end of the Metro line C we’d seen the previous day to inspect the beers on offer. After managing – eventually – to work out a route into the building we made a bee-line for the beer aisle and found a mere five scoops, although most of them seemed to be in sixpacks which withered me for a while until I saw locals ripping bottles from pristine packs with glee and decided that I’d better join them in order to boost my scooping tally. The bottles were very cheap, well under a Euro each, and soon we were clinking our way back to the hotel with some scoops for the evening.
The remainder of our morning was spent meandering around Vila Nova de Gaia’s port lodges, scooping in some of the lesser-known ones in the process, before we decided to check out the Republica da Cerveja (here called Caves da Cerveja) on Cais de Gaia. We’d already suspected that it was one of the hideous monstrosities plonked at the far end of the riverfront and we were proved right, however we’d hit the place in the middle of it’s afternoon break and so decided to score another port lodge or two and then go and check out the one possible brewpub in town, PortoBeer, located out on the Avenida da Boavista in the north of the city.
Ramos Pinto’s palatial lodge was our first stop and we were treated to a very interesting tour of the old building which included lots of the artwork for which the company is famous, although the port tasting was poor and didn’t include any of the fabulous aged tawnies that we love just the standard white, tawny and ruby – ah well, the building itself had been worth the tour, and so we set off along the waterfront towards our next target. Soon we were stomping breathlessly up a huge hill towards the Grahams lodge for the sole reason that, according to the leaflet we’d seen, it had it’s own tasting bar where wines and ports from the company’s range could be bought by the glass; all I could think as I laboured up the tortuously winding and lung-burstingly precipitous road was that this had better be worth it… we passed some sadly derelict warehouses with cask stands still in place before cresting the hill and surveying the admittedly superb view of the cities as we fought to regain our breath.
On with the scooping.
Once we were confident enough that we could hold a conversation without gasping excessively we located the tasting bar and, after politely refusing the lodge tour (there comes a time when one port pipe looks like every other), we settled down at our table to see what we could scratch. After the usual standard rubies and tawnies we got into conversation with our allotted server who seemed impressed by our knowledge of port in general and so we managed to blag a glass of the 20 year old tawny to go with the 30 year old we’d bought. We progressed onto wines before finishing off in some style with a couple of vintages including the mega-rare and superb Quinta de Vesuvio 1994! An expensive yet satisfying afternoon was had and we agreed, stamping down the hill back to Gaia’s waterfront, that those who say money can’t buy happiness have obviously never sampled Vesuvio 94!
Passing the still closed Republica da Cerveja we paused to stare at a huge shoal of grey fish which were being whipped into some kind of frenzy by something only they knew, before taking a bus back across to Porto and then – after taking a while to find the appropriate stop – another up to Boavista to check out the alleged brewpub PortoBeer. We alighted just before the huge roundabout and, as we crossed it and headed along the Avenida da Boavista proper, I was amused to see tramlines still embedded in the road, ones which I gloated to Sue I’d ridden on ten years previously!
We soon found the bar but the initial signs weren’t good; no brewing kit could be seen and it sported an ominous “Super Bock” logo outside… inside all was what I’m sure is called “contemporary” design with what seemed to be a surfeit of waiters but still not a hint of any beers or brewery, so we eventually asked the most sociable looking waiter who was very confused by my question and assured me that, yes, they sold beer and it was made in Oporto… but Super Bock wasn’t exactly what I’d had in mind, not even the rare stout, so having ascertained to 95% certainty that no beer was brewed on-site we headed back to our hotel via a stop in a local café where I indulged in a Francesinha, one of the strange local food specialities, which is basically a steak and sausage sandwich covered in melted cheese then drenched in a strange beery sauce… it’s a lot nicer than it sounds, believe me!
Back in our room the beers began poorly and didn’t rise above mediocre – as I’d expected – with not a lot to say about any of them apart from the first, Tagus Original, which is apparently brewed by Grolsch in the Netherlands… cheers then! Unicer Cristal was bland eurofizz, Coral lager was sticky and syrupy-sweet, whilst Sagres Bohemia Douro had an unexpected burst of hop bitterness and it kind of says it all that the best beer of the evening, Hijos de Rivera 1906, was from Spain and had a modicum of toasted maltiness in it’s interesting grainy flavour … time for bed.
Tuesday 26th March 2008.
Second time lucky.
We began, as everyone should in Portugal, with a superb bica and croissant in a little café on Rua de Santa Catarina where we could watch the tram pass by outside from our vantage point stood at the bar (where prices are lowest: you get charged more for sitting down and even more if you sit outside in all but a few cafés in Portugal) before doing a spot of tram bashing and then visiting the tram museum out at the Massarelos terminus. We then took a tram back to Batalha, scooping in codfish balls – bolas de bacalão – on the way, which are much nicer than they sound being deep-fried balls of the national delicacy, salt-dried cod, fried in breadcrumbs…
We managed to scoop the rare curves at Carmo (a few trams run through from Batalha to Massarelos and vice-versa to return to the depot, the 13:02 ex Massarelos does just this and there’s a balancing working back at the same time) and so, flushed with success at clearing the entire operational “heritage” network, we bought some rare ports from a superb little shop at Carmo before pausing at a bustling café opposite Batalha tramstop for some more bolas de bacalão, pasties du nata and bica – codfish balls, custard tarts and ludicrously small coffees!
After dropping off the ports in our room the next move was over to Gaia to scoop the Caves da Cerveja and so we hitched a ride on our favourite tram, 213, which for those interested is an original J Brill car dating from 1909 and in absolutely pristine ex-works condition! Seeing us for what must have been the 100th time, the female driver smiled and commented “you must like this…”
The funicular was taken down the precipitous hill – complete with jagged rocks and ancient fortifications – giving amazing views of the bridge and Gaia waterfront; I don’t think I could ever tire of the views over Porto and Gaia, it really is one of the most stunning places I’ve visited in all my travels! We strolled along the waterfront, admiring the view across the Douro and the facades of the many port lodges to our left, before arriving at our destination. We’d only wanted a quick scoop but the waiter guarding the door soon scuppered that idea by informing us that it was a restaurant and we needed to eat to be able to drink – cheers then!
I’d not come this far to be denied what were probably the only real scoops in town and so, after trying unsuccessfully to find a patio which the waiter had alleged was for drinking only, we once again entered the bar and persuaded the recalcitrant waiter to allocate us a table which he did after convincing himself that we were going to order food and not just gulp down a beer before making a run for it. With our table safe I made for the bar to ascertain what beers were available and soon found a grand total of one scoop was on tap; I’d scored the rest in the Lisbon branch the previous year which left just the seasonal beers to go at, so a glass of Natal lager (8%) it was.
We ordered steak sandwiches from the large menu which arrived remarkably quickly (well, I suppose we were two of only ten customers) and impressed us with their tender, juicy steak and soft rustic bread. Whilst Sue scooped bica and a white port I sipped my beer which at least had a hint of oomph behind it; thick and malty, it had a fair bit of sweetness plus that general “industrialness” which most beers from large factories have, then a decent dryish malty and toffee-accented finish which left me marginally impressed although I feel that had I been comparing it against, for example, strong Czech lagers I’d have been rather less enamoured by it’s syrupy pseudo-industrial character.
Back on the port.
My beer scooping done we decided to indulge in a spot of port lodge scooping and so, after watching the fish still writhing frenziedly by what looked suspiciously like a sewage outfall, we chose two smaller lodges and set off for Krohn, which is about as small and traditional as you get. There’s no palatial riverfront lodge for these guys, they are situated on a narrow lane away from the river and it’s a pretty safe bet that they don’t see much of the “Port tourism” which the city is increasingly attracting; I’d say 95% of these tourists stick with the well-known brands they come to first and never get further than Ramos Pinto, and that’s if they’re feeling brave!
Once inside we could see – having visited quite a few lodges on our trips to Porto by this point – that this was a proper working lodge and not one of the clinical tourist traps more common along the waterfront where I’m not convinced many of the casks on display actually contain port but are simply on show for tourists to gawp at. Being a working lodge there was no tour as such, but the sociable guide walked us around the musty stacks of pipes below the viewing area where we breathed in that unique aroma which port lodges have: a concoction of wood, alcohol, mustiness and an unidentifiable sense of stillness. We were then treated to a rather grand tasting as our enthusiasm was obviously appreciated and we even got to try Krohn’s superlative aged tawnies after a touch of persuasion! Sadly, thanks to Port’s miraculous propensity for transforming itself from simple alcoholic drink into a terrorist weapon aboard aircraft, we couldn’t buy a bottle to take home although we promised we’d buy one to replace our current Colheita 1966!
Wandering back along Gaia’s riverside, bellies full of port, we noticed that Vasconcelos had opened a new tasting room. On our 2003 Porto visit we’d been to their old lodge, way up on the hill above the river, and had been impressed with their aged white wines in particular, but almost everyone we’d spoken to after that (it had been our first visit of the day) had warned us off Vasconcelos for no apparent reason but the message was at least consistent – don’t go there! We’d never really understood what everyone had against the company, but I have a suspicion that it may be something to do with jealousy at the market share the company has with it’s plethora of brands, labellings and suchlike… but we’ve never found out for sure.
Anyhow, having scored the old lodge we felt as if we my as well score this one too, being on the way back and all, so in we went. Inside everything was bright, shiny and obviously new except for the bloke doing the greeting – the same one who had showed us around six years earlier! We were soon sat at a table and reading the menu; it seemed as if we’d stumbled upon another “pay as you go” bar where port could be scooped by the glass – result! This couldn’t be turned down, especially considering the quality of Vasconcelos’ aged ports, so three rounds were duly scratched in to the amusement of our host who, seeing us writing notes, donated the last dribble from the 30 year old tawny to our palates!
Our final call was to be the hellfire port scooping bar we’d visited on our first evening and so back over the bridge we went for the last time, along the Porto riverside and then up a ludicrously steep hill (as are most in the city!) to Vinologia. There we bagged a table and proceeded to stand at the counter peering at the huge array of bottles behind there to the amusement of the waiters who were more than happy for us to wander behind the bar and peruse the bottles at our leisure until we located some likely candidates for scooping!
I won’t bore you – as if I haven’t already – with the ports we scored, but let’s suffice it to say that we had wines from some of the smallest producers in the Douro including one who has, according to the very knowledgeable waiters, a vineyard of less than half a football field! We stayed for a few hours, relaxing with some truly exceptional ports, plus we ordered two portions of the bar’s sublime Serra da Estrela cheese, a mellow sheep’s cheese, complete with ludicrously soft bread. As the time neared for us to head for the last funicular to Batalha the two waiters independently passed us glasses of “secret” port to sample, although both laughed when they found out they’d both given us the same wine – Vasconcelos 1952 aged white – and their generosity was an excellent end to our visit
With no beers to score, just several bottles of port, we stopped at a café on Praca Batalha for a fortifying bica (plus a draught Super Bock stout for me – I wanted to drink some having seen it around far more than I thought I would!) before getting stuck into our bottles. It soon became obvious that we’d bought far too many and so were forced to drink well into the early hours to clear our supplies, perhaps not the best option when you have an 09:30 flight the next morning but, hey, when in Porto…
If you’re simply after beer scoops then there’s some simple advice – don’t bother with Porto or Portugal in general! You may, if you’ve not done a Republica da Cerveja before, scoop up to eight of their brews so that’s something, but I’d still advise anyone intent on scooping and nothing else to save their time and go elsewhere instead. Saying that, I love Portugal: it’s so different from all the rest of Europe, even Spain, that to visit there is to see a country with it’s ways not yet in tune with the modern world, and long may it remain so! There’s a distinct lack of garish shop signs around cities, the pace of life is relaxed, essentials are cheap, the coffee is stunning and – of course – the port is fantastic too… just think, you could even begin scooping Port …
Overall then, Porto is a superb place for a weekend away with amazing views from the top of the Dom Luis bridge, plenty of history, lots of interesting Port lodges to tour and let's not forget the trams...! The local food is on the unusual side, mainly tripe or a cheese-coated sausage and steak sandwich called a Francesinha, so it's not your everyday place as we only saw only one McScum and there's an almost complete lack of the hideous multinational chain stores which you find in most other cities around Europe... and the coffee is superb too, as are the cakes!
It's not, however, a trip for the beer lover with no other interests so unless the above sounds like something you'd like to explore further then I'd not consider it! For those who look for more than just the bottom of a beer glass, however, I 99% guarantee that you’ll find Porto – and Portugal in general – to be a fascinating place to visit and may even decide that scooping beer isn’t the be all and end all of life… sitting in Vinologia with a choice of well over 100 micro-produced ports on sale is a very convincing argument that there’s more to life than beer!
Getting there and getting around there.
Portugal is slowly coming into the budget airline fold after many years in the cold after Go’s (remember them?) Stansted – Lisbon route was cancelled in 2004. Ryanair go from Birmingham, Liverpool, Bristol and Stansted to Porto (OPO) meaning you can get there for around £40 these days without having to resort to Heathrow and the tribulations of Terminal 5 whilst if you want to see the south too then easyJet fly from Bristol to Lisbon (from where it’s a 4-hour train ride). It’s also possible to do the Lusitania overnight train (not English Electric hauled, sadly) from Madrid to Lisbon and vice versa, although a 2-berth sleeper will set you back around EUR200 so, despite it being one of the most relaxing ways to arrive in Portugal, you’ll probably end up flying in.
Porto has recently opened a shiny new “metro” system which is actually a tramway with five lines, all colour coded, which even reaches the airport. Period tickets are available in the form of the “Andante tour” ticket or plain day tickets for which you need to “hire” a contactless card to charge up; this can be done at the airport on arrival as long as it’s not Sunday when you have to buy a single to the city and get your Andante Tour ticket there! This is the best option if you’re in town for a few days as it’s valid for 72 hours from first use on all buses, trams and the metro within the city for only €11. Speaking of trams, Porto is steadily expanding it's "heritage" network by building proper street-running lines into the steeply graded old town, most of which last saw trams 30 years ago when almost all services were withdrawn and the routes – especially the new 22 – are superb and rival Lisboa's as the best tram experience available anywhere in the world; where else can you ride on authentic 90+ year old 4-wheelers up and down gradients as severe as 1 in 9? Superb stuff...
Beer (and port!) gen.
We did scoop a few beers from the huge Corte d'Ingles supermarket at the Gaia end of the Metro line C, but to be honest they were all predictably bland and I'd not bother unless you want to make up the numbers (as I did!). Also be aware that Tagus beers are apparently brewed by SAB Miller at Grolsch so aren't even Portuguese... The beers in supermarkets are usually in 6-pack 33cl bottle packs but it's seemingly fine to split these packs and with bottles coming in at around 50¢ each it's a cheap way of scooping...
The one tentative "maybe" - PortoBeer at Avenida da Boavista 1245 - turned out to be a posh Super Bock bar with only the standard beers on draught and we confirmed nothing was brewed on-site, the only upside to the total waste of time trekking out there was seeing the old tramlines still embedded in the cobbles outside! We could have stopped for a swift stout as this does seem to be available in more bars than I remember it, but we didn't...
The one beery oasis (and I use the term very loosely) is the Super Bock-owned Republica da Cerveja (here called Caves da Cerveja) at Cais de Gaia, the hideous new industrial unit-esque constructions at the far end of the Gaia waterfront, this being the one furthest away. It's open 12:00 - 16:00 and 18:30 onwards and is mainly a restaurant so theoretically you need to eat to be able to drink... inside are various bits of brewing kit (tanks etc) which seem to give the impression the beers are made on-site but we confirmed with the waiter that they're not and are all from the main Super Bock plant nearby. The seasonal beer was Natal (8%) which was the best Super Bock beer I've had thus far - although this doesn't mean it was any good, it only scored 2.5 - and the food was okay too so it's worth a wander along the waterside.
The best scooping venue in town isn't concerned with beer but with the produce of Vila Nova de Gaia and the Douro valley; I'm talking about a superb little port scooping bar called Vinologia just up from the Porto riverside at Rua Sao Joao Novo 46 which offers around 150 ports by the glass. They mainly cater to tourists and offer set tastings but if you know what you want and appear genned-up enough the sociable staff may let you wander behind the bar to choose the ports you want - and there are some massive winners there, mainly from the smaller producers which you'll not see anywhere else in Porto or Gaia. They also have a lovely creamy, mellow sheep's cheese from the Serra da Estrela (with excellent bread) which goes fantastically with port and is well worth the €6 a plate as there's no other food apart from the free raisins and chocolate you get with the aged tawnies! An amazing place, very highly recommended...
There is also an IVP Institute of Port tasting room in the city, although it’s not that easy to get to and is, predictably, on top of a massive hill overlooking the city and river. If you get there, however, it’s well worth the effort as you’ll see a huge port list (the same as that in Lisbon so I’ve heard) and you can sit out in the garden and take in the stunning views of the majestic river of gold. We didn’t visit on our last trip due to lack of time, but I’d definitely recommend a visit, especially if you’re into scooping the more common ports and don’t want to buy a bottle of each… although to score rarer ports Vinologia is a much better bet.
Grolsch (SAB Miller) Tagus original (5.2%) - I thought it was Portuguese! Actually not bad for an industrial lager. ()
Coral Pilsener (5.3%) - Heineken-owned brewery on Madeira, predictably sticky, syrupy and poor. ()
Unicer Cristal (5.1%) - Bland identikit crappy pale fluid with lots of cereally tastes. ()
Sagres Bohemia Douro (5.7%) - Actually not too bad with a hint of bitterness although not great. ()
Hijos de Rivera (Spain) 1906 (6.5%) - Apparently made traditionally and it did, to be fair, have some toffee and toasty grain flavours. ()
Republica da Cerveja Natal (8%) - Amber lager, full-bodied and fairly grainy with a decent if unspectacular balance of flavours but way underpowered for it's 8% ABV. ()
Also, Super Bock stout () is available in a lot more bars than it used to be these days, frequently on draught, and isn't too bad for an industrial beer with a decent caramel and toasty grain flavour, although don't expect too much from it is probably the best advice!
We stayed in the Mercure Batalha which is up a ferociously steep hill from the city centre of Porto and is consequently quiet and relaxed, plus you have the tram and funicular to help you reach your hotel at night! There’s also a Quality Hotel on Praca Batalha and I’d also recommend the Hotel da Bolsa, Rua Ferreira Borges, which we stayed at on our first visit in 2001; I’ve no idea if the standards we experienced then are still upheld but, if so, it’s a superb place right in the thick of it and close to Vinologia – what more do you want?
© Gazza 13/07/08 V1.0
|Gazza by a copper outside Republica Cerveja, Gaia||Port scooping at Grahams, Gaia||The Caves da Cerveja restaurant on the Gaia waterfront.||Gazza with 95 year old beast 131 at Carmo, Porto||Fake plant in Caves da Cerveja, Gaia|
|The top Port-scooping bar Vinologia in Porto||Loads of scoops in Vinologia, Porto||Gazza in Vinologia, Porto - who needs beer to enjoy scooping?!?|