Beer is a big part of the culture in Salvador. A running joke for the past few years, during the economic and political crisis, has been, “as long as we have beer, there is no crisis”.
And, with any major cultural element, there are guiding principles that inform the culture and etiquette.
First, beer-drinking is social. This is pretty much a universal truth, but in uber-friendly and uber-social Salvador, it’s amplified.
Second, Soteropolitanos (people from Salvador) like their beer cold — the colder the better. Even if it slightly slushy from ice, all good — they will just call it “estupidamente gelada” (stupidly cold) or “geladissimo” (super cold) and celebrate having a super-cold beer.
Once you internalize these truths, most of the etiquette around drinking with locals makes a whole lot more sense.
Beer Drinking Etiquette
- Share your beer. Even if you have a small can (latinha) that is 269ml, or a mere 9oz, you still share it. Even if that means that you are immediately buying another can — or three. I find this to be sheer madness, but keeping a can for yourself will likely get you strange looks and you’ll find yourself surrounded by people holding their cups out for refills. Which leads us right to point #2.
- Use a cup. Because sharing is caring, everyone needs to have a cup. You didn’t think we just passed the cans around, did you? The cup concept is such a part of the culture that vendors just offer you a cup when you buy your beer, virtually regardless of size.
- Refill all the cups. If you pick up the can or bottle to refill your cup, etiquette dictates that you also fill the cups of your companions. Even if someone’s cup is almost full, top it up.
Can vs Bottle vs Tap Beer
In Salvador, beer is still most commonly found in can and bottle.
Cans are sold as latinhas, latas, and latãos (small, normal, or large cans). They come in a dizzying array of shapes and sizes, but what I see is:
- Latinha: 269ml, or 9oz
- Lata: 350ml, or 12oz
- Latão: 473ml or 550ml (depends upon the brand), or 16oz / 19oz
Bottled beer comes in two different sizes — referred to as “long neck” and “garrafa” (bottle).
The long neck is what we know as the US-standard 12 ounce bottle. As far as I know, there are no domestic beers sold in long neck — only imports (Budweiser, Heineken, etc).
What the Brazilians refer to as bottled beer is a 600ml bottle that is meant for sharing at a table with friends. Coming in at a hefty 20oz, in the US we might still consider that single-serving, but in Salvador it’s meant to be shared.
Pro Tip: Bottled beer purchased at a bar or restaurant is always meant to be drunk where you bought it. The bar or restaurant returns them to the distributor for a deposit.
Beer on Tap
Taphouses are still a bit of a novelty in Salvador.
The taphouses tend to cater to more of a tourist audience and will oftentimes have burgers or pizza — as any good taphouse should. Here in Brazil, a tap house is called a Chopperia, and beer on tap is called Chopp. Because it is still a bit of a novelty, you can count on the bar/restaurant having a sign announcing their tap beers.
Brazilian Pilsners are Weak(er)
A weak beer is a good beer in Salvador. The weaker the beer, the longer you can sit out on the street and drink with friends without feeling the effects later.
When I go out to drink with my Brazilian friends, we always start by figuring out what our “common denominator beer” is — the one we will all drink. I, being the foreigner, tend to like the stronger beers, and every time I mention my preference the response I get is, “that is really strong.”
To help you choose wisely, I’ve put together a list of the most common beers in Salvador, along with their alcohol percentage. As you can see, most of the local beers are between 4.5% and 4.8%. This is in comparison to a US or European pilsner (Stella, Budweiser, Heineken) which are all 5%. Interestingly, among my friends, Itaipava is hands-down the most popular.
Beers by Percentage of Alcohol
- Itaipava – 4.5%
- Devassa – 4.8%
- Schin – 4.7%
- Skol – 4.7%
- Eisenbahn – 4.8%
- Antartica 5%
- Bohemia – 5%
- Bramha – 5%
- Budweiser – 5%
- Heineken – 5%
- Stella – 5%
Are there any Dark Beers?
Yes, yes there are.
But, much like the tap houses, it’s not really something the locals imbibe in. However, Salvador’s economy depends heavily on tourism, so dark beers can be found in grocery stores as well as some bars/restaurants.
In grocery stores you’ll find the darker beers alongside their pilsner brothers. Bars/restaurants that server darker beers typically have a sign visible from the street, much like a chopperia.