Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Beer territory - Ribeirão Preto

Ribeirão Preto - SP interior agricultural capital and the territory of chopp

My husband is originally from the city of Ribeirão Preto which is about 300 kms (190 miles) from São Paulo capital. It's a fairly wealthy city of 600,000+ inhabitants, with much of the money coming from agriculture - principally sugar cane and coffee. The outskirts are quite beautiful with rolling green hills, and of course a river runs through it (the city's name means "Black Creek") and is largely ignored and polluted, as all city rivers are in this country. It has been called the Brazilian California--but only if we are talking about Livermore and the Central Valley, okay? My nickname for the city is "Inferno" --summer temperatures don't get much out of the 35 celsius (95 Fahrenheit) range. 

All the heat may be why Ribeirão Preto became the Territory of Chopp. Chopp is draft beer (some of those who met my yellow labrador Chopp know he was named for the color of the beer).  This is pronounced "Show-pee" by the way. Doesn't look great phonetically but man, you'll need to know this word if you live here. If you google Território de Chopp (draft beer territory), the results come up with Ribeirão Preto. The most famous of all chopp places is Pinguim (Penguin) which began life as an independent brewer in Ribeirão Preto, and was later bought by Antartica (AmBev, InBev, whatever). 

When I first "met" Pinguim back in 1996, it was only in its downtown location in the historic center of Ribeirão Preto, and was a little scruffy. The waiters were older than time itself, dressed in black aprons, and very quick on the refills. In fact, your glass never fully empties before a new one appears in front of you. In order to stop the madness, you put your cardboard coaster on top of the mouth of the glass--a fact that my boyfriend-now-husband neglected to mention so I think I might have had around 10 beers. Who knows? When a new one appears in front of you, you drink it. It's what you do.

Part of the mystique of chopp is how the beer is pulled. It has to have a certain amount of foam head, and it has to be exactly the right temperature. Chopp is not to be drunk "estupidamente gelado" (silly cold) like other beers. In fact you have to drink it relatively quickly because otherwise it goes over into Brit-land...warm...yech.

In 1977, Pinguim opened Pinguim II across the street and next to the gorgeous Teatro Municipal. This is now the flagship (photo below) and the original has become a shop.  Pinguim II has been renovated and is definitely gorgeous. The waiters seem to have undergone renovation too as they seem quite a bit younger (or is it me getting older? Hmmm...). The sandwiches of steak and pork and cheese cut into bite-sized pieces have not changed. They are delicious. There are also two more locations of Pinguim in Ribeirão Preto, both in shopping centers, and one has opened in Belo Horizonte in the neighboring state of Minas Gerais. I haven't been to Belo, but the two shopping center Pinguims lack the grace of the original. I say a prayer every night to the beer god asking for a Pinguim to open in São Paulo but no luck.

Pinguim. Just looking at it makes me hungry and thirsty.

Ah, for those of you who do not like lighter beers (my husband), they also have dark chopp, or if you are in the know, you can get a "pingado" or light and dark mixed chopp. I think some marketing guys have gotten a hold of some extra funds because I just saw their new menu of beers and it includes one called "sexual"-- dear Antartica, just say no to the Harvard MBAs who came up with that one. I am a traditionalist: it's chopp claro for me. I also have learned when to stop drinking and wield my coaster like a pro. 

 If all of this makes you want to get to know the Territory of Chopp , make sure you visit in July or August when temperatures drop into the reasonable numbers (it's winter in the southern hemisphere). The inferno gets going in December--you will not be able to drink enough chopp to replace what you are sweating out. At least that's my theory.

Saúde! ("health" or cheers!)