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Cervejaria Wäls Brews Beer Without Boundaries

(Issue 17)
Brothers José and Tiago Carneiro, owners and brewmasters of Cervejaria Wäls
Brothers José and Tiago Carneiro, owners and brewmasters of Cervejaria Wäls

Brothers José and Tiago Carneiro, owners and brewmasters of Cervejaria Wäls, work in a brewing world without boundaries. They brew Belgian beers in Brazil using non-traditional ingredients and have helped carve out a craft niche in the third-largest beer market behind the United States and China. Now they're taking their craft to America. They have just finished a new brewery in San Diego that will brew more than 10,000 barrels in its first year, on top of the 6,000 barrels produced in their original Belô Horizonte facility. walsentrance.jpg

The brothers plan to have a lineup of 12 different beers out in America by spring 2015. "We are going to rock the American palate," said José Carneiro. Wäls is in a unique position to do so, with access to a cornucopia of Brazilian ingredients unseen in America's hop-dominated beerscape. Quality hops are scarce and expensive in Brazil, so brewers often work with what is on hand, namely Brazil's abundance of fruit and spice. Among their arsenal is the antioxidant-rich Acai berry, passion fruit, and the Brazilian "earth orange," which Carneiro describes as "more citric and aromatic" than its American counterpart.

Spices such as coriander, cocoa and Brazilian lemongrass are integral to the methods of the Carneiro brothers, who often make their own blends using techniques passed down within their family.The brothers Carneiro began learning to brew in their adolescent years under their father Miguel Carneiro, who began Wäls in 1999 to supply a fast food restaurant with "gourmet beer," as craft is known in Brazil. The elder Carneiro balanced European tradition with his family heritage and the beer began to flow.


"My grandfather was a baker, and he used to say: 'To be a truly happy man, you must ferment something.' He chose bread, then taught our Dad, and Dad chose beer and taught me and my brother." 


The Carneiro brothers seem quite happy continuing their family legacy and quenching their enthusiasm for brewing knowledge. Elder brother Tiago "used to brew in the lab" while studying food engineering, and José spent months traveling Europe and the U.S., studying breweries and gathering recipe ideas. "We're still learning, every day," he said. The pair's combined knowledge has led to a versatile array of beer, and the confidence to experiment. Wäls' Brazilian portfolio boasts around 15 year-round and seasonal selections running the gamut of flavor, from Citra Session, a crisp  3.9 percent IPA, to Brut, a double-digit ABV powerhouse pitched with champagne yeast. 

Three selections are currently exported stateside, under the Belô brand. The 2014 World Beer Cup gold medalist Belô São Francisco, a dubbel brewed with raisins, is the lightest of the three, though it clocks in at 7.5 percent. Well structured, Belô São Francisco starts with intriguing fruit flavor thanks to the raisins and finishes crisply with a lingering aftertaste of dried fruit, which fleshes out the body and harmonizes the classic dubbel malt backbone and spice. 


The Carneiro brothers seem quite happy continuing their family legacy and quenching their enthusiasm for brewing knowledge.


The 2014 WBC silver medalist Belô Ipê, a quadrupel brewed with coriander, registers at a deceptively smooth 11 percent ABV. Sweet notes of the Brazilian rum-like spirit cachaça dominate this beer until tempered by coriander, combining for a tangy and smoky-wood finish. Belô Petroleum is an imperial stout cloaked in darkness that lives up to its rich appearance with notes of chocolate and coffee.

  Belô, Brazilian for beautiful, is taken from Belo Horizonte, Brazil's sixth largest city and home to Wäls' original brewery. In 2012 the brothers joined forces with Brooklyn brewmaster Garrett Oliver to brew Saison de Caipira, the first to be made withnative Brazilian sugarcane. When fermented, the sugarcane becomes cachaca, a favorite Brazilian spirit which the Carneiros have incorporated into their brewing process. They age Belô Ipê over cachaca-soaked oak woodchips, imparting a sweet rum-like quality for added depth of flavor.walstasting.jpg

The brothers have also been experimenting by barrel aging with Brettanomyces yeast strains, and have developed a technique of dry hopping using a "little machine" of their own creation.The migration into America's blossoming craft scene should be a breath of fresh air for Wäls. The Brazilian beer market is dominated by large brewers making light pilsners, which comprise about 98 percent of the market share.

The American expansion will also allow Wäls to bypass exorbitant Brazilian beer taxes which absorb up to 70 percent of the retail price of a bottle and develop direct relationships with North American hop growers. Carneiro hopes that the move will make hops more accessible for all Brazilian craft brewers, a symbolic move that would help unify a nascent craft community similar to the American scene of the 1990s. Carneiro wouldn't comment on the specific styles to be brewed in San Diego, but they will exist independently of the Brazilian portfolio, meaning flavors aimed to shake up North American tastebuds."

The soul of the beer is the same as our Brazilian brand,” he said. “We are still going to work hard to innovate and take pride in our beer. The difference is going to be in our recipes and ingredients."