Author: Jaine Organ

Madeira, an Atlantic outpost of Portugal, is gradually shaking off its sleepy image and attracting a younger crowd fuelled by the mountainous terrain and wild shoreline; perfect for trail running, biking and surfing. Following in the tailwind comes the newly emerging craft beer scene.

Madeira has a diverse and ever-evolving range of alcoholic drinks. The eponymous rich, sweet, fortified wine once a sedate after-dinner tipple is experiencing a revival and finding its way into the hippest cocktail bars. Poncha à Pescador, sugar cane rum traditionally mixed with honey and lemon and drunk by fisherman to ward off colds, is served across the island with a range of exotic fruit juices, passion fruit being a particular Madeiran favourite. Often the only beer available has been Coral lager, brewed on the island since 1969 and now controlled by Heineken. Three young local entrepreneurs are striving to change that. 

Vilhoa, a small craft beer dealership in the capital Funchal, was set up in 2016 by Diogo Abreu, Eduardi Lucas and André Loja who wanted to drink something more than the one lager on offer. Tired of paying high on-line costs for imported craft beer they set up a company importing craft and artisan beer from mainland Portugal and now supply to bars and restaurants across the island. Diogo talks about how the business developed. “We noticed that, beside us, more and more people wanted to try new flavours. We started to distribute some of the best Portuguese craft beers and the feedback was awesome.”

Three years later, the company is growing but it’s still a small project. The distribution aspect has expanded and Vilhoa is now a beer evangelist in Madeira, brewing new recipes and developing events around great beer. Diogo continues; “It’s not easy as Madeira is dominated by a small but very intense industrial brand. Before Vilhoa the beer choice was poorer. We like to think it’s getting better each year. Our main focus is Portuguese brands, but we are always curious about what other countries are doing. “

As well as importing a variety of beer styles from across Portugal, they collaborated with two independent breweries to produce beer with a distinctly Madeiran slant. Referencing the classic Poncha, they worked with Lisbon’s Dois Corvos to produce IPA à Pescador (5.8% ABV), an IPA with intense citrusy notes and with LETRA in Vila Verde on Rebendita, a fruit milk shake IPA containing lactose and heaps of Madeiran-grown passion fruit (6% ABV).

To try some of these great beers head to Fugacidade, one of the company’s customers and regarded by many as being the best craft beer bar on the island. A tiny bar filled with a mixture of locals, and tourists who had made the trek from the usual sea-front haunts, it has a fridge full of interesting cans and bottles and six beers on tap. It’s worth the trip. The draught beer is fresh and lively, well-kept and definitely hasn’t suffered from the 970 km journey across the Atlantic.

Photos: Photo: Vilhoa and Jaine Organ