There’s two things we really enjoy when done right: branding and beer. MUSA is one of the most interesting new projects in Portugal and one or our favorite new beers. Actually, they have been around for a while now, but after decades of stagnation and boredom in our duopoly-defined beer industry, it still feels like early days in what we like to believe is a new age for beer culture in Portugal. Bruno Carrilho is one the business daredevils leading this movement. He founded MUSA with a former colleague at Mckinsey, Nuno Melo, and together they have been creating exquisite craft beer at their recently inaugurated own factory, which they built in Marvila, a warehouse-infested, gentrification-free neighborhood that is now called Lisbon Beer District.
We had the privilege of meeting Bruno at the new factory a few days away from the official inauguration event. He will later tell us that this renovated building has now been inaugurated a bunch of times, and, come to think of it, why not? An old abandoned warehouse, with a few walls still firm enough to resist gravity. “No electricity, no sewage, no water… we had to do everything, connect everything. But that was the whole point: to build something open to the public so they can try our beers and get first-hand knowledge of the brand. People need to feel they are in a factory.”
So, after you build one of the coolest places we’ve been to this year, what else do you need? We should start with 4 ingredients: water, cereal, yeast and hop. Depending on the type of MUSA you crave, production will take between 3 to 6 weeks. It’s worth the wait and it’s also part of something bigger, something that started out as a necessary change of work environment. After a few years at one of the biggest, most demanding consultancies in the world, both Bruno and Nuno felt they needed a new challenge. Bruno had been to the States and witnessed the arrival of craft beer to the north american market: “First, because beer could be a much more interesting product than people assumed. Second, it seemed like a great business opportunity.”
Then came some much needed research: “We went to Brooklyn and wandered from craft brewery to craft brewery. Then we visited Spain. We knew nothing about beer at first, so we looked for people who could help us.” In Portugal they had no help, as pretty much everyone is working in industrial beer production, where processes and efficiency rule over creativity and innovation. Tough luck. There was already stuff happening in the craft beer scene, but no one experienced enough. So they looked elsewhere. A job offer got them 100 applicants from all over the world. Tons of germans, americans as well. They ended up partnering with Nick Rosich, who visits Lisbon 3-4 times a year, and also have their own full-time brewer managing daily production ops.
That’s right. Music plays a huge part in brand positioning for MUSA. And it’s been working wonders. At McKinsey, Bruno and Nuno bonded over music rather than spreadsheet and it’s safe to say that connection has grown even more through out these last few years. Music and marketing have combined perfectly in a long and now very notorious series of music events hosted by MUSA at different venues in Lisbon (now mainly at the factory). They claim to have the only craft beer company that has had a full-time marketeer on board from the start (also, we’ve met Bárbara and she does a great job). Maybe one of these days they will plan something even bigger for music fans, when the time is right. No hurry.
There’s a known saying that says “think twice before doing”. This has been well contested over the years. Legendary brazilian singer-songwriter Chico Buarque has a different take on it, something along the lines of “do twice before thinking”. In a way, that’s what Bruno hopes portuguese beer drinkers will understand soon enough, when discussing the Sagres/Super Bock duopoly: “Who drinks the same two wines all the time? There’s so much more out there. But it’s a process. Think of it as en educational stage. For us beer is still an undervalued product. And it’s not just about the beer, it also depends on the tap machine, for example. When you take it to the next level, which is craft beer, recipes change, processes vary, types of malt, intervention during fermentation. Just be open to it. There’s a whole world out there. And we’re trying to get that message across.”
Enough. MUSA’s factory is now open to the public. There are no excuses and enough reasons. Go visit it, try all the different craft beers, enjoy the sights, take a walk in the Lisbon Beer District and prepare to be amazed at how far the portuguese beer scene has come in just a few years. As for MUSA and its beautiful HQ building, somewhere inside you might find Bruno, possibly sporting an ISTO green t-shirt (well, of course), ideally behind the counter having his personal favorite Born in the IPA, and being as good of a host to you as he was to us, all the while secretly hoping for an interstellar visit from his childhood idol Carl Sagan.