This phrase gets thrown around a lot. What’s it all about? From what I understand DOC practices of the Chianti zone prior to the 1990′s in Tuscany required the use of 10% of a local white wine grape in order to use the name “Chianti” on the bottle. However when Chianti sales slumped some Tuscan wine makers decided to go against this DOC regulation thus increasing the percentage of Sangiovese or Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, foregoing the white wine grapes all together. These rebels of Chianti wine were soon selling their so called “Super Tuscans” for a price higher than the traditional product!
People are typically shocked to learn that Italians are making artisanal beer, especially when those beers are made in the heart of Tuscan wine country! In November I caught up with Michael Roper from the Hopleaf in Chicago to tour two breweries: one that is towing the line of traditional beer making and another that’s creating “Super Tuscans” of sorts.
Birrificio Del Forte makes beers from a classical approach. No spices, no wine infusions or barrel aging. Their idea is to provide Italy with a beer that will be accepted by everyone. A beer that conforms to existing styles, much like the traditional Chianti makers of Tuscany.
Carlo Franceschini and Francesco Mancini being their operation in 2010 and in just a few short years have earned a number of medals for their production.
Gassa d’Amante: the first beer is a basic pilsner. To symbolize it’s simplicity Del Forte has named the beer after the most basic knot used by seamen at the nearby port town of Pietrasanta di Marina. It’s a delicate, fresh easy drinking beer perfect for a warm day on the Tuscan coastline.
Meridiano 0: As we progress through the tasting we encounter another nautical reference. The symbolism here is one of an Italian seaman crossing the Greenwich Mean line heading toward England perhaps for a pint of English style ale. Meridiano 0 is amber in color with a nose of light yeast mixed with toasted carmel and a final taste of hops on the back of your palate.
La Macina – A 2012 Gold Medal winner from European Beer Star, this Belgian strong ale is well executed by the young Italian team at Del Forte. The bottle tells the story of the largest crane in the near by port, called La Macina, which was used in the early days to move large blocks of locally mined marble onto ships for export.
Due Cilindri: A reference to the history of the two cylinder engine which was invented locally and used to power cranes and cars, this beer is dark like the color of the motor oil dripping from the engine itself. The style, a porter. One of only a handful that I’ve tasted in Italy to date.
For the finale of the tasting we tried Fior Di Noppolo, an Italian fresh hop beer brewed with locally grown hops. The boys at Del Forte didn’t much appreciate the Italian hop invasion which caused many Italian brewers to throw tons of hops into their beers, so they made an IPA with only 50 IBUs. The creaminess is what keeps you longing for another sip, as does the dissipating bitter taste on your palate.
Keeping the Super Tuscan versus Chianti analogy going, and on the other side of the equation, is Iacopo Lenci from Lucca. Bruton’s owner and co-brewer is the son of a Tuscan wine maker who preferred to buck the trend over conforming to tradition, much like the creators of the first Super Tuscan.
It’s some what of a similar story to Teo Musso, another rebel of Italy that chose beer over the family wine making business. Iacopo’s father has begged him time and time again to make wine instead of beer, but Iacopo preferred beer! To honor his father and the Tuscan tradition of wine production Bruton is releasing a beer called Limus which boasts 25% Vermentino wine infused into the beer making process! Now I’ve tasted beers brewed with grape skins and beers made with 5% Cannonau wine, but 25% white wine? Wow!
Bruton’s deviation from the norm doesn’t stop there. Lilith is an English ale style, using German malts and American hops which keeps the alcoholic content down while also keeping the beer from becoming overly caramelized. Yes, Stone R (the name Stoner was rejected by the US government for it’s implications in pot smoking) is a Belgian strong ale, but Bruton adds spices the Belgian’s don’t, like canella. In the case of Bruton’s Blanche beer, called Bianca, an Italian cereal is used instead of traditional wheat.
With these descriptions we can bring my little tale here to an end. Bruton’s got the Super Tuscan and Del Forte’s got the Chianti. You should drink them both!
Dear friends, followers, producers and lovers of artisanal beer, wine and spirits:
My time in Italy is coming to an end, but I believe that italybrews.com must live on! This post is an open invitation for contributors with any level of time commitment and whether novice blogger, curious wino or serious beer geek. This opportunity should be strongly considered by students at the University of Gastronomic Sciences. After all, it could lead you towards a promising future in the drinks business, but more importantly allows you to be a good steward and ambassador for the philosophies of Slow Food; of which Italian Beer, Wine and Spirits are integral!
I started this site as a self taught exploration of Italian artisanal beers, wines and spirits and as way to pass my time while my wife attended the UNISG Masters program. Over the course of a year I’ve written 45 posts ranging from brewery visits to event coverage to writing reviews on great bars throughout Europe, oh and tasted many liquid delights along the way!
My writing on italybrews.com has allowed me to meet so many interesting people and has helped me to collaborate with my friends Mike Goguen from Fork & Bottle, an Artisanal Beer Bar and Gastropub in Zurich and Esther Haanschoten whom is starting her own distributorship in The Netherlands at ItalianBrews.com (coming soon). Additionally, this experience has helped me to vastly improve my understanding of the Italian language, culture and bureaucracy!
If you haven’t seen the site in the past, have a read through some of my posts. If you already know italybrews.com and would like to contribute please drop me an email (will @ thedrinkdeck.com), find me on twitter or message me on “the book”.
Tanti auguri a tutti!
Coming down to my last weeks in Italy! It has been an amazing experience and I hope that this web site can continue on into the future! If you’re a beer loving student at UNISG or just a passionate beer, wine and spirits enthusiast living in Italy or Switzerland with a taste for visiting local producers, hit me up! I plan to keep the site live, and your contributions would be most welcome.
Onto the adventure! Back in March we bought a load of Fear from Brew Fist for Fork & Bottle. Having run out, and keeping true to our mission of constantly rotating the beers available at Fork & Bottle, we went in search of other Milk Chocolate Stouts to source for Zurich’s craft beer bar.
10 years ago the idea of searching a region of Italy for a Milk Chocolate Stout would have been laughable, but this is no longer so! And with the power of twitter I put out a tweet to my following to get a few leads. The responses were clear: Brew Fist, Birrificio Gecco and Endorama were the top recommendations from Northern Italian producers, so I organized a visit to these locations. Here’s what I discovered at Gecco and Endorama:
Birrificio Geco: The Geco is an animal that brings good luck, at least based on what I understood from my conversation with the boss at Birrificio Geco, Marco Ligas, whom conversed with me entirely in Italian. The brewery’s motto: “Drink It Easy”. Currently producing 120 hectoliters or about 20,000 bottles Birrificio Geco began in 2009 in Cornaredo, just outside Milan, after a meeting with Steve Dawson, British expat come Italian beer brewer, from White Dog Brewery. Gecco currently offers 7 beer styles, shown here.
The scoop on their stout : Even in Italy the term ‘black sheep’ refers to a family member that’s not seen well in the light of others. Pecora Nera (Black Sheep) is the name of Geco’s stout, a 2011 beer of the year in the dark beer category from Union Birrai.
When poured into the glass the beer boasted an healthy head of creamy brown hued foam and a deep black color to the beer itself with light carbonation bubbles clinging to the side of the pint. Milk Chocolate Stouts, unlike Russian Imperial Stouts, are low in alcohol and use lactose sugar that produces a somewhat sweet creaminess to the beer, a sort of dessert in glass served with a cup of coffee. These beers should not be hoppy, overly carbonated nor high in alcohol. Pecora Nera was the perfect fit, an excellent choice for our selection at Fork & Bottle.
Endorama: What do Dylan Dog Italian horror comics, German Thrash Metal and Brewing have in common? Just ask Simone Casiraghi who quite his job as a web site manager in 2010 and took the grand plunge into brewing. He’s a fan of comic books and his favorite band is Kreator, a German thrash metal band whose ninth studio album was titled Endorama. With a current production of 200 hectoliters annually, Simone is currently producing 5 beer styles. When you pop up a bottle, observe the cap. That’s a comic sketch of Simone created by his graphic designing girlfriend!
The scoop on their stout : The appropriately named “Milky Man” was also a 2011 beer of the year in the dark beer category from Union Birrai. With a surprisingly higher level of IBUs and a quickly disbursing head the immediate sight and taste differences versus Pecora Nera were clear. This is neither good nor bad, just observations. The color was identical but the carbonation appeared to be less subtle in Milky Man and the presence of a smoky flavor came through more than a sweet lactose creaminess.
After the pour we inspected the comic strip label, like children at breakfast munching down on cereal while reading the cartoons on the side of the box. As I’ve said in the past, a beer is more than what’s in the bottle; it’s what’s on the bottle that brings an emotional connection.
You will find Milky Man in 75cl bottles at Fork & Bottle and we hope to add Pecora Nera soon, once it’s completed the brewing and bottling process in November.
I was torn. Having never been to October Fest in Munich, I wondered if I should go. After all it’s not that bad of a drive from Northern Italy! But there will be masses of people in huge tents drinking average and mass produced beers! I figured OktoberFest must have been cool once upon a time, but it’s got to be awfully commercial now.
Then I heard about OrtoBeerFest, taking place at Cascine Orto in Pasturana! A quaint farm setting, live music, artisanal beer, grilled meat plates and pizza. The decision was made!
See, I’ve been spending a lot of time lately at a place near where I am living called Bros. Concordia. Essentially it’s become my office. I come in around 10AM and leave around 6PM, working while all the “Italianess” plays out all around me. Loud conversations, prosecco at 10AM and afternoon espresso shots for example. These guys have kind of become family! They even gave me a t-shirt that says “I ♥ Pasturana”! Anyways they told me about OrtoBeerFest, so on the first day of the inaugural year we went to check it out. Here’s what we found.
The beers were from local brewer Pasturana, which has a unique concept of making beers with grape skins and using the word “filo” (thread in English) to explain the additional flavor that comes from each style. For example their beer Filo di Fumo is a smoked ale thus it has a “thread of smoke (a.k.a. filo di fumo in Italian).
My stand by when I am working at Concordia Bros is Filo Malpelo, an Amber style beer they say is influenced by Belgian beer. At the event I stuck to drinking their Stout, called Minotauro. It’s a strange beer, and I like strange beers! See this beer has a boutique of fermenting wine and if you’ve visited a winery (or more so, lived at a winery like I do these days) then you know what I am talking about. This is the last thing you expect from a Stout.
The event was actually really cool. It was on the farm with live jazz music, a grill chalked full of roasted meats and even long communal tables, like what you’d expect from the real OktoberFest.
If you’re lucky enough to find Birrificio Rurale then your in for a treat. It’s just Italian style: the address on the web site won’t lead you to the brewery, so make sure to ask for directions first! Award winning brewer and man about the Italian brewing business, Lorenzo Guarino, is a computer scientist by trade; a job he gave up a few years back when Birrificio Rurale become a full time occupation. The brewery is actually inside of an old silo with the different floors of the former gain storage housing the fermentation tanks, brew house and the products Lorenzo uses to make his beer.
There’s a subtle irony to this. It’s like a farm to house concept, but in this case it’s more “farm to bottle“.
Ascending the spiral stair case you encounter the brew house along with a lovely vista of the surrounding country side replete with farm animals enjoying the by-product of the brewing process as their main staple. After each batch is lautered and the wort has run it’s course the spent grains are conviniently dumped down a side shoot that hangs from the top of the spiral stair case. Chow time my friendly farm animals!
Birrificio Rurale began in 2009 and hopes to produce 900 hectoliters of beer in 2013, but will have to move to a new location; giving up the quaint eco-system they’ve created here. Surprisingly, their current production is only 25% in bottle and they aren’t prepared to distribute outside of Italy. Hopefully that day will come soon.
Here are some tasting notes from the visit:
Seta: Meaning “silk” in English this Blanche beer is as good as they get. It should be no surprise to hear that, like silk, this beer was extremely smooth on the palate. And with a nose of coriander and orange peel, it’s decisively a Blanche style.
Milady: A beautiful English woman, at least in beer terms. This English inspired Extra Special Bitter (ESB) uses English hops, boasts an amber color and a 5.6% alcohol content.
Blackout: Not based on the grado plato or alcohol content but more the color of the beer. “Darker then a black steer’s tookus on a moonless prairie night”…as the line goes. It’s an Irish Stout. Dry on the mouth with hints of coffee and chocolate on the nose.
Terzo Miglio: Now onto the 2010 Beer of the Year, “Third Mile”. It’s an Italian adaptation of an America IPA. Not as hoppy as I would have hoped but still a lovely brew; and apparently the best seller at Rurale.
Oasi #01: Now on to seasonal beers! The numbering system associated with these reminds me of Paul beer from Switzerland. The numbers in this case are to indicate the order in which of these beers were introduced by Birrificio Rurale. According to Lorenzo this is the first chestnut honey beer made from Oltrepò Pavese, the southern wine producing behemoth of the Lombardy Region. It has a floral nose with a taste of raw honey and fresh cut grass on the front of the mouth followed by a sweet but bitter finish.
Castiga Matt: A 2011 winner for beer of the year, it’s a Cascadian Dark Ale. Lorenzo did his home work on this one having sampled several Dark Ales from the Pacific Northwest, including Hop In The Dark – Deschutes Brewery. The nose was of roasted nuts mixed with brown sugar. On the front of my mouth I tasted a medium bitterness followed by a blood orange finish and lingering after taste of roasted nuts.
The life of the beer runner in Italy ain’t easy. First you’ve got Italian drivers, then you have to deal with the Italian breaucracy; which makes even the Italians apologetically shrug their shoulders. Then there’s this guy, the demanding beer drinking chief at
Fork & Bottle in Zurich.
Why do I do it though? It’s people like Alessio Sabatini and Andrea Branchini at Birrificio Stradaregina that keep me going. Passionate and hospitable people that make great beer. Some seriously hoppy beers at that, thus leading me to title this post: “The King Hops – Italian Style”.
A beer runner builds up quite a thirst after wrong turns, way to many round abouts and run ins with Carabinieri. So after a long drive, a cold beer is quite welcoming. And having tasted 100′s of Italian beers to date I can say with certainty that I am still in search of a really hoppy Italian made craft beer. Mission accomplished!
Acorrding to their stats on microbirrifici.org Stradaregina was founded in, well, 2012; making it one of the newest breweries I’ve visited in Italy. I had tasted one of their beers, the Pin Hop, in Vigevano at Birre Vive Sotto La Torre but didn’t have too much more to go on prior to this visit, which made me slightly nervous! Boy were my nerves quickly soothed after the first beer was sampled; a Belgian Style Triple, simply called Tripple. Absolute perfection. We purchased quite a few cases of this for Fork & Bottle and now after a few months, it’s all gone….time to order more!
After the Tripple, things got hoppy. And I’m not talking Belgian IPA hoppy or even California IPA hoppy. I’m talking off the charts IBU readings, the kind of beer that makes hop heads salivate! For those that don’t know IBU’s are International Bitter Units and the average beer is between say 20 and 50 IBUs, so when you encounter a beer that has 135 IBUs your eyes should pop out of your head!
So what’s the Italian King of Hops up to here? It’s a double IPA, called Imperial Hop, with caramel and cayenne pepper notes on the front of your mount followed by an intense and growing bitter palate that carries on for some time. The color is a lovely roasted nut hue with a medium head of foam.
Taking it down a notches on the IBU chart, we were introduced to Imperial Hop Summer Edition, a limited edition small production IPA with a sweeter palate and a little less hop.
After that Alessio took me on a brief tour of the facility during which time we encountered a Christmas beer in the making! Aged for three months in oak barrels, Cristmas Frater Reserva, is a beer blended with the red wine Frater (95% Croatin, 5% Pinot Noir) from the winery Cà di Frara in Lombardy. At the time it was finishing it’s first fermentation and I was fortunate enough to have a taste of what was to come. It’s a reserve brew, so if you’d like to try what could be one of the best Christmas beers of 2012, order now!
All told, Birrificio Stradaregina was a great pause during another hectic beer run. And they welcome you curious beer travelers to visit! Just schedule an appointment in advance and grab a seat the their in brewery bar!
Living in the United States you become accustomed to a wealth of options when you’re looking for a drink. There’s a bar for any mood, any taste, any budget. In most of Europe, especially in Italy, it’s not so. Some of you know that in addition to my blog I am also the founder of a concept called Drink Deck: the bar enthusiast’s travel guide.
I created Drink Deck because of my desire to share great bar scenes with other travelers, foodies and bar enthusiasts and to help people explore the neighborhoods of top food and drink travel destinations around the world; and the various genres of bar scenes in those neighborhoods. Also I really love signs! I know it sounds strange, but signage is an art form to me.
Bars in Europe, especially in Italy, are famous for signs like this. A nondescript anti marketing tool that makes you wonder, “Why’d you bother putting up a sign in the first place?”
Now to the defense of European bar owners, a bar can be a place to get a coffee, have a soda or get a snack; and the majority of bars in Europe are just that. A meeting place that’s more about having a conversation than atmosphere… or signage!
So where are the cool bars in Europe? The one’s that you could fit into a genre like “craft cocktail bar”, “artisanal beer bar”, “wine bar”, etc? I feel that you must search for these venues, and I’d like to tip my hat to a few favorites encountered during travel. We welcome your comments here if you’ve got a recommendation for our readers, but here are some of my favorites:
Mälarpaviljongen – Stockholm, Sweden:
Stockholm is a city of some 17 islands and 54 bridges, so the thought of boarding a boat, or a floating barge in this case, for a cocktail shouldn’t cause sea sickness, but delight! A verdant oasis Mälarpaviljongen is located on floating barge come bar at Norr Mälarstrand with stunning views across the waters. You know it’s a nautical kind of venue when you visit the restroom and encounter submarine hatches for doors!
La Finé Heure – Dijon, France:
Eating in France can be down right snooty. And drinking wine, even more so. Not at La Finé Heure! This unique wine bar, bottle shop and restaurant offers a fresh approach to the stuffiness of working through a sommelier to select a bottle to pair with your meal. After ordering your meal from a chalk board menu of local French deliciousness you choose your wine pairing from the bottle shop section of the restaurant. Just grab the bottle you want and return to your table. We really appreciated being able to see the wines instead of browsing a huge menu, or even worse; just being asked what we wanted without the consultation of a menu!
Smile Tree – Turino, Italy: From the Sazarac to the Singapore Sling Smile Tree gives historical reference to the creation of each cocktail while making them with their original ingredients. The setting is simple. The music, New Orleans style jazz. The menu via iPad. The cocktails originally presented and outstandingly delicious! After all Dennis Zoppi is one of the best mixologists in the world!
Now of course there are more! And we welcome your comments! A special nod to two of my favorite Italian beer bars: Open Baladin in Cinzano and La Birroteca in Alba! Now it’s time to move on. Next up back to beer running and a tasting at Stradaregina in Vigevano.
The word birraio means brewer in Italian. This is a masculine word, because it ends in an “o”. It becomes confusing however when you encounter a female brewer. Do you then address a woman of beer as a birraia? I’m not sure, but this was the approach we’ve taken through our various encounters with the 7 documented woman brewers of Italy.
Birificio Lara was established in 1999 in Tertenia, near the popular wine town of Jerzu on Sardegna’s south east coast. Francesca Lara and her husband Gianni created their concept from the ground up, even to the point where Gianni constructed the brewing system with his own hands and engineering know how.
Francesca comes from a Sardi family with three sisters, so it’s no surprise that Birrificio Lara is a family friendly place. During our meeting we met Gianni, her husband, one of the daughters and Gianni and Francesca’s baby boy. The importance of family plays through at the brewery to the point of incorporating family on the beer labels at Birrificio Lara. Four of the eight labels feature the four sisters, each bottle offering a different beer style.
Sardinia has a couple other brewers including artisanal standout, Barley, and macro brewer Ichnusa, owned by Heineken. Barley makes several award winning beers that incorporate Cannonau Wine. If you’ve been to a bar in Italy or France you’ve probably encountered Ichnusa, a beer who’s name comes from the Latin pronunciation of Sardegna – Hyknusa. It’s a normal lager beer. Heineken’s answer to “artisanal” beer from Ichnusa is called Ichnusa cruda, just Ichnusa at a higher price because it’s labeled cruda or raw in English. Here’s me sampling a bottle, it was nothing special.
Here are some tasting notes from our visit to Birrificio Lara:
W16-71: Not sure what the name’s all about, but the beer style we know as a traditional weiss beer, unfiltered, wheat based and with flavors of banana. I believe it’s Lara’s best seller.
Piculina: I think the name is loosely translated as “the smallest” because the girl on the bottle is the youngest of the sisters, the birraia herself! They indicate the style as saison, but to me it was more like their weiss beer without the wheat body. This is the perfect beer to pair with Sardinian seafood.
Affumiada: As with the others, this beer is top fermented, non pasteurized and refermented in the bottle. The image of Francesca’s sister smoking a cigerate suggests that you should taste smoky notes. In fact this is a Rauch Beer, a traditional German beer that’s been brewed often in America by the likes of Samuel Adams and Sierra Nevada, and it’s true to form.
Ah Sardinia! Time to hit the beach with some beers from our new friends at Birrificio Lara!
If you don’t know Cannonau wine then you probably haven’t been to Sardegna (Sardinia in English). If you have had Cannonau wine then hopefully you experienced drinking it from a shot glass, or perhaps a juice glass, as the local Sardi people do. On the other hand if you’ve tasted the wines of Spain, Southern France’s Rhône Valley or California’s San Joaquin Valley then you do know Cannonau, but under an alias: Grenache.
Sardi are simple people and Sardegna is a mysterious land. A place where tradition lives on through a culture that has been under siege by outsiders for as long as time has been recorded. These outsiders came and went by ship taking with them vines to plant in their mother lands. Knowing this it should not surprise you that what’s become one of the world’s most used grape varitals, Grenache, originated in Sardegna.
During our holiday tour around the island we elected to not pursue Cannonau producers because of it’s ubiquity across the region. Instead we elected to visit this guy, Dino Addis, the charismatic proprietor of Cantina Gallura in Tempio Pausania on the North end of the island.
The grape du jour at Cantina Gallura isn’t Cannonau, but instead Vermentino. We’d tried a Vermentino a few months back from Cantina Gallura and figured that a summer time visit coupled with these wonderful white wines would keep us calm, cool and collected.
Here are some notes and photos of what we tasted:
Ladas: Dino carefully pours a splash of this Vermentino based brut sparkling wine into the first tasting glass, and then transfers it down the line to cleanse them of any impurities. It’s probably the best non vintage sparkling wine I’ve ever had and at a price of €6 a bottle from the winery it’s an absolute steal!
After taking two limestone rocks and grinding them feverishly together Dino passes them around for us to smell. “This scent is present in the terrior and thus in the wine, specifically the Genesi.” he says. The Vermentinos from Cantina Gallura come in many variations of flavor. Genesi was more in tune with the Arneis that we are accustomed to in the Piedmont, providing a limestone flavored finish.
Gemellae: With a bouquet of a light passion fruit and a lovely citrus after taste this wine is the perfect hot summer refresher.
Piras: Another vermentino this time with a more defined bouquet of tropical fruits and a ripe peach and apricot palate without the limestone flavor of the Genesi.
We had a great visit at Cantina Gallura and would recommend it for your holiday to Sardegna. Give them a call or drop them an email to set up an appointment! Ok now we’re on to Birrificio Lara, one of Italy’s oldest artisanal beer brewers. Man, this is exhausting work. Ciao for now!