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!