I’ve always admired smugglers. No, not Johnny Depp in his white suit and sunglasses moving cocaine from South America to the United States in the movie Blow. I am talking about alcohol bootleggers. Captain Bill McCoy is a personal favorite for his rum running from the Bahamas to South Florida during Prohibiton. Some smugglers would water down their alcohol to get more volume & profit, but not Bill! He’s the reason for the phrase “The Real McCoy” because of his reputation for providing his goods without adding water.
Moving Champagne from France, Gin from London and Whiskey from Canada; it’s all been done. The reason? In recent years, taxes. The tax, for example, on Italian craft beers is 21% if the product is purchased and sold in Italy. If a business wanted to buy in Italy and transport to another non-EU country, the Italian tax is waived and the only tax owed is that of country where the goods are being sold. At least this is my understanding. Their are lawyers that deal with these situations as a full time job!
It’s all still a little unclear to me, but we figured we’d give it a try anyways. A good friend recently opened a bar/restaurant in Zurich, Switzerland called Fork & Bottle. The concept is based on providing unique food and drink to an otherwise non food focused culture. Macro production beer in Switzerland is the norm and no one is doing anything to deviate from this, so we decided to promote artisanal beers from across the Swiss/Italian border. This is the story of what we believe to be the first Italian beer smuggling operation! Smuggling more in the sense that we didn’t work with a distributor, instead choosing to buy direct from the brewers. It’s funny, and sad at the same time, that most beer in Italy is produced in the Northern part of the country, shipped to Rome and then can head right back to the North for sale! Talk about a not reducing your carbon foot print, ouch!
Our missions started with a late night pick up on Thursday at Birrificio B&C where we met with a father and son wine makers come beer producers, Ezio and Marco. Before the hand off of 72 – 75cl bottles of their Amber and Weiss beer we sat at the tasting table to sample their version of a sour beer; brewed with cherries. Unfortunately, plans had fallen through to borrow a friend’s car that would have provided more storage capacity, so we relied on a Saab convertible as our transportation. Not the best option for an attempt at picking up over 1,000 bottles of beer!
With a careful eye on the road Mike Goguen, Chef & Owner of Fork & Bottle, plotted our course across the Piedmonte & Lombardy Regions with an eventual border crossing into Switzerland. Our plan was to visit 7 different breweries picking up a variety of beer styles along the way in order to build an ever changing collection of artisanal Italian and Swiss made micro brewed beers for Mike’s restaurant and beer garden.
Our second stop, Loverbeer. Where we were met by Valter Loverier, the man behind the 2011 Beer of the Year in Italy. We ordered Valter’s BeerBera and Madamin, loaded them in the car and headed off to our next stop, Grado Plato.
With mid-day upon us it was time for a tasting. Grado Plato’s 2012 Christmas beer was in a tank and primed for a preview of what is to come in December. We tasted and liked! Can’t wait to try the end product later this year. We were escorted to our delivery vehicle by our friends at Grado Plato who commented that this was the first delivery they have received in a convertable Saab! None the less we managed to squeeze the boxes into the car and head on our way to San Paolo in Turino.
The traffic in Turino was chaos! Bridge closures and stop and go lines of cars kept us from reaching San Paolo Brewing on time. I’ve visited this Brewery & Brewpub on numerous occasions, each time arriving late. Funny how punctual North Italians are; contrary to popular belief an early arrival is appreciated! 96 – 75 cl bottles later we were ready to hit the road for Brew Fist in Codogno.
By about 5PM we reached Codogno and we were thirsty! Luckily the tasting room at Brew Fist was well stocked allowing us to sample what we were purchasing: the only Extra Special Bitter I’ve found in Italy – Jale, along with Brew Fist’s Milk Chocolate Stout. Time to rearrange a few bottles to maximize the storage capacity! Look at that back tire under the weight of the beer in the backseat and trunk!
Milan in rush hour traffic is hell! We were hard pressed to get to the border in the small town crossing that would lead us into Switzerland to claim our invoices and pay the Swiss tax, a mere 8% versus Italy’s 21%. The traffic combined with having an additional 2 pickups was sure to bring us to the border after hours. This did indeed turn out to be the case, so in true bootlegging fashion we cruised through unabated with plans to pay the tax in Zurich.
Just one more stop before stocking the cooler, a visit with our friends Marcos and Alessandra in Stabbio from Bad Attitude and Piccolo Birrificio! They were quite impressed to see our mission was accomplished. After a quick tasting of Piccolo Birrificio’s Barric we headed off to Zurich to stock the cooler and write Fork & Bottle’s beer menu from Italy’s first beer smuggling operation.