Italian Craft-Brewing Panache
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The Italians are known for their style, both on and off the bicycle. In the saddle, they are among the world’s greatest climbers and stage race champions. Italy has produced far more winners of grand tours than any nation, its native sons taking nearly twice as many as the French. From Coppi to Pantani, from Cipollini to Nibali, the Italians flash panache. Flying up alpine climbs or screaming down switchbacks, there’s flair to the Italian rider that’s simply a birthright.
Clive Pursehouse / Image: Yuzuru Sunada
Italian cyclists also have a long history of success in the classics of northern Europe. The original Lion of Flanders was actually the great Fiorenzo Magni, who won three straight editions of the Ronde van Vlaanderen in 1949, ′50 and ′51. He was an unparalleled cycling hard man. When suffering from a broken collarbone, he famously fixed a length of inner tube to his stem and gripped the other end with his teeth to finish the 1956 Giro—in second place no less. The likes of Argentin, Bettini, Bugno, Moser and Nibali have all shown that Italian panache, whether in the climbs of the Giro d’Italia or on the cobblestones of Flanders.
You cannot pigeonhole the Italians. Just when you think you have them figured out, they surprise you. Such is the case with Italian beers that have long been a desert of quality. While Italian wine is one of the foundations of world viticulture, Italian beer culture has been, well, blah at best. Mass-produced pale lagers on par with Budweiser, these beers have failed to live up to the standards of pretty much everything else that Italy produces: from cheese, to shoes, to art, to fashion. Italy has quality dialed in, beer aside of course—or so conventional wisdom might say.
But that too is changing.
The Italian craft-brewing revolution was launched in Langhe, a region known the world over for cultivating some of the most prized wines in the world, including Barolo and Barbaresco, made from the Nebbiolo grapes long grown there. It was in the tiny Langhe commune of Piozzo that the roots of the Italian craft beer renaissance began….
In 1986, Matterino Musso—who everybody knows as “Teo”—founded his now famous pub, Le Baladin. The pub’s focus was on quality beers and, at that time, that meant beers from places other than Italy; and he was mostly featuring Belgian beers. A decade later, Teo went from just serving beers to making a few, available only on draft at first. Fast forward to today and the Baladin beers, available the world over, mark the beginning of what has become a craft-brewing renaissance in Italy. They are among some of the most imaginative beers in the world. The beers from Baladin, like much of the Italian craft beer that has followed, may have gotten their inspiration from Belgium and Germany but they’ve become a celebration of local quality and local ingredients.
Iacopo Lenci grew up in Lucca, Tuscany. And while his father, Agostino Lenci, owns and operates the wellknown Fattoria di Magliano winery, Iacopo was always more interested in beer. Tuscany, like Langhe, has built its reputation on wine but, with microbrewery Brùton, Iacopo also hopes to make a case for Tuscan beers.
The Brùton beers are a collaborative partnership between Lenci and the Brùton brewmaster Andrea Riccio—not to be confused with the Italian Renaissance sculptor of the same name. While they’ve found their inspiration in the same places (Belgium and Germany) as Teo Musso, they’re also interested in crafting a beer that is uniquely Italian, using a blend of ingredients from all corners of the beer world as well as close to home. The Brùton style is also built on a dedication to bottle conditioning and no filtration. Brùton aims to craft beers that, like the wines that have long come from this country, pair excellently with Italian fare.
Bianca: An Italian witbier in a classically Belgian style, the Bianca is a blend of Belgian and German hops and malts, combined with spelt and wheat from the growing region of Garfagnana, near Brùton’s home base of Lucca. The aromas are dominated by coriander and orange peel. True to the style, the flavors of citrus and bright acidity brighten the palate and make for a well-crafted witbier from Tuscany that would make the grade in Wallonia.
Brùton di Brùton: A Belgian-style blond ale that’s crafted from German, American and a mix of European hops is the flagship of Brùton. The result is a beer with lots of elegant floral and fruit aromatics, and loaded with sweet fruit flavors and complementary spice notes. The ubiquity of those bland pale Italian lagers for so long had us pairing beers wholly incapable of matching up to Italy’s most defining export: pizza. The Brùton di Brùton invites you to step up your pizza and beer game. bruton.it
Birra Artigianale Capri
The Brunetti family has roots on the island of Capri dating back to the year 900. The family winery was founded in 1909. Then, in 2006, three of the Brunetti brothers opened a microbrewery operation in the warehouse that abuts the winery their grandfather founded. A few craft-brew tastings in the family’s bar, Bar Grotta Azzurra, created a curiosity that led from drinking beers to creating a line of beers that highlight some of their island’s local ingredients and pair well with the plentiful Mediterranean seafood.
Ligea: In the Ligea, Birra Capri offers an island take on Belgian-style blond ale with a stronger emphasis on hops and bitterness than is typical. The top fermented ale strikes a balance of hops with ripe fruit aromas and flavors. The beer has outstanding mouthfeel and robust and substantial notes of honey, almond and ripe apple, finished with a hoppy bite. Mirko Brunetti, trained as a sommelier, aimed to create a beer with a palate that would offer a well-matched pairing with the region’s outstanding cuisine as well as an ale that would make for a refreshing standalone. birracapri.com