A quick post from the road: we’re in Italy after a night at the remarkable Nuovo Birrificio Italiano, part of a week in Piedmont and Lombardy researching Italian beer culture. (And in an attempt to build a few bridges, we have filled our car with some great Czech lagers, which, much like Johnny Appleseed, we are handing out in our wake.)
The most striking element of Italy’s brewing scene so far: unbound enthusiasm, from the brewers to the pubs to the serving staff and the customers. Czechs may drink more — far more, in fact, besting the Italians’ annual per capita consumption by some 130 liters — but the Italian beer fans we’ve met in the past few days are way more enthusiastic about their choice of beverage. Hearing people here talk about craft beer is like listening to a bunch of converts to a new religion or meeting a group of political revolutionaries (as opposed to culinary ones). Everywhere you look is the wide-eyed expression of the true believer.
A few observations from a few days on the road:
It seems to be no coincidence that some of the biggest stars of Italian craft brewing are from the same general area as the Slow Food movement (in Bra), Italy’s truffle capital (Alba) and legendary wines like Barolo.
Somewhat unsurprisingly, I have never eaten so well in a brewpub.
The variety of what is produced is hard to get your head around. Just at Nuovo Birrificio Italiano, Agostino Arioli (above) makes Tipopils and Extra Hop, a couple of high-grade Pilsner-style beers, a few very good ambers, a eye-opening Real Ale, as well as Cassissona, an outstanding cassis-flavored beer, and Scires, a partially wild-fermented sour cherry beer that he says is “not a kriek,” though it is remarkably complex, sour and sweet. (It makes a wonderful pairing with a nice goat cheese.) Most Czech craft beer makers have trouble sending out more than three or four brews, of which at least three are usually golden lagers. In terms of thinking outside the box, there is simply no box here.
Well, that’s about it for now. We’ll file another report from our next stop, the legendary Birreria Le Baladin. And when we get back (next week), we’ll finally announce the winners from our haiku contest / reader giveaway. Stay tuned…