Beer Culture

Stories about great beer from the countries that invented it.

Tag: Italy

Grape Hops: Beer Tours to Northern Italy’s Great Craft Breweries

When she needed to make what she described as “some major life changes,” Shannon Essa turned to beer — Italian craft beer.

The result is Ms. Essa’s American tour company, Grape Hops, that offers trips to many of the up-and-coming microbreweries in Piedmont and Lombardy, along with more traditional wine and culinary adventures elsewhere in Italy and in Spain. Founded by Ms. Essa in partnership with Kim Riemann, an administrator for the travel website, Grape Hops came about after the two heard about the region’s burgeoning craft beer scene, which inspired them to start offering complete pre-planned trips as well as custom tours, hitting everything from Birrificio Montegioco to the great Lambrate brewpub in Milan, pictured above.

“We first put together an itinerary and we went over and did a dry run,” said Ms. Essa, speaking on the phone from her home in San Diego. She recalled her first experience with the vibrant Italian craft beer scene as nothing short of amazing.

“They are cooking with hops, cooking with beer — they’re experimenting with everything,” she said. “We had pieces of veal that were breaded with hops. And they had desserts that they use beers that they infuse mint into and they make desserts out of that.”

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More Thoughts on Italian Beer Culture

It took a few months, but my feature story on craft beer in Italy finally appeared in the NYT travel section this weekend. Seeing it, I started thinking again about Italian beer culture and how different it is to the Czech Republic and other countries which are better known for beer and brewing.

The point I stressed in my first post from the Italian beer trail is part of it: in Italy, the enthusiasm for beer is very high. But beyond mere enthusiasm is something that seems to be missing from the beer culture in the Czech lands and in Germany: education.

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Drinking Mussolini’s Beer

Let’s say my father-in-law is not a beer guy — when it comes to drinking for pleasure, we’re talking wine. But like most people here, he regularly drinks beer with meals, the same way that people in other European countries down mineral water: at every lunch and every dinner, there is one bottle of medium- or low-strength pale lager from Platan, his local brewery, on the table. This makes his beer consumption just about average for a citizen of the Czech Republic: just about one half-liter a day, just about every day of the year. But if it’s a question of his preferred beverage, it’s vino, generally Moravian, generally white, and generally very good.

But that still doesn’t explain the Mussolini beer.

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Italian Craft Beer as a Gourmet Product


I’ve just about recovered from the eight-day, 2,400-kilometer (1,500-mile) drive through Piedmont and Lombardy, though the impact of seeing northern Italy’s wonderful beer culture firsthand is going to be harder to get over. A case in point: I can’t quite forget the outstanding beer selection at the Eataly supermarket in Turin, pictured above.

Eataly is surely a special case: most supermarkets in Italy don’t carry legends like Thomas Hardy’s Ale, as well as vast selections of local craft brews like Baladin, Grado Plato, Troll and Montegioco. Nonetheless, the fact that a high-end food store like Eataly has a entire craft beer department — as well as an on-site beer restaurant — testifies to how successfully Italian craft brewers have pushed for their products to be seen as an integral part of fine food and drink.

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Italian Beers for Home


What beers do you bring home from a five-day tasting trip in Italy?

Unlike many more-established beer-loving countries, Italian beer culture is based in large part on bottles, rather than draft. (The Czech Republic is the opposite, with even some local experts arguing that tap beer is always, invariably, 100% better than bottled, the concept of bottle conditioning still somewhat unknown here in Lagerland.) This means that before you return, you can easily load your car up with beers and beer-related items. And when you zip down the Passo del Brennero into Austrian Tyrol, you’ll only go that much faster.

Here’s what we brought back with us.

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Italian Beer Culture


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:

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