Thursday, March 20, 2014

Bir & Fud’s Spring Rebirth

When Leonardo Di Vincenzo approached Manuele Colonna, the great Roman publican, in 2007 about opening a high-end pizza joint with only Italian craft beer on tap, it took some convincing. At the time, Leonardo was struggling to get his new brewery Birra Del Borgo off the ground. Even so, he was convinced of his new idea that eventually Colonna conceded. The idea was to open a pizzeria, but this would be one of the most original pizzerias since the conception of pizza in Naples. The notion soon proved to be genius. Bir & Fud would become in short time one of the most important elements in the Italian craft beer movement.

The model of beer with pizza isn’t a new one. In fact, the concept was created by Italy’s big beer companies early on. The main reason for the now long-held association of beer and pizza was simply because the beer industrialists were seeking a common thread throughout Italy. Not a very easy task in a country racked by extreme regionalism. But alas, during the late 19th century, there it was—pizza. Italy had only just been united by Garibaldi’s Risorgimento and formally recognized as a country in 1861. As a fledgling new country built out of city states much of it remained fragmented. The Neapolitan invention of pizza became nationally popular when Queen Margherita and King Umberto I of Savoy visited Naples. The Queen was presented the pizza, a special recipe made for her, one with tomato sauce, mozzarella and basil. The three ingredients made up the three colors of the new Italian flag. The pizza is today’s cheese pizza in America, but in Italy it is still called the Margherita.

From that introduction, the pizza spread throughout Italy. It was the only common food thread from north to south. The industrial beer companies pounced on the new food concept and began to associate beer with pizza. The pizza was as exotic to Italians as beer was; the two made a match that continues to be a common association in Italy.
When Leonardo brought the idea of a pizzeria with beer to Colonna, it wasn’t necessarily a concept Colonna was willing to jump into. After all, the still fledgling Italian craft beer movement was doing everything it could to detach itself from this big beer association. It was a thorn in its side, to be blunt. At the dawn of the movement, Teo Musso, one of the four pioneers and perhaps the most influential brewer in the country, had painstakingly worked to get his beer on the tables of fine dining restaurants. He maneuvered his beer onto the table by first creating beautiful bottles to match those of wine, and then introduced them to the top 500 restaurants in Italy. For the better part of the movement Italian craft beer had been mimicking Musso’s move and placing their beer onto tables meant for wine. And for the better part of the movement, Italy only had a market in the wine world, beer was just a sibling fighting to be at the grownup table.

But Leonardo had a twist to the taboo. Bir & Fud wouldn’t just be any pizzeria. No, it would be something truly special. Enlisting Italy’s up and coming pizza maker, Gabriele Bonci, knighted by Vogue magazine as the Michelangelo of pizza, the pizza at Bir & Fud would be something of its own topic. Bonci’s 200 year-old-mother yeast and gourmet toppings, along with Colonna’s extraordinary ability to bring in great Italian beer directly from the brewers (since there is limited distribution in Italy), the match would recalibrate an old idea and infuse two old familiarities into something unique. Food critics condemned the waste of Bonci’s gourmet pizza on beer, but with hard work, Colonna and Leonardo were able to bring the union home even to the hardened critics.

But from the beginning, something didn’t sit well with Colonna. Though the concept was truly an important move, Colonna knew something wasn’t quite right with their idea. When Colonna visited Teo Musso’s and Leonardo’s collaboration, the impressive, Open Baladin, Colonna saw the mark Bir & Fud had missed. Open Baladin brought Italian craft beer front-and-center like no other, featuring 40 taps, all pouring Italian craft beer. As Colonna gazed at the 40 taps, he realized Bir & Fud’s concept was flawed. Italian craft beer shouldn’t stand alone at their restaurant; rather, it should be showcased along with other great, well-known craft beers from around the world. But there wasn’t much he could do now. Bir & Fud had been launched. Then serendipity made its move. 

During a regular inspection by officials, it was realized the kitchen, which had been through thousands of inspections over a few decades through other restaurants, was not to specs. This is after all Italy. Having to make the changes to the kitchen, Bir & Fud would have to be shut down. Seizing the opportunity, Colonna revamped the seven-year-old Bir & Fud.

Still the great pizzeria it was intended to be, Bir & Fud reemerges like Botticelli’s Primavera, illustrious and splendid with a freshness equal to that of spring. Like the barrel of a gun, the bar stretches under a vaulted ceiling offset by shades of octagonal wood tiles made from wooden barrels. The bar has been extended where the kitchen once was. Tapas and finger foods will replace the food once being served in the old kitchen. The taps will feature thirty standard beers and six hand pumps, but not all will be Italian craft beer. As for pizza, well, the pizza will remain the same, but the pizza oven has been updated.

The sleek new look, the new international classic beers along with the Italian craft beers, tapas and Bonci’s pizza all come together to make a successful concept more concentrated. After all, who can doubt the great Colonna, a man who is a support column to the beer movement as one of his concepts comes to fruition just as Colonna intended it to be.

Check out Bir & Fud at Trastevere on Via Benedeta 23 if you’re in Rome or take a look at the pub at

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

And the Winners Are... The results of the Italian Beer Awards

Back in January I wrote about Andre Turco’s Italian Beer Awards for best of 2013. Turco, a journalist, started Cronache di Birra early in Italy’s craft beer evolution. As I wrote before, no one is better at reporting the movement’s every step than Turco who reaches farther, reports more and brings the entire movement together. Turco is truly the choir of the movement. His continued passion is inspiring and refreshing. England and America had Michael Jackson, Italy can be proud of Andrea Turco for his informative blog and his innovative and creative ways of bringing the message to the people.

The Italian Beer Awards was voted using a two tier system involving both experts and craft beer enthusiasts. Seeking to “award the best players on the national brewing scene,” Andrea Turco collected a large list of who’s who of beer critics to head up the first part of the contest. It was Turco’s desire to ‘on the one hand offer prominence to the best professionals in the industry; the other, directly involve those who drink beer every day.’

“We all know that to operate in a market of quality beer is not easy: it takes devotion, entrepreneurial skills, expertise and a deep love for the product and its culture,” says Turco. “On the other hand the whole movement would not exist without the presence of active consumers and enthusiasts: it is therefore right that the latter decide the outcome of the Italian Beer Awards, allowing them to choose the best character for each type in a list drawn up by some experts of Italian beer.”

During the first half of January, the experts composed a personal list of the best brewers of the Italian craft scene under categories Turco chose, which included: Best Brewery, Best Brewpub, Best Beer Firm, meaning, a location that doesn’t have its own brewery but serves its own beer, Best Pub/Brewery and finally, Best Beershop. The brewers had to be working in Italy for at least twelve months.

Well, the results are out and the winners are:

For Best Brewery in 2013:

            Birra Del Borgo (Borgorese)

Birra Del Borgo was started by Leonardo Di Vincenzo in 2007. Leonardo was one of the first Roman brewers. Most breweries in Italy are located in the Piamonte or Lombardia area. Leonardo collaborated with Teo Musso of Baladin (one of the forefathers of the movement) in the founding of Open Baladin, one of Italy’s most impressive beer pubs and which only features Italian craft beer. Leonardo collaborated with the messiah of the Italian tap house, Manuele Colonna in Bir & Fud and with Marco Valente’s La Taberna, one of the most important restaurants bringing Italian craft beer to the table alongside high quality food. Leonardo jointly owns NO.AU, a French Bistro featuring Italian craft beer in Rome. Leonardo Di Vincenzo has stood out as one of the most important brewers of the third generation of Italian craft brewers.

For Best Brewpub in 2013:

            Lambrate (Milan)

Lambrate was one of the four founding breweries of the movement born in 1996. A collaboration of friends and family, the five owners made history and advanced the scene with their brewpub. Years of hard work and growing success allowed the group to open a second, larger location not far from their original pub. Their craft beer continues to set a standard in quality and great brewing.

For Best Beer Firm in 2013:

Buskers (Rome)

Buskers Pub is one of the most recent additions to the history of Italian craft beer, but Mirko Caretta isn’t a stranger to the movement. Owner of the bottle shop, Bir & Fud Bottega (beershop with no relation to the pub Bir & Fud), Mirko doesn’t just dabble in beer making, he’s brewed with some of the best as a gypsy brewer (he prefers, busker brewer). He began brewing at L’Olmaia, but has also brewed at Del Borgo, Etraomnes and several others.

For Best Pub/Brewery in 2013:

            Ma Che Siete Venuti a Fá (Rome)

Ma Che Siete Venuti a Fá (Macche) is the equivalent of the famous Horsebrass in OreganOREGON and Manuele Colonna is similar to the late charismatic Horsebrass creator, Don Younger. In fact, I’d venture to say that Colonna is the Italian version of Don Younger and just as charming and brilliant. His efforts to tear pubs from the rash of tied houses are allowing independent pubs all over Italy to blossom. His original venture, Macche, is a must-see destination in Rome. His contributions to Italian craft beer continue with his other projects like Bir & Fud and NO.AU. Colonna’s influence to the Italian craft beer scene is so great that it can’t be quantified.

For Best Beershop in 2013:

            Bere Buona Birra (Milan)

Milan certainly has its place as one of the regions most blessed with craft breweries, but Rome is by far the engine running the craft beer movement with several well-established tap houses and a plethora of beer shops. Bere Beershop may not have a prominent place in the early history of the Italian craft beer movement, but with beer from all over the world, home brewing kits, three taps and one hand pump, Bere Beershop is making its own mark while dragging Milan out of the craft beer dark ages.

So there you have it. Remember, when you travel Italy today, you no longer have to drink bad beer…so don’t!

Congratulations to all the winners. And thank you Andrea Turco for shinning a light, blasting the horn and keeping the beer thirsty people aware of a gem of a movement.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Craft Brewers Conference and the Toast of the Town

Last year, the Craft Brewer’s Conference (CBC) was held in Washington D.C. They were expecting some 8,000 participants, but in the end, the number was closer to 10,000. Not all of the hoopla was directed at the conference alone. Many were just beer enthusiasts happy to ride along as breweries, pubs and restaurants featured craft beers in different ways. The event was a smash and won’t to be any less of a party here in Colorado April 8-11 with an expected crowd of 10,000 or more. In short, the Craft Brewer’s Conference is an early cousin of the Great American Beer Festival.

Unlike the Great American Beer Festival held each fall in Denver, the Craft Brewers Conference is solely open to professionals and not open to the general public. The conference brings together brewers, marketers, suppliers and equipment makers, among other professionals of the craft beer industry. It’s become a must for many brewers. It’s unique in that no other conference in the world is solely focused on just the craft brewers and their needs. Moreover, the event is an international affair bringing brewers and the wider beer industry from around the world.

What? Italian Craft Beer?

This year, the event may mark a special moment in the history of the beer world. Italy, who is not associated with craft beer, will be coming into its own at this year’s conference as several Italian craft beer producers will be attending. Giovanni Campari, Italy’s most awarded brewer from Birrificio Del Ducato, will be attending. Also expected will be Bruno Carilli owner and brewer of Toccalmatto. After years of working in the industrial beer sector, Carilli set out on his own and joined the third generation of Italian brewers who helped push their scene forward. His hoppier styles are changing the Italian palate. Perhaps the father of Italian craft beer collaborations, Carilli triggered many brewers in Italy to follow suit. But none of this would have been happening if it weren’t for one of the originators of the movement, Agostino Arioli owner/brewer of Birrificio Italiano. So important was Agostino to the movement that he added a new world to the Italian lexicon—birrificio. The real word for brewery in Italian is birreria, a word which leaves a connotation of industry. Agostino twisted the word by adding the suffix ficio which suggests something more suitable to food, like paneficio for bread makers. Birrificio has become the standard word for artisanal beer in Italy.

Since its inception in 1996, Italian craft beer has grown steadily and in the last five years exploded on the beer scene, reaching as far as Japan in the east, Australia in the south and making a splash here in the US. Winning several acclaimed world beer awards, the Italians are beginning to turn some heads. This year’s conference is especially important. Every two years, the CBC hosts the World Beer Cup, often referred to as the Olympics of craft beer competitions since only one Gold, one Silver and one Bronze are awarded for each of the 95 categories. It’s not a surprise then that two of this year’s beer judges are Italian, Anna Managò and Lorenzo “Kuaska” Dabove.

Kuaska is probably the most important piece of the Italian craft beer movement. A long time aficionado of beer, Kuaska had been traveling the beer circuits of Belgium, Germany and England for some time before Italy began to appear in the picture. From the first days of the movement in Italy, Kuaska became their messiah, offering advice and leading the brewers to brew better beer. As an Italian beer judge, he was critical in not only trumpeting the quality of the beer, but more importantly in helping Italy develop some of the finest craft breweries in the world.

Denver’s Beer and Butter

For Denver, this isn’t just another beer festival; it’s our beer and butter. Colorado is such an important part of the craft beer movement worldwide, a keystone to the entire craft beer world. It’s no coincidence that the annual Great American Beer Festival (GABF) is held here in Denver. Like this April’s Craft Brewers Conference, the GABF is organized by the world’s most important craft beer institution, the Brewer’s Association headquartered in Boulder.

Through April 8-11 Denver will be bubbling with beer nerds from around the world. They will be thirsty to try our world renowned craft beer, hungry for Denver’s avant garde local foods and excited to be amongst some of the world’s greatest beer fanatics, Coloradoans. So come join the party and meet some of Italy’s finest brewers as they become the toast of the town.  

Monday, February 10, 2014

A Tip of the Hat to RateBeer’s Italian Winners

There was never a doubt in our minds that Italian craft beer is one of the most creative and interesting beer scenes in the world. I’d say second only to the US. As small as this little beer scene might be, Italy was ranked third worldwide based on openings in 2013 with 69 breweries. The US was first and England second.

The scene was young enough that there hadn’t even been an Italian indigenous beer recognized yet. Well, there was one, but it wasn’t officially recognized. In our book, Italy: Beer Country we went ahead and categorized one beer for what it was; the mother of all Italian pilsners brewed by Agostino Arioli from Birrificio Italiano, the first beer to be a definitive Italian beer style. Agostino has been perfecting his Tipopils since his early home brewing efforts in the 1980s.

As one of the pioneers of the Italian craft beer scene, Agostino’s Tipopils has secured his place in history without doubt. But I think having some validation by RateBeer as the #3, a Gold in the Pale Lager Category for Best Beers by Style Category doesn’t hurt.

At number seven in the Pale Lager Category was Firestone Walker’s Pivo Hoppy Pils, which was inspired by Agostino’s Tipopils. In fact, last year, 2013, Agostino visited Firestone Walker and brewed a batch of Pivo together with head brewer Matt Brynildson. Perhaps the best description of this heavily dry-hopped, Germanic pilsner comes from Italy’s best known beer critic, Lorenzo ‘Kuaska’ Dabove:

“Beautiful to look at (it can have a luscious white, creamy head) and taste, Tipipils is quite well-balanced. It has an inviting aroma of malt, fresh hops, banana and yeast, and a dry flavor characterized by an irresistible ‘bitterness’ that turns into a persistent and pleasant bitter-ish after taste. It is the perfect beer to drink in only two moments of the day: at meals and between meals.”

Congratulations Agostino.

But we can’t ignore the other two Italian brewers on that list, Bruno Carilli and Leonardo Di Vincenzo. Bruno, brewer and owner of Toccalmatto in Fidenza, near Parma won the Silver for his Grooving Hop, a Golden Ale/Blond Ale in the English Style Pale and Bitter category. Bruno has been a pioneer in Italy by way of brewing hoppier beers that weren’t often accepted by the Italian’s delicate palate. But he has certainly paved the way for hops in Italy. As a young man, he was a fan of Great Britain. When he was transferred to England for work, his affection for all things English like music and beer certainly paid off. We salute you, ol’ chap.

One of the most influential brewers in Italy who arrived on the scene in the third generation of brewers in 2005 is Leonardo Di Vincenzo. The owner and brewer of Birra Del Borgo won a Bronze in the Bock, Strong Lager category with My Antonia, which he initially brewed with Sam Calagione from Dogfish Head. Del Borgo describes My Antonia as a Strong Pale Lager/Imperial Pils. Whatever you want to call it, it’s amazing.

Wondering where to go to try Italian beers when you’re in Italy? RateBeer nominated several Italian watering holes on their Top Places to Get a Beer in the World.

If you’re looking for that edgy, got-attitude, but plainly the place to be, you know, in the likes of the Falling Rock in Denver or the Toronado in San Francisco, there’s no better Italian translation of this type of pub than Lambrate. Actually, Lambrate is a brewpub, one of the pioneers of the movement located in the heart of Milan. Also on the RateBeer list is Agostino Arioli’s brewpub, Birrificio Italiano, located nearby, where you can enjoy that phenomenal Tipopils.

In Florence and Milan, Il Santo Bevitore and Enoteca Decanter are following a new trend, Italy’s 21st century renaissance—the rebirth of quality, Italian food. Rome, once notorious for the tourists-trap-slop-houses is having a great resurgence of its own in food, via beer. Like the US, craft beer brings with it craft food, minus the K. Alex Liberati’s Brasserie 4:20 in Rome has followed that trend. But no place puts the romantic vision of the past into your belly like Bir&Fud. A joint project between Leonardo Di Vincenzo from Del Borgo, and the great publican and driver of the Italian craft beer movement, Manuele Colonna, in collaboration with one of Italy’s (and soon the world’s) most important pizza makers, Gabrielle Bonci, Bir&Fud smacks with modernity in the vehicle of traditional.

Confused? Okay, I’ll explain. Even today, beer in Italy is associated strongly with pizza. Why? Because the industrial companies like Peroni and Moretti in the early 1800s realized that there was only one common thread throughout Italy—pizza. Pizza could be found as far south as Sicily and as far north as Trieste, all the way to the island of Sardinia. Even today pizza remains the only uniform ‘Italian’ food found throughout the country, a nation that still clings to its regional dishes. Pizza, still a new and trendy idea outside of Naples in the 1800s, became nationally popular. Seeing this, the early big beer companies found a means to homogenize a foreign drink and so beer and pizza became married like coke and hot dogs.

So while the Italian craft beer movement steered away from pizza, so as not to be stigmatized, Leonardo convinced Manuele that they could return to this concept with a twist. This is where Chef Bonci comes in.

Bonci, ‘The Michelangelo of Pizza’ as Vogue put it, has reinvented the pizza. As I said before, Italy is returning to its roots, returning, painfully in some cases, to quality food lost during the 1980s and 1990s. Bonci’s renaissance in pizza stems from his 200-year-old mother yeast and high-quality toppings. The pizza you know isn’t pizza and you’ll understand what I mean when you go to Bir&Fud.

When you’ve finished your rebirth in pizza and craft beer, cross the tiny cobbled stone road to one of the world’s finest beer pubs, Ma Che Siete Venuti a Fá, RateBeer’s vote for Best Bars. You won’t be disappointed.

If you still have it in you, head to the next pub on RateBeer’s list, Open Baladin in Rome. Owned by Teo Musso, one of the four founders of the Italian beer movement and perhaps the most influential figure of the movement, in collaboration with Leonardo Di Vincenzo, Open Baladin is a must. With forty Italian craft beers on tap, all I can say is, it’s the cathedral of Italian craft beer pubs, the kind a beer drinker wants to visit. We promise you, it’s a jaw-dropping experience to walk through their doors.

Heading north, in the Lombardy region of Pavia you can belly up to a classic beer pub on RateBeer’s list, the Sherwood Pub with an assortment of Italy’s craft beers along with a range of classics like Sierra Pale and Cantillon. Also on RateBeer’s list in that area are BQ in Milan and The Dome to the east in Bergamo.

Of course, before you leave, you’ll want to load up on beers to take home to impress on your friends that there really is great beer in the wine country. The best places to stock up are found on RateBeer’s Top Places To Get A Beer in the World. If you’re still in Milan, hit A Tutta Birra. Rome is perhaps the most populated with beer shops, perhaps even a bit saturated with them. Many do not make the cut, but in Rome, Manuele Colonna’s Domus Birrae stands out as one of the most famous. The Bir&Fud Bottega (not to be confused with Bir&Fud the pizza/pub) owned by Mirko Caretta is highly regarded. Mirko, a gypsy brewer, makes exceptional beer of his own and sells them next door to his bottle shop at his pub Busker’s Pub, not even a year old yet. Also in Rome, you’ll find Le Vignerons. You’ll also find BeerShopLatina in the province of Latina.

There are many Italian brewers waiting to be discovered by the wider world, but it’s great to see some of them paving the way and being recognized. So remember, when you’re in Italy, you no longer have to drink bad beer, so don’t!




Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Celebrate Oyster Day at Del Borgo with Leonardo Di Vincenzo

If you happen to be in the Rome area in mid-February, you’re a very lucky person. When you’re ready to escape the chaos of the city, ditch the beaten path for one of Italian craft beer’s more popular festivals held by Birra Del Borgo. Located just an hour out of Rome, in the small town of Borgorose, in the province of Rieti about 70 km northeast of Rome, you’ll be graciously welcomed by Leonardo Di Vincenzo and his team who host the Oyster Day festival.

The festival Perle ai Porci, or Pearls for Pigs, marks the day the brewery brews their Oyster Stout. The first festival offered a chance to baptize the new brewery which opened in 2012. The rich, deep black stout is made by brewing 45 kilos of fresh oysters with their shells. To give it a more Italian flavor, 20 kilos of Roman Coastline Tellina clams are also added. Sound strange? No so much. The minerals that come from the oyster shells, the slight remnant of oysters and the roasted barley form a creamy, savory taste that I promise you’ll not flinch at again.  

The Oyster Day festival is organized along with the Slow Food producers and executed by the fine culinary skills of La Taberna who cook the oysters and clams that are strained out after brewing into an oyster spaghetti and clam bruschetta. The Pig part of the festival is the inclusion of several pork dishes served as well, many of which are cooked by the acclaimed Chef Gabriele Bonci, Rome’s, and perhaps the world’s best pizza maker. His location, Pizzarium is a must when you return to Rome located on Via della Meloria 43.

The event will be held Saturday, February 15th at Del Borgo’s new brewery, a place also worth seeing. The event costs €30, but it’s all inclusive. The festival goes from 10 am to 7 pm and will include beer, cheeses, cured meats and the feast itself, as well as live Irish music. There is a free, but limited to 25 people workshop. This is an opportunity to mingle with Italy’s new beer enthusiasts in a non-touristic fashion as well as see one of Italy’s most important craft breweries. You’ll also likely have a chance to meet the brewer, Leonardo who is a gracious host—there is no better ambassador for the movement. You can catch a glimpse of Leonardo on line by googling Brew Master’s Italy episode (never shown in the US) brewing the Etrusca with Sam Calagione from Dogfish Head Brewery.

To reach the brewery, you’ll have to drive. Take the A24 Rome-Aquila highway and exit Valle Del Salto. For more information and tickets check out Del Borgo’s website  or send them an email at


Thursday, January 23, 2014

Italian Craft Beer Makes a Political Splash at RHEX

Once known as Pianeta Birra, the RHEX or Rimini Horeca Expo has grown and grown and grown. Horeca is the sector of the food service industry consisting of establishments which prepare and serve food and beverages. The word is an abbreviation of the words Hotel, Restaurant and Catering. However, growing pains are being felt by Italian craft brewers. A few companies pulled out of this year’s event, notably Interbrau who is the largest distributor of craft beer in Italy.

The 2014 RHEX, which is a festival devoted to food and ran from 18-22 January this year, includes 1,465 expositions, 110,750 visitors from around the world, 5,000 business meetings, 500 top buyers from 5 different continents with well over 1,000 journalists and bloggers covering events from frozen goods, hotel equipment, technology to interior design and of course, wine and craft beer. The ribbon-cutting ceremony was performed by the Minister of Economic Development, Flavio Zanon, an important note that wasn’t lost on Unionbirrai president, Simone Manetti.

At the RHEX, Manetti addressed the issue of revising the excise duty on beer that was imposed by parliament in October last year (see Pathetic Parliament on this blog). The issue was also discussed at a seminar hosted by Unionbirrai during the event.

From October 2013, the excise duty was increased from €2.35 to €2.70 with two more increases to be made in March 2014 and January 2015. As Manetti put it in his address to the conference, “Taxes will go up to €3.04, with an overall increase of 20.4 percent. The rules are not entirely satisfactory.”

Italian Craft beer taxes are byzantine. To put it simply, taxes are assessed on the wort as it leaves the brew kettle. The problem with being taxed on the wort at this step of the brewing process is the brewer is paying tax on the inevitable losses that occur in the later stages of brewing. Beer is lost during fermentation, dry-hopping, filtering (if used at all) and packaging, but the brewer has already paid a tax on that lost liquid. It would make more sense for them to pay tax on the final product sold to bars, restaurants and public.

Giulio Marini, a member of the Italian Parliament said at the conference, “Italy does not provide for reduced rates for micro-breweries under 5,000 hectoliters per year: these tax advantages are provided by 71 percent of the EU countries. Furthermore, in Italy excise taxes are not applied to wine, on the contrary to what happens with beer.”

Marini made his case that further simplifications need to be made, such as how to introduce a constant coefficient of performance of the wort so that companies won’t pay the excise tax on losses. He suggested Italy should follow the ‘much easier’ laws of other European countries.

Taxation has played an integral part in the development of beer styles. English breweries are taxed on alcohol content; thus, alcohol content has historically been lower in England. While Belgian brewers were taxed on the size of their mash tun; thus, alcohol levels weren’t a driving force in the evolution of their beer styles. Conforming to local taxes has been a key, little-recognized ingredient in the history of beer. How this will play out in Italy is still to be seen. For this fledgling beer community to thrive, Italy will need to get their tax laws in line with their competitors in the rest of the EU. But, It’s Italy. We’ll see.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Sowing the seed of a book

I know that Paul and I’ve been a little reclusive in the past few months, and we have to apologize if you’ve been wondering what has become of us. Well, we’ve been working very hard, as usual, but finally, our labor of love is directed primarily on writing the book. The first three chapters of the book have been hashed out. We’re very excited. I’ll give you a clue: they are about Teo Musso and Baladin. Now we are working on the next couple of chapters which will be, wait for it….Agostino Arioli and his Birrificio Italiano.

It’s been really incredible to relive the journey we took in meeting and getting to know these wonderful and ingenious people. Then to go over each of their recordings, turn them into transcripts and in many cases translate them as we transcribe, it’s like reliving the entire scene again and again. For a one hour session recorded in Italian it takes Paul and I two hours to translate—a lot of work. If you consider that most of our interviews are no less than 2 to 3 hours and that we have over 20 interviews in Italian, that’s a lot of late nights. In Teo’s case, they were days’ worth of recordings. Ultimately, it’s in the contents of the dialogue where we get caught up in discussions between the two of us with absolute amazement at some of the material these generous visionaries provided for us. Every brewer, writer, judge, server, bartender and on and on gives us a greater peek into this marvelous and ever growing movement. We are, as always, humbled by their generous portions of honesty and knowledgeable thoughts and points.

Paul and I have had many in depth tête-à-têtes having to leave the transcribing/translating a side for an hour to really engage in the exchanges we just finished listening to. Discussions such as Craft vs. Artisanal or what size of production qualifies or disqualifies a craft brewery or an artisanal brewery.

There are also the thousands of pages, electric and paper, of content to shuffle through, finding facts, arranging notes to match such facts. There are the thousands upon thousands of amazing quotes we’ve gathered and garnered for future chapters we have yet to write. But again and again, the main ingredient we continue to assert as the first ingredient to this movement is the absolute passion these men have for brewing beer. This, of course, could be said for any craft brewer, without a doubt. But this hearing today in an interview with Agostino Arioli about taxes and tax laws, I have to give a mass amount of condolences and respect for the obstacles these men hurdle and have overcome to survive in an unfriendly tax system in an economic quicksand under the scrutiny of a hard-pressed consumer still reluctant to accept beer as truly an Italian product now.

As Teo Musso put it, “The Italian market is much, much harder to crack because we are pickier about what we eat and drink.”

But the Italian tax system is a gregariously hungry and corrupted beast that will continue to pray on the profits of these hard working and hard pressed breweries until the Italians can overcome their main and truly deep-rooted issue of not getting along and uniting against a common cause. It’s just something Americans would find difficult to understand. The cultural seeds of mistrust and suspicion for one another have been sowed thousands of years ago and continue to crop up at every brewer’s association or organization splintering any solid attempt at attacking the tax Goliath.  

All this adds up to another and more global issue for the Italian craft beer movement—prices. An Italian craft beer is taxed 25 cents on the liter or about 10 cents a glass and when you consider that the average bottle is 75cl, the amount taxed per bottle is roughly 45 cents. This cost is solely on the product, not the production, not the labels, which are also taxed, the exportation taxes, the outrageous employment taxes or the many other taxes that can be slapped on or disregarded according to each taxman in every little community whose interpretation of that tax will change again with every new taxman that replaces another. To put it in another way, to this day, technically, small brewers are still not allowed to export beyond their own brewpubs.

“We were not supposed to distribute or sell outside the pub.” Agostino Arioli explained to us. “The law was, and still is very clear because the same law rules now. It says you may exist but it doesn’t say how they should control you. I had no big problem with them in my area but in some other areas of Italy they had bigger problems with them. Because this law says nothing clear so nobody could decide and so the brewers made their own decisions. They say no you can’t absolutely sell outside your brewpub. No, you can’t absolutely export. It’s a mess. So now we are waiting for new laws.”

This is why, in the beginning Italian craft breweries all were brewpubs. That’s why today, as this law just simply is disregarded to some extent that some new breweries have decided to not have a brewpub. Risky move if you consider that should the Italian government decide to nationally crackdown and implement the exportation law, many new breweries would be shut down. They would be considered bootleggers.

But with all this, they continue to brew. And for this, we raise our glasses to them.