Thursday, September 19, 2013

Pathetic Parliament

To all our Italian brewing friends, we are sad to hear about the unfair taxes levied on you today. It is appalling that you should have a 33% hike that, since 2004, has totaled in excess of 114% tax increase on your tiny businesses while the tax increase on wine has remained zero. This is truly a symptom of poor governance that chooses to bully the smaller guy and give preferential treatment to big industries rather than confront them. Sadly, it might be at the cost of so many young businesses who, if given the chance, would have taken advantage of the incremental growth their industry has fostered and hired locally, produced more revenue and continued to increase tourism.

The specter of a tax increase has been hanging over the heads of the small brewers for a while now, but today the guillotine has fallen. Even though many breweries had been resigned to the tax hike, the news is a big blow. In the end, it will affect the consumers since beer in Italy will now cost even more. The tax hike will happen in three increments, starting October 10, 2013, then again on January 1, 2014 and once more on January 1, 2015. The excise tax will go from 2.33 to 2.70 euros per hectoliter per degrees plato (the unit of measurement of the density of beer for its immediate use), plus the 1% increase tacked on this year on the VAT. 

The saddest part is that this increase has fallen heavily on the shoulders of the craft brewers to cover school taxes. This industry is one of the few growing sectors in the crashing Italian economy; yet, putting the burden on the craft brewers was the simplest way for the Italian government to take the €448 million with the least amount of criticism and fight. In short, the Italian government continues to take from the weak, instead of confronting the rich.

If there was ever a time that Italians should work together, the time is now. Put aside your disagreements and unite. No industry, no small business, nor, especially, should hard working entrepreneurs be subjected to bullying by their government. The brewers owe it to their consumers to fight this increase. We just hope that it’s not a little too late. But in the end, how does a mouse topple an elephant, especially one that is steadfast on stomping you out rather than face the poacher—big industries.

Friday, June 21, 2013

A Very Fitting Finish

It was a very fitting finish to our adventure to have had Agostino Arioli from Birrificio Italiano visit us here in Denver.

When Paul and I were setting out to write this book, we weren’t very sure how we would be taken amongst the Italian craft brewers, publicans, critics, writers, etc. Mostly, the brewers. After all, they were the people that counted most in our story. We had decided in a flash, almost as an afterthought, that the best manner to tackle these interviews was to start north and work our way to Rome, to just jump in and hit as many breweries as we could. We wanted very much to visit Torino to speak with Teo Musso and view the surrounding area where great breweries like Troll, Grado Plato, Loverbeer, Montegioco and many more were located, but it was more feasible to start in Milan.

We had just decided, what the hell, let’s reach out to these people and see what they say.

Of course, if we were going to go to Milan, we had to speak with the great Agostino. But would he want to speak with us? In the wee hours of the morning we sent our email out to Agostino. In no time his office responded to us. We were instructed to create a contact for Agostino on Skype, this would be the best manner. We were certainly nervous, just a little, I have to admit. But that call changed everything for us. When he offered to pick us up at the airport and set us up with a hotel room, we were sure this was the right first step.

Ago was beyond gracious, as were nearly every person we spoke to. But what made our visit with Ago special was that he had set the standard for us as he had done for the Italian craft beer movement. He spent an enormous amount of his time, two days’ worth, explaining what we had only read. He opened our eyes and many doors. On our last day, as he drove us to the train station, we told him of our plans to stop in at Lambrate. We had just planned to walk in, have a beer and see who we might end up talking to. Instead, Ago reached for his cell and called Alessandra. His words, words we would hear and humble us again and again from many more brewers, were, “My friends from America…”

That meeting with Alessandra, Giampaolo, Davide, Stefano and Fabio was more than we could have asked for and we had Agostino to thank for having introduced us and initiated that friendship.

So it was with great honor and fortune that we should have concluded our run for personal interviews by having Ago here with us in Denver. I was freshly back from Italy, I hadn’t even been back a week and here I could say in person, thank you, Ago. It was an absolute pleasure to return the favor to him and his brewers, Giacomo, Giulio and Maurizio who also had a hand in taking care of us at Birrificio Italiano.

We had set up a meet and greet and sat on the airy patio of the Falling Rock while another event, the tapping of Full Sail Session beers, went on in the background. They poured their beers, we poured ours, beers that Ago had brought along, with a few beers we provided. When I walked into the Falling Rock, I was introduced to the Full Sail brewer/owner Jamie Emmerson who was talking to Chris Black, owner of the Falling Rock. Jamie told me of his first Italian beer experience. It was at Disney World/Epcot Center. He saw that there was an Italian craft beer called Tipo Pils. He gave it a whirl and was shocked to have found his favorite beer.

I said to him, “Would you like to meet the brewer?” He didn’t know quite what I meant. “He’s sitting on the patio right now. Would you like to meet him?” His jaw dropped. He couldn’t believe it.

“Are you serious?”

Yes, yes I was.

But the proudest moment for me personally was to have been complimented by Agostino for my pour. “Bravo, Bryan.” Ago said to me. Italians, like all things food, are particular and they are very particular about how their beers are poured. Much like a Guinness, you pour the beer straight in and allow the head to rise, with some time to let the head settle and harden before filling the rest of the glass.

“Bravo, Bryan.” he said to me. “I learned from you, the masters,” I responded.

And so we have.

Monday, May 27, 2013

While our trip has ended, our journey has not

The past 12 days have been incredible. Paul and I have traveled countless kilometers across Piedmont, through the Lombard into the Emilia-Romagna and across Umbria to reach Lazio. We trekked across Rome like the early disciples, crossing the Tiber multiple times in search of not churches, but pubs, multi-taps with grails filled of barley, not wine. We spoke to countless brewers, marketers, publicans and beer lovers. In the end, we learned so much. Our notebooks and recorders are filled with wise words, long tales of searching, and brewing, stories of overcoming endless obstacles and stories of withering hopes in a country that seems to sink into its own economic marshes.

And still, the people we’ve spoken to persevere. They believe in what they’re doing. And their fruits of barley are unifying. They are still growing steadily against all odds.

While our trip has ended, our journey has not. We have a long road to climb. But we have a wind of whispers from so many who believe in us at our backs. For our families, the sacrifice has been somewhat great. For our coworkers who’ve held the brunt of labor during our busy season, we cannot thank enough. Tee shirts and hats and even great beers cannot match the gratitude we have for your sacrifices. So we have that too behind us in making this book.

Now the time has come to write. Our deadline is fast approaching. We have until April 2014 to have a book in hand, ready to sell. Several brewers from Italy will be here for the Craft Brewer’s Conference. Events will be held, great beers will be drunk, fantastic brewers will be met. This will be for many of them their first face to face with the American public. Paul and I have been and will continue to promote their message and their beers. We believe in them too.

Upon my return, in the first week of June we will be meeting Agostino Arioli of Birrificio Italiano, one of the four original founders. We will be holding an event at the Falling Rock, Friday, June 7th. So come have a taste of what’s to come, hang out with Paul and me and hear our story first hand. But most importantly, come down and meet one of the great brewers of Italy, perhaps of the world, Agostino Arioli.

‘Til Friday the 7th, Cin Cin


Thursday, May 23, 2013

For the love of Loverbeer

While sours still have not caught on with Italian beer drinkers, there are plenty of brewers making them, such as Panil, Black Barrel and Montegioco with almost all breweries having one or two. But Valter Loveriere, owner of Loverbeer, has decided to take it all the way and adhere to the long-established traditions from Belgium. Not far from Grado Plato brewery in Torino, it doesn’t seem to bother Valter that not too many people in Italy buy his product, but then, he’s never approached this market in the ‘normal’ manner like others have.

Many breweries placed some style of lighter beer or amber into their repertoire to cater to the Italian palate and image of beer. The first brewers had to go out into the market and pioneer their beer culture. Valter has done none of this. Instead, Valter built his personal style, shared it with the top critics and then allowed his beers to slowly find their audience.

Valter’s passion came from a home brewing kit his wife gave him as a birthday gift. Valter methodically researched the Flemish and Belgium style beers he loved. He then redesigned them to meet his environment, taking advantage of the Piedmont Barolo and Barbera region to formulate Italian recipes using ingredients like grapes and plums for color and acidity.

After years of working his beers he felt he had reached a point where he was ready to take the next step. Networking through other home brewers in 2004 he found the Italian beer critic and writer Luca Giaccone and asked his opinion. Giaccone approved and suggested a few change.

With a bag over his shoulders holding a few of his beers, Valter approached Lorenzo Dabove, known as Kuaska, a writer and beer critic who has been the great flag bearer of the Italian movement, at an international festival and asked if he would mind having a taste. Kuaska has been the barometer for many of these new brewers, giving advice and helping them hone in their craft. Kuaska liked what he was doing and encouraged Valter to open his own brewery.

With Kuaska’s green light Valter was ready to take the plunge. Kuaska took Valter to Cantillon to help him advance his skills a little more. He also got Valter to attend the beer festival in Rimini, where Kuaska had created a special class for home brewers that year. The festival in Rimini is like our Great American Beer Festival in the United States. They began to promote his beers with connections to bloggers and people in the movement in Italy and throughout Europe.

In the following years, Valter offered eight styles to several crucial Italian publicans, publicans who understood beers. But Valter had also groomed his beers for exporting. His typical customers were important producers of craft beers themselves, people with sophisticated palates like Mikkeler. His beer filtered through places like Brew Dog in Scotland, the Briggiert in Norway eventually attracting the notice of BUnited, who’s been the biggest exporter and distributer of Italian beers.

Though Loverbeer is a small operation, producing only 200 barrels a year, Valter has managed to leave his imprint on the Italian movement and finally on the Italian consumer.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

The Gypsy

Renzo Losi is a fit man, about 5 foot 7, with gorgeous blue eyes reminiscent of his sisters’ who we met in January at Panil in Parma, eyes that drift into deep thought, grey hair shoulder length in his early 50s. Not a man who should be starting over again, but he is. And he’s starting in a strange land.

Once the brewer of Panil, he left his family business behind, his creations and brewery all in Parma. He and his family could not agree on how to run Panil. For Renzo, selling beers to the local market was imperative. But selling sour beers in Italy isn’t easy; hell, it’s nearly impossible. This year all of Panil’s beers will be shipped either to the United States or to Canada. This is still a young market that hasn’t developed its tastes for beer yet. So last year, Renzo packed his bags, left it all behind.

His new location, Black Barrel is a small, quaint and narrow shop, clean with white walls, a few shelves with a counter three quarters of the way in. There’s a cellar downstairs, like a crypt where several small wooden kegs lay dormant like little round coffins that hold an experiment of spontaneous combusted beers waiting, waiting for their time. Only two of the beers in the front of the shop are his. The last of his brews from Panil. He’s stocked his shelves with other breweries while he begins the painstaking task of building his own coffers. He’s managed. He’s traveled around Torino to the local breweries who’ve been more than happy to accommodate this well respected brewer. He’s been able to brew two beers, a blond and an amber. They are starter beers, and simple for the tastes of his market and when they are mature some will become blenders, some will be the first Black Barrel label. The dark bottles rest to the back of the house, lying on their sides as if napping. It’s not their time yet either.

The question is, what will they be like? Parma is very rich agriculturally. Parma’s culture is a long history of unique and famous cheeses, milks, hams, fruits and vegetables. It is like a mini Payottenland in the Flemish Brabant province filled with wild and unique yeasts. Black Barrel lies in the heart of Torino a big city with traffic and dust. What will be rendered Renzo does not know. One advantage Torino does have for beer making is great water. Torino is famous for this. How Black Barrel’s sours will evolve in this new location is still a mystery. But Renzo doesn’t seem worried about it. He’s up for the challenge. After all, another advantage Black Barrel has is Renzo himself.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Some brewers are just destined to brew

To fill a void from his thankless job as a road worker, Gabriele Ormea’s father found happiness with offshoot projects, distilling liquors, wrangling bees for honey and brewing beer. He was a laborer with a knack. When Gabriele was a boy, his father gave him a sip from his glass. That taste of copper liquid, capped by heavy foam, soft in the mouth exploded into the boy’s life. The awakened taste buds ignited a passion in the young boy that would grow with him and develop his palate beyond his age. That single sip would ripen into a world he could not have foreseen and aligned the stars for an unexpected future.

His father continued to form him, brewing at home together, showing him good beers. In high school, Gabriele worked at bars to make money, further pressing his manifest destiny.  

In 2001 when he was 19 a happenstance contest from the community of Chieri would sow his vocation. The winner of a contest would win a rare and coveted liquor licenses. A shot in the dark, Gabriele and his brother formulated a mock business plan; a brewpub/pizzeria. They had no illusions of winning and at one point, Gabriele contemplated revoking his entry. They had not won, but the two who had placed ahead of them had fallen out for one reason or another and the prize was handed to them.

Still a long shot, they submitted their plans to the bank for a loan. The director of the bank unexpectedly stepped down and in his place a young woman with very little experience found herself playing into the fate of an ordained Gabriele. The new director saw a practical side to their plan and the loan was approved. Shocked, but energized, the prize and the loan became Grado Plato in 2003.

The first two years were spent building a following for the pub and developing beer lovers. Not feeling too confident in his abilities as a brewer in comparison to the already well regarded Lambrate, Baladin, Birrifico Italiano, Gabriele brewed the Sveva, an Italian pilsner and the Spoon River, an amber. It was a practical and economical decision. They were common beers that were familiar styles, easy to explain to the clients, servers and bartenders. The pub was their vehicle to educating their community. Money remained tight.

After a year, they decided to develop an idea along with the agricultural students at the University of Torino to build from earth to glass. A fateful visit from the beer writer and critic, Kuaska, not only boosted their confidence, but he suggested a style—a sticke.

What’s a sticke?

Gabriele’s brother, Sergio went to Dusseldorf to find the style to study. He returned with a case of sticke. They sat and drank and figured out the beer. It took two year before Grado Plato to introduce the Sticher. The ‘er’ is a derivative of the Torino dialect. The beer was good. Kuaska was so impressed he brought them to London for the Great British Beer Festival in 2006 to present the Sticher. It was their first dive into the international beer world and they dove in tasting everything they could.

Sveva had been 70% of their income over the last four years, but with a renewed confidence, they began to create beers. Recalling a 2005 visit to Corsica where Gabriele worked with a man on a chestnut beer, Gabriele made the Strada S. Felice. His dad wanted a honey beer so the Melissa was developed.  With awards coming in and the buzz about their beer accolades making their rounds throughout Italy, the pub became a pilgrimage for the new Italian and international craft beer drinking public. Grado Plato would not struggle again, in fact, it would expand to an off location brewery, hire a fulltime staff to work the bar so that Gabriele could do what destiny had already met for him—brew.  

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

To find who Teo Musso is, you’ll have to step into his three-ring circus.

The Ring Leader

The most famous name in the Italian craft beer movement is Teo Musso, hands down. Teo began as a pub owner importing beer to his little circus-tent-of-a-bar in the tiny country town of Piozzo, a blip smack in the middle of the most famous wine country in the world where Barolo and Barbaresco grow just over the hills. For Teo the beer adventure began as a revolt against his father who forced the local piedmont wines upon him. To rebel the teenager drank beer. But the true breakthrough was during a visit with his uncle who was head pastry chef at the Hotel De Paris in Monte Carlo where Teo discovers Chimay Blue, igniting a passion in Teo that still runs hot.

A restless and creative soul, Teo began by opening an incredible little gem in 1986 called Le Baladin which means story teller in French. The structure of Le Baladin is built like a small circus tent with circus posters, lights, décor and colors all reminiscent of the Barnum and Bailey circus. In the mini-big tent Teo features 200 labels of various European beers.

With a deeper curiosity to know beer, Teo goes to Belgium where he works at the Brasserie D’Achouffe and learns the art of brewing. He collaborates with Jean-Louis Dits of Brasserie Vapeur and realizes his talent—beer making.

Upon his return to Piozzo, Teo, with the help of Jean-Luis Dits, adapts tanks used for the processing milk into beer vats. He then opens the doors to a new brewpub, Baladin, now not just a circus beer bit, but the launching point for what is to become the Italian craft beer movement.

Just an hour or so away, unknown to Teo, Agostino Arioli, Lambrate, Beba and another location in Cremona now closed, are also germinating the wert of a new movement, but Teo will turn it into the ‘the greatest movement on earth’.

Step right up Folks

With the change to his little circus pub, his customers flee. Italians have not experienced such a thing as ‘craft beer’. Teo realizes Italians are not going to come to his circus, so he takes the show on the road by bottling his beers. He approaches Italy’s largest wine distributor who are convinced by the irrepressible Teo. To Teo, reaching out means planting his beers among the wines. He sets out by designing beer bottles and beers that will mimic, but not pretend to be, wine. In a way, this will allow the Italian drinker to be a bit more accepting of the foreign invader at their tables. He sends his new creations, Super and Isaac to 500 restaurants all over Italy. He designs glasses that allow for the beers to express themselves best and also sit seamlessly at a table and look like wine glasses, but making sure that the two are never confused.

But his beers aren’t making their mark. Hard pressed to replace the wine, Teo’s beers aren’t reaching the consumers; rather, they are being drunk by the restaurant staff.

So Teo opens his own restaurant, Casa Baladin in 2007 which in 2013 earns three glasses from the prestigious Gambero Rosso, the first beer-pairing restaurant in Italy to earn such a prestigious award. Casa Baladin is only one of many restaurants Teo will open, the most famous being Open Baladin in Rome in collaboration with Del Borgo brewer, Leonardo Di Vincenzo featuring 40 Italian craft beers on tap. In all, Teo opens Open Baladin Cinzano, Baladin Café Cuneo, Petit Baladin Torino, Bottega Baladin, Ryad Baladin in Morocco, Birreria Rome in collaboration with Oscar Farinetti in the famous Manhattan Eataly, NO.AU and a huge cellar to barrel age in collaboration with 30 of the top wine makers in Italy. His cellar is not limited to wine barrels though; he also uses rum barrels and in one case utilizes Kentucky tobacco for tannins. He invents a table tap, the Spillatore, so kegged beers can be enjoyed at tableside from a small tap at the table. If all that and a glass weren’t enough, he creates a speaker to boot to fill all his locations with a rich sound as customers’ palates enjoy the smooth tastes of Baladin beers.

But in the meantime, Teo sets off on a course to create a total Italian beer. He sows the fields of Piozzo with barely, hops and finds his own strain of yeast to create the true, all Italian beer Nazionale brewed completely without the use of hops.

He designs corks and utilizes a shellac of organic resin produced by a small insect, Kerria Lacquer from the forests of Assam and Thailand also used in restoration, polishing and in the maintenance of antique or vintage pieces to coat the rough corks as they are slid into the bottles.

He designs bottle tops that seal the beer. He creates bottle caps sensitive to temperature. He tests his caps against a stove so that, should the bottle reach a high temperature, the top will pop. In this way, he can be assured that if a consumer leaves the beer in the sun, the beer will ‘self-destruct’.

In the end, Teo’s big show covers an area of 2,600 square meters with an annual output of about 12,000 hectoliters of some 30 types of beers distributed by his own distribution company. He is also the first totally independent craft brewery in the world.  

This, my friends is the fast and short of the great Teo Musso. So on your next trip to Italy, step right up, folks and enjoy the greatest beer show in Italy and perhaps on Earth.




Friday, May 10, 2013

When Paul and I decided to take on this project, we knew it was going to be ambitious—but we did it anyway.

We began to discuss the idea of writing a book about the Italian craft beer movement in late August. It was just a discussion. Paul and I have been friends for 15 years now. I’ve always admired and respected his work. I grew up with painters and artists. My father was a painter/sculptor so I could appreciate Paul’s work from multiple perspectives. For years we racked our brains looking for something to work on together.

But in August, it really wasn’t that conversation. It was just idle BS-ing. I had just been home for the holidays visiting my family in Rome where I grew up. A friend of mine suggested that I check out the beer scene in Trastevere. So my wife and I took a night and went to see what was up. And oh, it was up. We were giddy with beer joy. I was telling Paul this very story. It didn’t strike home until a few days later when Paul called me early in the morning. It’s not common for bartenders to call fellow bartenders early in the morning, so I was surprised and answered.

“We should write a book about the Italian craft beer movement.”

Duh? Why hadn’t we thought of that the other day? We realized no one had been following this. There were only a few articles here and there, but nothing concrete and nothing that explained, why now?

We turned to one man we knew could give us some solid advice, our boss, Chris Black. To our surprise, he too had not heard about Italian craft beer, at least, not to this extent. The Great American Beer Festival week was upon us, so Paul and I set to making as much money as we could. The only logical step was to go to the source and find out for ourselves. But would they accept us?

We had plotted out an ambitious trip. After all, we didn’t have much money or time. But from the first phone call we found a welcoming audience. We started at Birrificio Italiano and interviewed Agostino Arioli, one of the two most important founders of the movement. We had lunch at Lambrate, one of the four remaining foundational breweries that started with Agostino in 1996. We headed south to Busseto where we met the great Giovanni Campari from Del Ducato, a student of Agostino’s and the most award-winning brewer in Italy. We moved south to Parma and talked for several awesome hours to Bruno Carilli, owner/brewer of Toccalmalto who was a great source of information. We had a hell of a night at the Oyster Day Festival with the entire scene at Leonardo Di Vincenzo’s amazing brewery, Del Borgo. He invited us to meet him at his bar in Rome, Open Baladin, that he co-owns with Teo Musso. Teo Musso is the other most important brewer and founder of the movement from Baladin brewery—a master beer maker, an innovator, entrepreneur, farmer, artist, visionary. We wouldn’t be able to interview Teo because we couldn’t afford to go to Torino on this trip.

The Open Baladin is like the Falling Rock of Italy. Forty Italian craft beers on tap in a modern industrial architectural space that’ll make your eyes pop when you find the wall filled with hundreds of bottles of Italian craft beers.

At Open Baladin we were guests to a tasting of Extraomnes’ beers. We met the great bartender Alessandro Leone; Marco Valente, one of the first to own a multi-tap pub featuring Italian craft beers, Luca Giaccone, beer critic and outspoken cheerleader for Italian craft beer. We ate food made from the best pizza maker in Italy (perhaps the world), Chef Bonci.

Then, as if Jesus had arrived, we saw the great Teo Musso. Like star-struck teen girls, the crowd flocked to him. We were introduced and we have to admit, we too were a bit start struck. You just can’t help it. He carries that charismatic glow of a super star. We had a moment to talk to him. It wasn’t the place for an interview, but Teo invited us to his brewery on our next trip. That was that. We had to return.

Our Return

As we prepare to embark on our next trip to Italy, we realize that we’ve reached the pinnacle of this project. We can’t thank enough our families, who are left at home while we carouse the Italian beer world, our friends for their support, the Falling Rock for the time off, the priceless advice and for all of you who contributed or passed the word on to fund us through Kickstarter, without whom there might not have been a second trip.

We are humbled by the extraordinary love we have received from everybody. We are committed to making a great book for them, for you, for us.

Stick with us as we turn this journey into a book to be published April 2014, just in time for the Craft Brewer’s Conference/World Beer Cup where many of these brewers will be making their first appearance in America.

Because of you, our next blog will be from Italy. So till then, Cin Cin


Sunday, May 5, 2013

Colorado Craft Beer Radio

We were on Colorado Craft Beer Radio with host John Turk and guest host Marty Jones of Wynkoop Brewing on Saturday, April 20th.

Colorado Craft Beer Radio

We had great fun talking about Italian beer and our project, the first book about Italian craft beer in English.

Cin cin!

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

The Beer Freak Show: A short interview with Bruno Carilli of Toccalmatto, which means, ‘a touch of madness’.

Bruno Carilli doesn’t think campanilismo; he thinks capitalismo.

Bruno, the owner and brewer for Toccalmatto, received his undergrad in agricultural sciences then returned for his masters in economics. He was a manager of logistics for a few large corporations, one being Carlsberg for 7 years where they brewed 1.6 million hl.

As Bruno put it, “They did more in spills than I do in pils.”

The experience of being a manager of operations, purchasing, logistics and planning connected him to hop and malt suppliers. Today he buys specialty malts and hops and resells them to other breweries. Brewers, like Giovanni Campari from Del Ducato, share the costs while allowing him to utilize a warehouse just 500 meters from his tiny brewery.

For Bruno it all began when he was working in England. “I had the chance to taste some really, really interesting styles—the real ales.” He found that there were many beers he could not get in Italy.

“The English beers I found in Italy were shit, really terrible. Without any sense, without taste.”

In the early 1990s Bruno began to brew at home getting his equipment and hops from the United States.

“The first Italian brewer I knew was Agostino (Birrificio Italiano). I was definitely influenced by him. My preferred beer at that time was Tipopils. For me Tipopils is a masterpiece.”

But Bruno was perhaps the first Italian brewer to accentuate hops rather than the spices or nuts as is the case for many Italian beers. He sees his beer as being more American in style using more hops than the typical Italian brewery.

A perfect example of this is found in his B Space Invaders Black IPA. Like a Black IPA should, the bitterness comes from the hops, not from the malt. It has a lovely, velvety mouthfeel with chocolate notes and a slight touch of roast. The label shows a battle between the hops, on the left, and the dark malts represented by various monsters on the right. He used Galaxy hops to round out the space theme.

Italian beer drinkers responded slowly to the hoppy beers he was producing, selling practically nothing in his province of Parma in the Emilia-Romagna region. But in Rome, where consumers love IPAs, Toccalmatto is very strong.

Bruno carved his niche by selling his beers only to the best pubs and beer shops in Italy and a few to restaurants whose owners like beer.

“I don’t want to sell my beers to normal pizzerias or kebab shops. I decided to be very specialized, very specific, because a double IPA is very difficult to pair with Italian food. Our goal at Toccalmatto from the beginning was to only produce special beers, only beers with character. In Italy there is a lot of creativity but not as much technical skill. The Italian side of me seeks inspiration and creativity. And obviously the Toccalmatto motto is to be open and innovative. I don’t want to copy other beers. I’ll be inspired but not copy.”

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Kickstarter campaign


Not only are we blogging about Italian craft beer, we are writing the book. It's been an incredible amount of work, but we know we're on to something good. More and more magazine articles are appearing (see this month's Food & Wine) but no book exists in English on this growing and vibrant movement. We're aiming to have it published by April 2014 in time for the Craft Brewers Conference, which will be in Denver.

We have launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds for our second trip. If you can help us, we'd be very grateful. If not, please spread the word and let others know what we're up to. Click here and you can see our video:

Also, if you're unfamiliar with Kickstarter it's a crowd-sourcing site to help people raise money to complete their projects. The projects must have a beginning and an end; something tangible must be produced. You can't raise money to start a business, for instance. When a funding goal is set, you have to raise AT LEAST that amount. If you're $100 short of your goal you get nothing.

Anyone who knows us knows we love craft beer and have a treasure-trove of useless beer knowledge stored away in our heads. Time to set it free! Bryan grew up in Italy and his Mom is from Rome, where she still lives. We both work at one of the best beer bars in the world, Falling Rock Tap House. We know craft beer and we know the people who created the U.S. scene. Bryan will be doing the bulk of the writing and Paul will be producing artwork and maps for the book.

In late-January we took our first trip to Italy and visited seven breweries interviewing the founders of the Italian scene. We also stopped at a few multi-taps in Rome, which is the heart of their craft beer movement.

Ten years ago there were less than 20 craft breweries in Italy, today there are over 500. As a couple of brewers told us, "we were blessed without a beer culture. We could make whatever we wanted." And they have. From double IPAs to Imperial Stouts, from sours to wine barrel-aged beers, Italian brewers have truly embraced the opportunities afforded by a blank canvas, just like we did here in the United States.

We know what we're working on is an important story that needs to be told. One way or another we are going to get back there to complete this project.

Thanks for your help!

Grazie mille e cin cin,
Paul & Bryan

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Birra Etrusca

You may have heard about the collaboration between Dogfish Head, Birra Del Borgo and Baladin called Etrusca. It’s part of the on-going work from Dr. Patrick McGovern and Dogfish Head brewery. Dr. McGovern has been studying residues inside ancient vessels to determine what our ancestors might have been drinking and storing inside them. His team’s analysis of the compounds found inside has resulted in the various ”Ancient Ales” produced by Dogfish Head. Beers like Jiahu, based on an ancient Chinese vessel, Theobroma, recreated from a Mayan container, Midas Touch, an Egyptian amphora and now Etrusca, bring to life the essence of what our forefathers might have been enjoying with a meal, with friends or during a ceremony. This particular brew was made with two-row malt, hazelnut flour, pomegranates, Italian chesnut honey, Delaware wildflower honey and clover honey.

Etrusca was created via the analysis of  vessels found in a 2,800 year-old Etruscan tomb. Once the compounds were detected the brewers decided to use three different materials to try to replicate what the Etruscans might have used as a fermentation container. They know they had access to bronze, wood and terra cotta. Dogfish used bronze, Baladin used wood and Del Borgo used terra cotta. Each material would impart differing qualities to the beer, so the results were keenly anticipated.

Bryan and I went to Del Borgo around the time Etrusca was released, but we had forgotten about that as we approached the brewery for Oyster Day. We only intended to stop by for a couple of hours because the brewer wasn't going to be there. It turned out he was there and the event was great fun with many beer industry people to meet and a wonderful brewery to explore. Wandering around inside we eventually came to the some fermenters and the barrel room. Immediately I saw behind the oyster-shuckers the terra cotta fermenters. I poked Bryan, “hey, you see those back there?” I reminded him of the experimental collaboration they were a part of.

Later, when the festival had quieted down we had a chance to walk right up to them and see them close. You could see where the fluid from inside had leaked out. Terra cotta is porous, so it breathes. Air goes in, fluid comes out-especially when under pressure. To anyone who knows a bit about brewing you know that process will lead to oxidization. When drunk fresh this could be a good thing, with a little time this could be a very bad thing. We shared a taste of a fresh bottle over dinner that night and it was delicious with a wonderful touch of tartness.

The bottle we brought back was admittedly a bit old by the time we got around to drinking it so it fell in the latter over-oxidized category. But I sure would like to try it again fresh. The underlying beer had a nice lemony tartness. Nothing crazy like some of the lacto-sours one might find; more like a nice Saison, perhaps?

Monday, April 15, 2013

Beer Show with John Turk this Saturday on 760am 12-1pm

Come listen to Paul and I on the BEER SHOW with John Turk this Saturday between 12 and 1 pm on 760 AM.

We will be popping some bottles of exquisit Italian craft beers that we brought back from Italy and telling a little bit about our trip. We'll talk about some of the brewers we've met and why things are happening now in Italy. As well as the book: The Poets of Beer: The Story of Italian Craft Beer.

Come have some fun with us!

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Lambrate is one of the original craft breweries in Italy—a fairytale story born in 1996.

On our way to the train station Agostino Arioli of Birrificio Italiano was kind enough to contact Alessandra from the brewery Lambrate. She was extraordinary in rearranging her schedule to meet with us for lunch. We stopped at the original brewery and found a young man wearing a Left Hand fleece and asked him for direction to their new pub. The man was Stefano, one of the five investors. With Stefano’s directions we found Lambrante’s second location celebrating its first anniversary, a lovely new pub with a solid wooden bar and the typical Italian brass pour system.

Bartending was a tattooed man in his early forties, with a goatee and piercings—the flamboyant Giampaolo, one of the original owners. His brother, Davide works the kitchen. We ordered beers, the Xmas and a cask conditioned Double IPA—both exquisite. Sitting at the bar, we could see the curious looks from people sitting next to us. We quenched there curiosity when we began to explain to Giampaolo who we were. He was excited and friendly. Alessandra arrived and we sat at a table to have lunch and begin our interview.

Lambrate was started sort of on a whimsical idea by Davide and Giampaolo’s father. Their father was an environmental engineer and traveled considerably for his work. He saw many breweries and suggested to his sons, who were in college nearby, to open a brew pub. Though the boys had little to no experience with beers, and absolutely none as far as brewing, they set about making a business. They stared tasting beers in their twenties and at 23 they had begun to brew.

Their first facility was the very small brewery we visited first in the heart of Lambrate. With such a small facility they bought equipment that would fit. In fact, the brewing was done with a 150 liter system directly on the pub floor in a small section about 12’ x 12’, smaller than a child’s bedroom. The brewing system was so small that they were only able to brew one or two types of beers and could only brew three days’ worth of beer. So the pub was only open for three days at a time to give them time to brew.

Their first clientele were their friends who came in and made sure that every drop of each batch was drunk. Through trial and error the boys developed their beers as they honed in their skills. As word spread the pub bustled with college students from the local University of Milan Bicocca. Their neighbors complained and many times the police came and threatened to shut them down. Many nights the tiny streets outside the pub filled with clients smoking who made so much noise that, as Alessandra put it, “all forms of authorities were called in from one point or another”. In one incident the police blocked off the entire block and shut them down for the night.

Regardless, beers were being brewed and locals were coming from all over the area to drink beer. As they began to reap the fruits of business, they saw their neighbor’s small businesses closing: a cobbler, a jeans tailor, a mechanic shop. As these places closed, the brewery expanded, buying out their spaces and expanding their brewing facilities into the closed shops. In 2000 they bought a 10hl system and in 2008 they bought a 20hl system. They quickly refurbished the shops and filled them with vats, hoses, tanks, keg cleaning lines, a bottling system and finally a very sophisticated lab with a true scientist, Ivo, at hand to work it. Today, Lambrate brews 23 different kinds of beer: eight classics, four seasonal and the rest are special beers.

A year ago, out of desperation not to be shut down, they moved their ever growing crowd away from their angry residential neighbors and Lambrate opened their new pub.

Again, I proposed the question to Alessandra, why did a craft brewery work now and hadn’t been done before? It was the usual shrug. Who knows? Their success was in part because of friends and location. Today, the town of Lambrate is on the tourist maps not for its Duomo, or leaning tower nor for its spectacular piazza or artistic partisans—they are on the tourist maps for beer and beer only. An incredible feat for two brothers who eventually grew to five young investors who had never really even drank beer, not to mention brewed it.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Sometimes, when you’re onto something, destiny rolls you winners.

We had missed our train. Our interview with Fabio, owner of Italian craft beer’s hot spots Ma Che Siete Venuti a Fa and Bir e Fud in Trastevere, had gone longer than we had expected. We walked to the cabstand at the foot of Sesto Ponte. As we approached the first cab, to my surprise, I heard my name called.

“Bryan! Hey, Bryan!” It was Alessandro, our cab driver from the night before. We jumped in his cab. 
Alessandro turned around to look at us. “I don’t believe it!” He said. “What are the odds? There are over 800,000 cabs in the city of Rome.”

The previous night.

We had reached our physical limits. Our bodies were sore, our eyes heavy, our minds numb. We were on our sixth day of our grueling trip, one that was filled with unlimited enthusiasm. We rolled through Italy from Milano to Rome. We had more than fulfilled our expectations to meet and interview many of the players in the Italian craft beer movement.

Tonight was no exception. We had been invited by Leonardo Di Vincenzo, the brewer of Del Borgo, to his famous beer bar in Rome, Open Baladin for a beer tasting of Extraomnes.

But now sitting in the cab, we found it difficult to keep our eyes open. Paul had lost the battle; he was down for the count. I made small talk with the driver to keep myself awake. But it was no easy task with a full belly of beer and exceptional food.

Gabriele Bonci, one of Italy’s top chefs and perhaps the world’s greatest pizza maker, was the featured chef. Rabbit cooked so tender and succulent it was hard to believe it was just rabbit. A chickpea soup with tripe in a broth light and so flavorful you hoped it never ended. He baked a bun for a chicken sandwich with fresh mushrooms integrated into the dough. We had bunet, a Piedmont chocolate terrine, for desert paired with the famous Xyauyu` from Baladin.

Chef Bonci was gracious and courteous with his time. Even with so much to do, he spoke with us. It was humbling, as much of the trip had been.

But in the cab, I fought on.

“How is it that you speak Italian,” the cabby asked.

“I grew up here. My mother’s from Rome. Via Giulia.”

“Ah, Romana de Roma!” A roman expression which means, a true roman from the heart of the Eternal City, not one from the suburbs.

Si, I grew up in Ostienze.”

“You’re friend,” the cabby said, “He’s very tired.”

“My friend,” I said, “Is very asleep.”

Paul’s head hung from his neck like a wet sock. I envied him so much. He had begun to snore. I could only imagine what he was dreaming.

As we cruised along, the friendly cab driver asked where we lived.

“Denver,” I said.

“Ah, and what brings you to Rome?”

“We are writing a book about the Italian craft beer movement.”

“I have a childhood friend,” he said, “who’s very much into the beer movement.”

“Oh yeah, what’s his name,” I asked.

“Gabriele Bonci,” he said, “Have you ever heard of him?”

“Heard of him, we just met him tonight.”

Alessandro and I spoke the entire 40 minute ride, blown away by the odds.

1 in 800,000—twice

It all just seemed so surreal as Alessandro spoke to his boyhood friend, Gabriele Bonci, on his cell phone.

“No, it’s not a joke,” He was insisting. “No, it’s the two Americans writing the Italian beer book. Yes, the ones I picked up the other day. I know! I will tell them. Ciao.”

Alessandro turned around again. “Bonci thought I was joking. Eight-hundred thousand cabs in this city, and I pick you up twice—what are the odds?”

I don’t know, Alessandro. But we’ll catch you in May. I might bet on it.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Barrels, barrels and more barrels

Nearly every brewery we visited had some barrels. None had vast numbers of them, but considering their local consumers don't really care for sour or barrel-aged beer it was interesting the brewers were doing it anyway. Those barrels take up space, time and capital, so there must be something else at work. Perhaps some of their efforts are in response to markets outside of their's, but I think it speaks to the collective interest in trying new things and using what's available locally. Of course, there's no shortage of barrels in Italy.

Birra Del Borgo


Birrificio Del Ducato


Birrifico Italiano

While these programs are currently small they are sure to grow. Birrificio Italiano has just a few barrels now, but they have added space at their new brewery to do more experimentation with barrels.

At Toccalmatto we had the opportunity to sample a nice, dry, tart sour stout straight from the barrel. Bruno's program is also small, but we know he's looking toward the future and a new, larger brewery might have a considerably expanded program.

Del Ducato may have one of the more aggressive barrel programs of the breweries we visited, Panil aside. They are currently bottling a few and are sure to expand at their new facility.

Panil, of course, is entirely 100% barrel-aged beer. Everything they produce is sour and it is all exported. I think eventually the Italian beer drinker will catch up to this style and realize how refreshing they can be and how well they can pair with food, which is something an Italian more commonly looks for in a beer.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Under the Shadow of the Bell Tower, Part I

The two greatest challenges to the Italian Craft Beer movement are the Italian tax system and the regionalism known in Italian as Campanilismo or bell towerism.

Under the Shadow of the Bell Tower, Part I
by Bryan Jansing

Campanilismo is a term that expresses the intense Italian regionalism. Campanile in Italian means bell tower. Each town had its own church with its bell tower that sounded off not only the hour, but when farmers were to be out in the fields, when it was time to return for lunch, when it was time to end the day. The bell tower also marked when the town was in peril due to fire, or if there was an oncoming invader. The bell tower was in its time what our cell phones are today. You couldn’t imagine leaving your home without having your cell phone. Nor could you imagine in the serfdom times of Italy living without your bell tower.

The entire town and the larger close-knit communities in the area survived by way of their church bell towers. In turn, this came to represent you, your town, your community. Italians are in essence their bell towers. It’s a rare moment for an Italian to pronounce themselves ‘Italian’. In general, Italians introduce themselves as Romani, Vicentini, Milanesi if they’re from anywhere close to these major cities. Otherwise, they will refer to the province, Liguria, Lazio, Campania. Even deeper, an Italian might consider himself brethren not to other Italians so much, rather to the ancient Etruscans, Lombard or Romans before Italian.

This concept is a far cry from our American patriotism. True, we are proud of where we’re from, but even if you’re a Texan, you’re an American and will chant ‘USA, USA’ at any given event. Ever hear Italians chanting “Italia, Italia” at a regional game? Not likely. The only time you will hear an Italian chant Italia is perhaps at the World Cup. But even then, they’ll be rooting for a player from their home town.    

This also gives way to another Italian issue, one of mistrust and the lack of willingness to work together. Where here in the U.S. we have the American Brewer’s Association that is nationally strong, able to promote their members and lobby the government, the Italian brewer’s associations tend to be something more akin to clubs, rather than national associations. Therefore, they struggle to unite and to truly take on any of the larger breweries. But the mega-industrialized breweries of Moretti and Peroni aren’t really their Goliaths. It’s the Italian government that they must take on to survive and doing so regionally isn’t enough.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Panil - spontaneous fermentation

While taking a tour of the Panil brewery south of Parma, Italy we were shown these plastic barrels and garbage cans with beer fermenting in them. We couldn't believe it either. Open, spontaneous fermentation in garbage cans.

You can barely see it, but the beer was later transferred into the oak barrels at the top right of the picture for further aging and conditioning. The result is called Divina, which is subtle and delicious, garbage can or not.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Birra Birra Everywhere

What a strange sight to be sitting at a restaurant in Italy with the same wooden tables, flimsy straw chairs and everybody of all ages drinking beer...with no pizza or wine to be had.

As you may know, if you’re reading this blog, Paul and I just returned from Italy from a ten day tour of Italian craft breweries. We met and interviewed several brewers including Agostino Arioli of Birrificio Italiano, one of the founders of the beer movement in Italy, Giovanni Campari from Del Ducato who’s the most awarded brewer in Italy, the Lambrate crew, also one of the first and Leonardo Di Vincenzo from Del Borgo, perhaps one of the most innovative Italian brewers and certainly a major cog in the gears keeping the Italian craft beer movement alive. We spoke with Bruno Carillo from Toccalmatto, whose imagination brings to life some of the most interesting brews and whose push across Europe is spreading the Italian suds well beyond the Alps and obscurity.

We had an opportunity to meet Teo Musso from Baladin, another founding father whose influence is felt throughout the Italian craft beer community, as well as Fabio and Emmanuelle, owners of Ma Che Siete Venuti A Fa` and Bir e Fud. There’s no doubt that these two innovative pub owners set the pace that is now off and running. Without their entrepreneurial spirit and enthusiasm for beer, things in the Italian craft beer world might look a little different. Without a doubt, this book wouldn’t be in the works.

Of course, there are many, many other pubs and breweries, but we only had ten days, so we touched upon the most important within our reach. We will be returning for more interviews, but this trip has rooted our cause in firm, fertile soil.

We learned two essential things about the Italian craft beer movement: One, that the people behind these locations are basically nuts for even thinking about brewing Italian craft beer and two, they are most definitely passionate. In short, they love craft beer and wanted to drink it, so they made it. Their innovation in crafting fine beers is limitless. They set their bar very high whether it be in craft or taste.




Thursday, January 24, 2013

The Revolutionary

by Bryan Jansing


Lurago Marinone is a sleepy, little town with about 2,500 people located 20 miles northwest of Milano in the province of Como. It once had a castle that was destroyed by the Milanesi in 1284. Its single church, St. Georgio, built in 1216 is the only reminder that this was once an important town. With the city of Milano looming nearby it would seem that Lurago is probably the most unlikely place to find one of the epicenters for a beer movement. But just a stone’s throw away from St. Georgio is Birrificio Italiano owned by brewer Agostino Arioli.

The brewery, like the town, is an unlikely candidate to hold a great title, but it does. It was here, nearly twenty years ago, where Agostino began to brew the beers that would define a cultural phenomenon and redefine an image of a wine country. With Italy’s long and outstanding culinary history, it seems amazing that beer remained absolutely absent from its cuisine, not to mention craft beer. But it was in this quaint little town that Agostino began to write a new chapter in Italy’s culinary history.

“Every beer has its story.” Agositno said to me.

And so do their brewers. A contrarian at heart, Agostino Arioli is one of the most important elements that created the Italian craft beer movement.  

In his humble beginnings, Agostino had to make his own malt, find a metal fabricator to weld him a vat to his specifications as he assisted by holding the parts being welded. The townspeople were suspicious. They thought Birrificio Itlaliano was a front, a fake place for perhaps laundering money. When Agostino opened his doors, the people of Lurago thought he was cheating them by leaving a head on their beers. To quail their suspicions, Agostino had glasses made with a line showing the volume they paid for, explaining that with the head on top they were actually getting more, not less beer.

When the local publicans of Lurago finally had been convinced to order Agostino’s beers, they were dumbfounded when he returned a few months later to reclaim the nearly full kegs since the beer had reached its expiration. But with all of this against him, Agostino finally was able to convince Lurago that what he was doing wasn’t only legit, but definitive. Now all he had left to convince was the rest of his country. To this day, Milanesi are still suspicious of craft beer, unable to recognize that beer can also stand alongside cheese, wine, meats as a valid Italian food product.

Still, Agostino has a long way to go to even begin to wash away the stain of Morretti and Peroni as the standard beer. Perhaps it could have only happened by a man who refuses to allow style to define his beers or history to define what can or cannot be legitimate.