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.