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.