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.

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