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!