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.  

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