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.

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