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.