Saturday, January 18, 2014

Sowing the seed of a book

I know that Paul and I’ve been a little reclusive in the past few months, and we have to apologize if you’ve been wondering what has become of us. Well, we’ve been working very hard, as usual, but finally, our labor of love is directed primarily on writing the book. The first three chapters of the book have been hashed out. We’re very excited. I’ll give you a clue: they are about Teo Musso and Baladin. Now we are working on the next couple of chapters which will be, wait for it….Agostino Arioli and his Birrificio Italiano.

It’s been really incredible to relive the journey we took in meeting and getting to know these wonderful and ingenious people. Then to go over each of their recordings, turn them into transcripts and in many cases translate them as we transcribe, it’s like reliving the entire scene again and again. For a one hour session recorded in Italian it takes Paul and I two hours to translate—a lot of work. If you consider that most of our interviews are no less than 2 to 3 hours and that we have over 20 interviews in Italian, that’s a lot of late nights. In Teo’s case, they were days’ worth of recordings. Ultimately, it’s in the contents of the dialogue where we get caught up in discussions between the two of us with absolute amazement at some of the material these generous visionaries provided for us. Every brewer, writer, judge, server, bartender and on and on gives us a greater peek into this marvelous and ever growing movement. We are, as always, humbled by their generous portions of honesty and knowledgeable thoughts and points.

Paul and I have had many in depth tête-à-têtes having to leave the transcribing/translating a side for an hour to really engage in the exchanges we just finished listening to. Discussions such as Craft vs. Artisanal or what size of production qualifies or disqualifies a craft brewery or an artisanal brewery.

There are also the thousands of pages, electric and paper, of content to shuffle through, finding facts, arranging notes to match such facts. There are the thousands upon thousands of amazing quotes we’ve gathered and garnered for future chapters we have yet to write. But again and again, the main ingredient we continue to assert as the first ingredient to this movement is the absolute passion these men have for brewing beer. This, of course, could be said for any craft brewer, without a doubt. But this hearing today in an interview with Agostino Arioli about taxes and tax laws, I have to give a mass amount of condolences and respect for the obstacles these men hurdle and have overcome to survive in an unfriendly tax system in an economic quicksand under the scrutiny of a hard-pressed consumer still reluctant to accept beer as truly an Italian product now.

As Teo Musso put it, “The Italian market is much, much harder to crack because we are pickier about what we eat and drink.”

But the Italian tax system is a gregariously hungry and corrupted beast that will continue to pray on the profits of these hard working and hard pressed breweries until the Italians can overcome their main and truly deep-rooted issue of not getting along and uniting against a common cause. It’s just something Americans would find difficult to understand. The cultural seeds of mistrust and suspicion for one another have been sowed thousands of years ago and continue to crop up at every brewer’s association or organization splintering any solid attempt at attacking the tax Goliath.  

All this adds up to another and more global issue for the Italian craft beer movement—prices. An Italian craft beer is taxed 25 cents on the liter or about 10 cents a glass and when you consider that the average bottle is 75cl, the amount taxed per bottle is roughly 45 cents. This cost is solely on the product, not the production, not the labels, which are also taxed, the exportation taxes, the outrageous employment taxes or the many other taxes that can be slapped on or disregarded according to each taxman in every little community whose interpretation of that tax will change again with every new taxman that replaces another. To put it in another way, to this day, technically, small brewers are still not allowed to export beyond their own brewpubs.

“We were not supposed to distribute or sell outside the pub.” Agostino Arioli explained to us. “The law was, and still is very clear because the same law rules now. It says you may exist but it doesn’t say how they should control you. I had no big problem with them in my area but in some other areas of Italy they had bigger problems with them. Because this law says nothing clear so nobody could decide and so the brewers made their own decisions. They say no you can’t absolutely sell outside your brewpub. No, you can’t absolutely export. It’s a mess. So now we are waiting for new laws.”

This is why, in the beginning Italian craft breweries all were brewpubs. That’s why today, as this law just simply is disregarded to some extent that some new breweries have decided to not have a brewpub. Risky move if you consider that should the Italian government decide to nationally crackdown and implement the exportation law, many new breweries would be shut down. They would be considered bootleggers.

But with all this, they continue to brew. And for this, we raise our glasses to them.

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