Monday, February 10, 2014

A Tip of the Hat to RateBeer’s Italian Winners

There was never a doubt in our minds that Italian craft beer is one of the most creative and interesting beer scenes in the world. I’d say second only to the US. As small as this little beer scene might be, Italy was ranked third worldwide based on openings in 2013 with 69 breweries. The US was first and England second.

The scene was young enough that there hadn’t even been an Italian indigenous beer recognized yet. Well, there was one, but it wasn’t officially recognized. In our book, Italy: Beer Country we went ahead and categorized one beer for what it was; the mother of all Italian pilsners brewed by Agostino Arioli from Birrificio Italiano, the first beer to be a definitive Italian beer style. Agostino has been perfecting his Tipopils since his early home brewing efforts in the 1980s.

As one of the pioneers of the Italian craft beer scene, Agostino’s Tipopils has secured his place in history without doubt. But I think having some validation by RateBeer as the #3, a Gold in the Pale Lager Category for Best Beers by Style Category doesn’t hurt.

At number seven in the Pale Lager Category was Firestone Walker’s Pivo Hoppy Pils, which was inspired by Agostino’s Tipopils. In fact, last year, 2013, Agostino visited Firestone Walker and brewed a batch of Pivo together with head brewer Matt Brynildson. Perhaps the best description of this heavily dry-hopped, Germanic pilsner comes from Italy’s best known beer critic, Lorenzo ‘Kuaska’ Dabove:

“Beautiful to look at (it can have a luscious white, creamy head) and taste, Tipipils is quite well-balanced. It has an inviting aroma of malt, fresh hops, banana and yeast, and a dry flavor characterized by an irresistible ‘bitterness’ that turns into a persistent and pleasant bitter-ish after taste. It is the perfect beer to drink in only two moments of the day: at meals and between meals.”

Congratulations Agostino.

But we can’t ignore the other two Italian brewers on that list, Bruno Carilli and Leonardo Di Vincenzo. Bruno, brewer and owner of Toccalmatto in Fidenza, near Parma won the Silver for his Grooving Hop, a Golden Ale/Blond Ale in the English Style Pale and Bitter category. Bruno has been a pioneer in Italy by way of brewing hoppier beers that weren’t often accepted by the Italian’s delicate palate. But he has certainly paved the way for hops in Italy. As a young man, he was a fan of Great Britain. When he was transferred to England for work, his affection for all things English like music and beer certainly paid off. We salute you, ol’ chap.

One of the most influential brewers in Italy who arrived on the scene in the third generation of brewers in 2005 is Leonardo Di Vincenzo. The owner and brewer of Birra Del Borgo won a Bronze in the Bock, Strong Lager category with My Antonia, which he initially brewed with Sam Calagione from Dogfish Head. Del Borgo describes My Antonia as a Strong Pale Lager/Imperial Pils. Whatever you want to call it, it’s amazing.

Wondering where to go to try Italian beers when you’re in Italy? RateBeer nominated several Italian watering holes on their Top Places to Get a Beer in the World.

If you’re looking for that edgy, got-attitude, but plainly the place to be, you know, in the likes of the Falling Rock in Denver or the Toronado in San Francisco, there’s no better Italian translation of this type of pub than Lambrate. Actually, Lambrate is a brewpub, one of the pioneers of the movement located in the heart of Milan. Also on the RateBeer list is Agostino Arioli’s brewpub, Birrificio Italiano, located nearby, where you can enjoy that phenomenal Tipopils.

In Florence and Milan, Il Santo Bevitore and Enoteca Decanter are following a new trend, Italy’s 21st century renaissance—the rebirth of quality, Italian food. Rome, once notorious for the tourists-trap-slop-houses is having a great resurgence of its own in food, via beer. Like the US, craft beer brings with it craft food, minus the K. Alex Liberati’s Brasserie 4:20 in Rome has followed that trend. But no place puts the romantic vision of the past into your belly like Bir&Fud. A joint project between Leonardo Di Vincenzo from Del Borgo, and the great publican and driver of the Italian craft beer movement, Manuele Colonna, in collaboration with one of Italy’s (and soon the world’s) most important pizza makers, Gabrielle Bonci, Bir&Fud smacks with modernity in the vehicle of traditional.

Confused? Okay, I’ll explain. Even today, beer in Italy is associated strongly with pizza. Why? Because the industrial companies like Peroni and Moretti in the early 1800s realized that there was only one common thread throughout Italy—pizza. Pizza could be found as far south as Sicily and as far north as Trieste, all the way to the island of Sardinia. Even today pizza remains the only uniform ‘Italian’ food found throughout the country, a nation that still clings to its regional dishes. Pizza, still a new and trendy idea outside of Naples in the 1800s, became nationally popular. Seeing this, the early big beer companies found a means to homogenize a foreign drink and so beer and pizza became married like coke and hot dogs.

So while the Italian craft beer movement steered away from pizza, so as not to be stigmatized, Leonardo convinced Manuele that they could return to this concept with a twist. This is where Chef Bonci comes in.

Bonci, ‘The Michelangelo of Pizza’ as Vogue put it, has reinvented the pizza. As I said before, Italy is returning to its roots, returning, painfully in some cases, to quality food lost during the 1980s and 1990s. Bonci’s renaissance in pizza stems from his 200-year-old mother yeast and high-quality toppings. The pizza you know isn’t pizza and you’ll understand what I mean when you go to Bir&Fud.

When you’ve finished your rebirth in pizza and craft beer, cross the tiny cobbled stone road to one of the world’s finest beer pubs, Ma Che Siete Venuti a Fá, RateBeer’s vote for Best Bars. You won’t be disappointed.

If you still have it in you, head to the next pub on RateBeer’s list, Open Baladin in Rome. Owned by Teo Musso, one of the four founders of the Italian beer movement and perhaps the most influential figure of the movement, in collaboration with Leonardo Di Vincenzo, Open Baladin is a must. With forty Italian craft beers on tap, all I can say is, it’s the cathedral of Italian craft beer pubs, the kind a beer drinker wants to visit. We promise you, it’s a jaw-dropping experience to walk through their doors.

Heading north, in the Lombardy region of Pavia you can belly up to a classic beer pub on RateBeer’s list, the Sherwood Pub with an assortment of Italy’s craft beers along with a range of classics like Sierra Pale and Cantillon. Also on RateBeer’s list in that area are BQ in Milan and The Dome to the east in Bergamo.

Of course, before you leave, you’ll want to load up on beers to take home to impress on your friends that there really is great beer in the wine country. The best places to stock up are found on RateBeer’s Top Places To Get A Beer in the World. If you’re still in Milan, hit A Tutta Birra. Rome is perhaps the most populated with beer shops, perhaps even a bit saturated with them. Many do not make the cut, but in Rome, Manuele Colonna’s Domus Birrae stands out as one of the most famous. The Bir&Fud Bottega (not to be confused with Bir&Fud the pizza/pub) owned by Mirko Caretta is highly regarded. Mirko, a gypsy brewer, makes exceptional beer of his own and sells them next door to his bottle shop at his pub Busker’s Pub, not even a year old yet. Also in Rome, you’ll find Le Vignerons. You’ll also find BeerShopLatina in the province of Latina.

There are many Italian brewers waiting to be discovered by the wider world, but it’s great to see some of them paving the way and being recognized. So remember, when you’re in Italy, you no longer have to drink bad beer, so don’t!




Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Celebrate Oyster Day at Del Borgo with Leonardo Di Vincenzo

If you happen to be in the Rome area in mid-February, you’re a very lucky person. When you’re ready to escape the chaos of the city, ditch the beaten path for one of Italian craft beer’s more popular festivals held by Birra Del Borgo. Located just an hour out of Rome, in the small town of Borgorose, in the province of Rieti about 70 km northeast of Rome, you’ll be graciously welcomed by Leonardo Di Vincenzo and his team who host the Oyster Day festival.

The festival Perle ai Porci, or Pearls for Pigs, marks the day the brewery brews their Oyster Stout. The first festival offered a chance to baptize the new brewery which opened in 2012. The rich, deep black stout is made by brewing 45 kilos of fresh oysters with their shells. To give it a more Italian flavor, 20 kilos of Roman Coastline Tellina clams are also added. Sound strange? No so much. The minerals that come from the oyster shells, the slight remnant of oysters and the roasted barley form a creamy, savory taste that I promise you’ll not flinch at again.  

The Oyster Day festival is organized along with the Slow Food producers and executed by the fine culinary skills of La Taberna who cook the oysters and clams that are strained out after brewing into an oyster spaghetti and clam bruschetta. The Pig part of the festival is the inclusion of several pork dishes served as well, many of which are cooked by the acclaimed Chef Gabriele Bonci, Rome’s, and perhaps the world’s best pizza maker. His location, Pizzarium is a must when you return to Rome located on Via della Meloria 43.

The event will be held Saturday, February 15th at Del Borgo’s new brewery, a place also worth seeing. The event costs €30, but it’s all inclusive. The festival goes from 10 am to 7 pm and will include beer, cheeses, cured meats and the feast itself, as well as live Irish music. There is a free, but limited to 25 people workshop. This is an opportunity to mingle with Italy’s new beer enthusiasts in a non-touristic fashion as well as see one of Italy’s most important craft breweries. You’ll also likely have a chance to meet the brewer, Leonardo who is a gracious host—there is no better ambassador for the movement. You can catch a glimpse of Leonardo on line by googling Brew Master’s Italy episode (never shown in the US) brewing the Etrusca with Sam Calagione from Dogfish Head Brewery.

To reach the brewery, you’ll have to drive. Take the A24 Rome-Aquila highway and exit Valle Del Salto. For more information and tickets check out Del Borgo’s website  or send them an email at