Thursday, March 20, 2014

Bir & Fud’s Spring Rebirth

When Leonardo Di Vincenzo approached Manuele Colonna, the great Roman publican, in 2007 about opening a high-end pizza joint with only Italian craft beer on tap, it took some convincing. At the time, Leonardo was struggling to get his new brewery Birra Del Borgo off the ground. Even so, he was convinced of his new idea that eventually Colonna conceded. The idea was to open a pizzeria, but this would be one of the most original pizzerias since the conception of pizza in Naples. The notion soon proved to be genius. Bir & Fud would become in short time one of the most important elements in the Italian craft beer movement.

The model of beer with pizza isn’t a new one. In fact, the concept was created by Italy’s big beer companies early on. The main reason for the now long-held association of beer and pizza was simply because the beer industrialists were seeking a common thread throughout Italy. Not a very easy task in a country racked by extreme regionalism. But alas, during the late 19th century, there it was—pizza. Italy had only just been united by Garibaldi’s Risorgimento and formally recognized as a country in 1861. As a fledgling new country built out of city states much of it remained fragmented. The Neapolitan invention of pizza became nationally popular when Queen Margherita and King Umberto I of Savoy visited Naples. The Queen was presented the pizza, a special recipe made for her, one with tomato sauce, mozzarella and basil. The three ingredients made up the three colors of the new Italian flag. The pizza is today’s cheese pizza in America, but in Italy it is still called the Margherita.

From that introduction, the pizza spread throughout Italy. It was the only common food thread from north to south. The industrial beer companies pounced on the new food concept and began to associate beer with pizza. The pizza was as exotic to Italians as beer was; the two made a match that continues to be a common association in Italy.
When Leonardo brought the idea of a pizzeria with beer to Colonna, it wasn’t necessarily a concept Colonna was willing to jump into. After all, the still fledgling Italian craft beer movement was doing everything it could to detach itself from this big beer association. It was a thorn in its side, to be blunt. At the dawn of the movement, Teo Musso, one of the four pioneers and perhaps the most influential brewer in the country, had painstakingly worked to get his beer on the tables of fine dining restaurants. He maneuvered his beer onto the table by first creating beautiful bottles to match those of wine, and then introduced them to the top 500 restaurants in Italy. For the better part of the movement Italian craft beer had been mimicking Musso’s move and placing their beer onto tables meant for wine. And for the better part of the movement, Italy only had a market in the wine world, beer was just a sibling fighting to be at the grownup table.

But Leonardo had a twist to the taboo. Bir & Fud wouldn’t just be any pizzeria. No, it would be something truly special. Enlisting Italy’s up and coming pizza maker, Gabriele Bonci, knighted by Vogue magazine as the Michelangelo of pizza, the pizza at Bir & Fud would be something of its own topic. Bonci’s 200 year-old-mother yeast and gourmet toppings, along with Colonna’s extraordinary ability to bring in great Italian beer directly from the brewers (since there is limited distribution in Italy), the match would recalibrate an old idea and infuse two old familiarities into something unique. Food critics condemned the waste of Bonci’s gourmet pizza on beer, but with hard work, Colonna and Leonardo were able to bring the union home even to the hardened critics.

But from the beginning, something didn’t sit well with Colonna. Though the concept was truly an important move, Colonna knew something wasn’t quite right with their idea. When Colonna visited Teo Musso’s and Leonardo’s collaboration, the impressive, Open Baladin, Colonna saw the mark Bir & Fud had missed. Open Baladin brought Italian craft beer front-and-center like no other, featuring 40 taps, all pouring Italian craft beer. As Colonna gazed at the 40 taps, he realized Bir & Fud’s concept was flawed. Italian craft beer shouldn’t stand alone at their restaurant; rather, it should be showcased along with other great, well-known craft beers from around the world. But there wasn’t much he could do now. Bir & Fud had been launched. Then serendipity made its move. 

During a regular inspection by officials, it was realized the kitchen, which had been through thousands of inspections over a few decades through other restaurants, was not to specs. This is after all Italy. Having to make the changes to the kitchen, Bir & Fud would have to be shut down. Seizing the opportunity, Colonna revamped the seven-year-old Bir & Fud.

Still the great pizzeria it was intended to be, Bir & Fud reemerges like Botticelli’s Primavera, illustrious and splendid with a freshness equal to that of spring. Like the barrel of a gun, the bar stretches under a vaulted ceiling offset by shades of octagonal wood tiles made from wooden barrels. The bar has been extended where the kitchen once was. Tapas and finger foods will replace the food once being served in the old kitchen. The taps will feature thirty standard beers and six hand pumps, but not all will be Italian craft beer. As for pizza, well, the pizza will remain the same, but the pizza oven has been updated.

The sleek new look, the new international classic beers along with the Italian craft beers, tapas and Bonci’s pizza all come together to make a successful concept more concentrated. After all, who can doubt the great Colonna, a man who is a support column to the beer movement as one of his concepts comes to fruition just as Colonna intended it to be.

Check out Bir & Fud at Trastevere on Via Benedeta 23 if you’re in Rome or take a look at the pub at

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

And the Winners Are... The results of the Italian Beer Awards

Back in January I wrote about Andre Turco’s Italian Beer Awards for best of 2013. Turco, a journalist, started Cronache di Birra early in Italy’s craft beer evolution. As I wrote before, no one is better at reporting the movement’s every step than Turco who reaches farther, reports more and brings the entire movement together. Turco is truly the choir of the movement. His continued passion is inspiring and refreshing. England and America had Michael Jackson, Italy can be proud of Andrea Turco for his informative blog and his innovative and creative ways of bringing the message to the people.

The Italian Beer Awards was voted using a two tier system involving both experts and craft beer enthusiasts. Seeking to “award the best players on the national brewing scene,” Andrea Turco collected a large list of who’s who of beer critics to head up the first part of the contest. It was Turco’s desire to ‘on the one hand offer prominence to the best professionals in the industry; the other, directly involve those who drink beer every day.’

“We all know that to operate in a market of quality beer is not easy: it takes devotion, entrepreneurial skills, expertise and a deep love for the product and its culture,” says Turco. “On the other hand the whole movement would not exist without the presence of active consumers and enthusiasts: it is therefore right that the latter decide the outcome of the Italian Beer Awards, allowing them to choose the best character for each type in a list drawn up by some experts of Italian beer.”

During the first half of January, the experts composed a personal list of the best brewers of the Italian craft scene under categories Turco chose, which included: Best Brewery, Best Brewpub, Best Beer Firm, meaning, a location that doesn’t have its own brewery but serves its own beer, Best Pub/Brewery and finally, Best Beershop. The brewers had to be working in Italy for at least twelve months.

Well, the results are out and the winners are:

For Best Brewery in 2013:

            Birra Del Borgo (Borgorese)

Birra Del Borgo was started by Leonardo Di Vincenzo in 2007. Leonardo was one of the first Roman brewers. Most breweries in Italy are located in the Piamonte or Lombardia area. Leonardo collaborated with Teo Musso of Baladin (one of the forefathers of the movement) in the founding of Open Baladin, one of Italy’s most impressive beer pubs and which only features Italian craft beer. Leonardo collaborated with the messiah of the Italian tap house, Manuele Colonna in Bir & Fud and with Marco Valente’s La Taberna, one of the most important restaurants bringing Italian craft beer to the table alongside high quality food. Leonardo jointly owns NO.AU, a French Bistro featuring Italian craft beer in Rome. Leonardo Di Vincenzo has stood out as one of the most important brewers of the third generation of Italian craft brewers.

For Best Brewpub in 2013:

            Lambrate (Milan)

Lambrate was one of the four founding breweries of the movement born in 1996. A collaboration of friends and family, the five owners made history and advanced the scene with their brewpub. Years of hard work and growing success allowed the group to open a second, larger location not far from their original pub. Their craft beer continues to set a standard in quality and great brewing.

For Best Beer Firm in 2013:

Buskers (Rome)

Buskers Pub is one of the most recent additions to the history of Italian craft beer, but Mirko Caretta isn’t a stranger to the movement. Owner of the bottle shop, Bir & Fud Bottega (beershop with no relation to the pub Bir & Fud), Mirko doesn’t just dabble in beer making, he’s brewed with some of the best as a gypsy brewer (he prefers, busker brewer). He began brewing at L’Olmaia, but has also brewed at Del Borgo, Etraomnes and several others.

For Best Pub/Brewery in 2013:

            Ma Che Siete Venuti a Fá (Rome)

Ma Che Siete Venuti a Fá (Macche) is the equivalent of the famous Horsebrass in OreganOREGON and Manuele Colonna is similar to the late charismatic Horsebrass creator, Don Younger. In fact, I’d venture to say that Colonna is the Italian version of Don Younger and just as charming and brilliant. His efforts to tear pubs from the rash of tied houses are allowing independent pubs all over Italy to blossom. His original venture, Macche, is a must-see destination in Rome. His contributions to Italian craft beer continue with his other projects like Bir & Fud and NO.AU. Colonna’s influence to the Italian craft beer scene is so great that it can’t be quantified.

For Best Beershop in 2013:

            Bere Buona Birra (Milan)

Milan certainly has its place as one of the regions most blessed with craft breweries, but Rome is by far the engine running the craft beer movement with several well-established tap houses and a plethora of beer shops. Bere Beershop may not have a prominent place in the early history of the Italian craft beer movement, but with beer from all over the world, home brewing kits, three taps and one hand pump, Bere Beershop is making its own mark while dragging Milan out of the craft beer dark ages.

So there you have it. Remember, when you travel Italy today, you no longer have to drink bad beer…so don’t!

Congratulations to all the winners. And thank you Andrea Turco for shinning a light, blasting the horn and keeping the beer thirsty people aware of a gem of a movement.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Craft Brewers Conference and the Toast of the Town

Last year, the Craft Brewer’s Conference (CBC) was held in Washington D.C. They were expecting some 8,000 participants, but in the end, the number was closer to 10,000. Not all of the hoopla was directed at the conference alone. Many were just beer enthusiasts happy to ride along as breweries, pubs and restaurants featured craft beers in different ways. The event was a smash and won’t to be any less of a party here in Colorado April 8-11 with an expected crowd of 10,000 or more. In short, the Craft Brewer’s Conference is an early cousin of the Great American Beer Festival.

Unlike the Great American Beer Festival held each fall in Denver, the Craft Brewers Conference is solely open to professionals and not open to the general public. The conference brings together brewers, marketers, suppliers and equipment makers, among other professionals of the craft beer industry. It’s become a must for many brewers. It’s unique in that no other conference in the world is solely focused on just the craft brewers and their needs. Moreover, the event is an international affair bringing brewers and the wider beer industry from around the world.

What? Italian Craft Beer?

This year, the event may mark a special moment in the history of the beer world. Italy, who is not associated with craft beer, will be coming into its own at this year’s conference as several Italian craft beer producers will be attending. Giovanni Campari, Italy’s most awarded brewer from Birrificio Del Ducato, will be attending. Also expected will be Bruno Carilli owner and brewer of Toccalmatto. After years of working in the industrial beer sector, Carilli set out on his own and joined the third generation of Italian brewers who helped push their scene forward. His hoppier styles are changing the Italian palate. Perhaps the father of Italian craft beer collaborations, Carilli triggered many brewers in Italy to follow suit. But none of this would have been happening if it weren’t for one of the originators of the movement, Agostino Arioli owner/brewer of Birrificio Italiano. So important was Agostino to the movement that he added a new world to the Italian lexicon—birrificio. The real word for brewery in Italian is birreria, a word which leaves a connotation of industry. Agostino twisted the word by adding the suffix ficio which suggests something more suitable to food, like paneficio for bread makers. Birrificio has become the standard word for artisanal beer in Italy.

Since its inception in 1996, Italian craft beer has grown steadily and in the last five years exploded on the beer scene, reaching as far as Japan in the east, Australia in the south and making a splash here in the US. Winning several acclaimed world beer awards, the Italians are beginning to turn some heads. This year’s conference is especially important. Every two years, the CBC hosts the World Beer Cup, often referred to as the Olympics of craft beer competitions since only one Gold, one Silver and one Bronze are awarded for each of the 95 categories. It’s not a surprise then that two of this year’s beer judges are Italian, Anna Managò and Lorenzo “Kuaska” Dabove.

Kuaska is probably the most important piece of the Italian craft beer movement. A long time aficionado of beer, Kuaska had been traveling the beer circuits of Belgium, Germany and England for some time before Italy began to appear in the picture. From the first days of the movement in Italy, Kuaska became their messiah, offering advice and leading the brewers to brew better beer. As an Italian beer judge, he was critical in not only trumpeting the quality of the beer, but more importantly in helping Italy develop some of the finest craft breweries in the world.

Denver’s Beer and Butter

For Denver, this isn’t just another beer festival; it’s our beer and butter. Colorado is such an important part of the craft beer movement worldwide, a keystone to the entire craft beer world. It’s no coincidence that the annual Great American Beer Festival (GABF) is held here in Denver. Like this April’s Craft Brewers Conference, the GABF is organized by the world’s most important craft beer institution, the Brewer’s Association headquartered in Boulder.

Through April 8-11 Denver will be bubbling with beer nerds from around the world. They will be thirsty to try our world renowned craft beer, hungry for Denver’s avant garde local foods and excited to be amongst some of the world’s greatest beer fanatics, Coloradoans. So come join the party and meet some of Italy’s finest brewers as they become the toast of the town.