Finally there’s a blog again – it is rather hectic in My Life with Beer! For example, I was recently in Rimini, although Rimini in February is as attractive as Blackpool (but offers significantly less fun). I had to go here anyway. In the past, the Exhibition Centre of Rimini hosted the beating heart of European beer: the Pianetta Birra was, by far, the largest trade show with almost all leading breweries present – dass war einmal.
After the show died a slow and painful death is has now risen like a phoenix from the ashes in the form of Beer Attraction: partly a fair with all kinds of brewing materials, partly a wonderful cross-section of what Italy has to offer in terms of craft beer. Of the nearly one thousand registered (micro) breweries some eighty were present, showing their brews. So how is Italy as a beer country today? Lively!
As in the Netherlands, the majority of small breweries each produce around fifty thousand liters, say 500 hectoliters. Then there is a middle group: several dozen producing around 2,500 to 3,000 hectoliters, and established names such as Lambrate, Birrificio Del Ducato and Birra del Borgo are well above that. As well as in the Netherlands there are many, many of the same: almost everyone brew an India Pale Ale or at least a pale ale which, at will, handfuls of hop thrown in. Many northern Italian brewers are greatly influenced by northern neighbors Austria and Germany, so expect hordes of Helles, Weizens and Marzens. Most taste just fine but are as surprising as a mushroom in autumn.
The same applies to brewers who seek inspiration in Belgium. Ben Vinken gave a presentation in which he compared Italian beers with Belgian. Particularly when it came to Saisons there is still much to be learned for the Italian brewers – like many Dutch colleagues. Of course there are very successful beers to be found but most do not hit the nail on the head: not dry enough, too fruity, or (as with many IPAs) victim to the idea that if you just load the beer up with hop consumers will cheer. Well, not so much so.
Was there anything to enjoy then? Absolutely! As in the Netherlands there are many average brewers and some true artists. Italy also has some typical beer styles whose subtleties have been mastered completely: chestnut (honey) beer and grape beer to name a few. Since wooden barrels are readily available from the wine industry, they are used and experimented with generously. Finally, there are creative minds who border on the verge of sheer brilliance.
So one of my biggest aha moments of the past few months was Margose by Birranova, a Gose brewed with seawater. Sea salt gives a completely different flavor than the mineral salt from the original version, and thereby opened up a new dimension that was exceptionally refreshing, tingling and remarkably complex. The same brewery offered ‘Moscato’: indeed, a beer with most of muscat grapes. Where you might expect it to be as intensely sweet like the famous dessert wine it was all but that: a balanced and finely nuanced aroma made this light blonde beer memorable.
The biggest surprise came from Opperbacco (the name is a contraction of the exclamation ‘Oh per Bacco!, which means, oh, by Bacchus!) This brewery poured a beer with a quite special preparation: the young beer, hopped and all is boiled down to about half of its volume after which juice of very sour apples is added to (think apple syrup). Then, after fermentation, it is left to mature one year in casks that previously contained Montepulciano d’Abbruzzo. The result is a foam-free, shamelessly tasty and incredibly complex beer – worth a trip to the Abbruzo just for itself!