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Archive | October, 2008

Monday beer musing: What’s ahead in Italy?

Last night we ate in a restaurant in Florence that, like plenty others in Italy, boasts it serves “products of the region.”

More than half the customers were American tourists — it’s Florence — but if you didn’t listen too carefully the place didn’t feel touristy. There were local meat dishes to choose from as well as pizza (Daria declared her’s the best she’s had on our trip), calzones, all that you would expect.

We drank Chianta. We’re in Tuscany, it was poured from a barrel and it cost €4.80 for a half liter.

But as I paid the bill at the bar I noticed a dang fine beer selection lined up above. Rochefort 8, Orval, Duvel, Achel, St. Bernardus Tripel among others. But no Italian craft beer.

I’ve heard more than one non-Italian brewer compare what’s going on with Italian beer to 20 years ago in the United States. Sometimes that’s not intended as a compliment, but as a reference to a technical brewing gap. Mostly it’s about the excitement generated by brewers and their fans.

It’s grown because Italians haven’t tried to recreate America circa 1988, when U.S. brewers were just beginning to explore basic styles. They are drawing from the world, adding flowers, using chestnuts, tossing in tobacco . . . basically being Italian. They are making some really interesting beers we all want to drink.

However they remain small and, like American craft breweries in 1988, not all that well known in their own country. This might surprise American drinkers, because new Italian beers seem to arrive daily. And their beer sells for more in Italy than, for the sake of comparison, Trappist beers do in Belgium (or Orval does in Italy, for that matter). Additionally, Italy began feeling the economic downturn before many other countries.

To cut to the quick, this is not as simple as “brew great beers and they will come.”

More thoughts on this in a week or so, including why this is important to pay attention to even if you don’t drink in Italy. In the interim, I’ll be in research mode.

History according to Stella. Lager contains “only the four traditional ingredients of beer” — malt, water, hops and maize. Learning stuff like this is why Boak and Bailey’s Beer Blog is essential reading.

Get well, Uncle Jack. Fortunately, Jack Curtin “only” lost an appendix, a lot of time to the hospital and some weight. Send him your best.

Pissing in the steets. There are many good reasons to read Pete Brown’s blog. I recommend subscribing to his rss feed because he might go three weeks between posts. Always worth the wait. I had a damn hard time deciding what to quote from the most recent.

Hands up – every now and then, maybe once every couple of months, I take a leak in some dark street corner on the way home. I’m not proud of it. I’m faintly disgusted by it. But here’s the thing: the British Public Toilets Association (yes, there really is such a thing) reckons 45% of public conveniences have closed in the last couple of decades. They occupy prime real estate – one former public toilet was recently sold for £125,000 as a flat.

And be sure to read the comments.


#15 – Where in the beer world?

Where in the beer world?

Think you know where in the beer world this photo was taken?

Leave your answer as a comment. Also feel free to add a comment simply because the picture inspires you.

As I’ve written before this is not really a Jeopardy-type contest, where the first to answer wins something. However, after we’re back in the United States then it will be possible to hand out a few prizes to those who’ve joined the discussion here.

The weekly hint: There’s more here than a brewery.

Updated Nov. 4, with the answer

The photo was taken at Birrificio Torrechiara south of Parma, Italy best known in the United States for brewing Panil Barriquee Sour. The brewery is also a winery (thus the hint) and uses two large (40 hectoliters each) barriquees to age the Panil Sour. The tuns are 50 years old, having previously been used by the winery operated by the family for four generations.

More about brewery when I write what is looking like many more posts on Italian beer.

Meanwhile, having badly missed the deadline this week, I will suggest Where in the Beer World? will return next week.


Thoughts on missing, and not missing, GABF

Where in the beer world?

This photo was taken relatively late in the afternoon Oct. 11, the day medals were handed out at the Great American Beer Festival. Late in the afternoon in Switzerland, that is. Still morning, eight hours earlier, in Denver.

When I sat down on a bench, pulled out my camera and shot the photo was I wondering about who might win GABF awards? Was I wishing I could taste a few old friends (beers that is)? Was I curious about what crazy new beers might have created a certain buzz?

Nope. I was thinking my feet hurt a bit, that the trees in the Alps are much prettier than those up and down the Rockies, and that wine and cheese was going to be awfully satisfying in several hours.

To be honest, I remembered GABF was going on. If Scotty could have beamed me 5,000 miles from Switzerland to Denver for a few hours I would not have complained. I was interested enough to track down a good awful smoky bar with wi-fi the next day to download the results of judging. Now, since the 150-year-old stone-walled French farmhouse we currently call home has a good Internet connection, I’ve been able to catchup up on a rather enormous amount of blog coverage.

I just typed, and deleted, five paragraphs full of links and notes about what I really missed (like checking in with friends I see only every year or two) and drawing some contrasts between what I read and what Daria and I saw at GABF in 1993. Instead one link to a video with Charlie Papazian (disclaimer, protagonists Neal Stewart and Mark Silva are friends).

And a bit of perspective from far away, after spending a little time with European beers (and sometimes their brewers), and a lot more looking at stuff hundreds to thousands of years old.

When I read and listen to a zillion words about the festival it’s easy to see why beer enthusiasts (including both brewers and drinkers) both admire what’s happened with American beer the last 30 years and also think we are more than a bit full of ourselves.

We are.

Sometimes that seems perfectly appropriate. Other times it reminds me of the American woman in a Swiss ice cream shop asking if she could pay using dollars. Not a moment I wanted to show off my passport.


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