Given the sudden outbreak of tales about Italian beer (see below) and the reality I should save something interesting for a couple of print assignments I’m going to write a lot less here than I planned for Italian Beer Part II.
Instead I’ll steal an idea from this wine blog, which reviews wines using a single picture instead of traditional tasting notes. The new wave of Italian beers can’t be represented by a single image, but I’m suggesting this is a start:
The photo was taken at Pompeii. I didn’t choose it because it expresses something “classic,” but because of the balance and texture it shows. Those components are essential in any beer we might call exceptional. One complaint about the big hoppy beers that emerged in the United States and now the sometimes offbeat beers of Italy is that the colors sure are bright but they often clash.
Not every Italian brewer has it figured out, but there are enough to set a good example for the others.
Here’s one example. KeTo RePorter from Birra del Borgo, located about 70 kilometers east of Rome. The beer is a rich porter spiced with tobacco leaves (added during the final two minutes of the boil). Several other Birra del Borgo beers are available in the United States, however this one has had a little trouble getting label approval . . .
Anyway, perhaps we should considered the power of persuasion, but KeTo seem to have a little pipe tobacco sweetness in the aroma and flavor and surprising spicy notes that set it apart from other porters. You may or may not like this, you may or may not think it is worth the price, but Italian small-batch brewers must ask more for their beers (they are spending 40 to 50 percent more than large brewers for ingredients) so they better be offering something different.
That’s the easy part. Balance and texture are the things not even a volcano eruption can destroy.
As noted last week, Evan Rail’s New York Times article nicely captures what is happening in the north and the beer/food connection in Italy. And Charlie Papazian, one the heals of Salone del Gusto in Turin, offered a whole series of posts on Italian beers. (Start here.)
Since like Papazian I noted that finding craft beer in Italy is still a challenge in some areas, such as Florence and Venice, I must agree that sometimes you have to work to find these beers. However, after I wrote that post I learned that 300 bar/pubs in Rome serve craft beer and that a growing number of bars, led by the pioneering Ma Che Siete Venuti A Fa’, specialize in flavorful beer.
Also, I have to correct Papazian when he writes, “Are any beers being exported to places like the USA? Very, very few.” If you live in the right parts of the United States it is easier to find a range of Italian small-batch beers than in most cities in Italy. Importer B. United International has a dozen Italian beers in its portfolio, listed here.