Foodie Guide to Italian Craft Beer

| Thu, 12/23/2010 - 11:57

When it comes to drinking in Italy, wine is king. And rightly so, Italy is renown for producing world class wines of many different varieties. From the carefully blended Chiantis and bold Brunellos crafted in Toscana, to the more fruit oriented Barberas of Piemonte, and everything in between, there is a wine for just about any mood. If, however, you find yourself seeking something a something a little different, something a little off the beaten path, you may not have to look much further than the beer list. No, I’m not referring to the Peroni or Birra Moretti you so often see on restaurant menus and in grocery stores, but rather beer produced in small batches by craft breweries.

You may not know it, but there are some great Italian beers out there, and most are made by tiny breweries scattered across the country. Take Birrificio Baladin, for example, one of the old-timers in the Italian craft beer industry. At a ripe twenty-four years of age, Baladin has been producing a variety of wonderfully delicate beers in Piozzo, Piemonte since the mid 80‘s. You can choose from something on the sweet side such as the malty, spiced Nora, or if you prefer the hoppy, bitter side of beer Teo Musso, the breweries founder, offers a beer called Open, which is a strong(7.5% alcohol by volume, or abv) and aromatic india pale ale. There’s even a Baladin alcoholic cider, aptly named Sidro.

Further south, there’s another champion of variety, Birra del Borgo. Founded in Borgorose in 2005, this brewery has made great strides in the short amount of time it’s been in operation. It boasts a year-round lineup of ten beers, including an extremely hoppy and bitter imperial pilsner, named My Antonia. It clocks in at 7.5% abv and is made in collaboration with the Dogfish Head Brewery in Milton, Delaware. As such, it is available both here and in the U.S. where Dogfish Head distributes.

Their other year-round beers range from the pale and somewhat less bitter Re Ale, an American style pale ale with 6.4% abv, to the dark and rich Re Porter, a British style porter with an alcohol content of 5.5% and notes of chocolate and coffee. And if you‘re looking for something a little more unique, a beer with a true Italian twist, they have something for you, too. It’s named CastagnAle and is a smoked amber ale made with chestnut honey. Perfect to pair with a handful of freshly roasted chestnuts on a cool autumn night.

Back up north, in a town near Parma called Busseto, Birrificio del Ducato opened its doors in 2007. This brewery produces a number of fine beers including a pale ale, a pilsner, and a saison. But the beer that really makes this brewery stand out is the stout, named Verdi Imperial Stout. It is a full-bodied, black as night stout with an alcohol content of 8.2% and an addition of chili peppers. The peppers impart quite a unique flavor and leave just a little tingle of heat in the back of the throat. Personally, I plan on stocking up for
the winter.

Aside from these three, there are over a hundred other breweries, many of which have popped up in only the last five or six years, producing quality beers in every corner of Italy. Most of them aren’t as widely available as the ones listed here, but are likely just as interesting and worth seeking out. Chances are there’s a brewery, or two, just right around the corner from you. Next time you’re out and feeling adventurous, poke your head around the beer section in your local liquor store, or peruse the drink list at your favorite restaurant. You never know what you may find.