Enjoying una birra whether from the bottle or alla spina – draught – is something we can do in any bar in any part of the country.
Consumption of beer per capita has increased considerably in the last decade with the biggest growth in premium brands
[source Mintel market research report].
The most common type of Italian beer is the classic pilsner lager. In its purest form, such beer is produced from malted barley, pilsner hops, yeast and water, nothing else. The bottom fermented beer that results is normally blonde to yellow-gold in colour, served cold, with a refreshing ﬂavour and hoppy ﬁnish.
Peroni is Italy’s number one beer of this type, while Nastro Azurro (a brand also owned by Peroni) is the market leader for Italian beer worldwide. Other suchpopular Italian lagers include Moretti, Dreher, and Splugen.
Birra Poretti is a less well known lager now increasingly available in the UK. Its history is typical of the development of beer in Italy.
If light, quenching lagers are undoubtedly the mainstay of Italian beer, doppio malto (Italy’s equivalent to a German doppel-bock) is a style that is increasingly popular.
This rich, gold to amber beer is relatively high in alcohol, with full and malty ﬂavours that are complex and fascinating.
While lager is often enjoyed alla spina, most beers from the small artisan breweries are available bottled. The best are unpasteurised, which means that they continue to ferment and further condition in the bottle, improving and developing in character and ﬂavour with age.
As the process of re-fermentation takes place in the bottle, there is often a yeast sediment that results, so care should be taken when pouring.
Like ﬁne wine, such artisan brewed beers are living, hand-crafted products, as different to industrially brewed mass market lager as ﬁne estate-bottled wines from small producers are to wines produced by the industrial giants.
Here are some of my favourites…
The Baladin brewery is located in Piozzo in the province of Cuneo, a region better known for its world famous wines such as Barolo and Barbaresco than for its beers. Yet here Teo Musso handcrafts one of the most original and idiosyncratic range of beers that I’ve ever tasted. These are truly beers for the connoisseur,unusual, funky, thought-provoking, and wine-like. Baladin beers, in their beautiful 75 cl bottles, can certainly be enjoyed with food, too.
Baladin Super– Amber coloured and full flavoured doppio malto with relatively high alcohol (8%) – malty and complex with an underlying orange marmalade bitterness.
Baladin Isaac– Named after Teo Musso’s son, this is a light and quaffable wheat beer with exotic spice and citrus tones and a creamy texture that is very appealing, a beautifully refreshing drink for summer.
Baladin Nora– Inspired by Egyptian culture, Nora is brewed with Kamut wheat (which has been found in the tombs of the ancient pharaohs!), together with a mix of organically grown malted barley and hops. The result is a light orange beer that is quenchingly sour, with exotic, yeasty, spicy flavours and a lovely Seville orange bitterness to the finish. Extraordinary!
Beltaine makes beers unlike any other you will taste: chestnut beers! Yes, in addition to malted barley, chestnuts are added to the mash to extract sugars for conversion into alcohol through the process of fermentation and re-fermentation in the bottle. This is, apparently, an ancient tradition, and Beltaine beers, produced in the foothills of the Apennines above Bologna, recall the Celts who settled in this area and for whom beer was their mainstay beverage.
Beltaine birra alla castagne– Chestnuts give Beltaine beer a most distinctive flavour, light, fresh, almost floral, with the underlying creamy flavour reminiscent of a fresh marron glacé.
Beltaine doppio malto alle castagne affumicate e ginepro – On the nose this extraordinary beer smells like, yes, smoked speck! The intense and oily aromas of smoked chestnuts and juniper are very marked and I imagine that this would be awesome as an accompaniment to smoked air-cured meats. It would also be delicious used as a marinade for ribs or other pork dishes.
Menabrea is something of a cult for connoisseurs of beers. The brewery was founded by Giuseppe Menabrea a century and a half ago in Biella and continues today to make a very pure beer using malted barley, selected hops and fresh mountain water. Clearly a recipe for success!
Menabrea150 anniversary– Rich golden in colour, strong and full-flavoured artisan lager that is quenching and refreshing, with richly complex and long finish.
Busalla is a revival of an historic brewery founded by two Swiss in 1878 and located in the Ligurian Apennines in a town that was once synonymous with beer. Today a group of enthusiasts are once more producing in small quantity a range of beers that are true artisan works.
Blonde Muller– A full-flavoured, unfiltered and unpasteurized bottle-conditioned lager. Delicate in flavour yet strongly bitter at the same time.
Ambered Rubin– Attractive red beer with rich flavours of caramel and toasted malt.