A short drive away from Del Ducato brewery is one of Italy’s newer craft breweries, Toccalmatto, open since October of last year. Toccalmatto’s hoppy beers made quite a splash at the Pianeta Birra trade show in Rimini this past February. It is fair to say that the owner, Bruno Carilli, is hops-obsessed. The equipment in the brewery includes a hop-back, which he designed himself. Carilli has also planted a range of hop varietals, which he hopes to use in the Toccalmatto brands once they are ready.
Carilli’s exploration of hops extends beyond bitterness into balance, aroma and flavor, and each of the brewery’s five hoppy beers has its own unique profile. The Re Hop, for example, is a typical citrusy American style pale ale with Cascade hops. Rude Boy, on the other hand, uses Challenger and Fuggles to get what Carilli calls a “rougher,” earthy hop character. There’s more to Toccalmatto than hops, though. Of particular note is Fumè du Sanglier, a rich smokey ale with lingering roasted notes, brewed with malts that the brewer, Andrea Paini, smokes himself. Future plans at the brewery include cask-conditioned and barrel-aged beers.
Italy is also home to a large number of exceptional and unique brewpubs. Just north of Milan, in the small town of Lurango Marinone, is Birrificio Italiano, where Agostino Arioli has been brewing since 1996. Germany-trained Arioli has won a number of awards for his Tipopils and Bi-bock brands. They are both tasty and refreshing although, as Arioli point out, they are not strict interpretations of their respective styles.
Alongside his range of German and English-inspired brews are a number of Arioli’s more fanciful creations. Fleurette, for example, is a refreshing, aromatic ale brewed with violets, roses, honey, rye and elderberry. Then there is the dangerously drinkable Scires, a 7.5 percent oak-aged sour cherry beer. Arioli is currently collaborating with Stefano Cossi from Thornbridge Brewery in England to design a barleywine-style beer, which will be brewed once a year both in Italy and in England, then aged in wine barrels to capture the character of local wines.
Birrificio Italiano’s latest project is called Musa. It is a series of four seasonal beers made using the second runnings from Amber Shock Doppelbock. The summer version is brewed with lemons, the fall one with seasonal fruits (grapes, apples or chestnuts), the winter version with cocoa and the spring one with black locust and elderflower.
Birrificio Italiano brewpub is lively and welcoming. On Mondays, guests can enjoy a night of live jazz while sipping on a pint of the wonderful Cinnamon Bitter Ale, served on a hand pump. Arioli’s brother, Stefano, runs the kitchen. The food is all made from scratch and highlights local ingredients as well as traditional dishes from the Ariolis’ mother’s native Trentino region.
Behind the scenes, Arioli is meticulous in his approach to brewing, with an extensive lab at the brewpub where he tests everything from potential yeast cultures to the physical design and durability of his beer bottles. He is also very active in nurturing the industry, organizing courses for prospective brewers, brewpub owners, and beer judges. He runs a yearly homebrew competition in December, and hosts beer-tasting or food pairing evenings at Birrificio Italiano a few times a year.
As a pioneer in the industry, Arioli has always been very hands-on with beer education because he feels that the best way to convince people to drink craft beer is to help them understand it. Every spring, Birrificio Italiano celebrates Pilsner Pride. This fun and informative weekend includes live music, various beer- tasting seminars and a wide selection of pilsners. For the first time this year, Arioli is proud to announce that Pilsner Pride will be featuring Italian craft pilsners exclusively.
Orange Blossoms and Ginger
In Milan proper is another of Italy’s early brewpubs: Birrificio Lambrate, which opened its doors in 1997. The draught selection at the pub includes a wide range of fresh beers that are clearly brewed with the session drinker in mind, including Ghisa, a complex, dark ale with strong smoky notes from the use of Bamberg malts. Lambrate also makes seasonal bottled products, for example the 2008 Brighella Christmas beer, brewed with orange blossoms and ginger and the rich Bricòla strong ale, both of which are warming, complex and dangerously drinkable.
The atmosphere at Birrificio Lambrate is laid-back and welcoming. The food can best be described as Italian-style pub grub, including healthy servings of seasonal grilled vegetables alongside freshly prepared meat and potato dishes, of which a selection is usually cooked in beer. Lambrate is always packed in the evening, but no matter the crowd, bartenders are meticulous in their pour and will take their time to make sure that each beer is served with care.
Also painstaking with service is Bi-Du brewpub, where they combine a German glass-rinsing system that includes a foam-protecting agent with a Belgian head cutter to achieve their ideal pour. Bi-Du is in the town of Rodero and the brewer, Beppe Vento, is known for his whimsical beers. The Bi-Du line includes two regular brews: Rodersch Kölsch and ArtigianAle, a hybrid between an English bitter and a strong ale.
There are also fifteen seasonal beers that Vento will offer at different times. These include Confine, a warming chocolate-flavored porter, as well as Gelsobira, a tart hoppy ale brewed with Sicilian mulberry. Perhaps the most unusual Bi-Du beer is SALTinMALTO, brewed with Hawaiian black lava salt. The salt is definitely present in the finish, but works really well with the overall flavour of this Gose-inspired ale.
Situated at the foot of the Alps, near the French border, Troll is another Italian brewpub producing a few unusual beers. One of Troll’s most talked about beers is Shangrila, a dubbel brewed with Himalayan spices. They also serve a lavender-flavored pilsner called Dorina. Both of these beers succeed in striking a harmonious balance between the flavor of the beer and the added spices. The Troll beer lineup also includes Belgian, English and American-inspired brews.
The menu at Troll is meat-based, with a grill in the middle of the pub. The owner, Alberto, collaborates with a cheese maker in the neighboring village of Palanfre’ to produce Troll beer-washed cheeses as well as a spectacular ricotta to which they add the same spices that are used in the Shangrila. In the winter, Alberto sometimes serves a mulled version of his 9 percent Palanfrina chestnut beer, to which he adds clove, cinnamon and spices. Although it is a bit off the beaten track, Troll is well worth the drive.
School for Brewing
Two hours away from Troll, in the City of Neive, is Birrificio Citabiunda brewpub, housed in a former school. Citabiunda has a great menu that reflects local cuisine. The beer lineup includes a wide range of citrus and spiced beers. Brewer Marco Marengo has a knack for subtly combining various ingredients to capture a specific flavor or “idea.” His Mary, for example, is a 4.5 percent beer inspired by Belgian blondes, but brewed with the addition of chamomile, anise and juniper berries. The result is a rich and complex ale with spice and gooseberry-like notes.
Marengo’s line of beers includes an interesting array of citrus beers. SensuAle is rich grapefruit beer with citrus and vinous notes, brewed using champagne yeast. Then there is the wit-inspired Bianca Neive, a refreshing beer brewed with orange peels, and Serpica, a bold lime and ginger beer. It is interesting to note that hops are virtually undetectable in the Citabiunda beers.
An hour north of Neive, in Chieri, is another of Italy’s best-known brewpubs: Grado Plato. The menu at Grado Plato features 20 snail dishes, including some very tasty homemade snail-stuffed ravioli. Brewer Sergio Ormea has also gotten a lot of attention for his rich and chewy cocoa-infused Chocarrubica, made with so many raw ingredients that it is mashed twice (instead of the usual once).
Ormea’s newest beer, Nanorò, was brewed to raise funds for a brick-building project in Chieri’s sister city of Nanoro in Burkina Faso. Ormea describes it as a fantasy of what an African beer might taste like, brewed using grains that are typical of the Nanoro region, among other things. The result is a fragrant, earthy beer with a touch of smoke. Although Ormea’s line of Grado Plato beers include a wide range of flavors, he doesn’t like to use wild and unusual spices. Instead, Ormea prefers to work with traditional beer ingredients in order to create his range of remarkable and complex beers.
The young craft beer movement in Italy is in full swing, with over 245 craft breweries in the country and new ones opening every day. The variety of styles, influences and flavors that these brewers offer defy description or categorization, but this diversity and experimentation is the strength of the movement and has resulted in a phenomenal array of beers. The only common traits that Italian craft brewers share are passion, individuality and attention to detail, all of which are contributing to making Italy an exciting craft beer destination.