Tuscan cuisine is famous for its rustic simplicity. When the basic ingredients are this good, you don’t have to make too much of a fuss of them to create stunning meals. Pulses and grains such as spelt are known here as ‘poor man’s meat.’ A simple salad of spelt with olive oil, basil and a bit of tomato tastes about a hundred times better than it sounds, and such dishes beg to be paired with beer, the grains complementing each other perfectly. While Chianti is a universal drink here—and pairs better than beer with some dishes such as Panzanella, which recycles stale bread into a delicious, faintly acidic salad—there is a natural role for beer in such simple, unpretentious cuisine. It’s the drink Tuscan food has been waiting for.

A few miles outside Florence, in the village of Cavriglia, sits Papposileno, a restaurant built into the cellars of a medieval monastery. I was recommended this place because of its beer list: at the back of a volume on wine lies a closely typed page featuring 17 Belgian beers and 22 Italian beers, half of these from Tuscany. The walls are lined with wine racks and beer and wine memorabilia. The menu is short, because everything is cooked to order from locally sourced ingredients. The chefs bake all their own bread on the premises, and the manager buys all his fish in person from Roberto Carotti, a fisherman in Porto Ecole, Grosetto, two and a half hour’s drive away. (The distance isn’t too far, but it’s slow going on the winding roads through the hills.)

Tuscany Beer
A beer dinner at Papposileno, a restaurant built into the cellars of a medieval monastery. Photo courtesy Papposileno.

Birra Maus III (5%), a blonde ale from Birrifico Valdorno Superiore just up the road in Montevarchi, is brewed with local spices and is inspired by a recipe for a medieval stew from Florence. It’s light and sharp, with a sour Berliner weisse note balanced by a fruity sweetness. It pairs phenomenally well with Signor Carotti’s long-fin tuna, bringing out and multiplying the flavors in the fish.

The brewer is sitting at the next table, tasting some new beers created by a friend of his, who has just set up yet another new brewery nearby. We congratulate him on his own.

Papposileno doesn’t offer such a stunning array of beers because it is on some mission to prove that beer is better than wine. It offers amazing beer because everything it does is driven by the same philosophy of sourcing the very best local produce and doesn’t see why beer should be an exception.

Beer will never displace wine from Tuscany, and neither should it. It’s not trying to. But there is an emerging Tuscan beer style: unpasteurized, unfiltered soft and creamy and fresh-tasting, that takes a hint from Belgian styles but takes much more from its local culture and terroir.

Italians may only now be learning how to brew beer, but they have an innate understanding of how to present it and how to drink it.

Disclosure: The writer’s accommodation on this trip was La Torre at Pretaccione, a villa in the heart of Chianti that was kindly supplied by to-tuscany.com. He paid for all other expenses such as flights and car hire but is grateful to them for making this trip possible and providing introductions to the people he met in this article.