Top Italian Ales: Artisan Brewers and Bottled Beer from Italy
Think of Italian drinks and you think of sparkling Prosecco (Italy’s ‘champagne’), fine wines like Chianti and Brunello, or sunny liqueurs such as Limoncello. You certainly don’t think of beer. However, Italian beer is on the up: a growing band of craft brewers in Italy are producing the sort of delicious and inventive ales of which mama (and certainly papa) could be proud. In fact in his book World’s Best Beers (pub. Jacqui Small, £25) Ben McFarland declares that: ‘of all the up-and-coming brewing nations in the world, Italy is the one to watch’.
Le Baladin Brewery – Musical Yeast
Traditionally Italians have only really drunk beer with pizza, but since the 1990s there has been a growing appreciation of the sort of artisan beers that deserve to be savoured by themselves. There are now around 150 microbreweries and brewpubs in Italy. Perhaps the best known is Le Baladin, which McFarland features in World’s Best Beers. Baladin beers are produced in the hills of Piedmont – and they’re adventurous brews, sometimes made with spices, chocolate, coffee beans – and even myrrh.
Teo Musso, of Baladin, is a creative character – even rather eccentrically attaching headphones to the fermenting vessels so as to play music to the growing yeast. Most of Baladin’s beers are bottled and include Xyauyu (13%), a dark and powerful ‘oxidized’ ale that McFarland says has the character of wine; Super Baladin (8%) a beer that’s based on a 9th-century Belgian recipe, and Nora – an unusual beer that is made with ginger root and myrrh.
Beer with Chestnuts, Cocoa Beans – even Wormwood
But Baladin isn’t the only Italian brewer worthy of note. McFarland highlights over 30 different Italian beers, produced by brewers from Milan down to Rome. They offer an extraordinary variety of flavours and will often work with local producers to source local – sometimes unusual – ingredients, bringing an experimental zing to the industry. There’s Torbata, a bottle-conditioned ‘smoked ale’ that’s made at the Almond 22 brewery in Abruzzi and flavoured with chestnut honey, orange peel and cane sugar; Birolla, a delicious sounding dark ale from Il Birrificio di Como in Lombardy, made with roasted chestnuts and honey from local chestnut and thorn trees; Chocarrubica, from Grado Plato in Piedmont, a stout flavoured with cocoa beans from Sicily, and Chiostro, a Belgian-style beer made at Piccolo brewery in Liguria, that is spiced with wormwood – the ingredient that was famously used in absinthe and led to it being dubbed the ‘green fairy’.
Amongst the other Italian beers that McFarland features are Montegioco Draco, a potent barley wine that’s brewed with fresh blueberries; Noscia, a pale ale containing honey and a hint of dried apricot, and Scires, an intense dark ale from Lombardy made with cherries. With so much variety, and so many acclaimed brews, it seems that Italian beer is well and truly on the map. Cin cin!