The beer drinking world’s traditional standards are measured by the tried and true old guard of iconic styles like English pale ales, Vienna lagers, and German doppelbocks but over the past few decades, a surge in Italian craft brewing has raised the possibility of a new tradition emerging from Europe’s iconic peninsula.
Historically, Italy is known for its wine, not its beer, and before the mid-nineties the country essentially had no craft brewing industry. Now Italy boasts over nine hundred craft and microbreweries. These small, independently owned, traditional breweries are a relatively new phenomenon in a country known for classic brands like Peroni, Moretti, and Nastro Azzuro but the movement shows no signs of slowing down.
In fact, some have likened what’s happening in the Italian craft brewing scene right now to what happened with American craft and microbreweries twenty years ago. In case you missed it, American craft brewing went through multiple waves of massive growth, the first of which was in 1999.
Today, American craft beers are in the isles of grocery, liquor, and even gas station convenient stores. Fast forward to the present day and the trend has moved to Italy where beer is taking off. So far, there isn’t any specific, collective style to categorize the average beer being brewed in Italy but there certainly is plenty of variety. Without further ado, here are six of Italy’s finest beers.
In 1996, Agostino Arioli created Tipopils, one of his inaugural beer recipes at the then newly established brewpub, Birrificio Italiano. Since then Tipopils, which means ‘pilsner-like,’ has essentially become a household name within the Italian craft brewing movement and a fixture on the taps at Birrificio Italiano. While it is in many ways a quote un quote classic light beer, Tipopils is built out of a commitment to synergizing multiple styles, probably the most common through line among Italian breweries right now.
The light beer is born from English-style dry hopping with Bohemian pilsner inspired barley malts that incorporate bottom fermenting yeast. The end result in an interestingly American tasting brew. Its rich, golden-wheat, hazy body collects beneath a substantial, thick, white head releasing hop aromas smelling of citrus and grassy fields with splashes of fresh yeast that prelude malty tastes of honey and finishes with a flowery essence. While fleeting, the initial sweetness of the beer establishes on the palate quickly but very obediently and gives way to a finishing, flowery bitterness.
Ample carbonation and a robust but non aggressive body support and effectively enhance the beer’s flavor progression while aiding in the overall resilience of a brew that has accumulated a faithful following. At 5.2 percent alcohol by volume the popular beer provides a welcome, innovative take on the familiar, light beer blueprint.
2. La Luna Rossa
From Birrificio del Ducato in Parma, Italy, comes La Luna Rossa, a brew made specially for the sour beer aficionados. Scents of cherry dotted with subtle inflections of a certain hearty-richness hover above this barrel-aged, crimson colored sour which tastes in tones of sweetened bitter cherries combined with an earthly quality in malt themed medleys. With an extremely low international bitterness rating but a markedly sour taste La Luna Rossa draws a clear distinction between two flavor profiles often blended in the brewing world, a quality that makes it easily pairable with hearty, salty, and savory dishes, almost like a red wine.
Each batch of La Luna Rossa ferments over a multi-year process in which intricate acidic bases, macerated cherries, and newly fermented green beer blend into the initial identity of the sour brew before it is bottled and further refined for another year before being sold. Living somewhere between an American sour ale and perhaps a sweeter, Belgian style beer, La Luna Rossa’s extensive fermentation and brewing process results in a memorable, innovative complexity that almost makes the beer drinker forget this exquisite brew is a potent eight percent ABV and packs quite a punch.
3. Brett Peat Daydream
Brett Peat Daydream is another creation from Birrificio del Ducato. The seven percent ABV brew needs no other classification beyond the title of hybrid and may be one of brew-master Giovanni Campari’s most exotic creations. An intense flavor profile combines smoked malt characters from Bamberg-style marzen lager aged for over two years in old Scotch whiskey barrels with an utterly wild synergy of citrus, spicey, and sour from Brett ale which is itself fermented in wood for a year.
To that, Giovanni adds newly fermented beer brewed with peated malt that supplies a highly unexpected finish of peat and ash in a gentle, smoky conclusion. In The enticingly ostentatious nature of Brett Peat Daydream embodies Campari’s sense of experimentation and playfulness that is so vital to his brewing process and certainly represents the internationally synergistic nature of Italy’s rapidly growing beer industry. Afterall where else can the seasoned beer drinker find a brew concocted from whiskey barrel aged smoked lager, American Brett ale, and essentially peated barley wine?
4. La Tabachera
From the Amarcord Brewery in beautiful Rimini comes La Tabachera, a strong amber ale, tipping the scales at nine percent ABV. Its rich looking, light, brownish-red body punctuated by discrete carbonation sits beneath a delicate, condensed head. Scented hints of caramel and honeyed malt waft upwards, accompanied by somewhat muted citrus notes that maintain a prolonged, sweetly aromatic essence while drinking.
There’s a certain warmth to the fruit and malted tastes that cross the palate as well as a sweet cereal experience that is able to shine through. It’s worth noting though that the brew still allows for a necessary though subdued bitterness which quietly maintains the balance of such an innovative amber ale. The fruit and malt combine throughout the entire tasting experience and into an aftertaste that never goes so far as to overwhelm the drinker with excessive sweetness and actually resolves in a pleasant dryness.
The creative spirit behind Amarcord beers comes from Rimini’s cultural history and beautiful coastal location. La Tabachera’s rich, sweet complexity is a fantastic representation of such an iconic region that is often associated with the legacy of famed film director Federico Fellini, writer and director of the famous 1970’s film with which the brewery shares its name.
5. Birra Del Borgo’s Duchessic Ale
Much like Birrificio del Ducato’s Brett Peat Daydream, Birra Del Borgo’s Duchessic Ale most aptly describes as a hybrid and is the product of a collaboration between Belgian brewery Brasserie Cantillion and the Italian craft brewery Birra Del Borgo. Part saison and part farmhouse ale, the brew is a combination of Birra Del Borgo’s classic spelt ale, Duchessa, and Cantillion’s classic lambic beer which the Belgian brewery ages for one year. The resulting 5.9 percent ABV, Duchessic Ale, pours into a honey-gold, thick, and juicy body almost reminiscent of a nitro brew.
The substantial, foamy head releases blended scents of yeast, apple, lemon, and even pineapple in a classic display of the sour funk that lives throughout the tasting process with the wildness characteristic of Belgian lambics. However, the wild nature of Cantillion’s lambic beer doesn’t overpower the gentle tastes of Birra Del Borgo’s Duchessa which are able to simultaneously resonate in an extraordinary combination. Birra del Borgo’s Duchessic Ale is one of the brewing company’s initial attempts to harness the Belgian lambic flavor that gets its funky, wild nature from the spontaneous fermentation process, a style that has certainly captured the attention of Birra Del Borgo.
The Italian craft brewery is already utilizing an open-air tank in which batched must cools overnight, totally exposed, so fermentation is begun with yeasts native to the Italian Peninsula which will in turn be allowed to undergo the spontaneous, unaltered fermentation process.
Rounding out this list is an exquisite take on barely wine that comes from Birrifico Almond 22. Located in Abruzzo, Italy, the craft brewery has been specializing in classic British and Belgian ales since 2003. One of the trendiest styles in the Italian craft brewing scene is a very strong type of originally British ale known as barley wine. Referring to the brew as wine is simply a reference to the high alcohol content and at 8.7 percent ABV Almond 22’s Torbata upholds the moniker admirably.
Of the two main barely wine persuasions, those being British and American, Torbata’s deep, amber color suggests a more British construction as American brews typically don’t have a wide spectrum of appearance and tend to be uniformly lighter colored. Grounded, hearty tones of leather, smoke, and dried fruits characterize the scent that emits from the richly colored, smooth body.
At first the rustic smokiness might seem out of place but Jurij Ferri, the creator of Torbata, intentionally incorporates peated malt in the brewing process for his love of single malt peat whiskey. This makes Torbata a refreshingly innovative take on barley wine that incorporates a normally unlooked for smokey quality with the familiar tones of bitter and sweet that occupy the palate all the way through the beer’s warm malt finish.
While this modest cross section only scratches the surface of Italian craft brewing in terms of volume, it does illustrate the diversity of style, process, and product within this burgeoning industry. Though the movement has yet to be defined by any singular style it may already have found its moniker in the seemingly infinite mixing, matching, and stylistic experimentation happening in the growing population of Italian craft and microbreweries. Whatever the lies ahead for this exciting cycle of brewing and fermentation innovation, it’s safe to say that the future of Italian beer is bright.