30 Apr 2008

Mamma Mia!

To many the phrase "Quality Italian Beer" might be an oxymoron. The very small Italian beer market (30l/person/year) is dominated by mass produced eurolagers. However, at least in the regions of Piemonte and Lombardia, of eternal wine tradition, there seems to be a craft brewing revolution.

Evan rail was there not long ago and wrote a couple of post in his blog about it (check it here and here). He also brought me a couple of samples, for which I thank him from the bottom of my belly.

We tasted the first one together when he and his wife came to see our new house. Demon Hunter is called, brewed by Birrificio Montegiocco. It comes in a 750ml bottle, wrapped in elegant green paper. The presentation is flawless. According to what was written on the wrapping, the beer wants to be a Belgian style ale. Bottle fermented, brewed with water, barley and wheat malts, sugar and hops, and has a more than respectable 8.5%ABV.

In the glass we have a rich amber beer, almost brown actually, very cloudy and that doesn't make much of a head. Still, it looks pretty nice. In the nose I felt mostly syrup, fruit (peach?) and yeasts that provide some acidic notes. It starts very well when drinking it, there are some mellowy notes very well combined with the fruit, the finish is mostly acidic, almost expected from a beer that in my opinion aims at being a secular abbey beer. These not at all unpleasant acidic notes gain in intensity as the bottled is emptied and the sediments fall into the glass. The discordant note is given by a not very well integrated alcohol.

I didn't dislike Demon Hunter, but I wasn't crazy about it either. It's a nice attempt, but the expectations generated by the presentation and the high price are not quite met by the beer itself.

The second one, which I shared with my beloved, was Chocarrubica, from Birrificio Grado Plato (funny that no Plato graduation isn't seen anywhere). The label says that it is a dark ale brewed with carob and cocoa seeds, and that's pretty much it. It is also bottle fermented and has an ABV of 7%. When pouring it down we have a seriously black beer of very thick aspect, crowned by a very tanned spongy head. I was fascinated by its nose. There was some fruit that I could not identify, followed by roasted cocoa and nuts. You can feel perfectly each of those aromas. I really liked it a lot. And I liked it even more when drinking. Bitter cocoa is what predominates, followed by some tropical fruit and nuts, all supported by mild sweetness. The finish is long and dry, leaving a very interesting spicy aftertaste. A wonderful beer, among the most interesting I've ever tasted.

Like the Demon Hunter, comes in a 750ml bottle, and has a very stylish presentation. On both labels you can see the recommended temperatures for serving, 11°/13°C for Chocarrubica, 6°/8° for Demon Hunter (the latter also has recommended temperatures from keeping, 4°/6°C, something I had never seen on a beer before).

Both beers are perfect examples of the trends in Italian craft brewing. They aim at a gourmet market. According to what Evan told me, all beers come only in 750ml bottles. Many are sold at luxury restaurants as well as at specialist or deli shops. All beers are made with ingredients of the highest quality, and their goal is to compete with wines. Pretty ambitious.

Italian craft brewers have turned a disadvantage, the lack of beer tradition in their country, into and advantage, they haven't got any traditions to follow and respect, and they are coming out with very creative products. They are playing with ingredients (flowers instead of hops) and processes (oxidising) that few others would dare to use. And they seem to be doing quite well. Is maybe this the path craft brewers from Spain or Latin America should follow? At least in Argentina, most craft breweries seem happy to make beers according to well established styles. But recently a "yerba mate" beer has come out in Brazil, and two have Grape Beers have been announced in Argentina. If they become successful, will this be the signal needed by the very talented craft brewers from these countries in order to start expressing their creativity to the maximum?

Evan, thanks again for the beers. I hope you've enjoyed the bottle of Švestkové I gave you. Not the same, but didn't have anything else at hand....

Na Zdraví!

Choose your preferred Prague hotels and get free transport.

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