Archive for the ‘Italy’ Category

Beery gift

Having a reputation as a beer geek sometimes leads to pleasant surprises. While in Rome, we met up with ours friends Kari and Rolf, who had rented a car in Bologna and were driving the length of Italy. They had spent a week in Tuscany on their way down, and there they found two bottles of beer they brought along for me, both from the same local brewery.

La Petrognola is a sweet, malty beer, packing in a lot of flavour. It feels like a Belgian abbey style beer, despite an alcohol level of only 5.5% – it is more like an 8% beverage. Birra artiginale al Farro, according to the label. I had to check the farro bit on Google, and it turns out it is brewed with spelt. A wheat beer, then.

Some prunes and raisins, a little sourness, but low on hops. A dessert beer, I’d say. Sugary tail, not too balanced.

The other bottle is a chestnut beer - alle Castagne.

Chestnut flour aroma, clear golden beer with thin head. Sweet nuts, chocolate ice cream. Fairly strong chestnut flavour, some mint, even a hint of smoke. I’m sorry, but this did not appeal very much to me.

Italian beer gift

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My last post about Italy was perhaps a bit pessimistic, but I think the comments show that it is an issue worth considering. Anyway, I have positive things to report as well.

On my visit to Rome last year, I had the pleasure of visiting both branches of Johnny’s Off Licence and brought home all I could carry. This year, I travelled with family and friends, and I picked a hotel for convenient access to the historical sights, so initially I was a bit worried that I would not be able to do any beer shopping. A look at the map showed that was within walking distance from the Open Baladin bar, but I did simply not have the time to go there. I did not get to any of Johnny’s beer shops, either – and I did not really need to.

Just five minutes away from the hotel was the newly opened Domus Birrae, which gave excellent opportunities both for stocking up on chilled beers to consume at the hotel plus as much I could fit into my luggage.

The shop has two main parts. The front room has a row of refrigerators with a stunning range of Italian micros. And the focus is exclusively on Italian craft beers. The only exceptions I could find were two canned beers from a micro in Switzerland. The Italian-speaking part of Switzerland, that is.

In addition there is the back room, with long rows of shelves. I don’t know how many, but several hundreds for sure.

Friendly and enthusiastic staff who are very happy to give advice, they really know their stock.

Among the beers I enjoyed most were evo from Birrificio Barley, Maltus Faber Imperial, several beers from Pausa Cafe, a barrel aged version of the lambic from Panil… But that does not matter so much. You tell them what you like, and they are happy to recommend something that will suit you, often from a brand new brewery.

So, if you find yourself thirsty and tired after visiting the Colosseum, this oasis is only ten minutes away. The adress is Cavour 88, just up the road from the Cavour Metro stop. It easily made it into my top ten of beer shops. The price range was moderate for Italy, sure the more exclusive items were expensive, but there was something for almost very wallet here.

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I promised you some reflections from Italy, didn’t I? So, there I was, in Terracina, midway between Rome and Naples, a place not picked for any beery connection.

I had searched the web beforehand for Birra Artiginale and so on, without much success. I found a cafe/restaurant on Facebook which boasted of the ‘na birretta beers from Birradamare. They had three of them, as well as a few other Italian and Belgian craft beers. The ‘na biretta beers were quite all right, far better than Italian macros, they have a stylish packaging, but they would by no means stand out in a country where there is a consistently high quality in the market. They were moderately priced – 3 Euros per bottle if I remember correctly.

A pub next door had five of the Belgian Gordon’s beers on tap. This is a case of clever marketing. These beers tend to be sold very cheap nearer to their country of origin, but there are no laws saying the same product could not appeal to tramps in Brussels as well as bright young things in Southern Italy.

No sign of any interesting beers in any of the shops.

But in the upmarket restaurants, there were quite a few. I saw comprehensive beer lists in at least two of them, including the one who had excellent steaks and boldly called themselves the best restaurant in town. A page of the menu was set aside for craft beer, but the prices were high. A bottle of good local wine was from € 12 upwards, a bottle of craft beer started at €15. The problem is that does not only include sophisticated barrel aged wonders. The wheat beers, the brown ales and pilsners were also in the same price bracket.

Sure, I am prepared to pay extra for high quality. But, however much loving care you put into a bottle of Wit or Weiss, it is a humble drink, meant to quench the thirst and be used as an everyday tipple. We are talking about beers that would cost 50 cents a bottle in Germany.

Is this sustainable? I don’t think so. Sure, I get the point about high taxes and obstacles for Italian brewers. But it is absurd if Italian beers should cost twenty times the price of a similar bottle in Germany. If you want premium prices, you need to go for the premium end of the market, too. But, for a while, you might have a snobbish appeal.

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Particularly when you realise that you miss a beer festival or a similar event by just a week or so.


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Italy again

Our vacation abroad this summer was once again in Italy – one week on the beach and three days in Rome. As I’ve told you, I don’t have much time for detailed analysis of  anything at the moment, this includes the developments on the Italian beer scene. Still – some thoughts:

We stayed in Terracina, a seaside resort midway between Rome and Naples. Five kilometers of beach, a Roman ruin, a Medieval ruin, a lovely old town clinging to the hillside of what was probably olive trees and vineyards some decades ago.  Good seafood.

The beer scene? Not up to much at first look. Only macro brews in the shops. But with breakfasts like this, life is good anyway…

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The follwing description of the Villaggio della Birra 2010 beer festival sounds like just the thing if you are in the area:

It takes place on 11 and 12 September at Bibbiano, Buonconvento, Siena.

Amongst the sweet rolling hills of the Siennese countryside, rises the village of Bibbiano – not more than a couple of houses. It is in the direct neighbourhood of Buonconvento, in a valley that has been an ongoing inspiration for poets and painters.
This year, however, it will not only be the enchanting landscape that will astonish the traveller, fortunate enough to pass by, but as much its inhabitants: brewmasters from Belgium and Italy that proudly will display their knowledge and products for him. Beerexperts and artists alike will transform the little hamlet into a lively Village of the Beer.
The result will be an unforgettable trail, that will enable both the passionate as the curious, fortuitous amateur of beer to explore the traditional artisanal beers from Belgium, as well as from the vivacious Italian culture. The Village of the Beer will take place on September 11th and 12th 2010.
After purchasing a token, one will be able to taste artisanal beers, try out dishes, based on beer, and compare one’s own impressions with those of experts in sensory workshops….
Village of the Beer is an all-round, 360° experience – meaning space for homebrewers, for a beershop, for gastronomical stalls, live music and artistic exhibitions…

If that wasn’t enough, here are the breweries and brewmasters:


Boelens Huisbrouwerij (Kris Boelens)
‘tHofbrouwerijke (Jef Goetelen)
Den Hopperd (Bart Desaeger)
Brasserie de Cazeau (Laurent Agache)
Brouwerij De Ranke (Nino Bacelle)
Brouwerij De Leite (Luc Vermeesch)
Brasserie Artisanale de Rulles (Grégory Verhelst)
Brouwerij Sint Canarus (Piet Meirhaeghe)
Glazen Toren Brouwerij (Jef Van den Steen)
Hof ten Dormaal (Andre Janssens)
Schelde Brouwerij (Frans Ooms)

Birrificio l’Olmaia (Moreno Ercolani) – St. Albino Montepulciano (Siena)
Birrificio Italiano (Agostino Airoli) – Lurago Marinone (Como)
Pausa Cafè (Andrea Bertola) – Torino
Birrificio Toccalmatto (Alessio Gatti) di Fidenza (Parma)

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Arriving in Norway next week:

Southern Tier   IPA, Gemini
Captain Lawrence  Captain’s Reserve Imperial IPA
Jolly Pumpkin  Bam Biere, Bam Noire, La Roja, Oro de Calabaza
The Bruery  Saison de Lente
Lost Abbey  Angels’ Share
Ale Smith  Horney Devil, Yule Smith

Shortly arriving from Italy:

Birrificio Italiano Bik Bok, Amber shok, Cassissona, Vudu

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The End

There is a distinct smell of sulphur in the air, so the end is probably approaching fast. I should probably drink the beers I have stashed away. Just in case.

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Open Baladin

Seems like the new place of pilgrimage in Rome is open. Tell them I sent you!


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Saffron beer

Sept 09 180I have some friends that go to Iran once in a while to visit family. I’ve even asked them to bring me some non-alcoholic beer, which they did. I’ve not blogged about this, but I can reveal that it is not a beverage that will take the world by storm. 

But the last time they went they brought me some saffron. Which got me thinking. Why isn’t there any beers using this aromatic spice? When I looked around, there is at least one. From Italy, of course.

Birra Amiata  has a saffron beer named Crocus. Which is where the saffron comes from, of course. It’s the from a crocus grown in the Mediterranean and eastwards. If I remember correctly, Marco Polo used it as payment when travelling.

Strong saffon aroma, with associations to fish soup and rice, of course, but that’s just how I’m trained to percieve it.

A full bodied golden ale is used as a base.

Does it work?


No, not really. The saffron flavour is too strong for the beer. It overwhelms everytung, leaving nothing but a warm spicy saffron flavour. Some apricots and clementines in the background. I think there is some ginger, too, but it might be the saffron having the same warming effect.

But kudo for trying this. I still think it’s a potential. But maybe a bit less spice and a stronger beer base. Possibly together with other spices.

Keep trying!

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