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.