Thirty years ago, Teo had a dream. A dream that slowly would give birth the the Italian beer revolution. A dream that has grown into a giant brewery, but is much more than that.
Thirty years ago, Teo Musso started a beer bar in his home village Piozzo. He was tired of the bland industrial pilsners on offer, and he knew there were some interesting beers out there that he could sell. His bar soon featured 200 beers, mostly imported, many of them Belgian. Hoegaarden was an early favourite.
For ten years, the bar grew in reputation and scope – and then Teo created his Baladin brewery. The rest is history.
Piozzo is one of thousands of sleepy Italian villages, among the hills in the Northwestern corner of the country. It’s lush and green here, the Alps make sure there is enough water both as rain and as rivers. The crops here are barley and maize – but mostly grapes. Alba 20, Barolo 7, the signposts say as we approach.
I was one of a selected few beer writers invited to mark the anniversary of Baladin and the opening of the brand new brewery. Which is much more than a brewery.
The new brewery is situated on a sizeable area of land, with possibilities of growing ingredients, brewing beer with state of the art technology and the aging of beer in 14 century cellars. There is no real threshold for production here. The new brewery does not start out with a capacity far beyond the old one, but the possibilities for expanding are endless.
The bar turned into a brewpub in 1996, and the first bottled beers were sold one year later. Since then there has been a slow expansion, until this year’s move to fantastic facilities outside the village.
The investment is sizeable, 12,5 million Euro plus VAT, but then everything should be in place. Some of this is crowdfunding. This is not only for the financial aspect, it is also a way of getting the local community seriously involved.
The most impressive is the automated bottle maturing process. This is bacically a closed box. The beer is matured for various lengths of time at three different temperatures, and a robot makes sure it is moved to the correct place at the correct time. Groundbreaking beer technology, with a potential in other fields like winemaking or cheese production if you ask me. This was intended as a Horizon 2020 project, but a Spanish partner had to resign, and Baladin lost 1.5 million Euros because of that.
There is more. There is land set aside for growing barley, other grains and hops. There is a drying area for hops, and they plan to build maltings. They are establishing a magnificent garden open for the public, with stone mills, and old communal oven and cheese makers and butchers invited in. The craft of barrel making had almost died out, Baladin uses Japanese craftsmanship to build new ones and to take care of old ones. There is education, too, with a small brewery set up for students at the nearby Gastronomical University to acquire brewing skills.
Baladin is no longer one of a handful of Italian craft breweries. There are now one thousand Italian breweries – yet the growth potential is big. Craft beer still account for just 3% of the Italian market. Baladin sells half of its production abroad, and ten percent in their own bars and restaurants. There are Baladin bars in a number of Italian cities, as well as in New York.
Teo is proud of what he has managed to achieve. I have moved mammoths, he says, and points out that the Italian beer revoulution is also a cultural revolution. What is important is the next stage is to watch out for the big industrial players making beer they pretend to be craft.
I admire people who set u a goal and then work towards it for decades. Some have to throw in the towel, but Teo did not. His contribution to the European ber scene should not be underestimated.
I had expected a range of inventive beers for this launch, but I assume we will have to wait until the products from the new brewing plant have been allowed to mature, be it in the old cellars or in the new warehouse with temperature zones. One beer to look out for is a light, hoppy blonde simply called POP. Available in brightly colored cans, ask at your local beer shop wherever you live. Of course you should enquire about the Xyauyu range of beers too, aimed for a more discerning public. And there are lots of beers in between to explore, too.
And if you are in the area, there are tours of the brewery. A gallery going through the building gives good Access. There is even a shop selling souvernirs and beer.
Check out Martyn’s report on the event as well.
Disclaimer: I was invited to the opening of the new Baladin brewery as a guest, and they paid my travel expenses.