Italy is synonymous with wine. The Greeks dubbed Southern Italy and Sicily, Oenotria (land of vines). From the valleys of Piedmont to the rolling hills of Tuscany and the islands of Sardegna and Sicily, vineyards abound. Putting my wine bias aside, I’m here to talk about craft beer.
Italy joined the craft beer movement in the mid-90s, partially due a change in home brewing legislation making it legal to brew. My personal craft beer discovery started in 2015 with a heatwave, a number of beer festivals, and a vineyard tour. While leading our Lazio vineyard discovery experience for a gorgeous couple, I learned that there was a beer lover amongst us. Although Mr. X appreciated wine, his true love was beer. Mrs. X was the wine lover. I paired a beer with his meal and my curiosity was ignited.
With styles ranging from cold fermentating lagers and pilsners to crisp witbiers, feather light pale ales, bitter IPAs, dark porters, cold-curing barley wines and puckery sour ales, there seemed to be endless beers to taste. I dug into books, read blogs and talked with craft beer geeks quickly figuring out that the best learning came with imbibing pints, bottles and cans of craft beer of different genres.
One year later, it was time for a custom beer tasting for Mr. and Mrs. X. Italian beers ONLY was the request. We started with lighter bevvies for steamy summer days and ended with darker brews for nippy December days spent by the fireplace eating holiday puddings.
We tasted nearly a dozen craft beer styles in 3 hours. Here are a few of the beer styles that we enjoyed. Cheers!
A Belgian witbier (wheat beer) aka biere blanche is a great place to start for non-beer drinkers. The style dates back hundreds of years. It’s spiced with coriander, orange peel and herbs that tickle the brewer’s fancy. Think crisp, lively and zesty. It’s a lovely partner for light seafood and steamed mussels and give it a go with vietnamese food.
Second in the line up was an American Indian Pale Ale (IPA). IPAs are craft brewer’s evangelist/revivalist beers. American IPAs are characterized by American variety hop flavors. Floral-fruity-piney and sometimes resinous, this highly bitter hoppy brew is taking nations by storm. If you love bitter food and drinks like me – broccoli rabe, straight up espresso, and roasted cocoa beans – this may by your style. Dangerously drinkable with grilled or brined pork or chicken or blue cheese.
A beer tasting wouldn’t be complete without tossing a lager into the mix. Lagers are one of two clans of beer, the other being ales. Easy drinking, typically crisp, delightful and as exhilarating as a jackknife dive into the ocean in July. What’s not to love about a lager? Being one for the lesser known, I chose a Vienna lager. A revival of this style is underway. Vienna Lagers have alluring bread crust and floral scents and taste of toffee and mild spices. I’d drink this all year with simply grilled steak with a dash of salt and pepper – hold the sauce – or try it with almond biscotti.
Enter the tripel, the Rocky Balboa of beers. This Trappist-style Belgian ale is a knock out beer often strutting into the ring with double-digit alcohol by volume (ABV), complex Christmas cake flavors of fruit and spice with a caramel sticky-bun finish. With its warm and dry finish, you can serve a tripel with duck breast, game birds or try it with a triple-cream cheese.
Have you ever caught a whiff of expired milk? Meet the wild child. She’s curious, adventurous and unique. Sour and wild ales are a catchall classification for the sour funky offbeat brews. They are doctored with wild yeast strains and sometimes souring bacteria creating a tangy profile. In a talented brewer’s hands, sour beers can be complex and intriguing like fine wine. As much as I love bitter drinks and food, give me a tart freshly squeezed lemonade on any summer day. Sours can be shocking the first time you taste them which is why I’d look for one infused with cherries or plums. Adding fruit during maceration, infuses the beer with a sweet flavors to contrast mouth puckering sourness. Tuck into some dark chocolate with this beer. It’s a magic match.
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