We are back with the monthly Italy Blogging Roundtable, a project organized by travel writing powerhouse Jessica Spiegel, and including professional travel writer Melanie Renzulli (on temporary leave), art historian and general brainiac Alexandra Korey, Tuscan uber-blogger Gloria, and me. (If you missed the previous months, take a look here.) Please, pull up a chair to our Roundtable, help yourself to some beer nuts, and join in on the conversation.
Generally it takes a year or two for a big trend to hop the pond from the US and make it to Italy. And then it takes another year or two for the big trend to figure out the right train from Rome and Milan and make it to Umbria. Which is why local craft beers are finally starting to make news after the huge boom in microbrews which began in the US in the late 1980s and continued in Italy in the decade following, spurred on by a 1995 law legalizing home-brewing and streamlining regulations for microbreweries.
Though Italian brewing has a history which reaches back over 2,000 years (the Etruscans produced a fermented malt beverage, as did the Romans), modern times saw the domestic beer production dominated by two or three big commercial breweries which turned out largely unremarkable lagers. In the past decade, however, the number of tiny craft breweries has exploded—going from less than 100 to over 500 in under ten years—and its popularity, especially among younger consumers, has kept pace.
Italians tend to drink beer with the same attention as wine, pairing it care with the right foods and willing to spend more for quality artisinal beers whose small production, top quality ingredients (including rare or heirloom grains and local products), and tiny distribution network make them often as expensive, if not more so, as wine. Be prepared to spend up to €5 a glass or €15 a bottle for a top shelf craft beer in the Bel Paese.
Though the hubs of craft brewing remain the north of Italy (Lombardy and Piedmont, in particular) and Rome, Umbria is starting to come into its own with more than a dozen tiny local breweries which have popped up just in the past few years. Many of these produce quirky brews–the product of a freedom to experiment with ingredients that the heavily regulated wine industry doesn’t enjoy–which can be found only locally, so it’s worth the time and effort to seek them out.
Here are a few that are particularly memorable:
Birra Nursia (http://birranursia.com/)
Who can think of microbrews without inevitably having the vision of Trappist monks flash through their mind? Well, they aren’t Trappists, but the Benedictine monks in Norcia began brewing last year (their first batch—put on the market in the summer of 2012—sold out almost immediately) and you can both tour the brewery and taste their Blond and Extra Dark directly at their monastery in the main Piazza San Benedetto.
Birra Camiano (http://www.birracamiano.com/home.html)
Only a crazy person would open up a brewery near Montefalco, in the heart of Umbria’s wine country. Or, alternatively, only a foreigner. Thomas Bereiter was born in Canada but it was during his studies in England that he discovered a passion for beer. He and his partner Heidi fell in love with Umbria during a vacation here, and eventually settled here and began brewing in 2010. He produces the fetchingly named Xanthos, Copper4, and MegaPorter, all of which can be sampled and purchased at the brewery.
Birra San Biagio (http://birrasanbiagio.com/)
They aren’t monks, but they play them in the brewery. Perhaps the poshest of the local breweries—even the bottles are elegant–San Biagio takes both inspiration and techniques from the monastic brewing tradition and is helped along by the fabulous setting in the Mount Subasio Park and the use of the local spring water. Alongside their three basic brews (lager, stout, and amber) they also produce a wheat ale and, at Christmas, a batch infused with bay.
Birra dell’Eremo (http://www.birradelleremo.it/)
I’m always one to root for the home team, and since just last year Assisi has its own local brewery run by a group of young’uns with a hip vibe and, in my opinion, winning logo (I want a t-shirt). Their three brews can be found at a number of pubs and restaurants in the region (check the contact page).
Other ways to sample local brews:
Take Discovering Umbria’s (http://www.discoveringumbria.it/en/food_tour.html#porkbeer) endearingly titled “The Pork and The Beer” tour, during which Alessandra takes you to a local farm which specialized in both pork production and beer brewing.
Stop in at one of these well-stocked pubs or restaurants:
- Osteria a Priore (Via dei Priori, Perugia)
- Ansidei Beer Shop (Piazza Ansidei, Perugia)
- Il Birraio (Via Prome, Perugia)
Curious to hear what Alexandra, Gloria, and Jessica had to say about this month’s topic? Check out their blog posts, and leave your comments.