Editor’s Note: This sponsored column is written by Nick Anderson, beermonger at Arrowine (4508 Lee Highway).
People often ask me about ‘what’s next’ in craft beer. What will be the next big thing? The next hot brewer, or brewery, or style? In all honesty I can only offer guesses, but I think there’s something building here that no one may quite be expecting, and it may turn out to be a great force in beer here in America: the emergence of Italian craft beers and their potential influence on food-pairing in gastropubs and (increasingly) in fine-dining restaurants here in the States. With a rich craft beer scene spearheaded by brewers who came up during the 90s, it’s easy to make the joke that these beers are arriving on ‘Italian time.’
My first wine love was Italian wines. I feel that there is such a strong tie between the regional wines of Italy and their cuisines, more dynamic and vital even than in revered France, and that this tie carries over into the beers produced in Italy today. As we’ve seen more Italian beer arrivals here in the U.S., I’ve found myself more and more sitting down to dinner at restaurants, finding said beers on the menu and opting for them over some truly great options from the world over. There’s a subtlety to Italian craft beer, even ones made in more ‘extreme’ styles, that lends itself to food pairing. Part of this, I feel, is in the ingredients themselves: many brewers in Italy source locally, down to herbs and spices used in Belgian-styled Ales. From my perspective, the grains available all over Italy are a huge factor as well. Specifically spelt malt; which I believe is something of a happy medium between traditional barley and rye that brewers in other countries are just starting to discover. This harmony of flavors and feel makes Italian beers a great choice for the dinner table.
Why now, then? Well, as a niche segment of a niche market the Italian beers that did make it here came at a premium, and most still do to be frank. In my position as a retailer, I get to work with great distributors and importers, though, and there’s a wave coming over the next few months of great new selections from some of Italy’s finest brewers. As these hit bars, restaurants, and retail more folks are going to be able to try them. In my experience, this will only increase demand and in the long term expand the selection of beers available to us.
What should you be looking for? Well, as far as what’s available now I recommend Birra del Borgo, opened in 2005 on the border between Lazio and Abruzzo. Del Borgo’s made a name for itself here with their partnership with Dogfish Head, which has resulted in the Dogfish-released Namaste and My Antonia. There’s a del Borgo version of My Antonia also, and I actually prefer it to the one made here. ReAle Extra is another del Borgo beer that is available right now and is well worth checking out — it’s a great crisp Pale Ale filtered through the Italian aesthetic.
Almond 22 is based in Abruzzo itself, producing unpasteurized and unfiltered beers like the Pink IPA, which at this time is the only beer of theirs available here. Pink is not as hoppy as you may expect from an IPA, but its combination of spelt malt and pink peppercorns makes for a floral Ale that is one of the best and more versatile food-pairing beers around.
Leading the charge of Italian breweries is Birreria Le Baladin, located just outside of Torino. Keep an eye out for Nora, an Egyptian-inspired beer made using ginger and myrrh. Over the course of the summer, we may see some more arrivals from Baladin.
A personal favorite is Birrifico LoverBeer. As a brewery, LoverBeer‘s lineup is dominated by experimental Belgian Sour-inspired brews, such as Madamin, their only currently-available offering. Madamin is a Sour Amber Ale aged on oak, as smooth as it is sour and though it’s on the expensive side it’s a great treat. I’m hoping to see some of their BeerBrugna arriving soon, which is a Sour that uses regional Piemontese Damaschine plums to start its second fermentation and provides a fruity balance to the wild yeasts in the beer.
Going into the summer, I’m expecting to see offerings from Birrifico del Ducato, Birrifico Montegioco, and some really interesting releases from some of the breweries I mentioned earlier. I’d get into them more, but I don’t want to spoil anything. Just keep a wary eye on the shelves out there and next time you’re thinking Italian, don’t just consider the wine for your table. Until next time.
Nick Anderson keeps a blog at www.beermonger.net, and can be found on Twitter at @The_Beermonger. Sign up for Arrowine’s money saving email offers and free wine and beer tastings at www.arrowine.com/mailing-list-signup.aspx.