Italian craft beer 101

Craft beer in Italy: how a unique concoction of biodiversity, short production supply chains and love for experimentation is conquering the international brewery scene

Craft beer, a sip of history - Photo by Timothy Dykes on Unsplash

Italians and beers, history of an everchanging relationship

The volume of beer consumed per capita per year (especially in the summer months) in Italy accounts to 31 litres, a mere nothing if compared to Germany, UK, Belgium or the Czech Republic. Until a few years ago, most Italians associated “beer” mainly to Bavarian Oktoberfest and to a handful isolated northern abbeys, the Alps still acting as a border separating the Mediterranean belt (wine, olive oil) from the civilisation of beer and butter. The etymology of “beer” itself is still the subject of academic discussion: the links to ancient Germanic bier appear clear, yet in the Mediterranean area cerveza (from Latin cer(e)visia) seem to prevail.

However, revolutions happen: in 1970 the most authoritative Italian dictionaries stated that beer was an alcoholic beverage obtained from the fermentation of barley and the addition of hops. It was up to Teo Musso, an indefatigable Langa man, to change the national pace towards craft beer (also in terms of legislation).
Teo’s conversion to beer came out of the blue: a Chimay blue - the pun is served on a platter (or in a trappist beer glass if you prefer). During the next 20 years Italian brasseries and restaurants became crowded with high quality beers (several steps ahead non descript lagers) and passionate connoisseurs looking for yeasty, woody and spicy notes. In 1996 Italian craft breweries were 7, in 2008 300 in 2012 more or less 450 (though their total beer production accounted only for 2% of yearly national consumption).

Crafts beer takes the scene - and the glass

Ingredients, biodiversity, details, spices, flowers, herbs, short production supply chains: experimentation is the keyword. These are the elements beyond the stunning success of Italian craft beers on the international brewery awards scene,
The attention to craft production is mainly due to lack of pasteurization and preservers. While industrial mass production looks for standardization of processes and flavours (resulting in light, easy to drink, thirst quenching beers), the charm of craft beers is that they are not standardizable – and this applies to hops, people, terroirs, climates, harvests, too.
Furthermore, the late ‘90s saw the establishment of the Unionbirrai association which firstly gathered Guido Taraschi (Cremona), Arioli (Como), Beba (Villar Perosa), Vecchio Birraio (Padova), Birrificio di Lambrate, Centrale della birra (Cremona).
Teku beer glass

The Internet, obviously, played an important role. In 2005 Musso and Genoese beer guru Lorenzo Da Bove (a.k.a. Kuaska) created the Teku, the ergonomic beer tasting glass (manufactured by Rastal) which was tested for the first time with Belgian Orval.

Craft beer in Liguria

Liguria boasts at least 15 (micro) breweries including (one per province) the four (Scarampola, Golfo, Nadir, Maltus Faber) belonging to the “Artigiani in Liguria” network, which also created a cooperative beer - “21/12” – featuring malt from the sassellese area (SV) and orange blossom water from Vallebona (IM). 

My English abstract of the article by Umberto Curti as published on Liguria Food in June 1918


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