Up until recently, if you wanted to have an Italian beer with your meal, the choices were quite limited. In fact, there were really only two widely available options: Peroni or Moretti. This was the world of Italian beers to most American consumers, with possibly other, more obscure offerings available at the local distributor. But, in the words of Bob Dylan, the times they are a changin’.
The Italian craft beer scene has been enjoying a renaissance over the past few years. Though not new, the artisanal products that were previously only well known by Italians in their homeland are finally making their way across the ocean to a new group of thirsty consumers: the American craft beer drinker.
Sure, we are still enjoying our own craft-beer boom here, but even with all of the innovation and excitement going on domestically, the opportunity for people to branch out even further and try new things can’t be ignored. Look at wine: For what seems like an eternity, people were generally only interested in the big, well-known regions with high-priced bottles. Enter the millennials, with a feverish interest in tasting above and beyond the classics, and we now have a diverse and broad market with selections from more countries than ever before available at wine shops across the country.
We will always be obsessed with our own beer culture, but a part of that is also taking pride in understanding where we came from and what we have helped to synergize around the globe. You taste the classics and then you taste the new breed, comparing and enjoying both with mutual respect and appreciation for all they represent.
Italy is an important part of the beer world. Although they may have taken a page from the American playbook in terms of experimentation and styles, they’ve created a brew culture all their own, and one worth discovering.
Recommended Italian Beers
Baladin Nora (Herbed/Spiced beer; Birrificio Baladin, Italy); $18/750 ml, 92 points. Made with kamut grain from Egypt and flavored with ginger and myrrh, this is an interesting beer that’s best served not too cold to allow those earthy, subtle spices to shine. A hazy orange-amber color, with a low head that falls fast, it’s all spiced citrus and sweet malt upfront, with a distinct white-flower accent. The medium-weight palate offers more of the same, with waves of ginger-spiced orange, lemon peel, orange blossom and biscuit that flood the mouth. The texture is smooth and creamy, with low carbonation and a rich, spicy finish that boasts great length and strength. It’s well balanced and layered, somehow simultaneously exhibiting concentration and elegance throughout. B. United International, Inc. abv: 6.8%
Birra del Borgo Re Ale Extra (Italian India Pale Ale; Birra del Borgo; Italy); $18/750 ml, 92 points. This pours a medium golden-orange color, almost honey-like in appearance, with a slight haze and a frothy head that leaves sticky lacing behind with each sip. The nose is earthy and robust, with forward notes of citrus peel and orange oil that are partnered with additional aromas of freshly dried grass and grain, honeysuckle, ginger and underripe mango. The medium-bodied palate is well balanced, with a smooth texture that’s lifted by medium carbonation and a lingering citrus freshness that evolves into notes of pine resin and bitter orange peel on the back of the dry finish. AB-InBev. abv: 6.4%
Birrificio del Ducato Verdi Imperial Stout (Russian Imperial Stout; Birrificio del Ducato, Italy); $10/330 ml, 91 points. Stouts are not terribly common among Italian artisanal brewers, let alone imperial stouts, but this one makes a solid case for more attention to be paid to the style. Opaque, deep black in color, the nose offers intense and attractive aromas of licorice, dark chocolate, espresso and bread pudding that suggest it will be a flavorful and powerful sip. The palate doesn’t disappoint, following through with similar notes alongside additional hints of vanilla, caramel, molasses and oaky spice. There’s a definite bitterness to the mouthfeel, though it’s not as assertive as one might expect for the style, and is harmonized within the smooth, creamy texture. Lingering notes of strong coffee and cocoa powder lend a subtle bitter impression to the close. B. United International, Inc. abv: 8.2%
LoverBeer BeerBera (Italian Wild Ale; Birrificio LoverBeer, Italy); $20/375 ml, 90 points. Fermented and matured in oak vats, this wild ale incorporates freshly pressed Barbera grape juice from a viticulturist near Alba. It pours a deep red color, with a practically nonexistent head. The bouquet is bursting with sour notes of tart grapes, cherry and raspberry, as well as vibrant vinegar and lemon tones. There’s an earthy, animal-like background throughout the nose and mouth, with complementary hints of leather, hay and oak dust. The lightweight palate offers subtle carbonation and assertive acidic flavors that result in a brisk, mouthwatering finish, while the alcohol is superbly balanced and, surprisingly, barely noticeable at all. B. United International, Inc. abv: 8%
Panil Barriquée (Flanders Red Ale; Panil, Italy); $20/750 ml, 90 points. This is a unique and flavorful brew, with layers of nuance and complexity, likely a result of the maturation process—after primary fermentation in stainless steel, it’s aged three months in Cognac barrels followed by refermentation and further aging in bottle. A slightly hazy, mahogany color, it opens with earthy, sour notes of tart cherry and berry, leather, vanilla, oaky spice and a touch of Brett-like funk. Those notes carry through to the lively, medium-bodied palate, alongside supporting notes of plum flesh, baking spice and just enough rich, roasty malt character to provide a solid backbone to the tart, sour tones. The carbonation is low, while ample acidity and a slightly dry, gritty texture lend depth to the finish. Shelton Brothers Inc. abv: 8%