Ciao Beer & Travel Lovers!
In our last article - Craft Brewery Crawling in Hawaii - we tasted our way through the craft breweries of Oahu. This month, we travel in the opposite direction to Italy where we spent several enjoyable days discovering what the Italians are up to when it comes to craft brewing.
Craft Brewing in Italy
When you think of Italy, what comes to mind – food, wine, romance, art, culture, la dolce vita? Now there's another thing to add to that list – beer!
As you might expect, most Italian craft breweries have taken that love of style and beauty and applied it to their beer making. And most Italian brewers don’t just copy existing beer styles. Instead, they create their own unique styles resulting in flavors that spring from local ingredients and, in some cases, centuries old winemaking methods. They also brew with food in mind, naturally assuming that like wine, good beer will be consumed with good food. The results are beers that are subtle and well balanced and generally not as intense as some American craft beers.
Piedmonte – Famous Italian wine region and home to many Italian craft breweries
Consider this description of “an oxidized barley wine” from one of the oldest Italian craft breweries, Birra Baladin, which in my mind epitomizes the Italian craft beer philosophy:
“Xyauyù is a living, top-fermented beer which – after being exposed to the air of the Langhe area and resting for a long period of time – becomes a new and unique product. When poured, it has no head and no gas; it has a clear, full amber, brownish color with copper reflections. When initially inhaled it is very intense, with aromas of dried and candied fruit and strong and harmonious notes which bring Madeira wines to mind.”
This may come as a surprise, but there are more than 800 craft breweries in Italy to explore including a few of my favorites – Birra Baladin, Birra Montegioco, Birra Karma, and, solely because of their name, LoverBeer! Most craft breweries are located in northern Italy, which also boasts several exceptional wine producing regions such as Piedmonte, Lombardia, and the Veneto. And the larger breweries have their own brewpubs in major Italian cities making it more convenient to check them out (such as Open Baladin Roma).
In this article, we’ll introduce one of the oldest craft breweries in Italy, winner of numerous beer awards, and one of our favorites, Birra Baladin.
Baladin Open Garden in Piozzo (brewery, visitor center, beer garden). Images © Selezione Baladin S.r.l
Birra Baladin was founded in 1996 in a small village (population 998 according to Wikipedia) in northwestern Italy named Piozzo by Teo Musso who still serves as brew master and chief innovator/spokesman. Piozzo is located in the heart of the Piedmonte region, not far from the town of Barolo, which you may recognize as one of several famous Piedmontese wine producing areas.
Being the son of a winemaker, Teo grew up understanding the link between the earth and wine, and he wanted to extend that to link another product of the earth, beer. Teo’s dream became a reality when opened his brewery, and extended even further with the creation of the “Baladin Cellar” series, which we’ll explore a little further on.
Teo Musso, founder of Birra Baladin. Image © Selezione Baladin S.r.l.
A Brief History
Teo got started when he opened Le Baladin Pub in Piozzo in 1986. He was especially drawn to Belgian beers and stocked the pub with 200+ beers from Belgium and other exceptional beer producing countries.
Ten years later, in 1996, the pub became an actual brewpub when he began brewing and serving his own beer. And in 1997 he released his first bottled beer, an amber ale called Super.
Also in 1997, Teo released the first of several spiced beers named after family members starting with Isaac, which is a Belgian inspired wheat beer dedicated to his son. In 2000, Wayan, a Saison dedicated to his newborn daughter was released. Also in 2000, Nora was released. Nora is an “Egyptian ale” that’s dedicated to the mother of Teo’s children.
Isaac; a Belgian-inspired wheat beer (on the left) and Wayan; a Saison. Images © Selezione Baladin S.r.l.
In 2004, Xyauyù was first released. Xyauyù is an oxidized barley wine that’s part of the Baladin Cellar – Teo Musso Reserve series. It’s fun to mention that Xyauyù was named after an imaginary friend of Teo’s daughter when she was a small child. It’s also fun to mention that this beer is off-the-charts exceptional!
Xyauyù 2014, Baladin Cellar – Teo Musso Reserve
Sort of Interesting Side Note
Teo, and Italian sensory analyst and beer expert, Lerenzo Dabove (who goes by the nickname Kuaska) designed a glass specifically for beer. It’s call the Teku 3.0 (first two letters from each of their names) and is manufactured by German glassmaker, Rastal, a high-end glassware manufacturer. As stated on the Rastal website:
“The angled bowl captures the aromatics for the nose and palate. The slim lip of the glass feels just right when imbibing and the stem creates an elegant visual presentation while keeping body temperature from warming the beer prematurely.”
According to one source, this glass is the official glass used in all Italian beer competitions. Might be the perfect Christmas gift idea for the beer lover in your life?
The Teku 3.0 Glass
Tasting at Open Baladin Roma
When in Rome, I highly recommend a visit to Open Baladin Roma. Not only do they have 35 taps serving their own creations, they also have a wall of other beers from top Italian producers. Note: You can purchase bottles to go, but if you’re interested in doing so, Italian law requires that you make your purchase before 10:00PM. Open Baladin also has a kitchen serving quality bar food ranging from hamburgers to salads and vegetarian options.
Easy-to-miss, non-descript entrance to Open Baladin Roma
What awaits you inside the Open Baladin Roma taproom
When we visited, Gabriele Galiffi and Dario Nigro very graciously talked us through our tasting of several Baladin beers. It was immediately obvious that their beer was flavorful, subtle, complex and delicious, but I believe the friendliness and helpfulness of Gabriele and Dario made our evening especially exceptional.
We only scratched the surface, but of the beers we tried, the ones that earned a “Wow!” in my tasting notes were:
Nora (Egyptian Ale)
“Nora tells of ancient history, nomadic people and pyramids, spices and Kamut®, which means “the soul of the earth” in ancient Egyptian. Its warm, orange-amber color is complemented by a tall head which releases notes of Eastern aromas, ginger and citrus fruit.” ABV 6.8%, IBU 10-12.
Nazionale (Italian Ale)
“The first 100% Italian beer made with Italian ingredients. An intentionally simple beer: Italian water, barley malt, hops, yeasts and two Italian spices (bergamot and coriander) which combine to create harmony and originality.” ABV 6.5%, IBU 30-32.
Note: At 30-32 IBU, this beer is part of Baladin’s “Hoppy Beer” series, which highlights a key difference between Italian and American craft brewing.
Open Amber (American Pale Ale)
“A beer which combines the features of caramel and amber malts with the aromas of American hops. The result is an explosion of well-balanced taste, where the biscuit flavor coming from cereals and the notes of dried fruit blend perfectly with the bitterness and aromatic scents of hops and of the orange peel from Calabria.” ABV 7.5%, IBU 43.
Xyauyù (Baladin Cellar – Teo Musso Reserve, 2014) (barley wine)
“Xyauyù is a living, top-fermented beer which – after being exposed to the air of the Langhe area and resting for a long period of time – becomes a new and unique product. When poured, it has no head and no gas; it has a clear, full amber, brownish color with copper reflections. When initially inhaled it is very intense, with aromas of dried and candied fruit and strong and harmonious notes which bring Madeira wines to mind.” ABV 14%, IBU 13.
Look for Gabriele (left) and Dario when you visit Open Baladin Roma
Original Gravity Tours
We hope this article inspires you to plan a trip to Italy next summer? We also hope you consider joining us on one of our Munich & Bamberg Brewery Tours before or after your time in Italy.
We’ll experience das süße leben, German style... plus we’ll tour the oldest breweries in the world, meet local craft brewers, enjoy the finest beer gardens, follow the Bamberg breweries trail, explore the 1,000 year-old cities of Munich & Bamberg, ferry the Danube River, and more!
Suggestion: Crack open your favorite German beer and check out our recently updated Photos & Reviews page for a virtual tour!
Until next time, Arrivaderci and Prost!
Greetings! I'm a passionate beer and international travel lover. Other than craft beer, I mostly go for German & Belgian beers and if you share the same interests, you may enjoy my blog. Prost and Proost!