Italy's craft beer revolution

Donald Strachan on where to drink the best of brewing

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Donald Strachan

Donald Strachan 
HomeAway travel expert


Italy's craft beer's and barsThe first week in March is a big one for Italian drinkers: the annual Settimana della Birra (“Beer Week”) sees breweries, bars, and bottle shops across the country run events for Italy's growing army of beer lovers.

But, wait: “Italy” and “beer”? I must mean Peroni, right?

Oh, no.

In fact, the country now has over 600 artisan brewers, most of them small and a huge proportion less than five years old. There is a craft beer revolution in full swing. And whatever week of the year you visit, you'll find plenty to celebrate.

 

Donald Strachan's verdict on Italian craft beer

 Styles.   International styles are edging their way into Italian beer culture. Huge-hopped, high-alcohol IPAs are popular. But Italy has its own brewing traditions, too, many of which looked to Belgium for inspiration. Ambrata (amber) beer tends to be sweet-edged rather than bitter or with dominant hops. A Bionda (blonde) has similar richness, but often with a subtle citrus kick. Chiara (“clear”) is the local name for lager-style beers. Scura is dark beer; full-flavoured but not usually with porter- or stout-like burnt bitterness. Rye beer (segale) is another you might encounter. Almost all are slightly fizzy and served cold. Local products also find their way into Italy's beers: don't be surprised to find honey (miele) or chestnuts (castagne), as in Amiata's expressively titled Bastarda Doppia. (Yes, it means pretty much what you think it means.) All Italian artisan beer is unfiltered and unpasteurized.

 Resources.  With so many styles and creative breweries to explore, it is worth doing some homework. Micro Birrifici has a search function to help you find breweries and bars by region. The same functionality is built into their iOS app (69p from the App Store). Slow Food's Guida alle Birra d'Italia book is written in Italian, sure, but is easy to follow for a beerophile hunting reliable advice. Fermento Birra and Cronache di Birra are handy bookmarks for beer lovers who read Italian. The Beer in Italy YouTube channel is a recent development worth watching.

 

 
 

Top places to sample “la birra artigianale”


   

Capital of Beer: Rome Capital of Beer: Rome

The capital of the country is also the capital of beer. It's here you'll find Italy's best craft beer bars, both in the centro storico and in areas away from the sights. Beer lovers will swoon when faced with the “beer wall” in Open Baladin. I lost count at 30 taps on my last visit, and didn't even look in the bottle fridges. The place is all chrome and chatter, and right in the centre, close to Campo de' Fiori. In Trastevere, pub Ma che siete venuti a fà (a.k.a. Macchè) specializes in brews from around Italy and Europe; their Facebook page publicizes special events. The edgier Pigneto district has Birra+, a grungy, laid-back bar with multiple taps and a big bottle fridge that keeps brews from Italy, Europe, and the USA nice and cold. Brewpub Birstrò recently opened around the corner. Expert local blog The Rome Digest keeps on top of the city's beer bars.

 

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Buzzing Bars in Florence Buzzing Bars in Florence

Expats, students, and young locals keep Florence's bars buzzing almost all year—it's quieter in August, when many of the best places are closed. There are ten taps and countless bottles at Beer House Club, close to Santa Croce. There's more of an expat-student and backpacker vibe at Mostodolce: a traditional pub with their own beers on tap (brewed in nearby Prato), as well as happy-hour discounts and sports on several screens. Archea has the best selection south of the Arno.

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Local Brewers in Lucca Local Brewers in Lucca

 

The city is small, and with a distinctly genteel air about it, but brewing has a long history in Lucca. One of the town's landmarks—the Palazzo Pfanner, with its baroque gardens—was inhabited by an immigrant Bavarian brewer in the 19th century. The best local brewers are north of the town, towards the foothills of the Apennines. La Petrognola brews with farro, a mountain grain, instead of barley. The range at Bruton includes English-inspired bitter Lilith. De Cervesia, in the centre, has a constantly rotating trio of taps plus a well-stocked bottle fridge – Italian beers only. They also do take-out at fair prices.

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Italy's Best Brewers: Piacenza Italy's Best Brewers: Piacenza

 

Visit north-west Emilia-Romagna to pay homage to one of Italy's best craft brewers. Brewfist was established in 2010, and has a reputation for forthright, no-compromises brewing – it's Italy's Brewdog, perhaps. The best places to try it are at Terminal 1, the brewery's own bar in Codogno, a short drive or train journey north of Piacenza. Parole di Birra has the best selection in the centre of Piacenza. Also in Piacenza itself, Tuxedo Beer House has 30 taps with beers from Denmark, Germany, and more (even the UK, if you're missing the taste of home). It's a lively spot, where the action goes till late. The town itself is well worth a visit on its own. Once an important member of the Lombard League—a medieval military alliance—it is graced with fine Gothic architecture and one of Italy's best Romanesque cathedrals.

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Images

Capital city beer: Open Baladin by Donald Strachan
Florence by eGuide Travel

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