The beer revolution in Italy has taken a distinctly different path from that in America and northern Europe, with birra artigianale (craft beer) being designed for the table more than the bar. What began with a tendency to ape foreign styles with local tweaks, has developed in various ways, not least by using unusual ingredients with increasing aplomb. There is no fear of doing things differently.
For example, since 1996, some Italian brewers have been dry-hopping blond lagers, with more recent variations using fresh hops, experimental hops and in some cases hops grown for special ‘terroir’, leading to the term “Italian Pilsener” gaining credibility in the US and elsewhere.
Also, if a single beer can lay claim to being a style, then Xiauyù and its variants, from Italy’s Baladin brewery, an intense barley wine main with three cycles of fermentation, ending virtually free of carbonation and with the of fortified wine, can make that claim.
Birra alle Castagne (Chestnut beer)
Along with a few French breweries, the Italians have mastered the use of chestnuts to create rounded, sweet and nutty but earthy back tastes, offering a broad palette on which to build beers from mainstream to whacky.
Italian Grape Ale (IGA)
A new Italian specialty that may well prove last the distance better is ales brewed with up to 40% whole grapes in the mash. The style remains a work in progress, with experiments thus far including beers made with grape must, grape flowers, juice and occasionally wine itself. The background beer may be made from a variety of grains and fermented by lager yeast, ale yeast or wine yeast. The style is already being sub-divided into Red, White and Sour varieties. A good one will show features of both wine and a beer, with neither drink dominant. Character depends in part on the grape variety used.