23 May 2016 / 16:05

Beer stories. Italian Grape Ale: a unique style for a Bel Paese beer

Are beer and wine two diametrically opposed worlds? Italian brewers don’t think so. For years they have been adding must, sapa and grapes to their beers, creating a new, totally Italian style.

Beer stories. Italian Grape Ale: a unique style for a Bel Paese beer

Are beer and wine two diametrically opposed worlds? Italian brewers don’t think so. For years they have been adding must, sapa and grapes to their beers, creating a new, totally Italian style.

The development of brewing culture

The Italian brewing movement is fully grown by now. Twenty years have passed since the first fearless experimenters, leaving their pots in the garage, armed with courage and healthy craziness, began to professionally produce artisanal beer.

In 2015, in May, news came that coincided with a sort of blessing on the entire sector. The BJCP (Beer Judge Certification Program), the organization founded in 1985 to promote the brewing culture and develop tools and methodology for evaluating beer, in its Style Guidelines revision, defined the style of Italian Grape Ale. At the moment it is in the appendix, but even in this partial form it represents unprecedented recognition for the craft. The text says that Italian Grape Ale is "A sometimes refreshing, sometimes more complex Italian ale characterized by different varieties of grapes.” Aromatic characteristics of a particular grape have to be noticeable but should not overpower the other aromas. The grapes can be part of the recipe either as fruit or as must. Moreover, "Aromatic characteristics of a particular grape have to be noticeable but should not overpower the other aromas". The rest of the guidelines are very elastic. The color can vary from gold to dark brown, and there are no restrictions on the malts or hops to be used.

Barley | Nicola Perra| Maracalagonis (CA) | via Colombo | tel. 070 789496 | www.barley.it

Nicola Perra and Isidoro Mascia began their brewing adventure in 2006. After the first rounds inspired by international styles came the desire to experiment. Enter, BB10: Imperial Stout with sapa (reduced grape must) from cannonau, an indigenous Sardinian variety that lends aromas ranging from berries to spices, as well as toasted notes that veer towards black fruit tones. BB10 is not the only Italian Grape Ale from this house. BBEvò includes sapa made from nasco, a variety used to produce the dessert wine of the same name. Nicola created the recipe inspired by the iconic meditation beer, Barley Wine, to which he added sapa di nasco. BB9 comes out of the brewer’s love for the dry Malvasia made by Cantina Zarelli, Inachis. Light and fragrant, its sapa is used for this beer. The fruity and elegant notes of the variety are perfectly preserved thanks to careful work with the hops. The newest in this series of special beers is the BBboom, in which the sapa comes from another Sardinian grape, vermentino, taking advantage of the dry, fresh quality of this wine.

Loverbeer | Walter Loverier| Marentino (TO) | s.da Pellinciona | tel. 347 363 6680 | www.loverbeer.com

A complete grasp of the character of Walter Loverier’s beers calls for a little more brewery know-how than the ordinary curious drinker brings to the table. The first recipe was for BeerBera. It ferments in oak barrels thanks to the addition of pressed and stemmed barbera grape must. Fermentation occurs due to the indigenous yeasts present on the grape skins, and therefore is different from the spontaneous fermentation of Lambic, which is activated by indigenous microorganisms present in the zone southwest of Brussels. Let’s call it a Piedmontese fermentation. DuvaBeer is another story, with Belgian yeast used to ferment the beer starter along with freisa grape must from the Terra dei Santi winery. The yeast leaves a greater sugar residue. The resulting beer is an homage to the ancient tradition of vinifying Freisa in bubbly, sweet versions. Another Italian Grape Ale in the LoverBeer line is produced in small quantities but garners great success. Nebiulin was first made in 2009 from nebbiolo grapes from La Morra, but appeared on the market only in 2013 as a blend of three years of fermented beer aged in barrique with the addition of a fourth part of grapes. It is a double tribute to the most traditional Belgian beer, geuze, and to Piedmont’s most important wine.

Montegioco | Riccardo Franzosi| Montegioco (AL) | fraz. Fabbrica, 1 | tel. 335 574 8181 | www.birrificiomontegioco.com

At the corner at which Piedmont, Liguria and Emilia meet, in July, 2004, the Montegioco brewery was established. Riccardo Franzosi came to the beer world by starting to make it at home. The first range of beers were his own recipes. Then came some experiments among which were Tibir, made with timorasso must, and OpenMind, made with barbera at first, but today with croatina grapes. Montegioco turned to some of the most important wineries of the zone not only for grapes, but for barrels. La Colombera, Walter Massa, Claudio Mariotto and Terralba are the houses that lent themselves to this meeting of beer and wine. But Riccardo didn’t look for vinous aromas, rather for the hint of fruit. Grapes are added during fermentation, and stay in the beer for several weeks.

Toccalmatto | Bruno Carilli| Fidenza (PR) | via San Michele Campagna 22/c | tel. 0524 533289 | www.birratoccalmatto.com

Originality, personality, innovation, but never for its own sake is the philosophy of the Toccalmatto brewery of Lombardy headed by Bruno Carilli. He makes beers with strong characters, styled much like American and Anglo-Saxon ones, not only thanks to the use of hops, but also for his rigorous approach to production. Within a continuous stylistic search, in which resemblances bounce from one side of the ocean to the other, there is a territorial anchor that ties one of his beers to its territory. Jadis, even in its originality, has an Emilian heart: it’s made with the addition of fortana grape must. It starts as a Double Blanche, a Blanche slightly more structured and alcoholic, to which fortana must is added. This is a grape that grows on sandy terrain and often on ungrafted vines. It is used not only for its marked typicity, but also for its fresh and intriguing berry and red fruit aromas that blend perfectly with the citrus fruit notes of mandarin orange and orange zest.

Bruton | Jacopo Lenci| San Cassiano di Moriano (LU) | via Lodovica, 5135 | tel. 0583 494955 | www.bruton.it

Jacopo "Apo" Lenci and Andrea Riccio are the mainstays of Bruton, the first its founder, the second its present brewer. Lenci contributes a punk soul to the enterprise, and Riccio is an engineer – a volcano of ideas come from the first, method and a steady hand from the second. The collaboration began in 2009, and today Bruton’s range doesn’t try to amaze with its excesses but is rather shaped by the search for taste balance. Jacopo grew up in vineyards. His family owns Fattoria di Magliano, a winery in the Maremma, on the hills south of Grosseto. The interaction between his own personal passion and his family tradition was inevitable, one merging into the other. On the border is Limes (a term that refers to the Roman Empire’s borders), made with Pilsner malt, no spices, discreet and non-invasive hops that allow the saison yeast to emerge. When fermentation begins to lose its strength, vermentino grapes, pressed and stabilized, are added. The final result is a fascinating hybrid with an acidic and mineral vein, almost saline, on notes of pineapple and tropical fruit.

Birrificio Sorrento | Giuseppe Schisano| Massa Lubrense (NA) | via Nastro d Oro, 19 | tel. 081 877 3708 | www.birrificiosorrento.com

Giuseppe Schisano took his first steps as a brewer in his family’s garage. Today, produced in the Massa Lubrense establishment set up in 2014, his beers reflect the sunny Sorrento peninsula thanks to his use of local ingredients, employed in a wise and never invasive manner. For his Italian Grape Ale, Giuseppe called on the Marisa Cuomo winery. Ligia, which takes the name of one of Sorrento’s legendary sirens, offers elegant complexity thanks to the use during fermentation of the winery’s Furore Bianco must (60% Falanghina, 40% Biancolella). The grape must doesn’t interfere with the beer, but enhances it with new aromas, slightly citrusy notes that are typical of the territory, and an intriguing, unusual savory counterpoint. One sip calls for the next, as the beer seems to change in the glass, and every mouthful reveals more.

by William Pregentelli

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