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Italian brewpub 'Union' shows promise

"My wife is from Lille - that is why my brewpub has a French name. Having spent time in Northern France, I know the great beers of Belgium, and have taken the opportunity to work in some of the breweries there..."

The brewpub is called Le Baladin; it produces a Belgian-style wheat beer and a Tripel, among other styles; its owner is Teo Musso; and its location is the town of Piozzo, in the province of Cuneo, south of Turin, Italy (Piazza 5 Luglio).

After one or two false starts, brewpubs seem finally to be establishing themselves in Italy. "The Balladeer" (perhaps, as a pub name, it better translates as "The Troubadour"?) is a particularly lively example.

Its Belgian-style wheat beer, aromatised with coriander and orange juice (rather than peel), and re-fermented in the bottle with a Champagne yeast, is called Isaac Bière. It has a hazy yellow colour, an a crisply toasty, Champagne-like, palate, that us dry but well -balanced. A very refreshing beer.

The Tripel, called Super Baladin, is fermented with an English yeast but bottle-conditioned for two months with a Belgian strain, emerging at eight per cent alcohol by volume. It has a bright, pale, copper colour, is soft and rounded, gentle for its strength, very fruity and aromatic, with a suggestion of sweet oranges.

Brune du Baladin (4.7abv) is, despite its name, not a brown ale. With its ruby-to-black colour and chocolate-espresso flavours, it is clearly a stout, delicately balanced but ultimately dry. It starts creamily but has a restrained smack of hops (more of a slap) in the finish.

Le Baladin is among five or six separately-owned Northern Italian brewpubs that are cooperating to promote themselves as Union Birra. (There are perhaps 20 other brewpubs elsewhere in the country, but with a less obvious commitment to speciality beers as a movement).

Great interest was aroused by their offering of beers among countless booths promoting wines, cheeses, hams, truffles, olive oils and the like.

Union Birra's efforts thus far have included a joint leaflet and a booth at huge, public, food fair in Turin recently. Great interest was aroused by their offering of beers among countless booths promoting wines, cheeses, hams, truffles, olive oils and the like. The event, Salone del Gusto, was organised by the Italian-based international movement Slow Food (which champions the opposite of fast food).

Another member brewpub nearby is "Beba," in the town of Villar Perosa (11 Viale Italia), just to the southwest of the Turin. Its Gilda, at 5.0abv. is a copper-coloured lager in broadly the Vienna style. Its smooth, lightly malty, easily drinkable, Sangre de Toro, with a reddish-amber colour and an alcohol content of 7.0 is more like a pale Bock. Despite its bullish name and relatively high strength, it has light, friendly, flavours: biscuity, toffeeish and gingery in its alcoholic warmth.

In Milan (5 Via Adelchi), the brewpub "Lambrate" has a golden ale of 5.0abv in broadly the style of a KÜlsch. This is called Montestella, and has a fresh, clean, aroma; a very good head and lacework; a light, refreshing, palate; and a dry finish.

Near Lake Como, at Lurago Marinone (51 Via Castello), the brewpub "Birrificio Italiano" has a very good Pils, dry-hopped with Saaz. It also offers the splendidly-named Amber Shock. At 7.0abv, this is again on the lines of a pale Bock, but unfiltered and bottle-conditioned on its own yeast. It has a cedary aroma; a dense head and lace; a rich Munich malt character; and a rounded finish.

In Cremona (Viale Trento Trieste), the rather generically-named "Centrale della Birra" has a drinkable but satisfying malty lager of 4.2abv, called Violin. (The Stradivarius was born in this central northern city).

Also at Salone del Gusto, the region of Tuscany was promoting itself as one of the few corners of the world still to cultivate emmer wheat, which has a pleasantly nutty flavour and is high in minerals. Emmer was the dominant form of wheat from the Stone Age to the Bronze Age, but was largely superseded by varieties that are easier to thresh. The kernel in emmer and similar "covered" wheats is protected by a partial husk.

Emmer is used in Italy like rice, in bread, and in minestrone soup.

Emmer is used in Italy like rice, in bread, and in minestrone soup. It was also employed by early brewers: perhaps the Celts in Central Europe, and certainly the beer-makers of the ancient world. At the food fair, a young Bavarian, Johannes Limbrunner, was showing a beer made from equal proportions of emmer and barley malt. The emmer was grown in Tuscany and malted in Regensburg, Bavaria.

Limbrunner, a trained brewer, has a great interest in archaology and German history. He feels that emmer imparts a fullness of body to beer. His Keltisches Emmerbier, unfiltered, is similar in character to a conventional wheat brew, but I found it to have a distinctly firm, smooth, oily, body; perfumy flavours; and a ginger-like snappiness in its dry finish. He had the beer produced under contract at the small Sebastian Leidmann brewery, in Unterneukirchen, east of Munich and north of Salzburg.

Since my Italian encounter with Keltisches Emmerbier, I have come across one or two further breweries in Bavaria using similar cereals. I have received beers from one of them, the Michael Krieger brewery, of Riedenburg, between Nčrnberg and Regensburg. This brewery uses organically-grown cereals and hops, and makes a point of its beers being unfiltered and cloudy (in German naturtrčb).

One of its beers is produced from barley and spelt, another "covered wheat". Spelt provides a particularly fine flour, said to be especially digestible. This cereal was praised by the German abbess Hildegarde of Bingen, the first person to describe beyond doubt the use of hops in beer. Spelt is called Dinkel in German. This particular beer is named Benediktinerabtei Plankstetten Dinkel, after a present-day abbey where the cereals are grown. This 4.9 brew has a big, pillowy, head; a pale, orangey, colour; a sweet, slightly lemony, aroma; a biscuity, flavoursome, palate; and a crisp finish.

A speciality under the brewery's own name, Riedenburger Edel ("Noble") Bier, at 5.0 per cent, is made from barley and a cereal called Einkorn (one-grain), a variant of spelt. It has one kernel per spikelet, hence the name. Einkorn has a mild, vanilla-like, flavour. This beer has a fluffier head, a more yellowy colour and a more flowery, honeyish, distinctly dry, palate.

A further product is 5-Korn Ur ("Original") Bier, at the same strength. This is made from barley, conventional modern wheat, emmer, spelt and Einkorn. It has a dark orange to russet colour and a much firmer, grainier, almost gritty, palate; developing bigger, toffeeish, peachy, flavours.

Bring on the multi-grain bread. And the grainy mustard. Oh, and perhaps one of those salamis coated in crushed peppercorns.

Published Online: JULY 12, 1999
Published in Print: MAY 1, 1999
In: What's Brewing

Brew Travel - Brewery Review

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