Greetings Beer Lovers. It’s been awhile since my last newsletter, but now it’s time to bring you all up to date about what’s happening at Mac’s Brew. Please read responsibly!
Fall is a busy time at Mac’s Brew. Football games, travel, brewing beer – it all adds up to a very hectic schedule. My favorite football team laid an egg this season. Oh well, better luck next year. I brewed only two batches of beer this fall (San Andreas Malt and Wide Awake Drunk). Both are currently on tap. More about those in my next newsletter. Our travels were the highlight of the fall season.
Sheila and I went to Italy for a couple of weeks in October, along with Rose Evans (mother-in-law), Don Evans (brother-in-law) and Donna Evans (sister-in-law). While there, I went on a craft beer quest – after all, I need to keep current on worldwide beer trends. Good craft beer is not easy to find in Italy, but it is available if you seek it out. Most everyone has had Birra Moretti and/or Peroni – two well known Italian Pilsner Lagers that are available everywhere in the United States. Of course they are ubiquitous in Italy, and I did drink some of it while I was there (they were the only things available in some of the restaurants where we ate). Those are typical Pilsners, although I would argue that they only rank as so-so in that style category. Oh well, it was beer.
As a side note, just a couple of short years ago, Don was strictly a Coors Light drinker. He has significantly expanded his horizons since then, and has become quite a discriminating craft beer lover (I hope I had something to do with that transformation). Donna, on the other hand, is still a Coors Light girl. To her credit, however, she was game and sampled much of the craft beer that Don and I drank in Italy. Some she didn’t like at all, and several others drew this comment from her, “Well, I don’t hate it.” And then there was actually one that she liked (noted below).
Now, about the beer in Italy (Craft and otherwise) . . . here is what you need to know about it. I will provide very limited details of the beers I consumed while in Italy. Rather than giving you detailed beer reviews, I will just touch on the highlights and include them in this newsletter. I list them in the order I found/drank them, and offer just a few details of each one. [Note: This is not an exhaustive list. I had some non-craft beer that is not included here – I have no notes, and it was pretty forgettable.]
Our first stop in Italy was Venice. As everybody knows, instead of streets, they have canals in Venice, as the city is built on swampland.
Theresianer Vienna: Antica Birreria Di Triesta. 5.3% ABV
(Silver at 2011 Chicago World Beer Championship; Bronze 2015 International Beer Challenge)
I can’t find my notes on this beer. This is a Vienna Lager. Think Samuel Adams Boston Lager, but not that good. Sorry I can’t be more specific, but know that it’s decent beer, and shines compared to Birra Moretti. I drank this at the bar in the Hotel Bauer in Venice (its where we stayed).
La Rossa: BirraNatura. 6.0% ABV
La Rossa means red. A lot of Italian breweries put out a “La Rossa”, including Birra Moretti (the best La Rossa I had in Italy). I don’t have my notes from this tasting, which occurred at the train station in Venice. It’s a dunkle lager, but (because I couldn’t read the Italian printing on the bottle while drinking this one) I don’t know much more than that. I can say this, however, it was altogether forgettable.
We took a high-speed train from Venice to Milan, then hired a shuttle to take us to Bellagio, on Lake Como. The following three beers I drank at Far Out in Bellagio. Far Out is a small restaurant tucked in an alley just up from the lake, and adjacent to our hotel. The restaurant offers a selection of craft beer. Don and I went there after dinner on Friday evening, 10-12-18, to sample the beer. The proprietor, Roberto, was a gracious host who knew craft beer and made suggestions. He spent quite a bit of time with us and informed us about a craft beer bar (Gambrinus – more on that below) within walking distance. We enjoyed our experience there so much that evening that we returned there for lunch the following day with Sheila, Rose and Donna. They enjoyed the food and beer as well, and Roberto again treated us as if we were royalty. Salute, Roberto!
MILF Passion: Birrificio Legnone. 7.0% ABV
An English style Strong Ale. Deep Amber in color with a light beige head. Quite malty, and pretty good. I drank three bottles of this at “Far Out” restaurant/bar in Bellagio (Lake Como).
Monkey Planet IPA: Birrificio Legnone. 7.0% ABV
An American style IPA, but of course, brewed in Italy. It was decent, though not terribly exciting. There’s no doubt it is a mild IPA, but Americans are spoiled by the HUGE selection of outstanding IPAs we enjoy in our country. This is one of two IPAs I found in Italy.
Spiga Di Legno: Birrificio Legnone. 5.0% ABV.
Golden Ale; very mild. Low alcohol, easy drinking. I visited this once, but that was enough. Donna, a Pilsner drinker, really liked this one.
On Saturday afternoon, 10-13-18, while the girls were shopping, Don and I went to Taverna Gambrinus. We sat outside in their beer garden and sampled some of their wide selection. It was a beautiful, sunny afternoon, and this is where I had the best Italian beer of the entire two-week excursion in Italy. Don and I returned to the tavern on Sunday evening for a nightcap or two, and spent our time inside the bar talking to the owner, Fabio. The place was rather small, but charming, and they had a large selection of craft beer (ok, not like Yardhouse or Heroe’s, but there were about a dozen beers on tap). Over the course of my two trips to Gambrinus, I sampled the five beers listed next.
Nigredo: Birrificio Italiano. 6.5% ABV
This is a dark lager (schwartzbier), but a bit higher in alcohol than is typical for the style. Good beer, not great.
Reale Extra: Birra del Borgo.6.4% ABV
American style IPA (hoppy). Very good.
Bibock: Birrificio Italiano. 6.2% ABVB
This is a German style Bock beer. It’s malty but mild and balanced. Not as big as most German bocks, but very tasty. Both Don and I really liked this beer.
Big Sharp: Draco’s Cave. 8.6% ABV
This is a barrel aged strong ale with Brettanomyces. It’s sour but not overwhelming. Oak is noticeable in both the flavor and aroma. It’s chestnut brown with an off white 1” head that lasts for quite some time in a tulip glass. It’s very drinkable, not too sour. This beer is EXCELLENT, and was the best beer I had while in Italy.
Ghisa: Birrificio Lambrate. 5.0% ABV
This is a smoked stout on nitrogen. It’s chocolaty with just a hint of smoke. It’s creamy smooth, which adds to the enjoyment of this stout. I’m a sucker for nitrogen stouts, but this one was pretty forgettable. Guinness, anyone?
After Bellagio, we moved on to Milan. I really didn’t find any local craft beer there, but drank some “Craft” type offerings from Birra Poretti and Birra Moretti. I found one craft beer while on a day trip to Verano. There we ate lunch with our tour guide for the day, and our driver (for our entire stay in Milan), Fabio Marsala.
2969 Monpier de Gherdeina: Birrificio Gardena SRL. 5.0% ABV
This is a Helles style lager, brewed by Birrificio Gardena in the Dolomites region of Italy (near the German/Austrian border). The printing on the bottle was in both Italian and German. It is dry hopped with Citra and Amarillo hops, which gives it a hoppy aroma, but the taste is more on the malty side. This beer is pretty good, but the flavor is light.
In Milan Don and I each had a 1 liter Birra Porettiat a sidewalk café outside of Basilica Milano. It’s a Pilsner lager, available everywhere, and not memorable. Think Budweiser or Coors, but not as good. I’m not going to waste any words describing this beer. If you’re interested, you mightfind it at any Italian restaurant in the U.S.
We ate dinner at a restaurant called Mozzarella e Basilico (right behind our hotel) where we had some pretty good Birra Morreti. In addition, the servers brought us some delicious variants of Lemoncello – melon flavored and pistachio flavored liquor.
La Rossa: Birra Moretti. 7.2% ABV
As I already mentioned, there are a lot of “La Rossa” beers in Italy. This was by far the best La Rossa I had. It was a draft pour at Mozzarella e Basilico. Deep amber in color, with lots of dark fruit and raisin notes. Smooth drinking and the relatively high alcohol content was well hidden. Very good beer.
From Milan we flew down to Sicily, where we stayed in Palermo. Rose’s grandparents immigrated from Bisacquino and Santo Stefano, two little villages on the island of Sicily. We went to the Roman Catholic Church in the village square (Bisacquino) where Rose found baptismal and wedding records of her grandparents and earlier ancestors dating back to 1829.
In Palermo we stayed at Grand Hotel Villa Igiea, one of the nicest hotels in town. They had a bar where Don and I found several Italian Craft beer offerings (all were in 750 ml bombers).
Ulysses: Birraficio Dell’Etna. 5.7% ABV
This is a “Birra Bionda” (American Pale Ale). It’s hazy yellow with a subdued citrus hoppy aroma. The flavor was grapefruit, but not strong. It’s a nice enough pale ale, but will not be challenging Sierra Nevada anytime soon.
Polyphemus: Birraficio Dell’Etna. 6.6% ABV
A “Doppio Malto” (Double Malt) ale. Based on the aroma and flavor, I would say it’s a Belgian Dubbel. It’s cloudy light brown with a light head. It has a sweet/spicy aroma and flavor – not too strong, but definitely Belgian. I’m not a fan of Belgian style beers, but this was pretty good.
Ephisto: Birraficio Dell’Etna. 6.5% ABV
Birra Rosa Doppio Malto (a Belgian Dubbel Amber, bottle conditioned). It’s hazy red with a white head. Spicy sweet Belgian aroma and flavor. The spicy-sweet notes are pretty strong. It’s definitely a Belgian. Not my style.
Alla Siciliana: Birra Moretti. 5.8% ABV
Blonde Ale with flower blossoms. Alla Siciliana is deep yellow with a white head. It has a sweet aroma with just a bit of orange. The flavor is clean and somewhat fruity, with light spicy and orange notes. Very tasty beer.
On Saturday 10-20-18 we went into downtown Palermo to see the famous Opera House. Around lunch time we stopped at a sidewalk café. I had an ice cream sandwich with pistachio and hazelnut gelato. It wasn’t like our ice cream sandwiches in America. They cut a bread roll in half and put scoops of gelato between the two pieces of bread. Delicious, if not unusual. I also had another Italian craft beer.
La Rossa: Birra Vulcano. 6.0% ABV
The label says this is a Belgian Amber ale. It’s amber in color, but I didn’t really detect any signature Belgian flavors or aromas. It’s sweet with some notes of raisin and dark fruit. Carbonation level is high (it’s bottle conditioned). Pretty good beer.
Well, that just about sums up my quest for craft beer in Italy, but I add one final beer tasting. On the Alitalia flight home, I had my last Italian beer of the trip. I’m not sure, but it could be the same beer I had on tap at the sidewalk cafe in the Duomo in Milan.
Luppoli 4: Birrificio Angelo Poretti. 5.5% ABV
I just had to try it. It’s a light colored Pilsner style lager with a nice sweet aroma. The flavor is mild, slightly sweet. I could have had more, but one was quite enough.
We had lots of fun in Italy – the uniqueness of Venice, the beauty of Lake Como, the bustle of Milan, and the terror of driving in Palermo. I could write a lot about the sights, but this is a beer blog, after all, and so you all get to hear about the craft beer scene (or rather, the relative lack thereof) in Northern Italy and Sicily. By far, the best beer in Italy was in Bellagio at Far Out (thanks, Roberto!) and at Taverna Gambrinus (thanks, Fabio!).
I need to give a shout out here to our wonderful driver in Milano. Fabio Marsala drove us all around the region for four days in a Mercedes Benz van. He worked long hours, took us to out-of-the-way places, made food and restaurant recommendations, and was always kind and courteous. Fabio, if you ever read this, know that all five of us (Rose, Sheila, Don, Donna and I) really appreciate your attentiveness. You’re the bomb!
That’s it for now, beer lovers. Stay tuned for more beer reviews coming soon. Merry Christmas.