The Italians are coming, the Italians are coming!

This week, as the Craft Brewer’s Conference (CBC) kicks off, we are very happy to have some of Italy’s most influential people in Denver. As Italy’s creative craft beer scene grows and grows and grows, there is no doubt that because of the great foundation provided by the first four brewers, Agostino Arioli from Birrificio Italiano, Teo Musso from Birrificio Baladin, the crew from Lambrate and the Borio brothers of Birrificio Beba, a great movement is coming into its own globally.

When Paul and I began our interviews, starting with Agostino Arioli, there were just over 300 breweries. It was a big deal then. But as we completed the book and began to get it to press, the numbers continued to grow. By the time our book, Italy: Beer Country made it to print, there were over 600 brewers.

From our own American craft beer movement, we know how this story might play out. The astronomical growth can’t continue indefinitely and the staggering numbers don’t necessarily mean that all the breweries will be fantastic, or even adequate. But playing that numbers game, we can be sure that some extraordinary breweries are evolving out of that fertile soil. Breweries like ExtraOmnes, Buskers, Birrificio Rurale, Foglie D’Erba, are more than just new kids on the block and have become influential brewers in their own right. They, in turn, are producing a great many of young apprentices who will move on to do great things themselves. Bruno Carilli’s former assistant brewer, Marcello Ceresa, has already made that leap by opening his own highly regarded place called Retorto. And this, after all, is what it’s all about.

When the American craft brewery bubble burst in the 1990’s, those that remained are considered some of the finest breweries in the world like Avery, Great Divide, Bell’s, Sierra Nevada, Left Hand, New Belgium, Elysian, Odell’s, etc.

Who you can expect to see during CBC from Italy

 Agostino Arioli/Birrificio Italiano

Visiting us during this epic beer week from Italy will be Agostino Arioli from Birrificio Italiano, one of the four founders of the Italian craft beer movement. Agostino’s German influence came at a time when even the word, craft beer didn’t exist in the Italian idea of beer. He fought hard and long to get Italians to understand that beer making isn’t just something produced industrially from places like Germany and Belgium. Agostino has been so influential that he even created a new lexicon in the Italian language, Birrificio. The Italian word for brewery is birreria. The word birreria has been so tied to the industrialization of beer that Agostino gave the word a twist, birrificio, something more organic that can be associated with words like panificio as in bread maker. Agostino is also credited for brewing the first authentic Italian beer, Tipopils. His top-selling beer, Tipopils, is a German-style pilsner which is dry hopped in the English tradition to create a light, flavorful beer that is crisp under the cloud of hoppy aroma. Clean, dry and exceptional it has become one of the most influential beers in the world for its simplicity. As craft beers become more and more complex, great lagers and pilsners are often forgotten. Tipopils has reminded us all that great beer can be extraordinary in its simplicity.

Giovanni Campari/Del Ducato

Giovanni Campari from Birrificio Del Ducato is the most award-winning brewer in Italy. He’s won 61 awards globally and it doesn’t look like he’s going to be running out of medals this year either. Once an apprentice to Agostino Arioli, Giovanni was instrumental in turning Italian craft beer from a local thing into an international and, even harder, a national affair. As the third generation of brewers came into their own, they not only were following their forefathers in making great beer, but were looking at the bigger, business picture for the movement. Giovanni has shown how business and artistry in taste can go hand in hand with beers like ViaEmilia, My Blueberry Nightmare, Baciami Lipsia, Chrysopilis and La Luna Rossa.

 Bruno Carilli/Toccalmatto

Like Giovanni, Bruno came into the game during the third wave of brewers who were not only committed to brewing great beer (and Bruno brews great beer), but also committed in bringing the movement into its own market. Bruno’s background with the big industrial beer like Carlsberg was essential in turning local attitudes into global craft beers. His influence also allowed Italian brewers to take steps away from just Belgian-style beer towards hoppier profiles that were nearly non-existent 5 years ago or simply disregarded because they were a bit overwhelming to the Italian palate. Bruno also brought the hardline regionalism and long held suspicions Italians have of each other to an end. He was the first to do  collaborations and since then many collaborations have followed. Sounds juvenile to us Americans, but Italians have thousands of years of battles and betrayals between one town and the next. Not something easily dismissed.

 Anna Mangò/beer judge

An expert taster, Anna Managò is one of the very, very few women in the Italian movement. But she holds her own and paves the way for many new craft beer fans in Italy, particularly for women. She’s traveled the world and judged some of the most important events. It’s no accident that she is here in Denver to judge the CBC’s World Beer Tour.

 Lorenzo “Kuaska” Dabove/Italian beer expert

It’s hard to fathom where this movement would be without Kuaska. His influence on every generation of Italian craft brewer starting with the forefathers, Agostino and Teo, is immeasurable. If brewers are artists, Kuaska is certainly the critic necessary in turning good efforts into masterpieces. His influence brought Italian craft beer to the Great British Beer Festival, to Canada, Belgium and finally here in America. His endless energy takes him to every corner of Italy. On any given week you can find Kuaska in Rome doing a food and beer pairing or in Bologna doing a beer tasting. Kuaska, in short, is the push that has brought all of this here to us this week. He is greatly respected and should be. The Italian craft beer movement needed one of their own to communicate great beer to them since there were no Italian beer critics when the movement started, no books in Italian on how to craft beer and above all, no one had the global repertoire of beer knowledge to help the movement, one brewer at a time, hone in their skills.