Oh, the merry beers of Christmas

Oh, the merry beers of Christmas. Those fantastic brews spiced with Christmas love. For Italy, the idea of a Christmas beer only dates back to the late 1990s. Think about that. Christmas originated in Italy, yet the Christmas beer and all its cheer didn’t arrive until the end of the 20th century. 

Here is a list of some of the great Italian Christmas beers you can find in the US that might brighten the holiday spirits. 

Noel from Baladin is probably the first Italian Christmas beer. Brewed by one of the pioneers of the Italian craft beer movement, Teo Musso. This gem of a Belgium Quad was so delicious that Teo decided to keep this Christmas beer year round by changing the name to Leon (Noel backwards). Each year, the Noel is brought back but with a little surprise like vanilla or coffee and a lot of the Christmas spirit. 

Moreno Ercolani from L’Olmaia, located near Montepulciano, distinguishes himself with his Christmas beer cloned from his home brewing days. It’s an 8.5% delight called Christmas Duck 

“In our little territory here when someone’s drunk you say in our dialect, he’s ducked. La Nana, is Tuscan for the Italian word, l’annatra, the duck. The expression derives from the way someone walks after they’ve had too many drinks. It’s the drunk of Christmas or the Christmas Duck.” 

It still blows our mind that Valter Loverier’s beers reach us all the way out here in the US. Loverbeer’s small operation brewed 160 barrels of beer in 2013. We don’t imagine it’s grown much since then. With a passion for Flemish style beer, every batch is barreled aged and made with love. Drawing on this old Flemish beer style, A Renna Glueh brings the Christmas spirits by way of the gluhkriek and gluhwein, which is a mulled wine. Taking from the base of D’uvabeer, a sour/wild beer made with wine must, Valter adds winter spices, cinnamon, cloves, star anise and orange peel to help you be merry and warm during the holidays.                                                    

From Roncole Verdi where the maestro, Giuseppe Verdi was born, Italy’s most award-winning brewer, Giovanni Campari, honors Giuseppe Verdi’s second wife, “the sour wife”. Drawing inspiration from Belgian styles, Krampus Riserva Strepponi features nine different spices in a sour package by way of wild yeasts, brettanomyces and lactic bacteria. Krampus is then aged for 12 months. 

“I created Krampus Riserva Strepponi a few years ago when I decided to use Brettanomyces, Bruxellensis and Lactobacillus strains for the secondary fermentation in bottle. The first batch was far from encouraging; it smelled like prescription drugs, acid yogurt and salami mold. We stored it meaning to dispose of it and forgot all about it. Then, during a hot summer day, Maso (at the time assistant brewer) presented me with a blind taste test. I was taken by surprise: a well balanced mix of aromas of rust, lactic, leather, cherries, fruit candies, anise, citron, balsamic and cola with a sour finish. It painted a big smile on our faces.” 

Three breweries bring you their own original versions of a Belgium Strong Ale. From the northwest we come to Turin, a hub for the Italian craft beer scene where most of craft breweries are found. Troll’s Stella di Natale clocks in at 10.5%, while Pausa Café brings their Navidad at 8%. Leonardo Di Vincenzo from Del Borgo in Rome warms our spirits with his Winter Warmer style the 25 Dodici 

Grado Plato’s Gabriele Ormea decided to go more British with his English bareleywine Kukumerla at 10%. That’s sure to bring the caroling out of ya.   

Buone Feste e Cin Cin

 

The Rise of the Italian Beer Critics

At the 3rd Annual Brussels Beer Challenge this year, of the 725 beers, 200 were Belgium, 525 were from around the world with 110 being Italian.

Held this year in the great beer city of Leuven, a location with an ancient and great beer tradition, the tasting took place from October 31st to November 2nd. Beers were divided into categories based on origin, type and style. Winners were given gold, silver and bronze awards. Once again, Italy took home multiple prizes with five Gold, four Silver, three Bronze and one Honorable Mention.

The importance of the event isn’t so much that Italian craft breweries are winning international beer awards, they have been for some time, it’s their budding role as beer judges. Six of the sixty-one judges were from Italy. Lorenzo ‘Kuaska’ Dabove, who is Italy’s foremost beer critic, was in attendance. Without Dabove, it’s safe to say Italian craft beer wouldn’t be as far along or maybe even on the map. His astute criticism of the first brewers, his encouragement for those getting started and his constant support were crucial in helping Italy become a great craft beer nation.

From the Italian craft beer hotbed of Piedmont, Luca Giaccone is perhaps the second most important Italian judge. His annual book via Slow Foods, Guida Alle Birre D’Italia is the Rick Steves of guide books for the Italian beer reader. His dedication to the movement with his knowledge and guidance has kept the Italian craft beer engine humming. Andrea Turco also attended as one of the judges, his first outside of the country. Turco’s blog, Cronache di Birra is the most informative and up-to-date blog on Italian beer. Along with Maurizio Maestrelli, Severino Garlatti Costa and Vincenzo Scivetti to round out the crew, Italy was well represented.

In the last few years, the Italian’s have been making more of a mark on the international beer world. This year, Lorenzo ‘Kuaska’ Dabove, Anna Manago`, Giovanni Campari and Agostino Arioli all judged at the Craft Brewers Conference’s World Beer Cup. It’s an important development to note. If they can be critical of other great beers, they must be coming from a place with great craft beer. And that is truly the case.