Saturday, December 09, 2006


The Slow Road to Italian Beer

That you will find the headquarters of a gastronomic organisation in Italy is hardly surprising. That the same organisation is also a vehicle for promoting craft beer is welcome news.

Slow Food, a worldwide organization set up to counteract fast food and the disappearance of local food traditions, is based in the Piemonte region of Italy. Some of the excellent, yet threatened, gastronomical products are granted Presidia status, and among these you will find Norwegian Sognefjord goat's cheese, Polish mead and the chinotto citrus fruit from Savona.

Every two years the organisation hosts a gigantic exhibition in Torino. The 6th Salone del Gusto took place in October in several huge exhibition halls (called pavillions) in the Lingotto Fiere area. The international pavillion featured many English and German brewers in between the cheese and ham producers, chocolate and biscuit makers, to name only a few of the categories.

For a beer tourist with only one day available - experienced Slow Food followers would probably stay all the five days the exhibition lasted- the big Italian pavillion, featuring also a Beer Lane had to be given more of the time. In addition, I wanted to cover a taste session with brewer Teo Musso of Baladin, held in a dedicated conference room for "Meeting the maker sessions".

Luckily, it was possible to buy beers to go. One of the beers that ended up in my rucksack was a Seson from the appropriately named Piccolo Birrificio. As seems typical for many of the small Italian brewers, it is Belgian beers that are the major source of inspiration. Quite a few of had made their pilgrimages to Payottenland, no doubt led there by Italian no 1 beer expert, lambik enthusiast and teacher for Slow Food's "Master of Food" classes, Lorenzo Dabove.

Back to the Seson, a saison with an Italian, or more specifically Slow Food, twist. A decent saison
with quite a bit of life in it and definitely saison-appropriate thirst-quenching qualities. The wheaty fruitiness is well-balanced by spices and good bitterness, the latter also derived from the peel of chinotto di Savona. The small Ligurian brewer has gone local to give one of the world's greatest beer styles an interesting interpretation.

It seems to have been a slow road to Italian craft beer, but then Rome was not built in one day either.

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Friday, December 01, 2006


Real Ale Delivered

"CAMRA says this is REAL ALE", according to the label on this lucky bottle from The Oakleaf Brewing Co. CAMRA's definition of a real ale is a "beer brewed from traditional ingredients, matured by secondary fermentation in the container from which it is dispensed, and served without the use of extraneous carbon dioxide."

Needless to say, few Norwegian breweries seem to bother- the nationwide Ringnes brand is pumped dead and directly into the basements of country's bars and restaurants. Unfortunately, these establishments seem hooked on this simple golden fluid, as it is the oil in their financial machinery.

In contrast, Hole Hearted from The Oakleaf Brewing delivers. This hazy amber real ale pours with a medium-sized foam and smells of citrus and caramel with a hint of dough. Good bitterness and citrus flavours, but also some balancing earthiness. Body is light without feeling watery. Made from 100% Cascade hops (and thus(?) termed an American Pale Ale on it deviates from the strict Goldings and Fuggles hops regime that seems to rule the English craft brewing scene. Refreshing that is, in my opinion- keeping traditions alive is important, but they should not become straight-jackets.

The bottle was delivered from the Real Ale beer shop in Twickenham, which is whole-heartedly dedicated to English real ale, though with a natural emphasis on ales from Southern England. Nice as the place is, especially if you do the walk from nearby Richmond train and underground station, it is still quite far from the city centre of London. For those of us who sometimes have to combine beer tourism and business travel, it can be difficult to make Twickenham part of the program. Luckily, therefore, Real Ale, operates a good online shop with updated inventories and can deliver (in multiples of 12 bottles) to your hotel. Not only is it convenient, the delivery price hardly scares a national of Ringnes country thirsting for real ale.

The Real Ale beer shop combines a good head for new business with a whole heart for traditions.

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