Thursday, February 07, 2008

My constituents, I offer CHANGE!

Belgium, Germany, U.S., England, repeat. Same old?

Well then give some of the relatively new Italian beers a try. I swear I don't even know what the word change means anymore. These political chatterboxes have gone on and on about change, but I swear I don't know what they're offering when they say the word change. The minute the current guy leaves office and the new one walks into the Oval Office, there's gonna be change, but beyond that what does change mean as they're using it? Argh, you hear the word over and over and you're left saying, huh?

I had the pleasure of being invited to Tria Café for a preview tasting session of Italian craft beers being imported by B. United Int'l (and locally distributed via Shangy's). There was a Fermentation School session for tasting and pairing these beers conducted later in the evening across town. I've heard the buzz growing about some of these beers, but yesterday was the first chance I had to sample them.

I had missed an Italian Beer Dinner at Chick's Café last October, where some of these beers were featured...and remained available on tap and in bottles for some time after that. What I tasted yesterday, I suppose you could say, were not necessarily flavors that I had not tasted before. Hm, scratch that. I don't believe I've ever had a beer that had roasted chestnuts treated like a grain and added to the mash (that would be the Malthus Birolla Chestnut Ale).

Rather, what I did experience were some very nicely made beers exhibiting aromas and flavors spanning from hoppy to malty to sour and funky. Yet, none of them were done in an over-the-top sort of fashion like we've come to experience (sometimes expect) from various American and Belgian brewers. For example, one of my favorites was the Scires (Birrificio Italiano), described as a sour cherry ale. It certainly brought some cherry in the flavor, but not too much so. Definitely had the Brett notes in there too, but not too much so. But, this isn't to imply that the flavors were wimpy. Just nicely balanced.

The effort that has gone into making this beer is staggering. It was described as a lager batch (aged a short bit) and an ale batch (aged for a year in barrel) combined with sour cherries thrown in and inoculated with Brettanomyces then aged a bit longer. I believe that it was also mentioned that there's a bottle re-fermentation taking place here too. Spectacular process for a spectacular beer!

Same with the Chocarrubica (Birrificio Grado Plato). It carried some vegetal and "footy" aromas, but not in an overwhelmingly offputting way. And, the contribution of 30% oats created a nice and smooth mouthfeel, while the addition of cocoa gave some pleasant chocolate undertones.

The Demon Hunter (Birrificio Montegioco) was one of the maltier brews that I sampled at the tasting. But, it wasn't a huge malt bomb, just a nice combination of malts (didn't make a note of which ones) to give me some nutty and earthy flavors. A bit high in ABV at 8.5%, but well disguised.

The Malthus Baluba (Birrificio di Como) is described as a "double malted stout," but one should not be misled by that terminology. We here in the States tend to be a bit obsessed with style definitions. While I do agree that it often makes sense to tell the consumer what type of beer it is that they are drinking (at least as a starting point), I can also understand from a brewer's point of view that rigid, defined styles should not be the end all/be all for crafting a well-made beer.

Suffice to say, the Baluba is not a big stout, say Russian Imperial, as the name may lead you to believe, but an easy-drinking malty beer. Adding the further allure of this beer are subtle fruity notes from the dried pineapple, ginger, and apricot fruit added during the primary fermentation and later.

The Nora and the Super Baladin (Birreria Le Baladin) were the last two samplings of my session. They are both referred to as the "sour edition 2005," and justly reflected the sourness in the taste. However, where the Nora carried less pronounced souring, the Super Baladin brought a more noticeable sourness backed up by some nice fruit flavors of pineapple, apricot, and tangerine that I noticed.

Interesting brewing notes for the Nora include the near total replacement of hops with orange peel, ginger, and myrrh. Brewers without hops contracts, take note!

Those were a handful of my favorites. After tasting those and several others, I still hadn't made it through a half dozen others that they were offering for tasting. There certainly seems to be some decent Italian beer coming our way here in the States.

As more distributors carry them more frequently and in greater numbers, I'll be curious to see how well they go over with consumers given their slightly higher-end price points. I could see myself picking up a bottle here and a bottle there, but likely not entire cases.

I later made my way across town, first to Nodding Head (cask IPA was wonderful) and then to Dock Street (how I wish I could find myself there more often). Perhaps more on both of these stops later.

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