Sunday, September 29, 2013

From grapes to grain...

When people think of "La Cantina", they think of wine.  We're in Italy.  We drink wine.  It makes sense.  Long dinners swirling ruby reds, chilled whites, terrace covered hillsides and Tuscan rolling countryside dotted with vineyards like pinpricks on a map.  It's hard not to think about another beverage so important to Italian culture, except for maybe coffee, and that makes more of a pitstop in your day as opposed to a long appearance at your table.
Some of our beers at the Cantina
Beer, however, has been making a lot of noise in the last decade in Italy.  No longer regulated to it's prize post as the beverage of choice of Italians while eating pizza (wine, no, but beer is a pizza must), the craft beer movement in Italy has been growing steadily in the past several years.
When I met Manuel before moving here, I was actually here to study this trend for my MA in Food Studies at NYU.  Traveling around the country, I tasted many different Italian craft beers from Udine to Reggio Calabria (it's a tough life sometimes), and interviewed many Italians and tourists about the craft beer scene in Italy.  Back to New York in 2010, using the about to open Eataly brewpub as an example, I studied the export influence of Italian craft beer.
Beer and cheese, my preference over beer and wine
A tripel and a basil blonde, both from Genova
I learned that as excited as Italians are about birra artigianale, craft beers from the boot are not as well known in the United States for a variety of reasons, price, bottle sizes (many Italian beers are made in the 75cL wine bottle size, not the smaller bottles you might be more used to seeing) and domestic competition being big ones.  This is cemented even more working in La Cantina Di Miky, where we now have one of the biggest Italian craft beer selections in this part of Italy.  Through a lot of research and hard work (again, life can be tough) we put together a list of 62 different bottled microbrews and 4 on tap.  We offer a flight of beer tastings with Ligurian snacks to try and encourage people to branch out and try some craft beers.  I'm incredibly proud of our beer list and how many people have come back just to try the beers.  Ranging from a local summer ale from La Spezia, to a basil beer from Genova to a Tuscan roasted chestnut beer and a Roman pilsner, we have a huge selection, and every day I see more and more guests shocked and happily surprised at it.
Having worked at a brewpub in New Jersey for more then a decade and in the beer industry for my entire adult life, I learned early on to appreciate craft beer.  I love wine, but my heart belongs to another.  I also learned that not everyone wants to give it a chance (my Italian grandfather, for example, was a staunch Coors light drinker in spite of my best efforts to sway him) and that when people come in and order "a beer", you have a great opportunity to introduce them to something new.
On tap at Il Bovaro in Florence
Though here in Italy, Italians are becoming more and more aware and proud of their craft beer movement, many foreigners aren't as aware that they have another completely Italian drink option when on vacation.  As much as people associate wine with Italy, beer is just as great of an example of taking the Italian food philosophy and applying it to something.  Take what is local, take what you have, and get brewing - hence roasted chestnuts, basil, sardinian wildflower honey, sicilian orange peel, and so forth.  Like the United States 20 years ago, the lack of a brewing tradition like a Bavarian Purity Law or some Belgian monks breathing down your neck, means that Italian brewers can take inspiration and styles from all around the world and play with them in their own way, though they certainly love their Indian and American Pale Ales.
For those of you coming to Italy, it's really worth it to branch out.  Take the words Peroni and Moretti temporarily out of your vernacular and ask for something local, something unique, and drink up.

Beers with my cousin Valentina in Cividale (Friuli)


  1. Really interesting. I used to live next to the pedavena brewery, which is supposedly the largest in europe, so i thought i had met italian beer, but apparently there is far more tasting to be done. :-)

  2. I just found out about you through Italian Notebook and had I known before last week I would've stopped by to say hi at La Cantina di Miky! I was in Monterosso last week and walked by several times and day and heard an American worked there (and noticed the American English on the chalkboard:). What a beautiful part of Italy you live in! Lucky girl!

  3. @Laruchka - it is interesting! And fun "research" :)
    @Laney - Thank you!! Hope you get to come back soon and this time say hi! And I'm happy someone has been noticing my chalkboards...sometimes I get pretty creative with my doodles.