Craft beer is a worldwide phenomenon – you can find locally brewed ales or lagers pretty much anywhere. Italy is no exception; if you think Italian beer is all about Peroni, then think again. The Mediterranean peninsula now has more than 800 breweries, and the number keeps growing by around fifty every year. It all started back in 1996, when a bunch of enlightened brewers opened premises almost simultaneously in different northern Italian locations. The most important ones were Baladin Brewery in Piedmont and Birrificio Italiano in Lombardy, inspired by the Belgian and the German brewing traditions respectively. I remember the first time I tasted Birrificio Italiano’s flagship beer, a lager that they call Tipopils (which roughly translates into ‘Kind of pils’) and had an epiphany. Once you try anything like that, there is no going back – you raise your standards and few other lagers will ever be able to please your palate in the same way.
It goes without saying that Italy was, and still is, a wine country. To appeal to a nation of wine drinkers is not an easy task – early brewers and beer enthusiasts were well aware of this. Yet despite the difficulties, they succeeded by creating a valid alternative to wine of equal quality. Nonetheless, the influence of wine culture is undeniable and, in fact, is probably one of the elements that make the Italian beer scene so fascinating and different from others.