Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Is the planet ready for blueberry barley wine?

From Italy, no less?

Tonight’s exercise in culture shock achieves its sly but soothing surprise by means of offbeat locality and unexpected components. Birra Artigianale Draco comes to us from the prolific importing firm of B. United International via Montegioco, the Italian town where Birrificio Montegioco was founded in 2005.

For those like me who are as yet unaccustomed to seeing Italy as a rising player in good beer, Montegioco is located between Milan (to the north) and Genoa (to the south) in easternmost Piedmont, just on the border with Lombardy. A morning’s drive to the west brings you to the shroud of Turin, while Venetian gondolas ply murky waters a few hours toward Slovenia.

I visited Italy three times during the 1980’s, and never since. My memories are of improbably marvelous red wine plunked from store shelves for a dollar a bottle, and 2/3 liter bottles of low-key golden lager consumed with salami sandwiches on park benches offering the best view of dusky local gals eating ice cream in the shadow of destination cathedrals.

That B. United International is aggressively pioneering the distribution of today's new generation of Italian craft beers can be seen in a portfolio that includes 18 beers brewed by five different breweries: Baladin, Como, Italiano, Montegioco and Troll.

To be sure, Shelton Brothers retains the variable Flanders-style sour red Panil Barriquee, which was one of my favorite new imports two years ago but unfortunately shipped stateside as flat as the Belgian seaside landscape in 2006.

Perhaps the sourish tide will turn with the next batch.

What’s more, these upstart Italian brewers are pushing the stylistic envelope, producing traditional European types like Saison, Pilsner and Bock, but also using cherries, peaches, chestnuts and spices. Alcohol contents range from the middle threes to the 11% listed for Draco, which bears a label depicting a dragon breathing fire into a chalice – or perhaps absorbing flames from it?

Long ago, the world of beer became so unpredictable that locating a mean between low and high expectations is virtually impossible, but in the case of Draco, I’m very pleased with the results.

The nose titillates with rum-like plum, raisin and candy sugar, and to these flavors is added a fruitiness that I’m trusting derives at least in part from he added blueberries, which reminds me of the vague fruitiness of He’Brew Origin Pomegranate Ale. Draco’s overall effect is quintessentially Belgian, and not unlike the fruit juicy punch of Gulden Draak, a perennial best seller at the Public House.

Thinking back to Italy in my twenties, surely I can do without the dreary lagers of youth, but right about now I’d kill for classically aged salami.


antzman said...

I have been very surprised and pleased with most of the beers coming out of Italy over the past several years. For a country with no true brewing style of their own, they do a great job of brewing to the styles of other countries. Moretti La Rosa is one of the better dopplebocks in the market, Panil Bariquee (at least the 2005 vintage) was an excellent version of a Flemish Sour Ale, Birrificio's Demon Hunter is a tremendous Belgian Strong Ale, and Baladin does several excellent Belgian styles.

I guess it beats the heck out of Peroni.

The New Albanian said...

Used dishwater beats the heck out of Peroni.