There’s been a craft beer revolution in Italy in recent years, with more than 20 times as many now than there were at the turn of the millennium.
The vast majority of these microbreweries, however, are in the north of the country, where the artisan beer movement started in Italy. But the south is also seeing a craft beer boom, right down to the tip of the toe of the Italian boot, in the city of Reggio Calabria, where we find Birrificio Reggino.
The entrepreneur behind the southernmost brewpub on the Italian peninsula is the young Ferdinando Polito, who started the craft beer brewery with his brother Dario back in 2015, and is now running the show alone.
Inspired to study
“We saw a documentary about it, about making beer,” Ferdinando explains. “And soon afterwards we started experimenting with those kits you can get easily enough online. These experiments went pretty well, and we started getting more serious about it, studying it properly.” These studies took Ferdinando north, to the regions where craft beer production has deeper roots, like Veneto, Lombardy and Piedmont.
These studies led Ferdinando to do courses at the CERB (the acronym translates as “Center for Excellence in Research on Beer”) in Perguia, and thereafter a course on the beer business at the University of Udine. As he points out, however, “There are no recognized qualifications as exist for so many other professions in gastronomy. There are courses, but there’s no Master Brewer title, as yet.”
The nutritional properties of beer
One of the most important concepts in Ferdinando’s idea of brewing is that, far from being some stale, flavorless liquid with little scope beyond its alcohol content, beer should and can be a product of nutritional value. “It all depends on what it’s made with. Our products are not pasteurized nor filtered, so they retain more of the nutritional value of the barley. It’s a more natural product.”
After starting out with just one beer, a classic Blonde Ale, Birrificio Reggino has expanded its line, called Breys, to include nine different beers, from a Weiss to an IPA. Then there’s something slightly more unusual, and indeed, more Calabrian. A beer with an ingredient that will be familiar to drinkers of Earl Grey tea, no less: bergamot. Indeed, the vast majority of the world’s bergamot comes from the Province of Reggio Calabria, and with personal connections to many of the farmers, it was only natural that Birrificio Reggino experimented with it in a beer. “We only produce it once a year,” Ferdinando says, “using the peels of the freshly-harvested fruit. With two kilograms of bergamot peels we make 700 litres of beer; it’s a really special occasion.”
The way forward
As with so many new small businesses, especially in the hospitality sector, the impact of Covid-19 has been significant. “We’d only just started producing beer in 2017, and soon after that we opened a tap room and pizzeria in the city. We’d begun doing tasting evenings, combining beer with a range of ingredients, from dry fruit to pizza and other local products. But, for now, all that has been put on hold,” Ferdinando explains. “But it’s not a lost occasion: it’s time to experiment again. We’re taking this time to develop new products, using licorice, orange, even chili pepper!”
The focus is firmly on the future, and there’s hope on the horizon. “As a new business, we’ve never had the opportunity to participate in Salone del Gusto physically… or should I say, not yet. We hope to be able to come in 2022 and get to know this world of Slow Food better. There’s a lot to learn: it was the local Slow Food group in Calabria who got us involved, and there’s a sense of being part of a big family of different producers from across Italy and the world, and what they have in common is this interest in making something of real quality. And that’s what we want to be part of. That’s the future. So for now we’ll enrich our recipes and continue experimenting with our beers, and when the time is right, we’ll be there ready to celebrate.”
by Jack Coulton, firstname.lastname@example.org