“Italian craft breweries: can they continue to grow or will there be a selection of quality?”
Stazione Leopolda - Area Ring
Unpasteurised, non-micro-filtered beer produced in quantities of less than 200,000 hectolitres a year by an independent brewery not linked to a multinational. This is the definition of craft beer in Italy, today. Giving it a name does not however answer the many open questions, such as the meaning of craft, the scope of the market and the possibility of further growth, even international, characteristics of Italian production and its relationship with the industry. All these issues were covered in the Ring at Taste, in the chat moderated by Davide Paolini that saw participation by Teo Musso, founder of the Baladin brand, Agostino Airoli from Birrificio Italiano, Leonardo Di Vincenzo from Birra del Borgo and Eugenio Pellicciari from Italian Hops Company.
The words of those who work in beer immediately reveal the limited scope of the word craft, and the talk moves to other aspects: Airoli speaks of beer from enthusiasm and creativity, the stuff dreams are made of; Musso of living beer. Strict labelling runs the risk of ignoring the quality aspects of production, merely highlighting the company’s quantity aspect as it is the number of employees that gains it the definition “craft”, in addition to eclipsing the importance of modern innovations, fundamental for protecting the integrity of the raw material.
Today Italy has 700 breweries that fit these parameters, and 300 beer firms, homebrewers who use third party systems for marketing their product. Annual production is growing about 10 times faster than the market and the inevitable consequence will be the closure of many newly created businesses. What is missing is a process of acculturation running parallel to the diffusion of craft beer and standardisation of use: many areas are still no man’s land. A first important step from this point of view is the recently approved legislative bill, which with clear definition of craft beer aims to encourage small producers thanks to a policy of tax benefits. Emerging priority aspects include support for the hops production chain with rediscovery of Italian varieties and stimulation to grow hops could open up new farming frontiers and allow for the development of beer with a markedly national profile.
An index of the change is the trend by the industry to emulate small-scale production, developing parallel lines that come close to a craft taste. This comparison is not a threat; the industry actually lacks the dynamics needed for experimenting and innovating.
Development of institutional debate must not mean we lose sight of the free nature of craft beer, which has drawn the vital energy it needs for its success, even abroad, from the absence of strict coding. Total success abroad however will require an ability to form a consortium and create a community with a recognisable identity. The search for a definition and the work that the Italian Hops Company in particular is doing on autochthonous hops is moving in precisely this direction.