Saturday, 28 April 2018

The Italian Job

After four posts centred on CAMRA, it's high time for a break from those who spend their time "campaigning" for a certain type of beer, and get back to the real world. So moving on to a beer which is probably as far away as it's possible to be from the world of cask conditioned ale and hand-pumped beer, we take a look at a well-known international lager brand, and its attempt to create a more artisan image for itself.

The beer brand I am talking about is Birra Moretti; originally a family-owned Italian brewery, but now part of the multi-national  Heineken group. Birra Moretti is an instantly recognisable brand, thanks to the image of the moustached man in the hat, enjoying a tankard of the company's beer.

Until very recently, Italy was not known as a beer drinking nation, mainly because the country produces some excellent wines, which Italians tend to prefer to beer. Prior to the advent of the now flourishing “craft beer” scene, Italian beer was almost exclusively of the light lager type.

During the last decade, brands such as "Peroni" and "Nastro Azzuro" have established a growing foothold in the UK beer market, and they have now been joined on the bar by Moretti, which seems to be the "go to" beer for the younger generation. I have two technicians working for me; both are in their early 30's, and both swear by the beer. It’s expensive on draught, selling in some outlets at over £5 a pint. Bottles are much cheaper of course, and as well as the usual 330ml size, the beer is available in a 660ml, “quaffing"  bottles.  I don't mind the occasional glass myself, although my lager of choice is the world-classic, Pilsner Urquell.

The company was founded in 1859 by Luigi Moretti in the north-eastern Italian city of Udine, as the "Beer and Ice Factory", with the first bottles going on sale in 1860. The brewery was initially producing around 2,500 hectoliters of beer per year, enough to meet the provincial market, but this was soon exceeded.

The company remained in the hands of the Moretti family until 1989, before being acquired by a number of different beer companies. In 1996 the group, and its famous trademark, was bought by Heineken. The original brewery in Udine was closed in 1992, and production transferred to the nearby town of San Giorgio di Nogaro.

As mentioned above, the main Birra Moretti brand has been available in Britain for some time, but recently a couple of beers inspired by the culinary traditions of Italy’s many regions have found their way into the UK market. I managed to pick them up in my local Waitrose, a couple of weeks ago, and here is what I thought of them.

Birra Moretti – Alla Toscana 5.5%. As the name indicates, this beer is inspired by the Italian region of Tuscany, and is brewed using malted barley from Marema and Tuscan Spelt. According to the label on the back of the bottle, these cereals impart a full flavour to the beer, along with a pleasant bitterness and notes of aromatic herbs.

This combined with the rich honey colour of the beer, makes it the perfect accompaniment to dishes such as pasta or, just a very pleasant beer to drink on its own. I would certainly agree with that description, as the beer is very enjoyable; albeit a little unusual.

“Spelt" is an ancient type of wheat that's native to southern Europe, where it's been used for thousands of years. It has a mellow nutty flavour and is easily digestible”. The “nutty” flavour certainly comes through  into the taste of the beer.

Birra Moretti – Alla Siciliana 5.8%. No prizes for guessing that this beer is inspired by Sicily, and incorporates Zagara orange blossom in its make up. This Sicilian flower gives the beer a rich, soft and full flavour with an orange aroma.  The beer is described as a great accompaniment to fish dishes, but is also good enough to be enjoyed on its own.

I didn’t think this beer was anywhere near as good as its Tuscan counterpart, (I’ve tried similar orange-flavoured beers, and they just don’t work for me), but it’s still good to see a large brewing group  indulging in a spot of experimentation.

So what about the main beer Birra Moretti – L’Autentica 4.6%.  Birra Moretti is still brewed to the recipe that was created by Luigi Moretti. It is a smooth, full bodied beer, brewed with a blend of high quality hops, to create a satisfying beer with a full malt base, balanced by some delicate citrus notes.

In short, it is a “quaffing beer”, and one which I am not at all averse to enjoying from time to time.

Moretti, also import their La Rossa beer into the UK, although apart from in specialised beer shops, I haven’t seen it on sale in the nation’s supermarkets. La Rossa is a 7.5% “Bock-style” beer, although Moretti refer to it as a “double malt” beer. As its name might suggest, it is a reddish-amber colour, which comes about from the use of roasted malts.

Before ending, it’s worth noting that Moretti, also produce four other “regional” beers. Like the two described above, these four are influenced by some of Italy’s other provinces. Like the others as well, the beers incorporate ingredients which are associated with the regions they are named after. The beers are as follows: 

Birra Moretti alla Friulana 5.9%. A light, straw-coloured lager, incorporating apples from the Friuli-Venezia Giulia region.

Birra Moretti alla Piemontese 5.5%.  A pale, amber-coloured lager beer, with blueberries, from the Piedmont region.

Birra Moretti alla Pugliese 5.6%.  A golden yellow coloured lager beer, containing roasted wheat and, somewhat unusually, prickly pear. From the Puglia region of southern Italy.

Birra Moretti alla Lucana 5.8%. An amber coloured lager, containing laurel. From the Lucan region.

It’s worth remembering that with no real tradition of beer brewing, particularly in southern Italy, these “regional” Moretti beers are all contrived, but are nevertheless an attempt to move away from the easy-drinking, light-lager style normally associated with the country.


Russtovich said...

"but now part of the multi-national Heineken group. "

Sigh. Multi-nationals strike again. :(

" although my lager of choice is the world-classic, Pilsner Urquell."

Hear, hear! (I buy that over here in the summer) :)

"From the Lucan region."

I couldn't find that one on the map.

And, isnt' it funny how certain beers become the 'in' thing. Hats off to marketing! :)


PS - 'and is easily digestible'"

Either missing a quotation or have one too many. (that doesn't include my ' quotes)

Also, just FYI, I'm off to visit my mother tomorrow for about 12 days and as she has no Internet I doubt I'll be posting during that time. ;)

Professor Pie-Tin said...

Hi Russ,
Thanks for letting us know - I've already contacted Microsoft to warn them of the spare server capacity that will be available - I guess they'd welcome the slack for 12 days.😂

Paul Bailey said...

"Spelt", the primitive type of wheat, is easily digestible - apparently!

I couldn't find Lucana on the map either. Perhaps it's an area within a region? The blurb about it came from the brewery website, but the beer isn't available in the UK .

Enjoy your internet-free break. Parts of Norfolk are like that too!

Paul Bailey said...

I guess Russ won't be doing any Bitcoin mining whilst he's away, then.

John West said...

Bah, my comment got lost in the ether. Tried to say - pity for all this effort that my favourite Moretti beer - the all-malt version of L’Autentica, Baffo d’Oro - is still not imported. Very well made.

Ethelred The Unsteady said...

Well Paul, that explains why from Rome to Gaeta, from Vietri-sul-Mare to Florence, and from Pisa to Ostia last September, Mrs. U and I came across nought but Nastro Azzurro or Peroni, but we didn't generally go to bars, favouring restaurants. We did visit a couple of "Irish" ones for a pint of Guiness though (I'm not sure how Irish being exhorted to sit at a table and wait to be served is, mind you).

We part self-catered, but during our shopping trips it never occurred to me to look out for less well-known brews, partly because we were wrapped up in buying wine to please our guests I suppose.

Lucana, is the feminine form of the adjective Lucano. Both mean from the ancient region of Lucania. You won't find it on a modern map, just as you wouldn't Wessex, perhaps.



Paul Bailey said...

Thanks for the clarification, E. An ancient region which is even less likely to have had its own brewing traditions. Makes a bit of a mockery of the "regional" spin, put on these beers, by Moretti; either that or a clever piece of marketing?

I suppose in a country where there's not much history of beer drinking, you have to start somewhere, but I think the independent micro's, of the burgeoning Italian beer scene, are going down a better and more honest route by placing their own interpretations on established global styles, (pale ale, porter etc).

Ethelred The Unsteady said...

Indeed Paul, but wasn't what is now Italy overrun by the Goths, Vandals etc.? (The Sack Of Rome and all that.) Whether they brought with them brewing I just don't know.

Whatever, it truly is a beautiful country, arguably the most lovely in the EU. I was always immensely proud as an EU citizen, to think of it as *my* Italy, and I won't darken your fine page with my views as to the Things Which Walk On Two Legs, that voted to deprive you and me of that honour.

All the best,


Curmudgeon said...

Jeffrey Bell aka Stonch is a big fan of Moretti.

I have tried the alla Siciliana variant but, like you, felt the orange added a jarring flavour note.

Ethelred The Unsteady said...

Incidentally, if you're lucky enough to be going to Il Bel Paese, then it's quite possible that you'll go via Fiumicino, Rome's airport on the coast.

You might dismiss Fiumicino as just the airport town, but it's a thriving seafood-fishing port, with second-to-none restaurants facing the quayside promenade, and I can now recommend spending the eve of your return flight there.

It was there that we visited The Tower Irish-style pub, but next door is Super Mario's Craft Ale bar, as I recall. We headed off for frutti di mare and Frascati, but there's always the next time.



Paul Bailey said...

It's quite some time since I last visited Italy E, and as previous trips were confined to Milan and Venice, the middle and southern parts of the country are largely unknown to me.

A return visit is on the list, but it's unlikely to happen this year. The lad and I are off to Bamberg in northern Bavaria next month, for a short break. I shall pack my blue T-shirt; the one emblazoned with yellow stars.

Professor Pie-Tin said...

Enjoy your trip Paul.
Obviously no-one will be able to travel from the UK to anywhere in Europe after Brexit so best make the most of it.

Ethelred The Unsteady said...

Yes Paul, have a good 'un, both.

Prof, as far as I am aware, the offer by Guy Verhofstadt, which was approved by the EU Parliament, still stands. That is, that UK subjects will be able to apply over the heads of the authorities here for Associate EU Citizenship post-exit. There will be a fee, and an Oath Of Allegiance to the values of the EU, I gather.

I look forward to swearing mine, and to gaining the document. If it entitles one to use the fast track at airports, then it will be worth it for that alone. At Fiumicino last October, there was no queue at all at the EU passports gate. The one at the other was a quarter of a mile long, six wide, and not moving.

If we see you in it, then we can give you a wave, eh?



Paul Bailey said...

Thanks Prof, I intend to make the most of it, as I do with all my trips. Needless to say, this one is beer-related, and we’re travelling with the same group of people, we went to DĂźsseldorf with last year. The T-shirt is to wind up the tour leader. It worked last year, and who says that both sides of the Brexit argument can’t have a bit of fun at each other’s expense!

All joking aside, UK residents will soon have to apply for a visa to visit countries in the Schengen area. This will be a “one-off “ expense, or rather it will be limited to the life of the applicant’s passport. This requirement would still have applied, even if we remain a member of the EU, because we are not signed up to the Schengen agreement. All the EU is doing, is strengthening its borders; something which must surely appeal to the leave brigade.

Ethelred, I’m not whether Guy Verhofstadt’s offer was actually approved by the European Parliament, as there are all sorts of legal complications regarding status/citizenship.

If the offer of Associate EU Citizenship does come to fruition, I will certainly be signing up for if it.

Professor Pie-Tin said...

Paul - France,Spain,Italy and Greece are all on my itinerary this year - I'm a big fan of Europe.
And Germany is one of my favourite countries to explore.
But I have a global outlook too.Sri Lanka,USA and the Caribbean for later on in the year.
I'm a citizen of everywhere !
No special T-shirt but my trusty England beach towel travels everywhere with me.

Ethelred The Unsteady said...

Good show guys.

Yes Paul, the vote as I recall was only an "in principle" one, for the very reasons that you cite.

My versions of Italian and French seem to get me mistaken for a German (the Germans seem to think that I'm one of them, but with Asperger's) so whether in the end I get the fast lane pass or not, at least I won't perhaps get my food spat in!



Paul Bailey said...

USA for me later this year Prof, although after the rather alarming start to this year, I'm a little wary of planning too far ahead.

The last time I was across the pond, I kept being mistaken for an Aussie; and Ethelred, eight years ago, in a suburb of Bamberg, I was stopped in the street by one of the locals and asked if I was a Frank? (I think this assumption was based on looks, as the local Franconian dialect is unintelligible, even to those whose German is of a high standard).

I suppose it was a compliment, of sorts, but my reply of "Nein, ich bin Engländer", must have been a disappointment to my inquisitor.

Here's to happy travels for us all!