On SundayJuly 15 in the central piazza of Piozzo – a small town with a population of 1,000 situated on the Langa hills near Dogliani – the Le Baladin brewery organized the annual celebration of its own inauguration in July 1985.
The moving spirit behind the Baladin brewery – which has been a “brewpub” as well since 1995 – is Teo (Matterino) Musso, assisted on the commercial side by Lelio Bottero. During our chat the latter reminded us that the Baladin festa recalls the traditional festa del villeggiante; “I remember that feast when I was a little boy”, he told us. Piozzo once held this festa for the many residents who had emigrated to France (Nice and other cities on the Côte d’Azur) and returned to Piozzo in summer. French is practically Piozzo’s second language.
Forgotten for a few decades, the festa was then revived and has been an annual fixture since 1986, becoming with time a real “homage to beer”, perhaps in recognition of the drink that has made Baladin, and Piozzo itself, a benchmark in Italy for traditional beer-making.
Piozzo-made beer has a more recent history. Master brewer Teo began making his own beer in 1996 (the first experiments were in ‘95), a lively beer with a developing flavor, made strictly according to tradition, neither filtered nor pasteurized. Since then the quality of his beers has considerably improved and the range has extended; the efforts of this small brewery have been rewarded with recognition and satisfaction (even on an international level, like the Great British Beer Festival in London), producing really good (and believe me, a few great) beers, the results of Teo’s experience in Belgium and France, where he learned from other great masters of the art of brewing.
This celebration in mid-July has therefore developed from a popular festa to a celebration of Baladin, beer and Piozzo.
Every year some new element enriches this lively event, which should not be missed by anyone who enjoys a good beer. For example, last year there was a demonstration of beer-making, with live “cooking” over a wood fire and an educational display of the brassage procedure; while this year homebrewers gathered in Piozzo for the second edition of the National Homebrewers’ Competition. (the first was held in Lurago Marinone (CO) at Christmas 2000), featuring 39 beers divided into three categories – Weizen, English bitter and free style. The most interesting thing though is the tasting of 15 “guest” draught beers from 15 small Italian and foreign micro-breweries, plus the local Baladin beers. This unique event provided a snapshot of the Italian micro-brewery phenomenon.
About twenty beers took part – fifteen guest beers plus the Baladin range – displayed in a line behind a wooden counter opposite the pub, welcoming visitors in the piazza heading in the direction of the pub. Like the others, we approached the counter and tasted all the beers, one after the other, curious (initially), stimulated and lastly satisfied (and somewhat tipsy) with the opportunity presented. To give you a chance to enjoy this event I have listed the beers tasted with a few brief tasting notes and information about the breweries.
1) B.I. Weizen (alc. 5%)
Birrificio Italiano, Lurago Marinone (Co)
Pale straw yellow in color with a delicate fine nose of white flowers, herbs and citrus. Drinkable, with medium-full body and long finish. A refreshing summer beer without great character, simple and very pleasant.
2) Ghisa, smoked dark beer (alc. 5.3%)
Birrificio Lambrate, Milan
Dark ebony in color, with a long-lasting foam of small fine bubbles. Smoky but not overpowering perfumes which give way to stewed fruit, cognac, hazelnut and walnut aromas. The dark honey sweetness is delicate on the palate. A slightly watery body with a long persistent finish and again smoky, liquorice aftertaste. Overall a really well-balanced, if extreme, beer.
3) Cittavecchia Formidabile, double malt red beer (alc.8%)
Birrificio Cittavecchia, Sgonico (Ts)
Dark ebony in color with brownish hues. The foam is scarce but long-lasting. Ripe fruit aromas in the nose, like cherries and morello cherries, with caramel and mountain herbs. Complex palate with slightly smoky hints and the sweetness of crystallized sugar and plums; rounded well-structured body. Excellent long finish, with a reprise of the smoky sweetness of malt.
4) Motor Oil, dark double malt (alc. 7.8%)
Birrabeba, Villar Perosa (To)
The name itself bears witness to the color and consistency of this beer: dark and rather dense with long-lasting foam that clings to the glass. Toasted, coffee aromas with stewed plums and toffee. Toasted coffee again on the palate with the bitterness of hops, persistent but not unpleasant and blending well with the melted liquorice finish and smoky overtones. Perhaps rather light in body for the alcohol content, but highly drinkable and very enjoyable.
5) Birra Dolomiti, Hell pale ale (alc. 5%)
Industria Birraria Scopel, Capoterra (Ca)
Deep amber color with compact, long-lasting foam. Fine delicate aromas of sweet fresh flowers. Simple on the palate, with pleasant honey and caramel from the pils and monaco malt, especially in the finish. The watery body enhances this beer’s drinkability.
6) Biologica, Pils (alc. 5%)
Fabbrica Birra Busalla, Savignone (Ge)
Bright straw yellow in color with golden hues. A herbaceous nose of slightly sour flowers and fruits. The sweetness of the malt is apparent in the mouth, with bitterish overtones of hops. A good body, medium length and very pleasant overall.
7) Steel beer, weizen (alc. 5%)
Stazione Birra, Rome
Bright, slightly opalescent straw yellow in color with a slightly pungent nose, but fine and complex. Sweet honey in the mouth accompanied by spice and violet overtones. Rounded body, well-balanced, drinkable, refreshing and pleasant.
8) A Tribbiera, honey beer (alc. 10%)
Deep, intense orange in color. The chestnut honey aroma is clear and strong in the nose, with the herbaceous notes of the hops and fruit in syrup, covered with the sweetness of the honey. Plenty of hops in the palate, overpowered by the return of the honey which characterizes the balance of this beer.
9) Nora, organic beer (alc. 6.8%)
Le Baladin, Piozzo (Cn)
A deep orangey-colored beer with apricot hues and perfect foam. A slight spicy note of myrrh in the nose with the pungency of kamut, an Egyptian grain found in the tombs of pharaohs, as well as other non-malted cereals which make up about 65% of its composition. The bouquet is completed with clear flowery scents (mallow, rose), light cedar and sweet tannins. The flavor is rounded and full with clear orange-flower honey and citrussy fruit in syrup, followed by an explosion of aromas and sensations which fill the palate, and an overwhelmingly grassy finish. The watery consistency and long finish make this a deliberately drinkable and truly great beer.
10) Viking, special light beer (alc. 5.4%)
Viking, S. Giovanni Ilarione (Vi)
This beer is deep golden yellow in color. The rather intense aromas have grassy notes, and an acidic hint of stewed fruit and jam. The fruit returns in the mouth with moderate body and good length; liquorice and light grassy overtones in the finish.
11) Cochonne, strong lager (alc. 9%)
Brasserie à Vapeur, Pipaix, Belgium
Deep orange color. The nose is toasty with fresh flowers and rennet, and a very light touch or iron. Sweet chestnut honey, grass and spice notes initially on the palate, and pepper and spice with apricot fruit in the finish. The rounded, full body dominates the alcohol well: overall this is a well-structured, complete and balanced beer, and an excellent example of a beer with high alcohol content.
12) Pils, light beer (alc. xx%)
St. Johannes Brau, S. Giovanni di Casarsa (Pn)
Amber color with orange hues. The nose is penetrating and monotone with fruit, acidic citrus, milky hints and animal fats which tend to be rancid. The palate has bitter grass notes and the body is rather light. The finish is short. Room for improvement.
13) Rufus Bock, red double malt (alc. 7.8%)
Birrificio Torino, Turin
Deep red beer, bull’s blood tending towards mahogany, and foam which lasts reasonably well. The medium-intense nose has toasty perfumes, with rennet and the sharpness of ripe citrus fruits. The mouth is filled with the sweetness of malt, followed rapidly by bitter hops and charred oak. Quite good body with medium length in the finish, but the alcohol is not perfectly balanced. Overall, a correctly-made beer from a brewery still in its early stages.
14) Sausa Pils, light beer (alc. 5%)
Vecchio Birraio, Campo S. Martino (Pd)
Deep straw yellow color. The nose moves away from the typical floral pils aromas, towards ripe fruit like melon and banana. On the palate, the initial sweetness of the malt is followed immediately by the untypical bitterness of saaz hops. Balanced finish. Overall a dry flavor and a good, simple, very pleasant beer.
15) Weizen (alc. 5.2%)
Osteria Dolfini, Officina della Birra, Switzerland
Another great beer. Deep, opalescent golden straw yellow in color. A genuine nose, slightly pungent with rennet, spices, grass, flowers and violets. Very interesting and complex in the mouth with persistent aromas and a long sweet finish with a few bitter herbs and sweet fruity tannins. A refreshing, excellent beer which is fully satisfying to drink. Should be drunk in large quantities.
16) Strenna, amber double malt (alc.8%)
Centrale della Birra, Cremona
Deep amber color with orange hues. Excellent fine and long-lasting foam. Dry nose, delicate, with caramel and citrus notes. The pleasant dry flavor returns in the mouth, making this a well-structured beer with harmonious, well-balanced alcohol.
During the day the second National Homebrewers Competition was held (the first took place in Lurago Marinone, Como, at Christmas 2000) featuring 39 homebrewed beers, divided into three stylistic categories: Weizen, English Bitter and free style. These were judged by two jury panels consisting of expert tasters and brewers. There were six winners, one for each category plus three special mentions, one of which was for the best beer overall without taking into consideration the points awarded in the respective classes.
Alberto Farinasso is a member of the Slow Food Italian site editorial staff.
Translated by Ailsa Wood