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Italian beer getting just desserts at home and abroad

Big brands winning fans overseas, craft-beer scene thriving

02 May, 14:29
Italian beer getting just desserts at home and abroad

(ANSA) - Rome - Italians are not famed for being a nation of great beer makers or drinkers.

But Italy's brewers have developed a proud tradition of producing fine beers over the last 200 years which is finally getting its just desserts at home and abroad. If you had asked people what their favourite Italian drink was a few years ago, for example, the most popular tipples would have been a drop of Chianti or Barolo, or perhaps a tot of a spirit like grappa or amaretto.

Nowadays, the answer is increasingly likely to be an ice-cold glass of a beer such as Peroni, Nastro Azzurro or Moretti. On the home front, Italy's rich variety of crisp, refreshing pale lagers is even starting to rival wine as the nation's most popular accompaniment when Italians dine out.

Indeed, beer is neck-and-neck with wine as the favourite choice to go with dinner at weekends, according to Italian beer-producers' association Assobirra.

And around two-thirds of that beer is made in Italy, says Assobirra, whose members produce 98% of the nation's brews. The international success story is impressive too.

Spearheaded by Peroni, which was taken over by London-based brewing giant SABMiller in 2005, Italian beer exports have doubled over the last five years.

''For over a century our light lager with a relatively low alcoholic content has accompanied the Italians and this type of beer continues to be the most popular with them,'' said Assobirra Director Filippo Terzaghi.

''But we are pleased to see that Italian beer is increasingly becoming synonymous with lager abroad too. ''Our companies export over 1.7 million hectolitres a year, twice as much as five years ago, and it's being appreciated more and more in nations with great beer traditions - Great Britain, France and the Netherlands in Europe and countries like the United States, Australia and South Africa further afield.

''We hope this trend can continue''. Foreigners are probably most familiar with brands such as Peroni and Nastro Azzurro, which belong to the same group, and Moretti with its distinctive label featuring a mustachioed Alpine gent in a hat.

They are all smooth, well-balanced drinks, but there are plenty of other fine ones to enjoy. Menabrea, produced at the northern town of Biella in Piedmont, is one of the best with its distinctive, slightly sour aftertaste that has helped win it a host of international prizes.

Another top northern beer is Forst Premium, a zestful brew that its producers from the mostly German-speaking South Tyrol near Austria promise ''offers a sense of freshness and joie de vivre''.

Other great lagers include Trieste's Theresianer Premium, Sardinian brew Ichnusa and Friuli-Venezia Giulia's Castello. All the aforementioned beers are pale lagers, but Italy also produces a big range of dark 'red' lagers that have a stronger, more bitter flavor and higher alcoholic content.

Examples include Moretti's La Rossa, which has a caramelised flavour and the aroma of roasted malt, and Forst's Sixtus. Italy has a thriving microbrewery scene for those seeking something different too.

Good Italian craft beers include Almond 22, whose flavor is enriched by honey and spices, the Baladin company's Isaac and its punch-packing Elixir, and the herb-hinted Admiral, one of the highlights of the range served by the 32 Via dei Birra brewery

Views of beer are changing so much that some Italian chefs are encouraging Italians to drink it with more dishes than its traditional food partner here - pizza.

''I often recommend a lager for cold, more delicate dishes, especially when it's hot,'' said Sandra Salerno, a personal chef and foodblogger. ''It can stand up to being paired with salami, Parmesan and other rich cheeses.

''I tell the skeptics to try it with artichokes, squid and shrimp and then see what they think''.