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Italian craft beer inflames passions

As Italy's relatively recent craft beer market gain followers, some worry it is becoming too popular.

Open Baladin now serves virtually all the Italian microbrewer labels, but has an underlying conflict of interest. One-third of all beers on tap belong to the owners.

"Because you are opening a bar to sell your own product, it’s a different philosophy,” Colonna said. He looks at Open Baladin as a smart marketing move but publicly pulled out from the venture months ago. He says Italy’s artisanal beer scene is too small to feed such a thirsty enterprise.

“It’s not possible to push out 40 different draft beers without avoiding that the kegs go bad or that problems occur,” said Colonna, who offers 16 draft beers at Ma Che Siete. “Unless you have the right personnel who can push out all the beers at the same time."

Colonna first promoted di Vincenzo’s beer “Re-Ale,” helping it become one of best-selling beers in Italy. In 2007, beer protegee di Vincenzo and beer guru Colonna joined forces and opened Bir&Fud. It has since become one of the highest-rated restaurants in Rome, serving slow-food style pizza and a selection of Italian craft beer.

“We’re pretty radical and somewhat fascist in our choices of products we serve our customers,” said Bir&Fud Beverage Manager Aleandro Scarpetti. To him, craft beer triggers emotions.

But those emotions are laced with concern. Among craft beer spots, the opening of Open Baladin has brought prophecies of a draught.

By turning more beer drinkers to craft brews, Open Baladin has widened the Rome circuit and caused a steep increase in demand, which Colonna says Italian brewers are not prepared to meet.

“In the end, bigger artisan-beer players will offer their facilities to microbrewers, and then give them a place to sell,” said Colonna. To him, there is potential for the artisan beer world to turn into a cartel.

To di Vincenzo, pairing up his Borgo Brewery with Teo Musso’s Baladin Brewery was the best option to keep growing — and a preemptive move against the risk of a corporate takeover.

“Italy lacks awareness,” said Di Vincenzo. “As soon as a brewer becomes bigger everyone attacks him by saying he has lost the charm of an artisan producer.”