07 December 2017


Alessio Selvaggio heads up Unionbirrai, the Italian microbreweries' association which is affiliated with the European Beer Consumers Union. He also owns a brewery, Croce di Malto, in Trecate. For the EBCU's autumn meeting in Monza, he brought one of his beers along to share with the delegates at lunch.

Magnus is in the Belgian dubbel style, if a little bit of a lightweight at 7.3% ABV. The flavour is no slouch, however, with all the prunes and dark chocolate of many a quadrupel. The intensity builds as it goes, peaking on a slightly harsh astringency. I don't know that it's better than any of the classic Belgian dubbels, but I enjoyed this local take.

I'll be honest: after nine hours in Carrobiolo (see last post) I had pretty much given up on ever being anywhere else and was preparing to spend the rest of my life there. My liberator came in the form of Monza's other beer specialist, SoloBirra, and a few of us made a break for there once it opened for the evening.

It's a sparse cube of a pub, and as the name suggests, you come here for the beer and the beer alone. There's a bar at one end and a giant blackboard with the rotating draught list at the other. Our merry band of beer geeks was happy, and around the table we had: Sun Flower, a simple golden ale by Birrificio Valcavallina -- 4.3% ABV, light, clean and peachy; Spils, an attempt at pilsner by Birrificio Argo which was far too sweet, floral and perfumey to be enjoyable; and an Italian Brown Ale, created in collaboration by Birrificio Italiano and Stone, which was very tasty: a monster at 9.3% ABV, and boozy as hell, but balanced by a light-touch spiciness which adds a jovial dimension and renders it embarrassingly easy to drink.

For my part, I brought a Birrone Fuckin porter, because haha, sounds a bit rude. Did I mention I'd been drinking since 10am? It's a damn fine example of the style: low octane at 4.2% ABV with a lovely soft texture and warm milk chocolate notes you can just sink into. It manages this without being sweet or claggy, sweeping off the palate quickly and bringing your thirst away with it.

We took the train back to Milan next and ended up on the south side of town, at La Belle Alliance, a narrow L-shaped pub with an excellent international draught line-up, including our own White Hag and Kinnegar. I'm still not used to seeing great Irish beer when abroad. I'm sure it'll be normal soon.

I started with a beer from Rurale, a brewery we see a bit of in Dublin, though not this particular beer: Castigamatt. It's a black IPA with a big ABV of 7.5%. That's well hidden, however: the flavour subtly roasty, with an effervescent baking soda or bathsalts texture plus a sweet seam of lavender and violet. I tend to like my black IPAs a tad punchier, but I found the smooth stylings of this elegant example very enjoyable nonetheless.

Keeping it dark with a stout next: HumanFish Stout, from the HumanFish brewery in Slovenia, served on cask. Something wasn't right with this one, and I don't know if that's the beer or the dispense, or a combination. It was highly astringent and far over-attenuated: thin and sharp and just too off to get a sense of what it was supposed to be.

I moved to Slovakia and switched to IPA for the next round, choosing  IPA 14° by Svätojánsky. No joy here either. It's one of those hard, mineral talc-and-aspirin IPAs I've encountered in eastern Europe before, as dour and penitential as Moldovan arthouse cinema. This one adds an extra twang of saltiness for extra punishment. What it lacks is any proper hop flavour, or possibility of fun.

We stayed for a possibly ill-advised last one and I wasn't in the mood for something terrible after the previous two. A Bavarian doppelbock? That will most certainly do. Palmator from Prösslbräu Adlersberg is classic perfection in a glass: packed with sweet chocolate and bitter liquorice; fantastically smooth and easily sinkable by the half-litre despite the 7.5% ABV. After that I felt ready for anything, which is just as well as we were on the wrong side of an unfamiliar city after the last metro had left and it had just started to lash rain.

The evening trudge was a distant memory by the time Sunday dawned. And it did actually dawn: the fog clearing and a genuine blue sky for the first time all weekend. For a late lunch I followed a recommendation for a restaurant called Al'Less, one which also alleged a decent beer offer. The food was excellent, ingredients fastidiously chosen and prepared, with everything strictly local. The beer options had been wound down for the winter, with just one available, so we had that.

Agricola Bionda is a saison from the 2 Sorelle brewery in Piedmont. It was interesting to try saison in its natural habitat, ie when you're thirsty and it's the only beer there is. This one acquitted itself well: dry and spicy with subtle notes of cardamom and coriander. No fancy fruit or funk and a modest 5.5% ABV. Unexciting, perhaps, but very decent.

With Sunday afternoon drinking options limited (thanks as always, southern Europe!) we ended up in the Pilsner Urquell bar next. It's noteworthy how the transfer of SABMiller's former brands into the Asahi portfolio has happened seamlessly in Italy, and wherever you see Urquell there'll be Meantime and Peroni too.

There was also Du Bocq's abbey brand, St. Benoît, and I opted for St. Benoît Blanche. This is a pale, bright opaque yellow. The foretaste is floral, but takes a turn for the soapy almost immediately, coming through like fabric softener. The coriander is very prominent, and there's a star anise bitterness. A soft soda texture helps it stay drinkable but overall it's a smidge too sweet and lacking the crisp wheatiness of good witbier. One was plenty, especially since one of our favourite pubs had just opened for the day and we had time for one more before heading home.

No comments:

Post a Comment