05 December 2017

Hung for a lamb

I promised you a brewery in yesterday's post, and yes our group of delegates from EBCU did indeed visit Birrificio Lambrate on our trip to Milan in October. We got the full tour of this ever-evolving 1996-vintage micro, but didn't get any beer. That had to wait until we walked a few blocks over, to their neighbouring pub.

It's an odd but charming little place, in a vague dark-wooded English style, decorated with maritime and tram bric-à-brac -- Milan being a tram-spotter's dream. A raucous Friday evening crowd was already filling the cramped place out, spilling into the street outside, though it thinned gradually as the evening rolled on.

At the bar, a dozen or so taps supply Lambrate beer and everything except the cask is pouring high. This means a wait at the counter while your glass of foam settles and is topped up repeatedly. Thankfully the bar staff are expert at remembering who ordered what.

Well I ordered the pils, starting out, as I often do. Montestella is part of the brewery's original line-up. I was parched, unprepared for the powerful Pavlovian thirst engendered by leaving a brewery without having a beer there. This absolutely hit the spot and was almost gone by the time I realised I should be considering how it tastes. It tastes fine: mostly quite dry with a mild noble hop bite in the finish and a growing cake sweetness as it warms. Unremarkable, then, but sometimes that's all a golden lager needs to be.

I followed it with something a bit more showy: The Magic Tram, a New England-style IPA brewed with the assistance of Magic Rock. It starts bitter: heavy on grapefruit, with an acceptable lacing of garlic. The pithiness fades after a moment allowing a pineapple and jaffa juiciness to flow in. The finish is quite sweet, with a pinch of real vanilla accentuated by the creamy body. It's very nicely done, at once immensely complex, hitting every beat of the style, yet still effortless to drink.

For reasons known to themselves, Lambrate brews a pilsner with the attractive name of Magut. I had a variation of it next: American Magut. This had a lot of the issues found in the Montestella: there's really not a lot to it. Yes, it does offer a more hop-forward experience, but it's overly bitter and quite sharp, lacking the malt weight to balance it. There's nothing technically wrong with it but I didn't enjoy it and failed to see what was supposedly American about it.

Another brand extension next, this time to the Baltic porter Ghisa, one of the few Lambrate beers I had tasted previously. Imperial Ghisa is a mere 8.5% ABV but tastes like far more, offering a whole range of unusual flavours. It starts dry and tannic then brings in huge billowing wafts of liturgical incense. Chocolate, red wine and candlewax follow this. It's a serious beer: the lack of sweetness places it as far away from pastry stout as it's possible to be on the strong dark beer scale. Majestic and baroque, this is one to savour.

The city's patron saint gets his own Lambrate beer: S. Ambroeus. It's a strong golden ale, roughly in a Belgian style, though is another dry beastie. Sharp herbal grass flavours are tempered only slightly by softer stonefruit, and that's all you get. An amateur but inoffensive attempt at making something like Leffe, it says in my notes, somewhat cattily.

The other blonde ale, Ortiga, was much more enjoyable, and lighter too at just 5% ABV. It's a riot of fruit-chew flavours, orange and lemon in particular, and despite the unabashed sweetness it's clean and easy going. I was getting the impression that Lambrate beers divide into the serious ones and the frivolous ones. This is definitely the latter.

My parting shot was 60D-01, a seriously heavy American-style IPA. Amber in colour it tastes as thick as it looks, absolutely saturated in sharp and dry hop resins, all but sucking the moisture from the drinker's mouth. A fruit seam runs through it, but that's more tannic red grape than anything citrus. At 6.5% ABV it's not even that strong, packing a lot in, including the body and warmth of a much bigger beer. I was impressed, though I didn't expect to be able to taste anything else for a while so left it at that.

Tomorrow we're striking out on an excursion beyond Milan itself.


  1. Visited the Lambrate pub back in 2007/2008. At the time it seemed to be one of the few decent places to have a beer in Milan, nevermind, a good one. Nice to see the high pour tradition is still going.

    1. Made me want to get in there with a spanner and start fixing it.

  2. They even pour straight, without titling the glass. Haven't seen it done anywhere else since, but I can't say the beer suffered for it either.