There’s no denying that Italy is a card-carrying member of the Old-World wine vanguard. Italians bleed grape juice. They produce some of the world’s finest wines and some of the best everyday drinking wines, too.But don’t let anyone ever tell you that Italy isn’t a great place for a beer!
As a result of the wine focus, however, Italians spent years with little choice beyond the country’s traditional pale lagers (Moretti, Peroni, Nastro Azzurro and Ichnusa). Like Budweiser in the U.S. and Heineken in Europe, these beers will quench your thirst on a hot day, but anyone looking for the distinctive and complex aromas, flavors and mouthfeel of birre artigianali will be sorely disappointed.
Fortunately, craft beer, while at least two decades behind the American movement, has completely transformed the Italian beer landscape. In fact, compared with fellow traditional European wine countries, Italy is home to one of the most robust craft beer scenes. Since 1996, more than 900 independent craft breweries have opened across the bel paese, according to the Italian microbrewery association, Associazione Unionbirrai. They have produced more than 10,000 unique India pale ales (IPAs), imperial porters, barrel-aged stouts and hoppy lagers, among others. As a result of Italy’s beer transformation, “nerds della birra”—as the Italians say—now find themselves spoiled for choice.
Today, you can find small, independent craft breweries from South Tyrol to Sicily and all points in between. Thanks to Birrificio Italiano’s Tipopils pilsner, Italy has even produced its own signature style, a German-inspired pilsner dry hopped with European hops, which is now interpreted in taprooms from North America to Japan. Another style, Italian grape ales (IGAs)—flavored with grape must—showcases Italy’s natural reconciliation of beer and wine. IGAs are now considered the world’s best representation of the style, with more than 150 varieties to choose from.
Here are five breweries that offer an extraordinary beer experience in Italy. Saluti!
- The Highest Microbrewery in Europe
- Lombardy’s Hoppy Heartland
- Hophead Heaven in Padua
- Barrel-Aged Bliss in Tuscany
- A Brettanomyces Bonanza in Bologna
Kevin Raub is a Bologna-based travel journalist and Cicerone® Certified Beer Server. He is the co-author of over 100 Lonely Planet guides, including Italy and Lonely Planet’s Global Beer Tour. Follow him on social media @raubontheroad.