Having raved about the Rome beer scene, it is only fitting I make time for the unexpected brewy pleasures I encountered in Umbria in September. Many make a pilgrimage to Assisi to find solace or other spiritual enhancement via the tomb of San Francesco, the Dr Doolittle of his day, or that of his
Not that it was, I concede, entirely serendipitous. Justen at Love Umbria had alerted us that the former monastery of San Biagio was producing 'organic, unfiltered, unpasteurised, bottle refermented beers'. But a spritz or two had convinced us not to go looking for these nectars. Perhaps the (excellent) wines and aperitifs would see us through.
But the sign bade us take notice. And in we stepped to the 'Farmer Shop', offering 'traditionally brewed ale, the best wild boar salamis and high quality gastronomical products' - quite the boast!
It seems the San Biagio outfit has set up shop in town, on the main street leading the faithful straight to the basilica. Though it is possible to munch on the most exquisite slow-roasted suckling pig sandwiches and arrange wine tastings and the like, this ambient farm shop, with low vaulted ceilings and chic minimalist shelving, is all about the beer.
Carlo (pictured below) took the time to talk us through the San Biagio fayre and was clearly dedicated to the craft products under his stewardship. Two of the beers stood out; first, the flagship Monasta ale (7%). Ruby, full of gorgeous condition and rounded with a Belgian abbey-style floral yeastiness, it was a splendidly crafted beer with a malt-hop balance of such maturity it reminded both both Claire and I of that platonic pint of London Pride found only in Chiswick. With the extra body and aromatic booze, it made for a compelling drop.
Second was the dark, chocolatey Ambar (5%), which the brewery describes as a dunkel. Claire and I thought it more porter/stouty. It was richly malty with a bitter cocoa tang and struck us as perfect for wintry night and as an accompaniment to vanilla ice creams.
Thanks, then, to both Justen and Carlo. The Assisi trip was much enhanced by this beery diversion and it was a real eye-opener. I'd heard good and bad things about the Italian craft brewing scene and had not had the opportunity to try for myself. The Lambrate and San Biagio brews stand as testament to the excellence being achieved throughout the country.
One thing's for sure - those snobbishly dismissing these efforts are missing out.