There was a long time when I thought Italian beer was only mass-produced lagers. Obviously that has changed in recent years.
I’ve of course had many a Peroni and Moretti, but now that Italy has close to 1,000 breweries I’m missing a huge part of the beer scene there! I’ve always heard great things about the eclectic beers from Birra Baladin. So, while picking up groceries from Eataly (just a few blocks away from me here in NYC!) I grabbed a variety of Baladin beers.
The first thing I noticed about the Baladin beers is that though they are Italian, they are replicating classic styles from other countries: American pale ales, Belgian strong ales, even a Witbier like ale that Baladin refers to as “Egyptian beer.”
Each beer I tried from Baladin (not all in one day I swear!) was markedly sweeter than the style it was imitating. That sweetness is quite a feat for a beer like Leön which is a take on a Belgian dark strong.
The Body of an Italian Beer
I investigated why Italian beers tend to have more body and sweetness than beers from other origins. After all it’s not just Baladin, Moretti is also much fuller in the mouth and sweeter on the palate than other International Lagers.
Luckily, Baladin provides the OG and ABV of each beer on the brewery website making the FG just a calculation away. (Here’s the breakdown reversing the ABV calculation if you feel like getting nerdy). Most of the FGs are in the 1.016-1.018 range so a little high but nothing crazy. Then, I looked to mash temp as the explanation for the extra body in the beers. Baladin published a few recipes for the “open” beer series. I didn’t taste any of the beers from this series. But the mash steps described were similar enough which lead me to believe that the same steps are taken in most beers.
Each recipe had a 20 minute protein rest followed by 144°F and 158°F mash rests. So definitely not a high mash temp issue. When looking at the recipes for Baladin I found something that could be the culprit: Cara Malt. Combine the chewy, dextrin laden cara malt with a medium-high finishing gravity and I think the body and sweetness is covered. Birra Moretti uses spelt in some recipes which would be another source of unfermentable sugar in an Italian beer. Maybe I’ll do more research with all this extra social distancing time!
Baladin Beer Tasting
Back to the Baladin beers, here’s what I thought about each one when critically tasting them.
Birra Nazionale – The driest of the beers I tried with a 1.011 FG and also my favorite. (I guess that tells you a lot about my preferences!) The team at Baladin calls this a blonde ale, it tasted more like a malty pale ale to me, let me know what you think. All of the ingredients are from Italy, hailing to the all-local trend even oceans away.
Leön – This is Baladin’s version of a Belgian Dark Strong. (Hint hint those studying for Advanced Cicerone, a great example of the style from another country!) This beer was originally brewed for Christmas and called “Noel” but it doesn’t have a winter or Christmas spice character to it. Big raisin flavors and a hint of hot cognac are the most memorable tasting notes. Finishes with pleasant sweetness and holds it alcohol (8.5% of it!) well.
Super Florale – Baladin replaced this beer in the lineup by “Super Bitter.” The label describes it as a Belgian Strong Pale Ale with amarillo hops. Drinks like a caramel-y pale ale. I was surprised the amarillo still had some nice orange blossom aroma. Too sweet for me but well made.
Nora – Nora was the only one of Baladin’s core beers (Nora, Isaac, Wayan) that was available at Eataly so I grabbed two. The first one reminded me of a date-sweetened witbier: Orange-y, coriander spice, very dark brown sugar. But the second one really hit me as sweet, almost syrupy! Of course, it could be that I had one very good bottle, or one very bad one, or simply that the circumstances I was drinking them under had a massive effect. But I didn’t like either experience all that much. This one definitely ranks the lowest for me.
A Teku Glass Discovery
While doing my research on Baladin’s brewing habits I learned something that endeared me to this quirky Italian brewery even more! Teo Musso, the master brewer at Baladin, worked with one of the top Italian beer experts Lorenzo Dabove, known as “Kuaska” to create the Teku glass. (Get it?! Teo Kuaska!) A glass shape considered the “universal beer glass” and beloved by self proclaimed beer geeks everywhere. I have a handful of them in my cabinet as well!
Many American brewers embrace the Teku. They print their logos on its angled sides and serve beer out of it in their taprooms. I’m curious how many brewers know of the glass’s Italian origin. (I can tell you a ~certain~ drinks writer at BA definitely does not…put me in the test kitchen!) Without a quick trip to Eataly to pick up a few different ages of prosciutto and ingredients for fresh pasta I might have never known about it either.
Of course, no journey around the world would be complete without some food. I laid out a prosciutto plate, made some sage and morel mezzaluna from scratch, and baked some fresh garlic bread. I didn’t have specific pairings in mind but the prosciutto salad really brought forward the grassy and herbal notes I had missed in the Super Florale.
And that was it. My small visit to Piozzo, Italy’s craft beer scene from my living room to yours. If you want to go on an Italian adventure of your own, Baladin doesn’t provide a reliable beer finder on their website. I think Beer Menus is your best bet for tracking down a bottle!