Piedmont, in northern Italy, is known for two things: wine and truffles. Traditionally, when people make pilgrimages to Piedmont, that’s why they come. They visit the vineyards and the wineries, they drink Barolo and Barbaresco, they eat pasta buried under snowdrifts of white truffle shavings and they laugh as they listen to that eerie whistling sound a bank account makes as it deflates, which is what happens when they pay for all those truffles. Given that, you have to admit it’s a strange idea, choosing to open a brewery in Piedmont.
Yet dozens of craft brewers have, in the past five years or so, made Piedmont (together with Lombardy to the east) the center of an extraordinarily eclectic, ambitious Italian craft-brewing scene. In 1996, there were only a handful of independent artisan breweries in Italy; in 2005, there were maybe 100. Today there are more than 500. Italian brewers are making some of the most exciting beers in the world right now, as well as some of the most inventive: amber ales brewed with chestnuts, Belgian-style dubbels aged in wine barrels, wheat beers that use green tea in addition to hops, blond ales infused with ultra-local wine-grape varieties. It’s a wild scene, and Piedmont is right at its forefront.
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First Stop: Birreria Le Baladin
If there’s a single person behind this beer explosion, it has to be Teo Musso, who started selling his Baladin beers in the little Piedmontese town of Piozzo in 1996 (Piazza 5 luglio 1944; baladin.it). Since then, he has become the éminence grise of Piedmont brewers, at least if éminences grises can look like rock stars.