Over the last 20 years, we’ve mostly stuck to drinking wine in Italy. And, for good reason. It’s local. It’s traditional. It’s a good value. In recent years, though, we’ve become interested in searching out craft beer wherever we travel. It’s now becoming a lot more common to find craft beer in Italy. In this Italian Craft Beer Guide, I talk about the history of craft beer in the country. And, I share our tips on how to find craft beer during your next trip to Italy.
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In this craft beer guide, you will learn:
- How to define craft beer. Includes how the Italians define craft beer.
- The history of craft beer in Italy. Things have changed a lot in the last 10+ years.
- What are the characteristics of the best Italian beers. What types of beer are you most likely to find in Italy.
- How to find craft beer when traveling in Italy. Includes the top producers as well as one of the top beer cities in Italy.
Traveling to Italy? Learn what to pack for a trip to Italy
What’s The History Of Craft Beer In Italy
Other than the Austrian-influenced regions of the Veneto and Lombardy in the north of Italy, there has never been a tradition of strong beer drinking in Italy. Italians consume some of the lowest amounts of beer per capita within Europe.
Even when Italians purchased beer in the past, they only wanted German or Belgian beers, which to them were symbols of quality.
We’ve been traveling to Italy for almost 20 years. Even 10 years ago, the thought of a craft beer bar would have been relatively unheard of. Around that time a beer boom occurred in Italy.
Now, there are about 1,000 breweries of varying sizes producing beer all across the country. In a country that is focused on tradition, this is an amazing feat. There are now viable alternatives for beer drinkers looking for something other than Peroni, which only started to gain popularity in the 1980s.
Connection Between Wine And Beer In Italy
There’s also an interesting connection between Italian beer and wine. Whereas in the past, most Italians would drink wine with meals, now people are no longer afraid to pair a good craft beer with some of the most typical Italian dishes.
Some of the top breweries in Italy are influenced by Italian wine in their production as well. This can include considering which beers would pair best with a local specialty. It also includes using Italian grape must or wine or pressed grapes to produce something unique.
Craft brewers also might use oak barrels to age their beers, often time using barrels once used to age wine nearby. We’ve even seen craft beer from Italy that includes local DOP and IGP products, including fruit and nuts, another nod to the local terroir. Just more fun things to know when traveling to Italy.
What Is Craft Beer
To understand the Italian beer it helps to understand a little bit about craft beer in general. It’s difficult to define craft beer because everyone looks at it differently. When I was in college in the US in the early 1990’s the trend was the microbrewery. The term craft beer wasn’t really used.
Marketing centered on a new beer making process that was small batch and local. It was an alternative to Bud and Miller and Coors. Now, some of these large industrial companies market something called “craft beer,” which is entirely unlike the original microbrews from decades past.
I define craft beer as a small producer, focused on a local market. I like finding beers I can’t drink anywhere else. This differs from others’ definitions of craft beer.
For example, I have always been hesitant to call BrewDog craft beer. It has to be one of the top 10 craft beers in the world and is one that can be found in cities from Bristol to Bangkok and yes, even Bologna. I give them credit in that they popularized craft beer and are a Scottish beer success story.
But, are they too big to be considered craft? That said, they do support local brewers wherever they are located.
With all the words that have been used to describe this industry over the years, between microbrewery or craft brewery, many people tend to use the term independent.
An independently-owned brewery generally produces beer in much smaller quantities than a mass-produced, industrial, corporate-owned brewery.
One of the most interesting things about craft beer is that the producers are focused on quality and flavor more than mass-consumption, mass reach, standardization, and shelf life.
There is a focus on creativity rather than competitiveness. I’ve also recently heard someone describe craft beer as beer that comes with a story or a provenance, which I found interesting.
Definition of Craft Beer in Italy
There is an Italian brewer’s organization called UnionBirrai. They help to define craft beer by saying it must be unfiltered, unpasteurized and come from a brewery that produces less than 170,000 barrels of beer a year.
This helps to define craft beer in Italy to ensure it only includes small producers. Similar definitions occur in the US, but they have to produce less than 6 million liters, which is huge in comparison.
How Popular Is Craft Beer In Italy
When it comes to travelers wondering where to eat in Italy, beer often does not come to mind. More likely, travelers think about wine first.
Traditional, mass-produced beers and light lagers are still the most popular. This is the case, though, around the world. Mass-produced beer still rules in many markets. It’s easily accessible and relatively cheap.
People are continuing to rave about the increased popularity of Italian craft beers. Even with the large number of craft beer producers in Italy, though, the beer produced only represents less than 5% of the total Italian beer production.
One of the reasons why craft beer is the next logical step for Italians is that there are some similarities between wine and craft beer that bridges the gap. Instead of producing a generic beer for mass consumption, craft beer producers in Italy consider their location, their terroir, and what beer would pair well with local dishes.
There are so many different varieties of craft beer now in Italy that this just makes sense. That said, there is still a lot of room for growth in the market overall.
Famous Italian Beers
There are two names that are synonymous with Italian beer. Peroni and Moretti are the two most well-known Italian beer brands.
These are the beers you are most likely to see on menus around Italy. They also are the beers from Italy you are most likely to see in the US or the UK or elsewhere in the world.
Peroni was founded near Milan the mid 1800’s so it is certainly not new to the market. The most commonly found labels include Peroni and Nastro Azzurro. Moretti was founded shortly after Peroni in Northeastern Italy, between Venice and Trieste.
These are definitely the most famous Italian lager brands, but Peroni and Moretti are owned by Asahi and Heineken, respectively. As a result they are definitely industrial, mass-produced beers.
What Kinds Of Craft Beer Are Brewed In Italy
Like many things in Italy, the types of craft beer you find might depend on the region where you are traveling. Some producers are focused on ancient techniques or are applying the German Beer Laws from the 1500s.
Others are experimenting with newer brewing techniques or are being super creative with the use of local ingredients. To be more creative, brewers are using chestnuts, farro, spelt, Italian spices, and honey. Chestnuts might be used in Piemonte whereas citrus is found in many IPAs in the south.
Some Italian brewers are experimenting with growing their own malts or hops. Mastri Birrai Umbrai created their own malthouse, meaning it is one of Europe’s largest malthouses dedicated to a single craft brewer. It’s been a relatively short history, but a lot has happened to the birre artigianali industry in this short time.
Styles Of Craft Beer
Sure, you are likely to see a lot of IPAs, APAs, or New England IPAs. But, we’ve seen a lot more creativity than one would expect from such a traditional country.
The most unique craft beer we’ve seen is the Italian Grape Ale or IGA. Italian Grape Ale is beer made with grape must, a byproduct of wine production. This can include natural grapes, cooked must (known as sapa), fermented must, or even grape peel. The grape brings color and aroma to the resulting Italian Grape Ale but also a different type of natural yeast.
IGAs can be made with both red and white grape must. It’s a super unique Italian craft beer trend and a must-drink in Italy.
It’s also common to see blonde beers, Golden Ale, White Beers, Wheat Beers, and more. Music to my ears are the number of stouts and sour beers produced in Italy. Sour beers are so popular there is even an annual Sour Beer festival in Reggio Emilia, a small Italian city in Emilia Romagna. It’s one of the reasons why it’s great to visit Italy in the summer – beer and wine festivals.
Popular Italian Craft Beer Brands
There are a handful of Italian craft breweries who have made their mark on the country. These are the brands you are likely to see spread throughout the country or even around the world. These are also the Italian beer names to look for when seeking out craft beer from Italy in the U.S.
Birrificio Baladin is one of the pioneers in the industry and one of the most successful craft beer brands in Italy. They opened a pub focused on beer in Piemonte, outside of Turin, in the 1980s. In 1996, they started producing their own beer, so the beer pub became a brew pub.
Over the years, their beer line expanded as did their footprint in Italy. Part of their success came from their relationship with Eataly, including a location in Eataly World outside of Bologna. This helped to increase the Baladin beer distribution and popularity within the country. They have to be the most popular craft beer in Italy.
Look for these uniquely shaped Italian bottles of beer, including one named Wayan, after the owner’s daughter. Having lived in Bali for almost two years, we found this truly unique and endearing.
Recently they launched a beermouth, which we tried for the first time at il Punto in Bologna. The beermouth is a beer that is flavored with spices and herbs. It can be drunk as an aperitivo or used in cocktails. Baladin has a few dozen locations around Italy, a brewery at Eataly World, a hotel in Zanzibar, and a location at Camden Market in London.
Other Popular Brands
Birrificio Italiano also started in 1996 by opening one of the first craft beer breweries in Italy in Lombardy. They offer a couple of dozen beers that are sold around Italy and around the world. They also have a brewpub in Como as well as one in Milan at the Milano Centrale train station.
Birra del Borgo started producing in 2005 in Borgorose in central Italy, east of Rome. Their rapid rise to fame is due in part to their partnership with Dogfish Head Brewery in Delaware. In addition to their original brewery, they have several locations in Rome.
The Burgeoning Craft Beer Scene In Bologna
We’ve been traveling to Bologna and around Emilia Romagna for over 10 years. I even wrote a book about the food and drink of the region. I was shocked during a recent trip to see that Bologna is becoming one of the best craft beer cities in Italy.
The number of craft beer bars and even craft beer shops has exploded. At one point, the only craft beer easily found in Bologna was at the Baladin basement bar at the Mercato di Mezzo. Things have changed dramatically. If you are traveling to Italy for craft beer, Bologna should be a must-visit destination. Here are just a few of our recommendations for how to explore this craft beer city.
Brewery In Bologna
Ca’ del Brado is in Rastignano in the Bologna hills. Located just outside the Bologna city limits, Ca’ del Brado is an innovative brewer of Italian craft beer. They push the limits of craft beer brewing with new styles and techniques while focusing on locally sourced ingredients.
They are a Bologna craft beer brewery that has some quality Italian Grape Ale made with must from one of our favorite Bologna hills wineries! They offer tours most Sundays at 11 am.
Beer Pubs And Beer Shops
Back in the city, Il Pretesto is on Via Riva di Reno, 60/d. Il Pretesto is a craft beer store that sells craft beer in all shapes and styles. Offering one of the largest selections in Bologna. From locally produced Italian craft beers to craft beers from around the world. Beers are available for take away or for enjoyment in the shop.
There are a good number of craft beer bars as well in Bologna, some of which sell local and international craft beers. Some sell their own brews as well.
Some of our favorites include Il Punto on Via S. Rocco, Beer 4 Bunnies on Piazza S. Francesco, Astral on Via Castiglione, Zapap Pratello on Via del Pratello, and Madama Beerstro on San Vitale. Most of the beer pubs are only open in the evenings and many also serve food or at least snacks.
Craft Beer Festivals In Italy
In June each year, the Arrogant Sour Festival brings together local and international craft beer and food producers in Reggio Emilia. Reggio Emilia is located between Parma and Bologna in Emilia Romagna.
This is one of the most unique craft beer events because of its focus on sour beers and other similar fruit beers, like gose or lambic. For me, this was a dream come true because I love sour beers. It was a lovely day in Italy, sitting inside of old cloister, listening to music and drinking craft beer. They also hosted their first sour beer festival in Bristol in 2019 as well.
There are a handful of other craft beer festivals in Italy as well including a craft beer and food festival in Rome and one near Trento. Again recognizing Bologna as a burgeoning beer-focused city, they host a big Bologna beer festival every October.
Interesting Craft Beer Tours And Tastings In Italy
In a handful of cities across the country, tour providers are starting to create special tours and tastings focused on local beer, craft beer, and pairing beer with Italian food. Here are just a few recommended tours:
This private Craft Beer and Pizza Walking Tour in Rome includes tastings in a variety of pubs in a cool Rome neighborhood. Tours from €187 per person.
How Much Is a Craft Beer In Italy?
In most places around the world, craft beer is more expensive than mass-produced beer. That’s just a fact of life. In Spain, cervesa artesana can be twice as much as commercial beer.
In Ireland, craft beer is often only 10-20% more expensive than other beer. There is a reason for the extra cost. It takes a lot more to produce quality beer, with quality ingredients, on a small scale.
Craft Beer Prices
Craft beer prices in Italy will also be more than mass-produced, commercial beers. They can also be more expensive than beers imported from elsewhere in Europe. This is due to a variety of reasons including excise taxes, labor costs, and inefficient bureaucracy, among other things.
We’ve also found the price of beer in Italy to vary within the country. We found commercial beers and craft beers in Bologna to be a lot less expensive than in Naples or Basilicata in the South.
Local craft beer in Italy is also more expensive than Italian wine. The Italian government provides a lot of assistance to winemakers that they don’t provide to Italian breweries. This is one of the reasons why beer is more expensive than wine in Italy. Many basic ingredients needed to produce quality craft beer, like malts and hops, need to be imported.
In the end, expect to pay between €5-8 for a 330 ml bottle or a half pint. This is pretty expensive considering beer in Germany or the Czech Republic will only cost €2-3 for a pint.
Want To Learn More?
Interested to dive deeper into the history of beer-making in Italy? Check out this book, Italy: Beer Country The Story of Italian Craft Beer. It dives into the history, trends, and challenges faced by beer makers in Italy.
FAQS – DRINKING BEER IN ITALY
The Italian word for beer is birra, or birre for the plural. When it comes to craft beer in the Italian language use the phrase birre artigianali.
A beer firm is a brewery that does not have its own brewery facility, but they make their beer elsewhere. It is normally their recipe and ingredients, but they don’t have the volume to build their own brewery facility. We’ve met a few Italian brewers who fall within this category.
There is no shortage of craft beer shops or pubs in Rome. Try Mastro Titta, Le Bon Bock, or Ma Che Siete Venuti a Fa. Baladin is also in Rome as is Birra del Borgo.
While the world might think of Italy for its wine, it does in fact have very good beer. From larger national brands like Peroni to craft beer, you’re sure to find a wide range of drinkable Italian beers.
Culinary Travel To Italy
Our Italy Travel Experience
Our first trip to Italy was in 2000, and since then, we’ve taken dozens of trips to Italy to almost every region. Our most recent trip was in 2022.
This is easier for us as we live in Europe. We’ve taken food tours, cooking classes, visited wineries, and dined at some of the best restaurants in Italy. We are experts at Italy travel and, more importantly, eating in Italy.
Check out Amber’s book, the Food Traveler’s Guide To Emilia Romagna, which is available on Amazon. In addition to being a culinary travel guide to the region, it walks through how many of the typical Italian food products are made, like mortadella, prosciutto, and Parmigiano Reggiano.
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How To Drink Craft Beer In Italy
These trends in Italy are certainly exciting. That said, I am not ready to abandon my wine when traveling in Italy. But, I do like the opportunity to have something tasty on offer during an aperitivo or a craft beer pub to pop into after dinner. This is an Italian trend I am eager to follow. Cheers!