What is an Italian craft beer doing in America? Like most brands new to market, it’s looking for a small niche.
“We’re trying to get into Italian restaurants that either don’t currently have, or have very limited, Italian beer options,” explains Giuseppe Darù, brand ambassador for Birra Antoniana.
In other words, Birra Antoniana wants to be the Italian craft alternative to the country’s common lagers. A step up in quality and price point from brands like Moretti or Peroni, if you will.
Opened in Veneto in 2013, Birra Antoniana officially launched four craft brews in the U.S. yesterday at Ribalta in NYC. The point was to show how well the beers pair with the pizzeria’s pies (which they did seamlessly). Darù says the brand is gaining on-premise accounts across the city, while keeping an eye on off-premise opportunities.
The four beers the brand brought over represent the difference between American and European craft beer. Bold hops and extreme flavors are a U.S. preference. You won’t find them in Birra Antoniana or most other foreign beers.
Rather, Europeans typically focus on smooth, malty, light-bodied beers, usually lagers. Birra Antoniana is importing four lagers: two traditional, and two with distinctly American takes. None exceeds 5.4% ABV.
Their Marechiaro crisp lager is a smooth blonde with a malt base, herbal/floral notes and minor hops for balance. Similarly restrained was their Vienna Style, with a fuller-bodied, darker malt flavor that’s still much lighter than how Americans brew Viennas.
Taking a page from the U.S., Birra Antoniana imported two dry-hopped lagers: a standard (Altinate) and session (Pasubio). Dry-hopping is more about adding aromas than flavors, and both beers benefitted from the extra hoppy aromatics.
Flavor-wise, the session worked better than the standard. The tropical/citrus/grassy hop notes in Altinate tasted a tad out of tune with the malt backbone. Not as smooth as it could be. Pasubio (4.5% ABV), on the other hand, achieved the proper balance between light citrus/grassy hops and smooth malt flavor. As we say in America, Pasubio was crushable. (And had a beautiful label to boot.)
Birra Antoniana is an interesting craft alterative to typical Italian lagers. Especially when pairing brews with the country’s food. With their focus on smooth subdued malts and lighter hops, all four beers were matches for the various Ribalta pizzas.
Off-premise, there may soon come a time when Millennials have drank every conceivable style of American craft beer. When that day arrives, like wine-drinkers they may turn their attention towards unfamiliar shores and begin exploring through the craft beers of the world. During these travels, Birra Antoniana is a fine Italian destination.
Kyle Swartz is managing editor of Cheers magazine. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @kswartz.