Can Italy Become A Craft Brew Power?

Italy isn't just a wine country anymore. The craft brewery scene has developed slowly but surely over the past decade, and now a growing number of great brews are becoming available outside Italy and even in the U.S. Eataly New York, and its soon-to-open outposts in D.C. and L.A., gives Americans the opportunity to try some of Italy's newest exports. Among those are several standout options for someone with a discerning palate. Italian craft beers border on the obsessive, and give the drinker a story in a glass (or bottle).

Pausa Café is a social cooperative started in two prisons in Piedmont. The brewery in based at a prison in Saluzzo. Run completely by inmates with one outside brew master as an assistant, it is an idea that is producing some noteworthy results. It was started to give the prisoners practical skills for their release back into society, but has turned into an award-winning brew house. Pausa beers are mostly brewed in a Belgian style and usually tricked out with unlikely ingredients. One beer is brewed with cocoa, one with coffee, and another with a mixture of grains that includes quinoa, amaranth, rice and tapioca.

If you can find it, a good place to start is Pausa's P.I.L.S., which is based on traditional recipes and matured in wood casks. It has a nice golden color with strong aromas of hops and malt. My personal favorite is the Tosta, a barley wine. At 14% alcohol, it can be a great addition to a dinner party in place of wine, or as they say in Italy, as a meditation beer. Costa Rican cocoa beans and cocoa mass are added to the production process, allowing for a smooth and robust flavor reminiscent of the cocoa, with notes of licorice and caramel.

Next on the list of Italian craft beers to try is Birrificio San Paolo, from Turin. The two brewers behind the brand produce eight beers; they've got a solid philosophy and production method, and are making some really fine craft brews. To start, I would highly recommend their Ipè, which is modeled on American pale ale. With 6.5% alcohol, it's a refreshing quaff for a summer cookout. Another is Pecan, made in the tradition of Kölsch. Bitter and hoppy, but with spiced malt notes on the nose, it is one to keep in you fridge for everyday drinking.

Of course we would all like to get our hands on Baladin's now-famous Xyauyù Fumé, which includes an 18-day infusion of Lapsang Suochong Tea. I haven't personally tried this one, but from what I hear, it is one of the top Italian beers available; alas, in small production.

Have you tried an Italian craft beer? Talk it up in the comments.