By John Fortunato
Do you crave a delicately balanced soft-toned brew to go with light Italian food dishes such as pizza, pasta and shellfish? Then what better way to quench a thirst after chowing delicious Mediterranean cuisine than with a floury baked breaded moderation buttressed by delicate floral perfumed spicing. If so, an easygoing Italian pilsner will suffice even better than a similarly styled German pils that tends to be grittier, muskier, herbier and more robust.
Originally, Italian pilsners were inspired by German brewing methodology utilizing only Bavarian or Czech hops. But there are subtle variations. Though previously difficult to find in the United States, crisply clean Italian pilsners are starting to gain momentum. In Italy, where nearly 2,000 brewpubs now exist, the popularity is rapidly climbing.
Similarly styled Italian lagers retain the same simple cereal-grained pilsner malting and could also be considered a mild variant on the country's pilsners. In fact, early inspiration for Italian pilsners may've come from a longstanding lager.
In 1846, Peroni Lager came to fruition, giving Italy its premier brand in the Euro market (followed by its stronger follow-up, Peroni Nastro Azzurro, more than a century hence in 1963). Peroni Lager's dried maize starching and crusty Italian-breaded spring barley combined with herbal Noble hop musk in a lemon-fizzed soft water setting slightly differentiated from Germany's Bavarian lagers.
In 1996, Agostino Arioli, founder of Birrificio Italiano, designed a lighter bodied beer similar to northern Germany's Jever Pils using a dry-hopped English cask process. The result, Tipopils, soon inspired a few enthusiastic, well known craft brewers. By fermenting at slightly higher temperatures than the Germans, more fruity esters were produced to activate and enrich Tipopils' dry-hopped nature against its tannic grain husk.
Tipopils' citrus-spiced Saphir hops and dry herbal wood tones receive corn-sugared honey malting for an invitingly understated, smoothly effervescent resilience duplicated or slightly modified thereafter by other European, Asian and American brewers.
Recently, American microbreweries have begun embracing Italian pilsners - some as full-time offerings and others as limited one-offs. Some of the more popular ones I've quaffed are listed below.
Utilizing Saphir hops for authenticity, California's Firestone Walker hit instant paydirt with Pivo Hoppy Pilsner in 2012. A classic session beer inspired by Tipopils, Pivo's floral-herbed citrus briskness and white-peppered lemongrass musk sit atop freshly baked Italian breading.
Originally brewed in collaboration with Italy’s Birra Del Borgo, Delaware's Dogfish Head offers adjunct pilsner, My Antonia, an enticing original with immediate candi-sugared yellow fruiting inviting black-peppered juniper bittering and herbaceous floridity above honey-roasted graining.
Another popular dry-hopped Italian styled pilsner, Maine's Oxbow Luppolo relies on dry buckwheat and musky spelt-like barley malting to enhance its mildly spiced lemon-rotted tangerine tartness.
Out of New Hampshire, Schilling Aosta Italian-style Pilsner renders musky floral-daubed Saaz hop herbage, briny lemon spritz and white-floured saltine cracker crisping.
From New Jersey, Bolero Snort's Toropils delivers understated Hallertau Blanc-hopped green grape tannins and candied lemon tartness over its delicately salted cracker base.
Also from the Garden State and utilizing grape-soured Hallertau hops, Carton Frusta lets its lemony floral bouquet engage musky corn husked astringency and bread crusted Vienna-Carafoam malting.
Though I missed out on other Italian-styled American offerings (thus far), shout outs go to popular San Francisco treat, Fort Point Sfizio, and Portland, Oregon's aggressively hopped Wayfinder Terrifica Horror Pils.
A tad hoppier, more lush and definitely softer on the palate than resembled German variants, Italian pilsners are an elusively differentiated breed apart.
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