Last weekend I decided to take a drive around Colli Berici, the small hills that dominate the lower part of the Vicenza province. The area is primarily known for agriculture, and it produces a number of distinctive products such as wine, truffles, peas, and grana padano. My weekend however was dedicated to one particular product: grappa. Grappa is a type of very strong after-meal liqueur made out of grape must left over from the production of wine. Typically, northern Vicenza is the epicenter of grappa production, with the likes of such distilleries as Nardini and Poli based in and around the town of Bassano del Grappa. But the grappa distilleries in Colli Berici hold their own, especially the Distilleria di Fratelli Brunello in Montegalda, twenty minutes from Vicenza. Producing grappa under the watch of the distant Montegalda Castle, the distillery is fairly small, yet produces a number of different kinds of spirits. The bucolic atmosphere and the friendly workers eager to show everyone how they make grappa creates a perfet setting for an afternoon's descent into slow but sure intoxication (this was restricted to my companions; sadly, I was the designated driver)
The Farm behind the distillery, with the castle in the distance
Grape must being mashed for distillation
Mad science distillation process
Impressive selection for a relatively small distillery
Further south in Ponte di Barbarano is the Distillerie dal Toso Rino e Figlio. The sight that meets you upon entering the premises--a bulldozer scooping tons of must into the mashing machine--already suggests that this might be a little bit more on the industrial side of grappa production. This of course doesn't mean much, since the distillery is still ran by what seems like a large family headed by what looks like the grandpa who still insists on running the actual distillery. The distillery process by and large is the same, except grandpa's more hands-on technique of sticking his finger into the brewing concoction and sticking it in front of anyone around so they too can experience the wonderful aroma of cooking alcohol. Upon tasting, this distillery's grappa is a bit harsher and has less falvor than Brunello's, but it was still a worthy trip if for nothing else, smelly fingers and bulldozed must.
Scooping must into the giant masher
The "cuore" of the operation, where the actual distillation happens
Turning knobs since birth
Until the 10th of October, a number of distilleries around Vicenza are open for free tours and tasting. Participating distilleries are:
1. Distilleria F.lli Brunello (Montegalda)
2. Distillerie Dal Toso Rino e figlio (Ponte di Barbarano)
3. Distilleria Lidia (Villaga)
4. Poli Distillerie (Schiavon)
5. Distilleria Schiavo (Costabissara)
Visits are between 10AM to 6PM, but it would be better to call to make sure that they are open, especially on days other than Sunday. The event's website could be found here (in Italian).