Monday, March 7, 2011

Italian Beer Series: 32 Via dei Birrai Oppale (Onigo de Pederobba)

32 Via dei Birrai's most important contribution to beer making is its official designation as 100% Italian made beer, the first in the country. It seems like a minor feat, but official designations of production or origin in Italy are taken seriously. Parmigiano Reggiano, for example, are strictly defined as the hard, aged cheese from the area around Parma and Reggio-Emilia. Having it any other way isn't just illegal, but also shocking and insulting, indicating a producer willing to abuse tradition simply to make money. In this context, it is then important that a beer in a country of proud wine producers and drinkers is considered "100% Italian". Not to over-inflate its significance, but to some extent such designation allows the country to own the production of beer, despite constant and almost cliché idea that they are not good beer producers (an idea even prevalent with Italians).

Be that as it may, there is one thing that irked me about the beer. After one pops the crown off, one usually expects aroma and ultimately beer. But 32 Via dei Birrai decides that that is not enough. As if trying to straddle the middle ground between common-beer and fine-wine (in a country where common-wine isn't uncommon, guess who this beer is marketed to), the drinker must deal with a funky little cork after opening the bottle. Not really a cork, but an artificial stopper with a cylinder in the middle to tell the drinker where to put the corkscrew. Nevertheless, there is a cork. This begs--nay, insists on--the question: there is a cork!? It's a silly pretentious thing to do, a gimmick to suggest the drinker is encountering a beer more special than any other beer. It's along the line of the tendency among Italian beer producers to dress things up nicely with pretty labels and gaudy bottles to put the "discerning drinker" at ease with the profane drink he or she is imbibing. It's as if they are scared of letting the beer speak for itself, which it is more than capable of doing. Put the thing in a bottle, slap a label with your brewery's name on it, sell it, and call it a day. It can be distinctive like the American micro brews, but I think one of the cornerstone of Italian design, especially modern Italian design--which is also apparent in 32 Via dei Birrai's design for the bottle itself--is its capacity to say so much using so little or few elements. Let's just stick to that and not charge me a premium for the packaging, please?

Anyway, back to the beer. Today I present 32 Via dei Birrai's Oppale, a Belgian pale ale that clocks in at 5.5% ABV, which is fairly low by Italian craft beer standards. The aroma is of fragrant hops, with a slight fruitiness presumably from the yeast. On pour, the color is of light rust, cloudy, producing a medium head. Mouthfeel is moderate, with a somewhat strong carbonation. On first sip, one tastes a bit of acid that turns into yeasty sweetness in the back of the throat. The sweetness is the last to disappear, and everything is finished off with a bold hoppy bitterness. It's nice how the sweet and the bitter balance each other out, but the ending is all bitter. A nice beer, but it wouldn't be particularly my first choice. Nice thing is this is fairly ubiquitous in the Veneto, so if I do want one it wouldn't be too hard to find.

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