I acquainted or reacquainted myself with many breweries and beers across Europe in 2012, from pints grabbed between drams during a journey through Scotland to the many and diverse brews encountered while judging at the Brussels Beer Challenge. Without question, however, one of the most captivating and compelling European beers I tasted last year arrived my first day in Rome this past November, when I was handed a glass of a beer called La Mummia.
It was also my introduction to the brewery that would ultimately earn my nod as European brewery of 2012: Birrificio Montegioco.
Mummia is a beer I was told is aged for a full three years in barrels that previously held Barbera wine, so it’s not at all surprising that its character is tart and fruity, with ample spicy-vanilla notes. What did come as a bit of an eye-opener, however, was the relative delicacy and nuance of the beer, which segues seamlessly from one of the most attractive aromas I encountered in a beer in 2012 to a softly tart and surprisingly fresh-tasting and sweet-ish body, with white peach and apricot notes, culminating in a dry, spiced orange finish.
Were that all Montegioco had to offer, I would have been impressed. But there was more to come.
Among others, I sampled: Runa, a mildly fruity golden ale used as a base beer for other brews, but delightful on its own; Tibir, a peachy and passionfruity ale fermented with local wine must; and Tentetripel, a warming and candied pear-ish treat for the end of the night. About the only misstep encountered was Demon Hunter, which I found to be overly boozy for its body, but even that is personality disorder I suspect would be adjusted were the beer allowed to age for a time.
All told, the brewery displays a skill and finesse with a multitude of style, the likes of which I might expect of a seasoned brewery in a mature craft beer market, rather than a seven year old operation in rural Italy. For this reason, and for how it exemplifies the extraordinary brewing taking place today all across Italy, my pick as European Brewery of the Year is Birrificio Montegioco.