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  • Peter Byrne

Small and Crafty

Aggiornamento: 20 gen



The Berkeley Circle as paladins of the English language in Italy delights in countercurrents, the brooks and rivulets that flow in another direction than the grand old river. The venerable vineyards of Salento are close at hand. The visitor to Lecce can easily go and have a look at where the excellent bottle of local wine he drank at dinner came from. For years past the beer-drinker had no such luck. He quaffed a multinational industrial product, the same beverage he was offered around Europe. When he sat down to a gourmet meal in Lecce he was embarrassed. It was like wearing a dirty shirt to a banquet. The beer in his glass never varied. Consistent it was, but hardly exciting.

The arrival of craft beer has changed all that and not only in Italy. There has been a worldwide boom in small local breweries. They offer a variety of superior beer, inventive as to flavour and always brewed with the individual concern of a devoted artisan. Lecce wasn’t excluded from what the catering trade dared to call a revolution in dining. Enter the Berkeley Circle that thought it was time to look into a trend that seems a worthy partner to that of SLOW-FOOD and the desire to make the most of the treasures on our doorstep.


We took advantage of Stefano Chironi's invitation to visit his Birrifcio Malatesta, the craft beer microbrewery on Lecce’s Via Alfonso Sozy Carafa. Its location near Porta Rudiae in the midst of the busy working-class quarter of San Pio together with its stalwart name made us think of Errico Malatesta the proud anarchist and writer who enlivened Italian politics until his death in 1932. His watchword had been “(…)per tutti pane, libertà, amore, scienza (…)—bread, liberty, love and science for all.” Surely it was right in the 21st-Century to include on his list beer of an individual spirit that had escaped the control of international corporations.



The Malatesta brewery has certainly acquired science. Its long narrow premises are bright with cleanliness. Its gleaming network of equipment speaks of confidence and expertise. Stefano Chironi's enterprise is the 2014 realisation of his dream and remains very much a one-man-affair. Like an artist or poet, he conducts experiments on his own. Working by committee, he knows, doesn’t lead to an original product. At the same time his partner, Alessandra Lupo, and their pre-school daughter, Vittoria, are on hand to soften the laboratorial edge of the birrificio. Stefano’s brother, Andrea, merely contributes his fluent English when required. He took us through the brewing process and explained what each of the imposing battery of tanks was for.


Raw barley, wheat, oats and rye are dry roasted. A grist mill opens the husks. The complicated process of mashing begins with malt being heated and boiled. Hops is added in various amounts depending on the flavour desired. Wort is the liquid extracted from mashing. Whirlpooling clarifies it. Fermentation then begins and lasts up to three weeks, another three to six-week period is needed for maturing. Bottling and kegging can then begin. Though our group had considerable experience of the drinker’s side of the operation, the brewer’s work and vocabulary were new to us. Timing appeared to be the key to brewing. The quantity of ingredients added and the moment in the process that they are introduced makes for the variety of beer. It leaves opportunity for craftsmen to depart from perfunctory recipes and create craft beer.



The proof of the beer pudding is in the tasting session. The Berkeley Circle closed around the brewery’s bar to do its conscientious best. There are six Malatesta brews. Low Kick is a golden summery beer touched with garden herbs, 3.5% alcohol by volume. Brezza, at 4% ABV, fitted out as a Blonde Ale, is another all-occasion tipple. Kritical Weiss is a straw-coloured wheat beer with a shade more alcohol at 4.3% ABV. Slight acidity makes it ideal for seafood dinners. A Sante is a dry stout at 4.7% ABV. Lovers of dark beer would match it to roast or smoked meat. However, a bottle on its own could be inspirational on a winter midmorning or at teatime in bleak November. The three Malatesta pale ales contain more alcohol. Wooly Bully, an amber English version, 5.5% ABV, would stand up well to robust dishes, even to a London curry. The American dubbed V Per Vittoria, also at 5.5% ABV, but lighter in colour, might lead to a meditative mood at twilight after a day at the office. As for Capricci, the Indian styled pale ale, its malty, resinous savour makes for a perfect nightcap. It was ours as we bid Stefano Chironi goodnight and with a bow to Malatesta, Errico, made an attempt to navigate Via Alfonso Sozy Carafa.





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