Back in the day, all brewmeisters looked like this. These days, they look like Iacopo Lenci — a 26 year old Italian who started brewing beer in his garage — and now runs an uber-hip brew pub in Lucca, Italy.
One of the coolest things about being ELV is being invited by fellows like Iacopo to sample his family’s hard-to-find, artisanal, hand-crafted beers that hardly anyone in America has tasted.
So that’s just what we did with a batch of Bruton birra last Friday — courtesy of BEVI Beverages — a small distributor who has been single-handedly working to upgrade Las Vegas’ brewski IQ over the past few years.
Bruton makes precious little of its top fermented, unpasteurized, unfiltered and natural yeast brews — only 70,000 bottles a year. (By comparison, Dogfish Head — an American, boutique brewer — makes over 100,000 cases.) So getting a little of this precious elixir in Vegas is a small coup indeed.
Those brews are Belgian-inspired, but highly idiosyncratic and slap-my-ass-and-call-me-Sally delicious.
We asked Lenci why so many interesting beers are coming out of Italy lately, and he told us it’s because, unlike the Germans and Belgians, Italians aren’t so hidebound by tradition (and laws) that determine how and what they can make as malted/fermented-grain-beverages.
So instead of some same old, same old lager (or lambic), you get stone R — a Belgian-ale reinterpreted into a 7.5% alcoholic big boy, made with three different malted grains (barley, wheat and rye), and given tiny doses of white pepper and orange peel. It smelled to our staff like an intense gueuze, and went down way to easily for something approaching the strength of wine.
Speaking of wine, Bruton’s 10 is a 10% barley wine that will take (and needs) time in the bottle to allow its rich hoppiness to mellow. More mellow by far is the Lilith (named after a demon made from the rib of Adam – who knew?) that weighs in at 5.5% alcohol, and tasted to us like a fruity, slightly sweet English bitter. About the only one we tasted we didn’t want to overindulge in was the Bruton di Bruton — their everyday drinking beer that will be a big hit with the hop lover in your life. To our buds, it was bracing and refreshing, but to the American (read: dumbed-down, wooden, let’s-not-taste-too-much) palate, it will be way too astringent.
These beers are obviously not for the Bud Light crowd. You will be able to find them only in the better Italian restaurants in town, i.e. NOVE, Fiamma, Carnevino, Settebello, Enoteca San Marco, et al, but you will also find they are a revelation in a glass and go wonderfully with strongly-flavored Italian food (especially salumi and cheeses).