ItalyBrews

Sampling the nectars of the beer, wine & spirits industries of Piedmont & beyond

Archive for the 'Spirits' Category

23 January
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The House that Cocchi Built

Roberto Bava, is a modern day Renaissance man. A believer in the finer things in life: chocolate, aromatized wines and principles of futurism. Along with his brothers he continues the lineage to a family tradition in the wine and spirits industry using the fruits of some 6,200 hectacres of vineyards around Piedmont.

Italian Beer

From this lineage comes the likes of Barolo ChinatoAmericano and Vermouth di Torino, all of which date back to 1891 at Cocchi. You might be familiar with the uber presence of “the spritz” in bottles that’s served in cafes and bars across Europe. The marketing dollars behind these bastard children of aperitivi made with aromatized wines have moved a product that’s so far off from the original recipes that they are often made with more water than wine! The use of the likes of tree barks, spices and aromatics with DOC and DOCG grapes (not water) are what make a true apertivo, and Cocchi’s tasting room does an excellent job at leading you through these scents by presenting jars of dried ingredients and extracts used in their products.

Italian Beer

Several stories exist regarding the creation of Italian Vermouth. These include Giulio Cocchi, a Florentine man with an entrepreneurial streak that relocated to Asti and began production of wine. Giulio Cocchi is also known for his creations Americano, a muscato di asti grape blended with herbs and spices, and Barolo Chinato, made with DOCG Barolo grapes, rhubarb, ginger, quinine; previously discussed here.

Italian Beer

Recently, we visited with Roberto Bava in Cocconato to learn more about the products and history of Cocchi, and of course to do a tasting! Contrary to what you might think, Vermouth of Turino, Americano and Barolo Chinato can be drunk neat, simply with soda or tonic water and citrus twist, or used as ingredients in cocktails. When asked about cocktails using these spirits Roberto referred to a classic method adopoted by the Futurists in the 1920s. Futurism was, and it seems – still is, a mostly Italian movement that promotes separatism, art, gastronomy, industrialization, movement away from traditional Italian cuisine (like pasta) and creating new forms of expression in Italian for globally known words; such as cocktail (polibibita), bar (quisibeve) and dessert (peralzarsi).

In the 70′s the Bava Family took over Cocchi and through Roberto’s work in pairing the great chocolates of Turino with Barlo Chinato from Cocchi the idea of drinking this aromatized wine after dinner was rejuvinated.

Chocolate and Barolo Chinato

Today, Barolo Chinato is a staple in specialty wine stores, not to mention a rediscovered addition to craft cocktails, across the world. The Futurists used Barolo Chinato in a cocktail called Decisone:

  • 1 part dark rum
  • 1 part Barolo Chinato
  • a dash of Mandarin Liquor

A more popular recipe is a negroni:

  • 3/4 oz barolo chinato
  • 3/4 oz Cointreau
  • 1 1/2 oz London Dry Gin

As for Americano and Vermouth di Turino, below are some recipes we’d recommend.

The Americano:

  • 1 oz Vermouth di Turino
  • 1 oz Campari
  • Club Soda
  • Garnish with lemon twist or orange wheel

The Corpse Reviver #2:

  • 3/4 ounce gin
  • 3/4 ounce lemon juice
  • 3/4 ounce Cointreau
  • 3/4 ounce Cocchi Aperitivo Americano
  • Scant bar-spoon-ful quality absinthe (see note).
  • A garnish is unnecessary, but different recipes call for either a twist of lemon or a real maraschino cherry.

American Fizz

  • 4 cl. American cocci
  • 2 cl. orange juice
  • 0.5 cl. sugar syrup
  • 7.5 cl. tonic
  • Garnish with an orange slice

Next time you find yourself in a bar or cafe in Italy or in your local liquor store back in the States, get inspired and try some of these products for yourself! You won’t regret the decision.

25 November
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Brewing & Punk Folk with Friends

At Birrificio Amis, in the Piedmont Region’s Lanzo Valley near the mountains North of Turino, the passionate pursuits of Owner and Artisanal Brewer Walt Castagno come together in harmony. Amis translates to “Friends” in Piedmontese, the local dialect widely used by the folks in these parts. Words in Piedmontese can also be found on the bottles of hand crafted beer brewed at Amis, and in the fantastic sound that comes from Walt’s Punk Folk Band, Ciapagrolle Grolla.

I’ll digress from the beer for a moment to talk about a new spirted cocktail discovered during my tour and tasting at Birrifico Amis. It’s calledGrolla, a clay or wooden pot turned sippy cup used for an adult beverage combining coffee, grappa, Génépi, sugar and other mountain herbs indigenous to the Western Alps.

Grolle, the plural of Grolla, is also used in the name of the band. Ciapagrolle translates to something like what pot smokers would call, “to bogart” or “to hog”. Over zealously covet. As fans of “grabbing the grolla” you’ll see a cameo appearance from the Grolla, and one of Walt’s craft beers, in this video from Ciapagrolle.

Back to the beer! Walt started Birrificio Amis in April, 2011 due to his passion for homebrewing! His homebrewing took off because of the ever increasing desire by Italians, and the World for that matter, to get something other than mass produced bottom fermented beer. See, there are two types of yeasts used in brewing, one that’s as old as time, called Saccharomyces cerevisiae which produces “Top Fermentation”, and another invented in the 1893 by Emil_Christian_Hansen, a scientist employed by Danish Brewing giant, Carlsburg.

Amis produces 200 Liters of beer a week during their peak time of year, March through August. Each beer is top fermented, meaning the yeast foams at the top of the wort. Their beers are:

  • Urcalavé – a blonde ale with great carbonation and a sweet honey finish
  • Ciama n’ aut – an amber ale with a malty Scottish ale flavor
  • Parlapá – a full bodied red ale with a sweet hopped finish

These beers are all available in 50cl or 75cl bottles on the Birrificio Amis website. Additionally they can be found in pizzarias and local pubs around Lanzo Valley. If you’re looking for a beery Christmas gift for the brewing enthusiast in your life, I’d recommend a bottle of Birra Barba Natal, a 3 liter bottled Christmas Ale with 8% ABV the comes complete with a personalized label noting the name of the person receiving the gift of beer!

08 November
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Vermouth and Aperitivos

These so called fortified wines are at some point synonymous as Vermouth appears to be a category of Apertifs… known as Aperitivo in Italian or Apéritif in French. A creation of, as most things seem to be in the world of beer, wine & spirits, the Ancient Greeks these infusions of wines with botanicals can be traced as far back as 400 BC.

Aperitivos (I’ll be referring to the word in it’s Italian spelling and pronunciation as I am now a student of the language) can be roughly divided into three traditional categories: VermouthAmericano and Chinato. This information was uncovered from studying the subject during a recent visit to The Rum Club in Portland, OR. According to Mixologist and President of the Oregon Bartender’s Guild, David Shenaut and information provided by Haus Alpenz, each category of Aperitivo focuses on a specific botanical:

  • Vermouth – Wormwood: a name derived from the German word Wermut. The Germans and the Italians, in Piedmont, began infusing wines with wormwood in the 16th Centurty.
  • Americano – Gentian: a native herb of the alpine and sub-alpine pastures of southern and central Europe known as a main component of bitters, the root of which has antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties.
  • Chinato – Cinchona: a tree bark with orgins in Peru that was cultivated by ancient South American Indian tribes and introduced in Europe in the early 16th Century.
I find the corralation between Aperitivos and Bitters to be quite striking. It’s almost like you could make an Aperitivo from combining grapes from the region with a bottle of bitters from any major producer to create your own. Getting to the bottom of this is of paramount interest and I can’t wait to meet with the wine houses around Piedmont and South Western France to learn about their production methodolgies.
To help with this am creating a google map of the locations I plan to visit. This will be a working map with locations added as time allows and further discussions through new posts on the blog. Check back for that later! Oh, and don’t forget to follow me on twitter @italybrews for more on our beer, wine and spirits travels.