The idea of a beer made with 100% Italian ingredients is not obvious at all, even if beer has only four basic ingredients. Apart from water, which is clearly available, many Italian breweries still buy foreign yeasts, malts and hops. This is partly due to specific production choices, but also to the scarcity of Italian ingredients for beer brewing.
In particular, Italian farmers have never grown Italian hops for commercial purposes in the beer market, and the cultivations that now exist are only a very recent trend. This is why talking about 100% Italian beer was a utopia until just a few years ago.
However, we have recently seen a change of paradigm, brought about by some pioneering initiatives launched ahead of times. Among these, the visionary dream of Teo Musso of the Baladin brewery is particularly important. At the end of the Nineties, he already had the ambition of creating an entirely Italian beer.
Baladin has been interested in this issue since its creation. As a matter of fact, it has never used non-Italian barley malt for its beers. Initially, it chose the malt processed by the Genal malting facility, based in Emilia (currently no longer in business). At the time, it was the only Italian company that sold bags of malt (malt in bulk is not suitable for a small brewery). When Baladin Super and Baladin Isaac - the first beers made by the brewery in Piozzo - reached the market, they could already boast this element of Italianness.
Baladin Isaac, in particular, was made with Italian barley, and with an historical Italian wheat variety called Bolero. Teo included it in the grist to pay homage to his father, who had enthusiastically embraced its cultivation. Isaac is dedicated to Teo’s son, but it also embodies this important continuity in the family.
Due to its peculiar recipe, Baladin Isaac started to incorporate other ingredients grown in Italy, such as coriander and citrus zest. It was only natural for Teo Musso to take inspiration from Isaac to start dreaming of a 100% Made in Italy product. But Italian hops were the missing piece to make the dream come true. Even if the Isaac recipe only requires a very small amount of hops, Teo wanted to fill the gap before waving the flag of the first 100% Italian beer. Hops are one fundamental piece of the puzzle, but Italy did not grow any Italian variety of hops at all.
Teo’s dream was so strong that in 2008 Baladin started an experimental field in Cussanio, in the Cuneo province. 600 plants of Magnum, Hallertau Mittelfrüh and Golding hops were sown. It was the first step of an epic revolution in the world of Italian craft beer.
But there was still a long path ahead, as growing hops was completely new to Italy. The advice of Giuseppe Oliviero - an experienced agronomist who supported Baladin in this endeavor- played an essential role.
With the availability of Italian hops, Teo Musso decided to launch a special beer to fulfill his ambition. In 2011 he created Baladin Nazionale, the first 100% Italian beer. In addition to local water (from the Maritime Alps), Italian barley malt, bops, citrus zest and coriander, Baladin Nazionale was also made with locally grown yeast. For Baladin, this often overlooked ingredient is another important element in its search for Italianness.
At the end of the Nineties, Baladin became one of the testers chosen by a yeast supplier to experiment with some strains in beer brewing. Teo was fascinated by the aromas developed by a yeast that is normally used in whisky and started to work on it to adapt it to beer brewing. The first Baladin beer made with that specific strain was Baladin Elixir, followed later by Baladin Xyauyù.
But Teo’s goal was much more ambitious: he wanted to develop a hybrid between that yeast and a local strain. At the end of 2015, with the support of Duccio Cavalieri, Baladin started to search for a suitable Italian yeast strain. The work is not over yet. So far, three or four interesting strains have been isolated, including one from the brewery’s area. Hybridizations are under way and the availability of the first new yeast is planned for the end of 2020. Ideally, it will replace the whisky yeast in several Baladin recipes.
Nazionale symbolizes the From the Earth to the Glass message, used by Teo Musso to emphasize his intention to make sure that, one day, his brewery will only produce beers made with Italian ingredients (with the exception of a few spices which cannot be found here).
The ambition is to raise awareness among consumers and launch, very soon, a wider range of 100% Italian beers including different styles for all tastes, from the first Blonde Ale inspired Nazionale, to Blanche beers and IPAs.