On Sunday July 18, 2021, Baladin Open Garden in Piozzo (CN) hosted one of the most amazing and inspiring pages in the exciting history of homebrewing in Italy.
Homebrewers - we use the English word instead of the Italian “birrai casalinghi”, while the French, who don’t like English words as much as we do, call them “brasseurs maison”) - are a fundamental pillar of the Italian beer movement. It’s also thanks to them that we can boast a leading role in the so-called “craft beer revolution” acknowledged at the international level.
How rewarding it is when you are in faraway countries - geographically and especially culturally - such as Bulgaria and Chile and you hear people say things like “we have also started a revolution: our country now feels like Italy more than twenty years ago!”
If this epoch-making revolution has happened, we owe it to all the players: from brewers to publicans, from communication experts to consumers and many others in the sector. But we must also recognize the essential role of homebrewers.
Just as it was the case in the vibrant “American beer Renaissance”, the vast majority of Italian professional brewers, both the pioneers and the newest ones, comes from a more or less long experience with homebrewing. I can still remember the first brewing equipment - more of a cauldron than actual equipment - of a giant like Sam Calagione, now exhibited at his wonderful Dogfish Head brewery in Delaware.
Until 1995, it was forbidden to brew beer at home in Italy. Of course, “forbidden” did not mean that people did not do it. However, I still have not met anyone who can find a link between the end of the ban and the “official” birth of the movement in 1996.
What is true is that in those years - thanks also to the beautiful and informative “it.hobby.birra” newsgroup, created in July 1998 by Max Faraggi, Carlo Macinai and a bunch of homebrewers, whose domain was registered by Lelio Bottero in March 2000 - the first homebrewers scattered around Italy started to meet and exchange information and advice, creating a very tight-knit community that shared an unstoppable passion for the most socializing drink on earth.
Unfortunately, the web has now become a space for aggressive behaviors and harmful, uncontrollable incompetence. How much we miss that newsgroup, based on the best thing that the Internet has to offer: that “mutual learning” that allowed both teachers and learners to grow, sometimes swapping roles.
How many things I shared with people, and how many things I learned from knowledgeable people such as Davide Bertinotti, who later created the fantastic website “microbirrifici.org”, or Matteo “Billy” Billia, one of the first brewers to ever use wine must, the already mentioned Max Faraggi and many others. Last but not least, allow me to mention Luigi “Schigi” D’Amelio, who animated the group with his cutting comments and reprimanded whoever wrote nonsense.
The first exhibition (without votes) was held in Piozzo in 2000. One year later, on July 15, 2001, a qualified jury announced the first verdicts.
During these first twenty years, a huge, countless number of now successful brewers has competed with sometimes surprisingly bad results, which many of them still remember with a touch of nostalgia.
Shall I mention a few? Leonardo Di Vincenzo, Giovanni Campari, Valter Loverier, Michele Santi, Severino Garlatti Costa, Matteo Billia, Daniele Meinero, Alessio Selvaggio, Cesare Gualdoni, Stefano Carnelli, Andrea Bertola, Alessio Gatti, Fulvio Nessi, Emanuele Longoni.
Writing a full list is virtually impossible, but you can give it a try with the help of Google. For instance, look at hobbybirra.info, where you will find a wide choice of names. On other websites, too, you will find photographs and details from the first competition in July 2001. Browsing through the various rankings, you will find an impressive number of brewers who have started as amateurs and are now professionals - some of them were on the podium, some of them weren’t.
Over the years, the average quality of the beers has significantly increased, to the point that our homebrewers now enjoy the good reputation that they deserve. By the way, the winner of the first edition of the European Championship, held in Rome in 2016, was an Italian homebrewer!
Teo and I have always believed in, supported and encouraged those who I affectionately call “my delicious poisoners”. We have always put together highly professional juries for them, with the best Italian “noses” as well as a long list of renowned international jurors, such as American Tomme Arthur, the great brewer from Port Brewing/Lost Abbey; Canadian Mario D’Eer, highly esteemed author of fundamental books; Swiss Jérôme Rebetez, brewer at BFM blessed with audacity, creativity and uniqueness, and “our” great captain Laurent Mousson (a loyal friend of Piozzo); English Steven Crouch from CAMRA, a dear friend and great fan of Baladin; the French Gwenaël Samotyj, brewer from the Garrigues brewery, and Hervé Loux, another long standing friend of Piozzo; Flemish Carl Kins, a great friend of mine and internationally renowned expert; and Walloon Jean-Louis Dits, the genius creator of genuine Saisons and, as everybody knows, Teo’s source of inspiration and master.
With this beautiful and rich history behind us, the Sunday dedicated to celebrating the 20th anniversary of the competition was, quite naturally, lived with a touch of emotion for the past, but with an eye to the future. The event had a 100% Baladin atmosphere: varied and relaxing, despite the incredibly high number of things to do, hear and see, and the many meetings with old and new friends, which we appreciate even more at this crazy, surreal time, and that we all need so much as human beings.
A truly wonderful and memorable day that perfectly demonstrated the rule that I often mention: “if an event is successful, the credit goes to all its components; if just one doesn’t work, it all goes awry”. And on Sunday July 18 all the components gave their all, certainly not by chance.
Teo can rely on genuine “top players” - Fabio Mozzone, first and foremost. And so it becomes easy, for me and for them, to organize the many, complex steps of the competition many months in advance. We interface with the MoBI and take care of all logistical aspects, which is even more complicated during a pandemic, given that here - luckily - they are extremely careful to follow every rule and take every precaution.
Considering the high number of competing beers - 116 - we asked the fourteen judges at the seven tables to arrive at 9:00 to start their work at 9:30 after an introductory meeting, which we actually managed to do.
The team, as expected, was extraordinarily efficient. Under the direction of our “Golden Ball” and the coordination of Alessio “Islaz” Franzoso, both elements of the team that president Teo Musso has no intention of letting go, everybody gave their best. Two veterans such as Piercarlo Giovannini and my niece Zoe Marchesi, supported by my sister Carla and my brother-in-law Paolo, with the help pf the close-knit pairs of judges, ensured that everything was done on time, which was a key aspect on such a busy day.
In the context of the National Championship, the Piozzo competition has one specific feature: in addition to the usual evaluation, beers are also assessed based on the relevance of the clone to the original beer. This year, given the situation, we had less judges. As I had to replace an absent judge, I had to leave Anna Borrelli, but she was in very good hands: those of Paolo Fontana aka Palli, the loyal Baladin brewer who has been with the brewery for decades now.
For this commemorative edition, I wanted a varied and well-assorted jury, with the young lions of the BJCP and some historic pioneers, including Max Faraggi, one of the founding fathers of the event, and the first winner of the first competition in 2001, Mauro Queirolo.
The 20th anniversary celebration, just before the awards ceremony - which I had the great honor of hosting - was a fitting end to a great day.
Former homebrewers, who had tried their hand at past editions of the competition and later became established brewers, such as the great Valter Loverier and Dano Meinero (who was also in the jury), as well as enthusiasts I had not seen for years such as Corrado De Vettor from Veneto and many others, accepted the invitation.
Teo, who was in splendid form, inspired me to look back over the last twenty years of the competition, with anecdotes and curiosities that engaged a large, involved and respectful audience who always kept their masks on and stood at safe distance.
A surprise grand finale was artfully concocted by Teo and his team, with two amazing commemorative magnums of Elixir labeled for Jean-Louis and me. We both didn't know anything about it, which moved and touched us even more. I can only thank Teo, Fabio, Islaz and the whole Baladin staff for the love they always show and give to me, and that I fully reciprocate!
Genova, July 21, 2021