While Italian coffee and Italian wine will always be classics, beer is slowly taking over the country, capturing the imaginations of Italians. During the past few years, Italian microbrews have exploded in popularity and as the public becomes increasingly accustomed to the idea of beer, the brews have taken on artisanal flavors. Keeping with the age-old notion that two good things are better than one, a small-but-growing group of brewers (birrai) from Piedmont, Lombardy, and Emilia-Romagna have taken up the challenge to combine beer and coffee, creating an experience that is not unlike drinking a fine wine.
Although the combination of beer and coffee might raise a few eyebrows, the flavors create surprising harmony and depth when mixed together. Whether you're making a lighter beer, a stout, or a thick Belgian brew, coffee can be added to any beer at any point of the brewing process for a unique drink. This might not be the beer you reach for while watching a football game, but it’s an ideal complement to a nice meal. Here are three notable Italian beers brewed with coffee; each should be available from quality beer retailers in the United States.
Marchè'l Re from LoverBeer: This small brewer from Piedmont has more than just gorgeous labels, he has a unique beer that, frankly, doesn’t take much like beer. The drink is inspired by caffè coretto ("corrected coffee" or coffee with a shot of liquor) and is brewed with herbs such as parsley, saffron, and salt, to give it a unique flavor reminiscent of an herbal liqueur. It’s a heavy brew that has an almost bitter flavor, perfect for a cold winter evening — especially if you want to stay awake.
Chicca from Pausa Cafè: The beer for the socially aware, Pausa Cafè works with inmates in Piedmont prisons, teaches them beer-brewing skills, and rehabilitates them, helping them reintegrate into society. While the beer smells of coffee, the roast flavor enhances rather than dominates the brew. To create this delicate harmony between hops and beans, Pausa Cafè uses beer uses 80 percent Arabica beans and 20 percent robusta lightly roasted. Perfect for lunch on a hot day.
Sally Brown Caffè Baracco from Birrificio del Ducato: This beer is made from 100 percent Arabica, Ethiopian beans that merge together the bitter notes of hops and coffee and transforms them into a completely unique taste. Unlike Chicca, this is a heavy beer that is slow drinking. Pair it with a simple meat dish and watch in awe as it transforms the tastes of your meal. It tastes of coffee, but you won’t forget you’re drinking a beer.