Not so long ago, the idea of drinking a cold beer at the heart of this iconic wine region would seem sacrilegious. No longer. A decade ago, Italy had less than 100 breweries, according to specialist website Microbirrifici.com. Now there’s more than that in Tuscany alone. As recently as 2013 it had only around 30. Ratebeer.com puts the total number of Italian breweries at over 1,000.
The sector has even attracted investment from big international names in the beer world. In July 2017, Belgian giant Duvel Moortgat bought a 35 percent stake in Birrificio del Ducato, a trailblazer in Italian brewing since its founding near Parma in 2007.
Whichever way you slice it, this is boom-time for beer in Italy.
Artisan beer in Italy
Italians call craft beer “birra artigianale,” evoking the country’s artisan tradition. These beers tend to be small-batch, unfiltered and unpasteurised, and are mostly served cold and fizzy in bottles or from gas-powered taps. Hops are generally imported, which can push up the average price of a pint, although 2017 also saw the first native Italian hop harvest.
You can expect to find all major international beer styles on a journey around Tuscany IPAs and APAs; stouts and porters; steam beers, golden ales and witbier; strong dark beers and session pale ales. In addition, Tuscany’s craft brewers are known for using native ingredients in their beers, whether Garfagnana spelt grains in the malt or chestnuts in their sweeter, more autumnal brews.
You’ll find a concentration of breweries, brewpubs and beer events in the main towns and cities. But this trend isn’t restricted to a few urban hipsters. Even one of Europe’s most famous wine towns, Radda in Chianti, got its own brewery in 2016.
Spring, early summer and autumn are also popular times for a beer festival. This could be anything from a showcase for a local brewer or two, to a major annual event like Villaggio della Birra (Buonconvento, September).
The best craft beer bars in Florence
If you’re staying in one of our villas near Florence, you have a sea of great beer on the doorstep. Tuscany’s capital has a range of bars to match almost anywhere in Italy. Most specialise in Italian beers, but also keep taps open for imports from Belgium, Scandinavia, Germany or the UK.
Note: even away from these specialist bars, you can often find quality Italian microbrews. You should ask in supermarkets, bottle shops and restaurants for “birra artigianale”. Firenze Birra, on Via della Sette Santi, stocks a great range of bottled artisan beers to take away.
- Diorama, Via Pisana: tiny San Frediano bar with friendly staff, a couple of taps and a bottle fridge stuffed with some of Europe’s best beers, from Mikkeller and Cantillon to Italian breweries Loverbeer and Extraomnes
- Fermento, Via Canto dei Nelli: recent arrival opposite the Medici Chapels with beers from Palm (Belgium) and Birrificio del Ducato (Italy)
- Beer House Club, Corso de’ Tintori: 10 taps, a chalkboard menu, burgers and major sports on the screens
- Archea, Via dei Serragli: taphouse for brewer of the same name, with a vibe somewhere between Belgium and an English pub
- Brewdog, Via Faenza: grungy outpost of the famous Scottish brewer, with their own no-hold-barred IPAs plus plenty of guests
Tuscan craft brews you should seek out
If you want to get serious about tracking down Tuscan microbreweries, Slow Food’s biennial Guida alle Birre d’Italia is a worthwhile investment. Fermento Birra also keeps a list updated. Below are three of our many favourites around this region.
Bruton, near Lucca: somewhat of a grandaddy in the Tuscan beer world (b. 2006), Bruton beers-to-buy include a wheat (Bianca) and a pale (Lilith), plus seasonal offerings
Math, near Tavernelle Val di Pesa: La 10000, Math’s flagship, American hopped Imperial IPA, was recognised as one of Italy’s “Grande Birre” in the recent edition of the Guida alle Birre d’Italia; the brewery is a short drive from several of our villas in Chianti
Piccolo Birrificio Clandestino, Livorno: these beers have won multiple awards all over Europe, including recognition for an American Brown Ale (Santa Giulia), a Black IPA (Gatta Nera) and an American IPA (Riappala)