Chances are, even here in the greatest city on earth, you haven’t tasted much craft beer from Italy. It’s a small category to begin with and, with the exception of Eataly’s Birreria, not a well-known one Stateside.
But now, you can get a taste of Italian beers brewed Belgian-style — if you’re willing to go to Hoboken for them.
Restaurant and wine bar Bin 14 exclusively offers two new Italian craft beers, both replicating traditional Belgian styles. La Cotta, brewed in an actual farmhouse near Pesaro-Urbino, grows all its own ingredients minus the occasional hops, and uses the local fresh water in the brewing process. Fravort is made in remote Alto-Adige, near the border with Austria and Switzerland. The brewers there have developed a proprietary yeast that works well with their all-local ingredients; the beers are unfiltered and unpasteurized with naturally-occurring carbonation.
Ryan Zenga, the American importer, deliberately chose to bring these new beers to New Jersey before New York. “I just don’t like hearing my state beat up all the time,” he says. “This is my little way to fight back.” He points out that millions of people who work in New York choose to live in New Jersey, and that a state line does not demarcate good taste. Offering these beers to his home state first is Zenga’s way of boosting the self-esteem, and perhaps the reputation, of New Jerseyites as connoisseurs with sophisticated palates.
Zenga’s move goes against the grain, and he likewise describes Italy’s craft beer movement as “counter-cultural,” bucking the country’s winemaking tradition. “A lot of these brewers came from wine families and they just didn’t want to do what their grandfather did or their dad did,” he points out. “They wanted to do their own thing and be cool, different — get tattoos and brew beer. And beer was never regarded as something that was sophisticated.”
With craft breweries like La Cotta and Fravort, that stereotype is changing, especially where the heart of Italian culture — its cuisine — is concerned. Both breweries developed their ales with the intention of pairing them with food, which Zenga sees as a blind spot among domestic craft producers. “The American craft beer movement gets a little beer geeky sometimes,” he says, “A little extremist. Yes, it’s delicious, and then you get heartburn and you can’t have another. This is built so you can enjoy it with food and it’s got a wide palate.” The Fravort especially, though tasty enough on its own, pairs well with strong flavors like smoky bacon and seafood.
You can try both beers by the glass or bottle at Bin 14, or purchase bottles to take home. They taste best when matched with — what else? — Italian food: tomato bruschetta, grilled fresh sausage, shellfish, and cheese.
See tasting notes on the next page.
La Cotta Chiara
A blonde ale that strongly favors bready malt and yeast flavors, with funky apricots and peaches throughout the crisp refreshing pour.
La Cotta Rossa
A crisp, coppery ale with hints of strawberries, light malt, and a pleasantly bitter finish.
La Cotta Ambrata
Flavors of lemon meringue pie and sweet maltiness end on a clean citrus finish.
Fravort La Bionda del Brenta
This blonde ale is sweet and honeyed with notes of raspberries, hay, and a rich earthiness.
Fravort La Rossa del Brenta
The fruity, funky nose gives way to a sweet and bitter palate with crisp carbonation.