Undiscovered Italy

Every once in a while, up here in the currently frozen – but only slightly snowy – north of Toronto, we receive an import from the wide world of beer that for one reason or another remains relatively unknown elsewhere in North America. Like the beers of Birrificio Brùton of Italy, the portfolio of which has received a collective seventeen reviews on Beer Advocate and 171 on RateBeer. (The latter site appears to host more European members, which accounts for the far greater numbers. But even there, only two of the brewery’s ales can claim more than forty reviews.)

How these came to Toronto likely has something to do with: a) The brewery’s participation in the Mondial de la Bière in Montréal, five hours east of here; b) Brewer Iacopo Lenci’s confessed fondness for Canada; and c) Our city’s rather large Italian population. Hence the opportunity I had late last year to sample my way through four of Brùton’s stable of, I think it’s fair to say, eccentric ales.

Make no mistake, Brùton is not an on-the-edge brewery like its national neighbours Baladin and Panil. While Lenci’s brands are certainly different from what you might find up the road, especially if that road leads to a German or English style brewery, they are also not intended to be game-changers in the fashion of Panil’s Barriquée or Baladin’s Xyauyù. A healthy disregard for clean, sharp, uncluttered flavours helps in approaching these beers, but a complete reset of expectations is not required.

We began with the Bianca, Lenci’s sweet take on a Belgian-style white beer. A little too cloying to be a Blanche de Chambly or St. Bernardus Wit style aperitif, I thought its relatively full character expresses admirably its almost tropical-like fruitiness, balanced out with the significant florals, and suits it well to food, perhaps a prosciutto and mozzarella sandwich.

Next up was the brewery’s flagship Brùton, a top-fermented beer brewed with Czech and German hops. Pouring blonde and hazy – it, like the rest of Brùton’s beers, is bottle-conditioned in an elegant, 750 ml bottle – it offers a dry, slightly vegetal and leafy aroma preceding a fruity palate entry which in turn leads to a drier, citrus-accented body with an appealing spiciness in the second half. I wanted more from this, but was not completely unsatisfied by what it did delivery.

Stoner was the one that impressed me most on my first encounter with Brùton beers at the Mondial, and it again caught my attention here. Brewed from three grains – barley, wheat and rye – it is strong at 7.5% alcohol and golden in colour, with a notes of pink grapefruit and yellow plum on the nose, along with a whiff of spicy hop, and lots of tropical fruit and balancing spicy hop in the body, leading to an off-dry finish that left me with the impression of a beer that is both full-bodied but light on the palate. Decidedly unusual, but in a very good way.

My final tasting arrived in the form of Lilith, another style-bending ale said to be “inspired by English bitter” yet hopped with a generous amount of Cascade hops. And sure enough, grapefruit and apple dominate the nose, although the body has a surprisingly muted bitterness, relative to the aroma, with spicy notes from the yeast – a house character perceptible  to a degree in all the Brùton beers – alongside green apple and citrus peel, leading to a very dry, faintly spicy finish. A noble effort, but one that emerges as neither fish nor fowl.

Ontario beer enthusiasts who wish to get their hands on these beers may do so by contacting the suitably named Glenn Barley of Stem Wine Group at 416-200-6075.

 

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