A beer festival in Tuscany?
If I offered to take you to a beer festival in Tuscany, you’d probably think I was confused. If I then drove you half an hour south-east of Siena and led you along a couple of kilometres of gravel track to a small farm in the middle of nowhere, you’d probably think I was lost. Yet, for more than a decade, brewers from across Italy (and the world) have converged on this rural spot outside Buonconvento each September to celebrate some of Italy, and the world’s, very best beers.
During the past 20 years, Italy’s microbrewing community has grown faster than yeast in a fermentation vat. As with all things food-and-drink related, Italian brewmasters take their beer very seriously. Yet, they also like to have fun while sharing their passion with as many people as possible, which is what the Festival of Small Breweries – Villaggio della Birra – is all about.
The main action centres on a large barn, where festival-goers are engaged in sampling different beers while soaking up the sun and listening to music performed by local bands. Inside, a largely young crowd of beer enthusiasts choose from the rows of pumps on the bars lining the walls and pile their plates with delicious local food, such as porchetta or wild boar stew. While it would be easy to try a few too many beers here, Villaggio della Birra is aimed at connoisseurs and families are welcome, too.
The beer is uniformly excellent. On offer are some of the finest brews produced in Italy, Belgium, the UK, Norway, Denmark, Spain, Germany and the US. Pale ales such as IPA English and Saison are popular with Italian brewers, as are blond ales and porters. There are more unusual brews, too; one microbrewery, Loverbeer, specialises in sour ales, which have a distinctive flavour and are mostly on the stronger side, around the 8 per cent ABV mark. Pilsners, spiced ales and bocks (German-style strong lager) also make an appearance. For an authentic Tuscan brew, try Birrificio L’Olmaia. Who says it’s all about the wine in Tuscany?