Menabrea, Birra Ambrata
If you think of Italy as a thigh-high boot, Menabrea is based right up in the nether regions, 1400 feet above sea level. Biella in Piedmont is a town of 46,000 people halfway between Milan and Turin, surrounded by mountains and field upon field of grazing sheep. “Idyllic” doesn’t come close.
The brewery was founded in 1846 by a couple of cafe owners, Antonio and Gian Battista Caraccio who cottoned on to the fact that the soft water flowing down from the Alps was ideal for brewing lager. Despite a tumultuous history (the unification of Italy and two world wars being just some of the main events) it’s one of the last surviving family-owned Italian brewers.
Like an Italian mother cares for her offspring, the folks at Menabrea care about beer. Similarly Menabrea, until now, have liked to keep their beer close to home.
90% of their wares are sold in Italy. 50% in the North of the country. The remaining 10% is exported to 28 countries. But you see, Menabrea have seen brands like Birra Moretti and Peroni conquer in Europe and they want a bit of that. It’s time for them to fly the nest. So they got in touch with us. Now, our opinion of Italian lager wasn’t exactly sky high. Until they sent us some samples.
The two main brews are a pale Euro-trash pilsner unimaginatively called ‘Birra’ which is certainly better than anything you will have previously found in Zizzis and this week’s beer, the Ambrata, which is a little bit ace. Firstly, it’s a Vienna Lager, which we don’t see too many of. Originally brewed in Austria in the 19th century the style has a rich reddish-amber hue with more malt and toasted character, along with a distinctive hint of sweetness. Menabrea’s version is pretty much textbook.
“Italian lager doesn’t have to be shite”. Doubt they’ll adopt that as a marketing slogan, but it sums Menabrea’s Ambrata up perfectly.