Iacopo Lenci got his start in beer making as a home brewer. But unlike most home brewers, Lenci went pro and is now introducing his Lucca, Italy-made Birrificio Brùton beer to North America. Founded in 2006, the brewery is carving its own craft beer tradition, with some definite influences from Belgium, and creating brews that are beautifully balanced and easy to drink. Brùton’s beers are unpasteurized, unfiltered and undergo secondary fermentation in the bottle that results in somewhat cloudy– opalescent even–beers that have complex aromas and hearty foam heads. Here Lenci explains his brewing style: creating food-friendly beers that are an Italian’s re-interpretation of the classics.
How did you get into making beer?
I never thought of it as a job; I was really interested in drinking. I was originally interested in film and began as a home brewer. My brewmaster, Andrea Riccio, was also a home brewer. Although I’m within the European tradition of brewing, it’s influenced by (my) Italian tastes. The brewery (and restaurant) are 5 kilometers outside Lucca, not far from Florence. We choose the location for the water. The weather in Italy is not proper for growing hops so we import from Germany, America, England, Belgium and the Czech Republic. However Bruton’s Bianca is predominantly made from Italian-grown, organic spelt, perhaps even all the spelt grown in Italy. There’s no real tradition of Italian beer (or school for studying brewing); I’m reinterpreting in a balanced way. I’m not trying to plant the flag by making the most alcoholic or most hoppy beer. I don’t want make an extreme beer. And as an Italian, I automatically want to pair beer with food.
Drinking and eating go together at the brewery?
Yes. There is a restaurant within the brewery (opens at 7:30 every night) and we serve classic Tuscan dishes as well as German sausages and a proper American-style hamburger plus a lot of grilled meat and pizzas. We are set in an area (Lucca) that is famous for its fresh produce and tomatoes and we honor that.
What is unique about the Italian craft beer scene?
I think that the main features about Italian craft beers is the fact that having no national path to follow, we have no rules! Some of us brew highly spiced beers (think about Troll or Montegioco), other ones make a reinterpretation of classical styles (Brùton, but even Ducato or Baladin); some make oak-aged beers from the very beginning (Panil) etc. But all of us are linked by the fact that the “native” Italian taste makes us brew complex, and at the same time, enjoyable beers. Most of our products are gentle and balanced, highly characterized and even “brave,” I would say. And the craft scene is still growing very quickly. We are now more than 350!
What was the first beer that you brewed, and how did it turn out?
I started making beers as a home brewer, when I wasn’t yet allowed to drink, at the age of sixteen. And I learned brewing basically by experimenting and throwing them away. We have no school; all of us had to study from English guides, and this is one of the reasons of the wide variety of our products. Concerning the “real” job, the first beer we (me and my ex-colleague) brewed at Brùton was the Momus. Not a great success to be honest: we changed the recipe very quickly! And I grew so much since that time.
Do you have any brewing mentors or teachers?
I don’t. I’ve always been very influenced by the Belgian styles and the English ales, while my head brewer Andrea Riccio is very much more [a fan of] the German styles. Good combination I would say. And by the way I think no one can disagree if I say that Teo Musso from Baladin, who started in ’93 is our elder statesman and has been fundamental to the growing of the Italian scene. You can like or not like his beers, but according to me there’s no doubt that he is our “brewing-uncle.”
Who are some other brewers that you respect?