Monday, 4 December 2017

Sardinian Brewing Adventure

Collaboration Brewing & Sardinian Beers

 Last summer at XT we brewed a Belgian Wit Beer, the ‘Animal Donkey’, with innovative and eccentric Italian Brewery BBBirra from Bosa. The beer was made with wheat and loads of potent Sardinian orange zest brought over by our brewing friend Carl Fitzpatrick.

This year I headed out to the idyllic Sardinian coastal town of Bosa to join Carl again and get our brewing heads together for round two of our international collaboration.

Carl runs his brewery and farm in the medieval town of Bosa on the banks of the river Temo in NW Sardinia. The two ventures are built on very strong environmental and sustainable principles close to Carl’s heart. The farm grows all the barley, wheat and hops for the beers, and his well provides all the brewing liquor; the yeast even comes from the local wine producers. Both ancient and contemporary varieties of grains are grown to ensure a diverse culture on the farm and remove the need for chemical assistance.  The by-products of brewing are fed to the farm animals. Unusual these days – even the used beer bottles are returned by Carl’s drinkers and refilled. The locals are so used to this now; he doesn’t even need to charge a deposit! The whole process from field to glass takes place all within walking distance of the farm.

The first beer we worked on in the four storey brewery, tucked away in the narrow, winding streets of old town Bosa, was based on an Italian speciality – “Doppio Malto”. This very high gravity beer is made with a unique double mashing process. The super strong wort is then munched away by yeast which had been cropped from actively fermenting Malvasia wine. To balance the massively chewy malt flavours, high alpha hops are added for a citrus bite.

If the beers travel further than Bosa, Carl takes them in his mobile pub – an amazing, converted German fire engine. With hand pumps, a bar and a bespoke chilled cellar; the beers are enjoyed in perfect condition while drinkers rest on old wine barrels. One day, between brews, we collected an old oak foeder from an ancient and crumbling wine cellar. The cellar tucked away in a tiny narrow street was an Aladdin’s cave of amazing old wine casks resting unused for many years, I wish I could have brought one home for a bit of whacky fermentation of my own.

As a balance to the Doppio, we turned our attention to a beverage made from the oldest strain of grain grown by man – Einkorn wheat which was originally cultivated in ancient Egypt. It’s a tough little grain and takes a lot to get it to give up its sugars for brewing. To help the process, our grist needed to be blended with some contemporary malted wheat. The flavours of this hazy, refreshing “Pharaoh’s Ale” perfectly matched the heat of the Sardinian sun.

Sardinia has a hot, Mediterranean climate and the beer culture has grown accordingly – with the locals and visitors preferring lighter and fruity beers, softer IPAs, wheat beers and lagers. The craft beer craze has swept across the whole of Italy and now even Sardinia has over two dozen local breweries.

The beer market is still dominated by Ichnusa – a classic Euro fizz lager. As with many similar brands this brewer is now a part of the giant Heineken, but a raft of small independent producers are making many inroads.
My pick of these new kids on the island include:

Marduk from Orosei on the east coast – this is one of the more commercial of the independent producers and their beers include American style IPAs, Czech Lagers and a Munich Alt Bier. But as with BBBirra they also follow a sustainability field to grain principle and have their own farm and maltings. 

Birrificio Cagliari, based in the capital, produce a very wide range of styles –and all packaged in beautiful bottles with very stylish labels. Worth it just to enjoy the Italian designer look.

Birra Lara from Tertenia on the south eastern coast is a very modern brewery creating beers using barley grown on their own farm. The owners enthusiastically support the traceability of their ingredients throughout the process.

Sambrinus from Sassari in the north is the oldest craft brewer, operating since 1999. Beers follow a more classical style of traditional brews.

Birrificio 4 Mori based in the south western town of Guspini, the brewery is housed in old mine workings and uses an excellent numbering system for their beers.

Most of the beers are available in bottles – generally I found these to be bottle conditioned, the locals expect ‘craft’ to be cloudy and preferably with lots of foam. Finding the beers on draught was a little tricky, but when you do find them, they are often ‘keg conditioned’ in key-keg or other bag type disposable systems. Many of the beers I tried were unfiltered and unpasteurised. In order to enjoy a really good range look out for one of the many beer festivals around the island. These tend to be laid out in the ‘market street’ style where you can meet and talk to the brewery teams on their own stalls. 

It was a pleasure to work with Carl again this year, and get an insight into beer and brewing in Italy. Travelling for beer – what could be better?

Trappist Breweries

Pray Silence for Trappist Beer!

What is Trappist Beer and What is a Trappist Brewery?


Trappist beer is brewed by monks of the Order of Cistercians of the Strict Observance. The order was founded at La Trappe Abbey in Normandy in the seventeenth century – they broke away from the regular Cistercians for being too soft. The Cistercians had already broken from the Benedictines as they had preferred more hard work and dedicated worship. So the Trappists like a bit of seriously hard manual labour, idle chit-chat is discouraged, silence is golden. They do however like beer.
Trappist beer is more a definition of who can brew it rather than what the beer is like. The beer must be brewed in a Trappist monastery, by monks or under their supervision and the brewing must be for the upkeep of the monastery and not for profit. There is legal protection of the designation through the International Trappist Association, and currently only 11 breweries around the world can call themselves Trappist. If you are not up to the mark on these criteria  there are ‘Abbey Beers’  - this is a more loose term for breweries with some vague link to a monastery.
There is only one Trappist monastery in England – Mt Saint Bernard in Leicestershire. They have now built a brewery and joined as the world’s 12th Trappist brewer. In northern Spain, San Pedro monastery are also working towards joining the elite club.


Although not strictly a definition of beer style, the beers produced by the breweries have similar characteristics. The emphasis is towards estery, fruity flavours from the unique yeast strains. Using warm, top fermentation, the beers are high strength, low on hop impact and utilise specialist malts and candi sugars to give warm, spicy flavours of great complexity. The beers are mainly packaged as bottle conditioned – which combined with their higher ABV and malt characteristics are excellent for long term keeping. Indeed many of the beers improve their complexity with months or years of aging in a cool dark place.
The beer categories have evolved over time and their original meanings have wandered a little – but roughly speaking:
Patersbier – these are ‘table beers’ generally only available in the monastery for the monks, low strength – quaffing beers
Enkel: the ‘single standard beer’ – from which the scale grows…
Dubbel:  twice the raw materials of the single. Strong, dark and low bitterness, heavy and fruity flavours 6–7 %
Tripel: more ingredients again – Stronger and golden, 7-11%
Quadrupel:  Strongest, dark and vinous sipping beers, 8-12%

Where numbers are used, these represent ‘Belgian Beer Degrees’ – not a university qualification, but an old school take on Original Gravity – the measure of the density of the beer before fermentation. So roughly a Belgian BD 6 = English OG 1060, it gives an idea on the final ABV and the weightiness of the beer.


When you come to enjoy your Trappist beer glassware is all important, both for the theatre and to enhance the aromas and flavours. Use a goblet chalice style glass – the breweries have their own specific styles, but collecting them all does take up a lot of cupboard space.
The bottled beers will have sediment – its personal choice if you wish to drink that, so pour carefully after allowing the sediment to settle.
Now consider that the finest wines are bonkers expensive – but the finest beers in the world are within the budget of everyone!


Rochefort - 

Belgian, 1595, 18,000 Hl/Yr
6 = Red Cap, brown ale, 7.5%
8 = Green Cap, brown ale, 9.2%
10 = Blue Cap, Dark Ale, 11.3%

Westmalle – 

Belgian, 1836, 120,000 Hl/Yr

Dubel = Dark Red Ale, 7%
Tripel = Golden Ale, 9.5%
Extra = Only available at the monastery, 5%

Westvleteren – 

Belgian, 1838, 5,000 Hl/Yr

Blond = Green Cap, 5.8%
8 = Blue Cap, Amber red ale 8%
12 = Yellow Cap, Legendary! 10.2%

Chimay – 

Belgian, 1863, 120,000 Hl/Yr

Red = Dubel, 7%
Blue = Dark Ale, 9%
Tripel = Golden 8%
Gold = Golden 4.8%

Orval – 

Belgian, 1931, 71,000 Hl/Yr

Orval = Brett Pale Ale, 6.2%
Petite Orval = Monks only special, 3.5%

Achel – 

Belgian, 1998, 5,000 Hl/Yr

7˚ Blond = Only available at the abbey, Golden 7%
7˚Bruin = Only available at the abbey, Brown Ale 7%
8˚ Blond = Golden 8%
8˚ Bruin = Brown Ale 8%
Extra Blond = Special 9.5%
Extra Bruin = Special 9.%

La Trappe – 

Dutch, 1884, 145,000 Hl/Yr

Blond = Golden yellow 6.5%
Dubbel = Dark brown ale 7%
Isis’or = Jubilee ale, amber 7.5%
Tripel = Golden blonde 8%
Quadrupel = Heavy, amber special 10%
Witte Trappist = hazy wheat beer, 5.5%
Bockbier = Chestnut bock beer 7%
Puur = organic blonde ale 4.7%

Stift Engelszell – 

Austria, 2012, 2,000 Hl/Yr

Benno = Golden Red 7%
Gregorius = Dark Ale 9.7%
Nivard = Golden 5.5%

Spencer – 

 USA, 2013, 5000 Hl/Yr

Trappist Ale = Pale 6.5%
Holiday Ale = Dark 9%
Monks Reserve = Black 10.2%
Imperial Stout = Dark 8.7%
IPA = Golden 7.2%
Feierabendbire = Golden 4.7%
Lager = Pale Golden 7.5%

Zundert – 

Dutch, 2013, 5000 Hl/Yr

Trappist = Brown Ale 8%

Tre Fontane – 

Italian, 2014, 2000 Hl/Yr

Tripel = Blonde 8.5%

Mt Saint Bernard -

UK 2018
Tynt Meadow = Mahogany 7.4%