5.1 Terre di Siena, lands of master brewers

Blonde, light, red, dark. The simplest classification but not for true experts. In one word: beer. The drink that tastes like companionship, conviviality, moments to share or simply to enjoy alone. A beer with a unique flavour to be discovered in the province of Siena. Why don’t we talk about industrial beer, the one you can buy everywhere, but craft beer. What is it about?

Before discovering craft beer and its secrets, let’s take a step back. Way back. Back to the Sumerians, an ancient people who already 5000 years ago codified the way of producing beer, as well as seeing the birth of the figure of the master brewer who made room for his creativity by producing different types of beer, strong, light, flavoured and also produced with cereals other than barley.

Beer, in fact, is nothing more than the product of the fermentation of a cereal (mostly barley) with water. And thanks to its content of carbohydrates and alcohol, beer has always been considered a refreshing drink to such an extent that the ancient Egyptians also made children drink it, considering it a restorative drink. And that’s not all. In Babylon beer was the drink to be drunk during funerals as a propitiatory rite for the dead. It came to us thanks to the Etruscans and their trade. So did the Greeks who imported it from the Etruscans even though wine was more widely spread among their people. But beer made its way and even became the official drink of the Olympic Games because athletes were forbidden to drink wine, preferring a lighter drink like beer. Beer as we know it today, produced with the addition of hops, is due to the obstinacy and patience of the monks in the monasteries who in the Middle Ages began to add natural aromas to the drink, including hops.

Taste and history but even a lot of legends, almost always linked to naughty and even evil spirits coming from Northern Europe where it was believed that from the four corners of the bar where the beer was brewed, evil spirits would be ‘exorcised’ with abundant splashes of must and beer. And at night it was the family cat who checked that everything was quiet and its task was to frighten and ward off any spirits. Also because, according to popular belief, it was always important to leave the beer to ferment in peace and quiet and avoid frightening the yeast with vibrations and shocks that would compromise the success of the final product. A bit like we still do today with yeast, whether sweet or salty, in no way must be shaken.

Traditions and legends about beer in general. But in recent years, a decade in Italy, craft beer has also arrived in the beautiful country. A variety around which there are many rumours, often wrong. It is good to know that craft beer is beer produced in an independent brewery (legally and economically) that uses its own production facilities and does not produce over 200 thousand hectolitres of beer per year. Furthermore, the drink must not be pasteurized or micro filtered. This is established by Italian law. The craft beer is produced mainly with barley malt or wheat malt (and in some cases also with other malted cereals), basic elements to which hops, yeast and water are added.

And thus, also in the province of Siena in the last decade there has been a real boom of artisan beer producers: the microbreweries, which generally do not have a brewery and whose production is in whole or in large part intended for sale to bars and shops; the brew pubs or premises that produce beer for internal consumption, often combined with catering activities; the beer companies or pre-existing plants that are rented out to private individuals, who can then produce artisan beer but in quantities that cannot be reached with a normal domestic plant.

The production and tasting of craft beer is becoming more and more widespread also in the Lands of Siena as an additional offer to enhance a territory already at the top for quality of life and for the unique beauty of its landscapes. So you can find craft breweries in Siena, but also in Chianti, Val d’Orcia and Crete Senesi. In each of these localities it is possible to taste unique products; in many cases the artisan beer producers use raw materials (cereals) grown at km 0, with the guarantee for the consumer of the traceability of every single ingredient that ends up in the glass. Unique aromas that when mixed together produce a final product able to provide unique emotions: the essence of the territory that embraces the wisdom and sometimes even the experiments of master brewers. Experiments often audacious in a land where grapes and wine are the masters give a variety of choices even for beer lovers. And the consumer of craft beer is very demanding.

Classic flavours, in line with the American tradition from which the craft beer is made, and novelties brought in by young brewers. There have been many experiments in recent years with beers made with English, Indian and Belgian malts. Just as many venture into seasonal beers, on all full-bodied Christmas beers or summer drinks. The more audacious ones then use fruit aromas or other ingredients such as liquorice, salt or chestnuts. When confronted with such a wide variety of beers, how can they be classified to better orient us in the brassicultural world? There are four types: type of fermentation, country of origin, prevailing ingredient and colour.

The most widely used method for classifying the various styles of beer is that of the types of fermentation initiated by the yeasts, which allows us to classify the brews into “High fer- mentation beer”, “Low fermentation beer” and “Spontaneous fermentation beer”. High fer- mentation beers are called Ale. The yeast used for the production of these beers ferments at higher temperatures. In this case, therefore, the yeast begins to influence the aroma and taste of the final beer. In fact, there are many specific and characteristic yeasts, which add particular notes to beer and for this reason it is necessary to deepen our knowledge in order to better understand each style. Low fermentation beer is called Lager. This category includes all beers that ferment at low temperatures. The type of yeast used is very clean and neutral. This means that the yeast will add very little to the aroma and final taste of the beer, enhancing instead the malts or hops chosen. The most famous low-fermenting beers are light beers, such as Pilsner and Helles. However, several styles of amber or dark beer also exist in this category, such as Marzen and Bock. 

Spontaneously fermented beers are those beers which are produced without yeast. You leave the beer in huge tanks, directly in contact with oxygen. This allows all the wild yeasts and bacteria in the air and on the equipment to “contaminate” the beer and start fermentation. The bacteria are in fact allies of the brewers just as they are for the different artisan productions of different fermented products such as cheese, yoghurt, bread and much more. In the case of beer the results can be very differ- ent and particular. They are certainly not beers for everyone, but they are very special types of beer.

And for this exact reason they are more and more “fashionable” among artisan brewers. The classification by country of origin includes the different production methods combined with the typical techniques of a certain area. Some involve fermenting the beer in closed containers, others in open containers (such as the Czech Pilsner). There are those who make a single brewing step (such as English Ale), and those who make several. There are those who leave the beer in the cold to make it clearer (like German Lagers), those who instead infuse it and serve it directly. In short, there are many different ways to make beer and they are very tied to the country of origin. To further influence the final beer produced in a given country depends also on the type of soil, climate and water. We notice this difference mainly in hops. For example, German hops have a mainly floral profile. American hops, on the other hand, have a much more citrusy and fruity profile.

The beer can also be classified according to the prevailing ingredient. What does this mean? There are three ingredients that influence the smell, aroma and taste of beer: hops, malt and yeast. In each type of beer there will be the prevalence of one or another, or a balanced mix of the three. This is why we can further divide the types of beer into: “bitter” where the main ingredient is hops, “sweet” which has malt as its basic ingredient, “acid” where the yeast will be the main ingredient.

The classification by colour is finally the most commonly used but it is necessary to know that the colour itself is influenced by the type of malt used and above all by its roasting. Blonde beers are produced with malts that are not very toasted and delicate, bringing caramelized notes to the product; red or amber beers are produced with medium toasted malts that lead to biscuit or toffee aftertaste; dark beers are produced with very toasted malts that leave chocolate, liquorice and coffee aromas in the mouth. 


Brochure edited by Primamedia, Siena

Texts edited by Cristian Lamorte

Editorial coordination: Elisa Boniello and Laura Modafferi

Photos: Archivio Comune di Siena, Leonardo Castelli 

Graphic design: Michela Bracciali 


I Comuni di Terre di Siena