29 January 2014

De Cervesia, Lucca, Italy

A decision to visit Tuscany in January 2014 was influenced by finding a Guardian article 'Tuscany on tap: a beer-lover's guide to the region' by Donald Strachan. Tuscany on Tap (Guardian)
Lucca was one of the cities I wanted to visit and it was nice to discover that De Cervesia in Lucca was one of the five places in Tuscany that Donald recommended beer-lovers should visit.

Pisa train at Lucca station
Lucca lies about 10 miles north east from Pisa, the nearest city with an airport. Lucca is well served by direct electric trains from Pisa Centrale station with a single fare of 3.30 Euros (January 2014).
Outline of Lucca ramparts - X marks De Cervesia, P marks Mara Meo Pizzeria
Lucca railway station lies to the south of the ramparts that surround the historic innner centre of the city.
Borgo gate / Porta dei Borghi
De Cervesia is located at Via Michele Rosi, 20, and is near to Piazza Santa Maria and very close to the Borgo gate (Porta dei Borghi). These landmarks are in the north of the historic inner centre of the city and within the surrounding ramparts.
De Cervesia - closed in the morning
On the other side of Via Michele Rosi is Ciclo DiVino a unit that looks like a bicycle shop but which is actually a wine bar. 
Even in January, the street outside De Cervesia is lively in the evening with customers of the two establishments socialising in the shared space.

1st visit to De Cervesia, Tuesday 14 January 2014


Staying in Lucca on my own, I was keen to visit De Cervesia on my first night in the city. Even with the address, I discovered that not all streets have signs so it took a few wrong turns before I located De Cervesia, near Borgo gate.

Matteo in front of the bar at De Cervesia
De Cervesia is described as a beer shop but there is a bar and a few bar stools. These were occupied when I arrived so I stood at the bar until a stool became available. Matteo gave me a friendly welcome and a chance to taste a draught beer before ordering. I liked the taste of Gaina so was happy to order a full glass, at a cost of 3 euros.

Gaina - Birrificio Lambrate
Gaina, a well hopped IPA (6% ABV) is brewed by Birrificio Lambrate, Milan. This brewery was founded in 1996 and has both a brewpub and a pub near to Milan's Lambrate station.

Full bottle of Gaina next to glass containing draught Gaina
I gave Matteo a copy of Ullage, the West Berkshire CAMRA magazine. Matteo mentioned that he used to stock bottled beers from Brewdog and St Peter's Brewery but now De Cervesia serves only Italian beers. 

There is a chilled beer display on the wall behind the bar. Matteo stocks beers from the Italian breweries he rates as the best including several from the Lucca region. The beers on the left hand side of the top shelf with coloured collars are from Birrificio Brùton, San Cassiano di Moriano which is located beside the river Serchio, about 5 miles north east of Lucca. The bottles in the centre of the top shelf are from Birrificio La Petrognola, based in Colognola, near the source of the river Serchio, about 30 miles north of Lucca.
Unlike the UK, few Italian beer bottles are 50cl size. Matteo recommended beers from Birrificio del Forte which are supplied in 75cl bottles. The brewery is based in Pietrasanta, near the Mediterranean coast, about 15 miles north west of Lucca.
The two other breweries from the province of Lucca which Matteo mentioned are Birroir Birrificio Artigianale and Birrificio degli Archi.

Extraomnes - Zest
Matteo especially recommended the bottled beers from Extraomnes and he took a 33cl bottle of Zest from the middle of the lower shelf and carefully poured it for me. This bottle cost 5 euro, the same price as bottles from Brùton but more expensive than Petrognola (4 euro). The brewery is located in Marmate, about 20 miles north west of Milan. The brewer, Luigi D’Amelio, won the title of  '2013 Brewer of the Year', from the Fermento Birra network. The well hopped beer (5.3% ABV) has a bitter finish, spicy and fruity flavours. Matteo kindly translated the tasting notes that mentioned hints of gooseberry, nectarine and lychee.
When Matteo was not busy serving beer, collecting empty glasses or chatting with customers, he found time to change the music and it was nice to discover some music from Italy including the Supersantos album by Mannarino.
The permanently open door to the street meant that it was not very warm inside De Cervesia but at least it was now possible for me to sit down on a bar stool after a seated customer left.
My third and final beer of the night would be from the other draught tap which was dispensing Brighella, a Christmas beer from Birrificio Lambrate.
This 8% ABV Belgian style beer had a sweeter taste than the previous beers and also provided some warmth to counter the breeze through the doorway!
Before leaving I paid my tab of 11 euros and asked Matteo if he could recommend any local pizza restaurants.
Mara Meo Pizzeria - Piazza San Francesco
The first one he suggested, Bella 'Mbriana, opposite the youth hostel in nearby Via della Cavallerizza, turned out to be closed for a holiday period but Mara Meo in Piazza San Francesco, on the way to my B&B, was a friendly and cosy place to stop for an economical meal.

2nd visit to De Cervesia, Thursday 16 January 2014

Having spent Wednesday in Florence for some sightseeing and stops for refreshment at Birrificio Mostodolce and Archea Brewery, it was time to visit De Cervesia again on my last night in Lucca.
Porto San Gervasio, Lucca
I stopped to photograph another gate inside the historic centre of Lucca on my way to Matteo's beer shop.

On this night, there were three fonts of draught beer to choose from. My first choice was Brùton Bianca, a Belgian style witbier (4.5% ABV). 

This was a good example of a refreshing wheat beer, brewed only 5 miles away. In fact Matteo was able to point out Iacopo Lenci, the Brùton brewer with a Mohican style haircut, to me. He was having a beer just outside with some friends after making a delivery to De Cervesia.
Matteo Sargenti
Although I did not have an opportunity to get a photo of Iacopo, I was able to persuade Matteo to pose for one.
Brewfist - Burocracy
Now it was time to have a glass of the other draught beer which I had not tried - Burocracy from BrewFist. Matteo poured this into the brewery's branded glass. This was an IPA (6% ABV) with plenty of flavour and bitterness. I had noticed that bottles of BrewFist Spaceman were very popular with customers at De Cervesia but I did not have a chance to taste this alternative IPA (7% ABV). The Brewfist brewery was founded in 2010 and is located in Codogno, about 30 miles south east of Milan.
Before leaving De Cervesia I was glad to be able to have a bit of conversation with Alessio, a fellow customer, although my poor Italian meant that it was hard work for Alessio to make himself understood in English. At least beer is a universal language and beer-lovers are always welcomed in specialist beer bars.
Mara Meo pizzeria is on the left of the Church of San Francesco
It was time for another visit to Mara Meo pizzeria in Piazza San Francesco before heading back to the B&B via Porta Elisa, one of the few routes through the ramparts that surround the historic central part of Lucca.
Porta Elisa, Lucca


De Cervesia, Lucca - contact details: 

De Cervesia, Via Michele Rosi, 20, 55100 Lucca, Italy
Tel +39 0583 492620
Check locally for current opening times. Note that De Cervesia may be closed on Sunday and will usually close at 10pm or earlier on other days.

Links for breweries mentioned in this post:

Birrificio Lambrate (English homepage)

Birrificio Bruton 

Birrificio La Petrognola 

Birrificio del Forte 

Birroir Birrificio

Birrificio degli Archi



22 January 2014

Beer from Bientina at Orzo Bruno, Pisa

A decision to visit Tuscany in January 2014 was influenced by finding a Guardian article 'Tuscany on tap: a beer-lover's guide to the region' by Donald Strachan. Tuscany on Tap (Guardian)

There are plenty of cheap flights from the UK to Pisa and so this seemed a good place to stay on the first and last nights of the trip to allow visits to Orzo Bruno, one of the bars featured in the article.

Further research revealed that Orzo Bruno opened at 7pm and was popular with students due to Happy Hour reduced beer prices and the tradition of providing free food on the bar. The advice was to get there early so my plan was to arrive early with the intention of finding a seat at the bar.

First visit to Orzo Bruno (13/1/2014)

Orzo Bruno is situated at Via Case Dipinte n. 6/8 which is near to Borgo Stretto, the main shopping street, that starts at the Piazza Garibaldi on the north bank of the river Arno. Walking north from the piazza, turn right on reaching Via Mercanti. Turn left on the first road that crosses and the bar is on the right, facing an open area with parked scooters.

The decorated shutters were still down at 7pm but then a side door opened and I was privileged to be the first person to be admitted on this Monday night.

The long bar protrudes from the longer rear wall of the rectangular room and the beer fonts are in the centre.

Wooden blocks, each decorated with details of one of the beers, are strung above the bar.
Having recently walked from Pisa airport to the Sunflower B&B and then on to Orzo Bruno after crossing the railway line and the river Arno, I had worked up quite a thirst!
I found a bar stool to perch on at the furthest end of the bar where I could keep an eye on proceedings.
I started with a refreshing half litre of Martesana, a 5% ABV pale ale, served in a chunky tall glass with a handle. Before 8.30pm, a half litre costs 3.60 euros (0.3 litre costs 2.60 euros). Prices rise to 4 euros (3 euros) after 8.30pm.

The bar had now been filled with plates of tempting bread based appetisers. Long breads had been sliced in half lengthways and heated to crispness and were spread with different toppings, mainly cheese or vegetable based. They were then laterally sliced to give a lot of finger thickness bruschetta type snacks. With a stack of plastic plates and paper napkins at one end of bar, customers were free to help themselves to a plateful of appetisers.

Laminated menus available from the bar give details of the drinks range on one side and the wider range of food that can be ordered from the bar on the other. With paninis and piadines from 5 euros and other hot dishes or salads from 8 euros, the kitchen staff were busy preparing food for customers and for take away food orders.
The room was now filling with customers and several street sellers ventured in during the early evening to find buyers for their stock of cigaretter lighters and tissues. 'No' was not enough for the street sellers but I found that a cash donation was an acceptable alternative to a purchase. 

One barman was kept busy all evening pouring all the drinks. The glasses were filled in stages to give time for the initial frothy head to subside. The flat drip tray under the fonts was deep enough to hold three glasses deep so they would be moved around and topped up in turn until they were full enough to serve.

Valdera Rossa

I was able to try beers in increasing strength order: Valdera Rossa a 5.2% ABV red ale; Montemagno a 7.3% ABV strong ale brewed with honey; Yeti a 7.5% ABV beer with floral and orange peel flavours. The Yeti with some sweetness and spicy flavours was my favourite beer of the evening.

Return visit to Orzo Bruno (17/1/2014)

Four days later, I was back in Pisa on a Friday night. It rained heavily during the day and the street sellers had swapped their previous wares for umbrellas! I must have passed at least half a dozen umbrella sellers on the way from the hotel to Orzo Bruno and every one of them attempted to sell me one from their stock!
I arrived at the bar at opening time and was able to secure my favoured spot at the far end of the bar.
There was a new block sign above the bar to announce the availability of a new beer - Picca. The ingredients were also listed and illustrated: Ginger, black pepper, cinnamon and vanilla. I ordered a half litre of Picca to see if it would remind me of Batemans Black Pepper Ale that was brewed for Sainsbury's 2013 Great British Beer Hunt. It was a good choice as none of the flavours were too dominant and the subtle pepper notes were discernible.
Il Birrificio Artigiano, Bientina, team at Orzo Bruno - Alessio Pontiggia is on the right

Introducing myself as a CAMRA newsletter editor to tonight's barman (Alessio Pontiggia from the brewery - Il Birrificio Artigiano Bientina) gave me an opportunity to present him with a copy of Ullage (West Berkshire CAMRA newsletter). Alessio not only agreed to my request for a photo for Ullage but he went back to the kitchen and brought out the rest of the team for a group photo.
As on my previous visit, the kitchen staff were kept busy preparing free food for collection from plates on the bar as well as meals ordered by customers.
The rain outside may have reduced the number of visitors to Orzo Bruno and it certainly kept the street sellers outside with their stock of umbrellas. A good range of music was played and the low lighting levels and unique decorative style give the bar a good atmosphere. Grey foam rubber strips are suspended from the ceiling in an attempt to reduce the noise which is reflected from the hard surfaces of floor, windows and walls.

Having sampled most of the beers at Orzo Bruno on my previous visit, I decided to order a second half litre of the new spicy Picca. This was an another opportunity to top up my plate with some free bruschetta from the bar!
My final visit to the bar counter was to order a half litre of Yeti, the strong beer with floral notes that was my favourite from the previous visit.

My thanks go to Alessio and the team at the brewery and Orzo Bruno for brewing and serving distinctive beers at reasonable prices. These two visits to Orzo Bruno were highlights of this trip to Italy and any visitor spending an evening in Pisa should not miss the opportunity to visit Orzo Bruno!

All the beers sold at Orzo Bruno are produced by Il Birrificio Artigiano in Bientina which lies about 15 km east of Pisa.

Orzo Bruno,
Via Case Dipinte n. 6/8,
Pisa 56100
The Orzo Bruno website (Italian only) http://www.orzobruno.it/

Il Birrificio Artigiano,
Via Puccini,
Bientina (Pisa) 56031