Umbria is hopping the craft beer bandwagon, which took off in the US in the late 1980s and mushroomed in Italy–traditionally a wine-making country–after a 1995 law legalized home-brewing and streamlined regulations for microbreweries.
Though Italian brewing has roots in Etruscan and Roman history, modern production was dominated by two or three big commercial breweries. Over the past ten years, however, the number of craft breweries has exploded, going from less than 100 to over 500 in under ten years.
The center of micro-brewing remains the northern Italy and Rome, though plucky Umbria has opened more than a dozen tiny local breweries in just the past few years. These enjoy more freedom to experiment with ingredients than vintners in the heavily regulated wine industry, so are able to produce quirky local brews with creative ingredients worth the time and effort to seek out.
Some that are particularly memorable?…
Birra Nursia (www.birranursia.com)
A community of Benedictine monks in Norcia began brewing last year (their first batch—put on the market in the summer of 2012—sold out almost immediately) and visitors can both tour the brewery and taste their Blond and Extra Dark directly at their monastery in the main Piazza San Benedetto.
Birra Camiano (www.birracamiano.com)
Thomas Bereiter and his partner Heidi fell in love with Umbria during a vacation here, and they eventually settled in the heart of Umbria’s wine country to…brew beer. He began producing in 2010 his Xanthos, Copper4, and MegaPorter, all of which can be sampled and purchased at the brewery.
Birra San Biagio (www.birrasanbiagio.com)
San Biagio takes both inspiration and techniques from the monastic brewing tradition and is helped along by the use of the local spring water. Alongside their three basic brews, they also produce a wheat ale and, at Christmas, a batch infused with bay.
Birra dell’Eremo (www.birradelleremo.it)
Since just last year Assisi has its own local brewery run by a group of young brewers with a logo evoking Saint Francis and his famous taming of the wolf. Their three brews can be found at a number of pubs and restaurants in the region.