#FoodFiction: Finding Home in a Bottle


Questo racconto è il risultato della collaborazione tra SapereFood e Umbra Institute. Dopo aver visitato alcune importanti aziende della regione, gli studenti hanno scritto delle storie di fantasia sperimentando il “product placement”, ovvero l’inserimento di un marchio all’interno della narrazione.

by Ethan Gilbert – Inspired by a visit to San Biagio Brewery

Almost a year from when Rick had accepted the job, he sat out on the resort patio, looking off into the mountains and just enjoying the sun. He took a sip of Aurum, a light, sweet, golden-colored beer, and his personal favorite. He thought back to the long, uncertain path that eventually led him to San Biagio Brewery.

“I’m sorry Rick.” Marty said. He meant it too. “You’re a good kid, a real hard worker, we just have a smaller budget this year. We really did want to keep you on. Nothing we could do.”

Rick was angry, and worried, though he would never admit that worry to anyone. There wasn’t anyone to put blame on, and that just made him angrier.

Since his high school days, Rick had known that education was not for him. Classroom education had never been able to hold his attention; college was never even considered. Much to the concern of his family, he graduated high school without any clear plan. He had spent a few months waiting tables in Philadelphia, still living at home with his parents. That had worked out fine until they decided tough love was the best route and kicked him out, with apprehensive hope that he would land on his feet and sort his life out. He floated around for a few months; moving from a buddy’s couch, to his great aunt Christine’s basement, then back to the couch when his parents found out Christine was harboring him. All the while, he had been applying to jobs without much success. As it turned out, nobody was looking for a high school grad with no real work experience. Rick sent application after application, oftentimes never receiving a response. That was until he got a letter from Yuengling inviting him to interview for an apprenticeship in the brewery. It was a perfect fit; he had always loved beer and desperately needed a paycheck. He took a bus to Pottsville; it cost $12, which seemed like a fortune given that he only had about six times that amount left to his name. The interview had gone perfectly. Marty, the brewery supervisor had liked his attitude, thought he’d make a quick study, and could sense a little bit of desperation from the 19-year-old.

Rick sat in the exact same chair in Marty’s office where he had been offered the job, when he learned it was being taken away. The past six months had been everything Rick could have hoped for. When he called his parents with the news that he had gotten the job, they were more relieved than happy for him, as they weren’t sure how much longer they could have gone on watching their son struggle. He found an apartment in Pottsville and bought a used truck on the small starting bonus Yuengling had given him. It wasn’t much, but to Rick it meant everything; he was finally out of a classroom, doing something he enjoyed, and didn’t have to depend on anyone. He had learned, little by little, the brewing process. On his first day, it was explained to him how the corn grits and malted barley were combined with water and placed in a tank called the grits cooker. For the first few weeks his job had been to regulate the temperature and amounts of water in the cooker, very simple stuff. Rick soon moved on to the fermentation cellar, where he removed CO2 from the fermenting beer, put it through a purifier, and injected it back into the mixture. A couple months in, he finally felt that he had found his calling; with each passing day he became more and more familiar with the entire brewing process. By six months, he had ambitions of one day becoming a brew master, tasked with experimenting and creating new types of seasonal beers. For the first time in Rick’s life he was enjoying learning. He hadn’t previously known he was capable of having such ambition. That made it all the more gut-wrenching when Marty told him he was being let go. Rick was only able to pick up bits and pieces of the firing spiel. Something about the company not reaching quotas, first one in first one out. But the message was clear: the best thing in Rick’s life was being taken away.

At least now I have some experience, Rick thought as he begrudgingly searched for silver linings. He couldn’t help but feel sorry for himself as he drove home and passed all the places he had become familiar with. As he drove past The Shannon, the go-to Irish pub of all the Yuengling workers, his thoughts returned to his first week in Pottsville. All the boys at the brewery made it a point to take Rick out there, as well as buy him a beer apiece. He lost count after seven. Despite the reserved, manly goodbyes they gave each other when Rick cleared out his locker, he’d miss them a lot and he hoped they’d miss him too.

He spent hours scouring the web for job openings. He sent his résumé to more breweries than he knew existed. He started with ones in Pennsylvania, and then began to branch out. After an hour he was emailing microbreweries in Ventura, California. Without giving it much serious thought, Rick started researching European and Mexican breweries. What do I have to lose? he asked himself, despite only applying half-heartedly. He first emailed Corona in Mexico, and then Heineken in Holland, before stumbling onto some of the smaller companies’ web pages. He soon found himself on birrasanbiagio.it. The website was in Italian, Rick had to translate it just to make sure it was actually a brewery. The beer came in what looked like wine bottles, a big contrast to the standard brown beer bottles he had been working with. It was a tiny brewery up in some hills in Italy. Rick had never been outside of the U.S. before and his geography and cultural knowledge was a bit lacking. But the idea of a quiet life in a foreign land appealed to him. He pictured himself eating pizza by the sea with a striking Italian woman at his side. He hadn’t yet realized that Umbria had no coast. The brewery itself was tiny. They seemed to only be a local company, no mention on the size of the staff online, or whether they were hiring. It was less than twenty years old, which of course meant more risk of the company folding, if Rick were to even get a job there. He sent them an email, told his story and attached his résumé. He doubted that they would even reply to him.

Four days later, much to Rick’s surprise, Giovanni, San Biagio’s brew master, sent him a reply. He was sure the email had been written through a translator, but the message was clear; they loved the idea of bringing on an American. The fact that he came with a completely diverse perspective and experience of working with beer than the rest of staff (which turned out to be a staff of three) was very appealing to them. The catch was that Rick had to come to Italy and interview with them in seven days, and if he were offered the job, which seemed likely based on the email, he would have to accept within another two. In an instant, everything seemed to be flying at Rick. He hadn’t even been offered an interview at any other breweries yet, but did he want to wait and take the chance? The thought of living in Italy with no knowledge of the culture or language was certainly a frightening one. He decided to study up a bit before deciding.

After spending some time online, learning about Umbria, its beautiful terrain (despite the lack of beaches), its laid-back culture, and its food (which seemed delicious), he made the life-altering decision to take the interview. He hoped that his potential coworkers would speak enough English to get him situated. His parents were certainly unsure when he told them this plan, but at the same time they appreciated that their son was finally passionate about something. They had never seen him take such an interest into anything, especially enough interest to move across the world.

Rick touched down in Rome three days later. Giovanni picked him up from the airport and they began the three-hour car ride to Mount Subasio. Giovanni didn’t speak much English, but it was enough, with the aide of a dictionary, to explain the basics to Rick. He talked of how the brewery was on the site of an ancient monastery, how the region was known to have water with healing powers, and how their flagship beer, aptly named Monasta, was a hop-less recipe written by monks almost 700 years ago. Giovanni explained that craft beers accompanying dinner was a fairly new concept to Italians, as wine has dominated the country for centuries. He talked of this as almost a David and Goliath-like challenge, one that he clearly took very personally. Rick was enthralled. The conversation ended quickly, however, as Giovanni’s English lexicon ran dry. It was late May and the Umbrian countryside in the sun was stunning. Rick felt better and better about this decision with every passing mile.

When they finally got to the brewery, it was everything he had dreamed of. As it was a simple factory built into the mountains, the tour did not take long. Giovanni showed Rick the fermentation tanks, their vats of barley, their oven for toasting the hops. He met the staff, two other Italians, Cristiano and Paolo, both very young and both clearly passionate about their craft. Much to Rick’s relief, Paolo spoke excellent English, as he’d worked at Fuller’s brewery in London for a few years. After the brewery tour, they took Rick to the company’s resort just down the road. The dining room’s beauty could have rivaled any five-star restaurant with its seamlessly blended antiquity and modernity. The interview, if one could call it that, consisted of the four men drinking endless bottles of beer, testing each San Biagio had to offer, while a waiter brought several delicious dishes. They talked of how they each had discovered their love of beer, and what brought them all to the tiny operation up in the hills, with Paolo doing the bulk of the translating. Rick was having so much fun he forgot he was in an interview. After several hours flew by, Giovanni told him that he wanted Rick to come on as an intern and after six months of training, he’d be a full-on brewer. Rick thought of his fears; the language barrier, leaving his family and friends back in the States, the uncertainty of a young company. But everything about it felt right to him. He had always wanted a simple life, away from the crowds of a city and he loved everything about being a brewer. The thought of experimenting with new combinations of flavors, really innovating, and helping build a company through this completely overpowered any doubts in his mind. Rick declined the three days to ponder the offer and said yes on the spot.

He found a small apartment in the town of Nocera Umbra, where his colleagues lived. After a few months of studying, he began to pick up the basics of Italian. The closeness he felt to his coworkers at San Biagio was like nothing he had experienced in school or at Yuengling. They felt like family to him. The more he adapted to Italian life, the happier he became. Rick had quickly become hugely passionate about San Biagio, both about its beer and growing the small startup into an international brand. His coworkers shared that passion. The company became like his child and he wanted nothing more than for it to succeed. Since his arrival they had been expanding, and fast. Rick travelled all throughout Italy and into other nations in Europe to market their product. His fierce passion was evident everywhere he went and that only helped him sell the product and the company’s vision.

As Rick watched the sun set over the mountains and sipped his beer, he knew that he had finally found his purpose, and his home.

Umbra Institute



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