#FoodFiction: How To Make a Homemade Beer


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 Kate GwydirInspired by a visit to San Biagio Brewery

Step One: Mash

Franco did not like wine. There. He said it. Throw him out of Italy if you must, but the purpled poison simply did not agree with him. The deceptive pungency of supposedly dainty sips. The sticky residue left on his throat after every glass. The hangovers! When his family wasn’t looking, which wasn’t too often, he would pour his glass out into the potted plant by his seat at the dining room table. The poor thing had been replaced three times now, and the most recent was nearing its drunken demise.

“To the family. To us people of wine.” Franco’s father would toast every evening with the freshest drain from the vineyard. “May the blood of Italy flow thick through this heart, ha ha!” He would smack his beet lips, sloshing a few red drops onto the once white tablecloth. His bulb of a stomach rubbed up against the stains with each chuckle. Any chance of my mother’s bleaching efforts succeeding squashed.

Franco wouldn’t call exactly call the vineyard a family business so much as an empire. And his father certainly talked about it that way. Bottles of Modena Lambrusco were sold at near every Coop along the peninsula. For a competitive fourteen to twenty two euros you too could slosh like an emperor. “We make the best wine in Italy, Franco,” his father had explained over an afternoon rosé one day.

“Ah yes, the discount corner of the national supermarket is quite the pedestal” I mumbled into the Travel section of La Repubblica.

“Best wine… discount wine… beh. I don’t mean the drink! I mean the business paying for this house, this food…” he’d paused looking around for something else important and getting sweaty from the effort, “… ehm … that … newspaper … The point is,” he’s rested a sausage hand on Franco’s knee, “it will all soon be yours!” In his excitement his father had crept up to the edge of the seat. Franco wondered if the man’s resemblance to one of those magic wobble toys would allow him to right himself if he were to fall over.

Step Two: Filter

The thought of inheriting Lambrusco wines made him sicker than any bottle he’d been forced to down. To spend his life inhaling the bitter fumes of ancient grapes was surely a personally designed hell, at best. He’d have to stare out at the vines and barbed fences encircling him like a prison. A cell. A purgatory. A field of chains. Oh yes, vines flow thick with blood, the blood sucked from other life. They suffocate. I won’t have any part of it. If this is what Italy has to offer, then I’ll kick myself out. And on the eve of his eighteenth birthday, old enough to by his own train ticket, he left home for a place without a +39 international phone code, Germany.

Step Three: Boil

Germany. Franco hiked a poorly stuffed backpack to his shoulders. Germany? He stumbled up the street. What the hell was I thinking? The chills of arriving in a new place wore off quickly once Franco realized he arrived in a new place without any sniffs at a plan. Way to go Franco. Despite his better judgment, Franco wandered into a bar to think things over. Going home was out of the question. He’d finally tasted freedom! The sweet swallows of… white wine? He’d ordered a glass mindlessly. At least it’s not red.

There was a burly mustached man leaning up against the counter a ways from Franco. The gray of his hair had more color in it than his skin. His eyes, which had locked on Franco and his stemmed glass, were a fierce husky’s blue. He raised a scruffy eyebrow and asked the boy in passable Italian, “What you think you’re doing?”

“What do you mean?” Franco might have wet himself, had he not drank anything for the past several hours.

“Give me this schicki micki…” the man snatched the wine, and replaced it with a half full glass of a creamy golden liquid, “Here, we drink this. Welcome to Germany.”

“Oh, I shouldn’t t…”


Franco drank. And drank. And drank. And finished the glass. He wiped foam from the tip of his nose. “This is beer!” He’d only heard about the stuff at school. His family “were wine people” beer was the enemy’s liquid.

“Yes.” A shadow of a smile winked through the blue eyes. “Where you stay?”

“Nowhere.” Franco was running his finger about the inside of the glass, collecting the remnants.

“Come. You work for me, I give you bed and food.”

“Oh, I shouldn’t, but th…”

“I show you how you make this.”

Franco shrugged on his poorly packed backpack and followed the man out the door.

Step Four: Add hops

The man, it turns out, was Hugo Keller, master brewer who’d been through years of schooling on traditional fermenting and flavoring techniques. His process was poetry. Bottles receiving the genius of a liquid language. To prep the brews he put a mix through five steps: mash, filter, boil, add hops (the bitter flower that gives the must its tang), and clarification. It was a whirlwind of machines and hoses. Franco’s eyes could hardly keep up and it took at least six batches for him to remember the order. After the clarification, the resulting must dived into a two part fermenting process, the first in a tank and second within the bottle itself, accompanied by a little sugar.

“This is real secret. Makes beer honest.”

“It’s sweet!” Creamy and full, it was as if he’d drunk a meal in one gulp. The beer washed over his insides, reminding him of the gooey struffoli his grandmother would pack him for school.

“Ambar. Ale with cocoa and caramel.” He poured himself a glass, “You taste malt on tongue, acidity on sides, bitterness in swallow. The thickness is the body.”

“Ha! It sounds like you’re describing a person.”

“She is! You get to know her, and decide if you like.”

Franco nodded and aimed to grab a piece of wurst from the apertivo that Hugo had put together for him. He had found Franco sniffling over the malt one morning, and decided anything close to home flavors were best for a homesick stomach.

“No! You drink this with dessert! This,” he poured and handed the boy another foaming glass, “you drink with that. Verbum, a Weiss”

Bubbles tickled Franco’s cheeks and a pleasant bitterness dissolved into his throat. It paired perfectly with the apertivo, just as Hugo had said it would.

Hugo taught it all to Franco, who had never known how empty he’d been until his brain was stuffed thick with the new knowledge. The two didn’t talk much but their work needed no real instruction. Franco learned to feel the practice and his improvement was thus tangible.

Step Five: Clarify

Though Germany was more than he could have ever hoped for. Franco did miss Italy. The nosiness of neighbors, the smell of roasting tomatoes, the rocky green hillsides. His family was far behind him, but Italy was home. He thanked Hugo many times and left, deciding to hitchhike and backpack rather than take a train back to his beloved country. Soft rolling hills gave way to rocky peaks, as the soft blonde features of those drivers kind enough to give him rides became dark angles and jawlines. Along his travels he fell quite ill. Seasonal cold? Virus? Spoiled speck? Who knows, but as Franco rolled down from the mountains into central Italy his situation grew desperate. His driver at the time had heard miraculous rumors of a monastery in San Biagio and took Franco, who near collapsed on the front stoop, there in a rush. The monks living there rushed him to a bed and gave him one thing for three days: the water of Nocera Umbra from the river flowing through the valley. The same cool drink that revived San Frances di Assisi in the old legends that Italian mothers told their children before bed. The drink beyond cured Franco. He was rejuvenated. And incredibly thankful. In exchange for his recovery he promised the monks his service.

Step Six: Ferment

As it were, the monks were having some trouble with their brewery. The grew hops and basil out in their fields and bought honey from a family farm down the road to craft the most delicious recipes to brew. But their fermenting process was all wrong and they had trouble working out the perfect timing and order to complement the unique, aromatic flavors. Franco knew just what to do, he taught the monks to ferment in two steps, last in the bottle; how Hugo had showed him. The finished product was unlike anything the group had ever tasted. Rich and naturally bitter, it was a golden concoction, perfectly balanced. Sweetness wrapped their tongues and an herbal coating dripped down their throats upon swallowing. You could smell the honey from across the room when a glass was poured.

Franco was impressed by the monks’ operation and decided to stay and help a bit longer. They infused so much love and deep focus into their craft, showing the utmost respect for the ingredients birthed by the land around them. Each singular bay leaf was a little green gift, a crisp and fortunate harvest.

Franco commented one day, “My family used to say wine was the heart of Italy and yet they never put half as much care into their winery.”

One of the monks laughed as he stirred a pot of malt, “You’re living in the true heart of Italy now! But if it they’d like to say wine is the blood, fine by us. When you drink our beer, ‘you drink the soul of this territory’.” And it was true. The only bitterness in this place was in the hops. The taste of this beer was a reflection of the monk’s work, of Franco’s work. Their investment was in the process not the outcome and you could smell the passion in the copper piping.

Step Seven: Ferment again

Soon the group became so talented with their brews, the pinnacle of which they called Monasta1 with its honey and bay leaves, that they decided to sell some cases in town and use the profits to add onto the monastery. The additions would focus on the healing properties of the water and soil from the area to open up visitors’ minds and bodies to the restorative qualities of the natural world. It would be a way to share the magic that the monks had felt all along. But before this, they had to come up with a name for their beer. Franco, though he had been far from home for a long time, suggested they name it as wine was: for the area it comes from. So San Biagio it was.

And for as long as Franco lived ‘he would never say it, but he was the best beer maker in all of Italy.’

Step Eight: Enjoy

Umbra Institute


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