at Lambrate Adelchi
In the autumn of 1999, I was travelling more and more to Milano for work, reason being that I had was writing regularly for Il Mondo della Birra, a magazine based in the city that was at the time the only publication focused on the subject in Italy. Late one night, after a very thorough pub crawl in downtown, a couple of my colleagues asked me to go with them for a last beer or two.
“We’ll take you to the Skunky Pub,” they said. I had only a few minutes to think about the meaning of the word “skunky” in beer terms, and it didn’t sound very attractive. But my friends explained that, being what they called a “country boy,” I just didn’t fully understand the varied meanings of the word, one of which, of course, referenced a type of hemp, or rather, a certain weed.
Anyway, the Skunky Pub was hidden away on a short road in the heart of one of the most popular quarter of Milano, Lambrate, where locals still consider themselves more Lambratesi than they do Milanesi.
The atmosphere inside was a kind of informal, friendly craziness with some long-haired, bearded and tattooed guys pouring pints of cloudy beers for people who looked quite similar to them. The place was packed, and because it was then still legal in Italy to smoke (cigarettes) in public places, quite foggy too.
But the beers… oh, the beers. They were something completely different from the usual pints I’d had over the course of that night flavourful and full-bodied, yet easy to quaff at the same time.
I remember enjoying a top-fermented blond Montestella, a full-bodied St.Ambroeus and an impressive smoked stout called Ghisa, named after the nickname given local police in the Milanese dialect. That was also the night I first met Giampaolo Sangiorgi, cofounder with his brother Davide and Alessandra and Fabio Brocca of the Birrificio Lambrate, the very first microbrewery in the city. Looking like a sort of urban pirate, I discovered that the friendly publican was known locally as ‘Monarca’ or, in other words, ‘The king of Lambrate.’
Quite different from, and with no connection to, the previous ‘monarca of Lambrate,’ a bandit named Renato Vallanzasca, Giampaolo impressed me as the fastest and most adept draught pourer I had ever seen, able to simultaneously fill orders, carry on conversations with the regulars, cash out bills, laugh with his fellow bartenders and shout a greeting to everyone entering the pub. In other words, the place had a strong identity and a unique atmosphere, thanks principally to il Monarca.
Only a few years later, the ‘Skunky Bar’ moniker was remembered and used by very few, mostly the early regulars, and pretty much everyone just called it Birrificio Lambrate, largely because the brewing kit was located just beside the front door, so brewery and bar were considered one and the same. I became a happy regular, drinking rivers of Montestella before the development of an ocean of new beers like Magut, a crisp pilsner; American Magut, the Americanized version of the same lager; an IPA called Gaina; and Su de Doss, a refreshing Belgian style wheat beer. Every name is connected to Milano, its history and its cultural traditions; Montestella, for example, is the name Milanese people gave to a small hill made with the ruins of the buildings bombed during World War II, and Magut is the local nickname for a bricklayer.
But I never forgot the impression that Ghisa made on me. It was probably the first smoked craft beer produced in Italy, at the dawn of the craft beer revolution, and its success, given its unusual and challenging character, was an indication that the future of the young market was bright. The smokey touch was, and still is, quite gentle rather than the much bolder countenance of the far more famous Schlenkerla Rauchbier from Bamberg, and the oat flakes used in the mash teased out a smooth and silky mouthfeel, with hints of biscuits, bitter cocoa and dark fruit on the palate.
At that time, I had yet to taste the American Alaskan Smoked Porter, but the first time I did try it, it reminded me immediately of the Lambrate Ghisa. A beer to be enjoyed pint after a pint, as per the general brewing philosophy of Lambrate; a beer with just one hop, the not very aromatic or trendy Hercules; a beer so simple yet, at the same time, so innovative. A dark beer that shined a bright light on the path towards the present of Italian beer.
Flagship beers were chosen by the individual writers with no input from the #FlagshipFebruary partners or sponsor breweries.