Craft Beer in Sicily: old stories and great brands
In Sicily, beer is not just a drink, it is much more. It is understanding, it is sharing, it is a universe of stories to be enjoyed and discovered, sip after sip. From squares to pubs and private terraces, beer turns into a moment of merriment, a great excuse to take a break from the daily routine. And then, let’s face it, beer pairs perfectly with the bold flavors of Sicilian street food and becomes an indispensable companion!
In summer, you’ll always find someone with a cool bottle of beer in their hand, even at the beach, under the umbrella, enjoying its thirst-quenching and refreshing power (of course, always to be drunk responsibly, that goes without saying).
But in this article we want to tell you not only about the unique taste and many qualities of beer, but also take you on a journey to a yet-to-be-discovered world in Sicily: that of Sicilian craft beer. Let’s start!
How craft beer was born
Beer has a long, long history. We can say that it begins with civilization, starting with the cultivation of barley, the first cereal grown by a people and which marked the transition from nomadism to the founding of villages and towns. Since then, there have been many milestones in the life of the world’s most beloved beverage.
Fermented, moderately alcoholic and grain-based, the original recipe for this drink can be attributed to a woman in ancient Mesopotamia. Women, in fact, invented the first ways to preserve grains, which, when kept in water, gave rise to malting and fermentation processes.
The first brewing people were the Sumerians, who used the same ingredients to make bread (grains and yeast) and began to spread the drink from workers to priests. From people to people, from the Egyptians to the Celts, who drank beer from their horns before and after battle, the recipe for beer passed into the hands of monks who defined its techniques and methods.
There arose in Germany, around the year 1000 and for the first time, the figure of the Master Brewer, and it was not until 1516, with the purity edict, that it was affirmed that beer could be brewed exclusively with barley malt, hops and water.
Breweries and pubs sprang up and spread in England, and Europe soon became the driving force behind a new era of the world’s most beloved beverage: beer.
The first Italian craft brewery was born in the 1700s, when Lazzaro Spallanzani discovered that fermentation is the result of the metabolism of a living being: yeast. The first real brewery opened in Nice Marittima, still Italian in 1789, by Giovanni Baldassarre Ketter. Two years later Giovanni Debernardi took over the business and obtained a license to sell beer throughout Piedmont.
Craft production in Sicily
The history of craft beer in Sicily is relatively recent. In recent decades, several breweries and even events dedicated to craft beer have sprung up in Sicily. Sicilian brewers have focused heavily on their own production of the drink to create a unique, original and high-level product like that of other European countries. In addition to breweries, beer firms, or brewers who use facilities other than their own to produce beer, have emerged.
Sicilian craft beer is born from the union of many stories, which intermingle and tell, sip after sip, the story of a unique land that wishes to assert its identity in the world and conquer it through authentic techniques, talents, flavors and aromas.
Some stories of craft beer in Sicily
From the brothers from Nicosia who started their own 24 Baroni brewing business to longtime friends Antonio and Girolamo from Mascalucia, on the slopes of Mount Etna, who turned their passion for beer into a life project. Thus was born the La Compagnia del Fermento microbrewery and craft beers such as the Blonde Ale Sperta with Sicilian orange peels and orange blossom honey.
And again, in Acireale, the best craft beers are undoubtedly those of Caverna del Mastro birraio, but those who want to enjoy beer and also enjoy a spectacular view of the Mediterranean can go to Vittoria and taste the beer of Cantirrificio, a winery converted into a brewery where the beers evoke the aroma and flavor of wine.
A stone’s throw from Vittoria, in the beautiful village of Modica, one of the local Belgian-inspired beers of excellence is brewed, spiced and made with a local grain that gives it a unique flavor, Trisca della Rocca dei Conti-Tarì. And those who love intense flavors cannot help but be won over by the Polifemo beer from the brothers of Sinagra, made with caramel, citrus and dried fruit.
In addition to these extraordinary stories of local production and enterprising young people who have decided to invest in Sicilian craft beer, we will discover those of Sicily’s best-known craft beers in the world.
Birra Messina and Birra dello Stretto, the story of the 15 heroes of Sicily
“The Cooperative Brewery Messina was born in memory of our grandfathers master brewers, our fathers and for the future of our children and the beautiful city of Messina. We, the workers, today have become “entrepreneurs,” invested our severance pay to get started, rolled up our sleeves and worked hard to build a new plant where we can “grow” a true all-Messina beer. The Beer that this city deserves, the beer that knows how to celebrate with every sip the tradition and history of Messina and its people, made up of workers and people in solidarity with a project that has the flavor of revenge.”
These are the words of the master brewers of the historic Brewery of Messina who, today, after years of struggle continue to produce their historic beer, born in 1923 by a family of local entrepreneurs who founded the first plant.
That historic beer was called Birra Trinacria and survives, today, with Birra dello Stretto, an unfiltered lager with a golden color, low fermentation and alcohol content, but with a balanced and slightly aromatic taste that comes from the original and unique recipe of the Master Brewers. On the label, Trinacria symbolizes the land of Sicily and also symbolizes the strength of the 15 Master Brewers who gave up their severance pay to acquire their brewery and continue brewing their beer.
So if the Messina brewery produces the Strait Beer, then who produces the world-known Messina Beer?
Well, today’s Birra Messina, which is not craft but is a “crafty” beer, was acquired by the Heineken group in 1988, as was Birra Messina Cristalli di sale, which was born out of a partnership between Heineken and Birrificio Messina to revive a Sicilian-ness that breaks with the past to look to the future.
In fact, there is very little Sicilian about it, apart from the small percentage of salt crystals from the salt pans of Trapani that somehow become the protagonists of the new recipe. The commercial, through a textual and visual narrative that aims to tell the story of the island with the slogan “Sicily is felt” and with images that reveal the beauty of the area, basically boasts a Sicilian-ness that has very little Sicilian about it. The advertising agency is based in Turin and the beer is brewed and bottled in Massafra in the province of Taranto, in a plant owned by the Dutch Heineken group.
Birrificio Messina looks to the future with the desire to grow and pass on the oldest brewing tradition, striving to pass on its founding values such as belonging to the territory, tenacity and the spirit of sacrifice, so that tomorrow new generations can carry on what 15 Master Brewers have defended and protected with courage and passion: the true authentic beer of their city.
The craft beers of Ballarak, the brewery in the heart of Palermo
The name “Ballarak” comes from the Arabic souk el ballarak, meaning “market of mirrors.” From this concept, conceived by four friends united by a passion for beer (Marco Altamore, Michele Catalano, Alessio Cutrò and Eugenio Ricca), was born Ballarak, the first and only brewery in Palermo and the largest taproom in Sicily with 30 craft beers on tap.
The brewery, which opened in 2016, is located in the heart of the city, right in the Ballarò district, known for its historic and colorful market, and has contributed greatly to the revalorization of the area and the culture of the place, giving it a younger, more modern and innovative feel.
From Sex Pills, the classic German Pilsner made fresh and light with the addition of American hops that give delicate floral notes to Doc’s Bock, which evokes the flavors of honey cookies and dried fruit, but with a spicy aroma that gives it freshness. Then there is the Bière de Garde, which with its light rye aftertaste reinterprets the traditional beer with just the right balance of alcoholic and sweet malt notes.
For lovers of the fruity and floral, the taste of spring can be felt in the 9% Tripel: Pils malt, a traditional Trappist beer with floral and yellow fruit hints, Belgian candied sugar and a single hop. While the most popular beer is the Opera IPA, with notes of lime, mango and papaya.
Namasté microbrewery and Amurusa craft beer
In Aci Catena, in the province of Catania, there is a young company that produces an out-of-the-box craft beer. The Namasté brewery was founded in 2014 and from the very first moment decided to invest in a new idea that would mainly involve businesses and other realities of the area.
Eight types of Amurusa and Sikéle beers with unique organoleptic and sensory properties have earned it two highly coveted awards in the Italian brewing scene. Anfrite, a craft beer with a unique character, is a Belgian Dark Ale that won the “Luppolo d’Argento 2019,” while the same award in 2018 went to the premium line Aretusa.
Bruno Ribadi, a story of talent and success
Okay, anyone who has seen a Bruno Ribadi beer has immediately fallen in love with it. The packaging with the image of a face with glasses and a long mustache and the bright, vivid colors is undoubtedly a strong point, but the drink stored in the bottle is the real star of this story of talent and determination.
Bruno Ribadi is the name of a boy from Cinisi, in the province of Palermo, with a brilliant and visionary mind. After the tragic death of his parents, he is taken into the Benedictine Abbey, where a Belgian monk who notices his talent for chemistry decides to invest in him and choose him as an assistant in brewing.
Here Bruno discovers and studies the processes of grain fermentation and brewing, so much so that he decides to leave the abbey to set out to discover the secrets of the best beers.
He then goes to London, where he collaborates with a small brewery and reunites with his old Belgian monk friend from Cinisi. Together they leave for Belgium and it is here that he is proclaimed “master brewer.” With this great baggage on his shoulders he decides to return to Sicily, from where he had left, to open his own brewery, but the free spirit that dwells in him leads him to set out again.
Since then, there has been no news of Bruno, but his secret recipes collected around the world have remained, which, rediscovered by his Biundo cousins from Cinisi, already homebrewers, were the impetus that led them to open their craft brewery in 2016.
Birrificio Bruno Ribadi, known for craft beers such as Pantelleria Grape and Carob Special Ale, Sicilian Grain Pilsener Beer and Sicilian Spice and Citrus Peel Blonde Beer, was born from this remarkable story.
In Prague, he posed as a journalist to interview the most famous master brewers and met the monk Hubertek Morszynsky, with whom he moved to India to devote himself to meditation and the discovery of spices.
Ancient grains, bitter orange, carob, tangerine, spices, honey, Pantelleria raisins. Bruno Ribadi’s beers are a true triumph of Sicilianity, evoking the land and its products of excellence, and every sip tastes like this extraordinary story.
Ti-mi-li, the flavor of the five grains on the slopes of Etna
Continuous research, a desire to innovate and reintroduce the ancient flavors of Sicily. This is the challenge of the small Sicilian brewery of the Ars Soc. Agricola that has become part of the BM Group, which has decided to relaunch the production of Ti-mi-li beer, a beer that has so much to tell and is the result of years and years of experience and great passion.
From Sicilian wheat of the Timilia variety (Tumminia in Sicilian dialect), an ancient and prized wheat that has been very successful and widespread in Sicily since the times of the ancient Romans and today a Slow Food presidium, beers are born with the aroma of malt, almonds and toasted wheat. Ti-mi-li craft beer was born on the slopes of Mount Etna and takes its name from this ancient wheat.
The taste experience is colored with Mediterranean flavors and aromas, a journey of the senses that sip after sip lets you savor the perfect blend of the five selected grains. Blonde is an unfiltered and unpasteurized high fermentation raw beer, brewed with simple ingredients and of course with the addition of hops and yeast. For lovers of bold and intense flavors, the double malt red ale ensures a unique taste experience, thanks to hints of Sicilian blood orange.
Epica beer, a mythical friendship and an epic taste
Epica was born from the passion for beer of three friends from Sinagra, in the province of Messina, between the Tyrrhenian coast and the Nebrodi Mountains. Elio, Piero and Carmelo, already homebrewers, decided to embark on this adventure in 2010 with a small 50-liter plant built with their own hands in Piero’s grandmother’s cellar.
Like all extraordinary stories, this one was born from the bottom but with great ambitions and with an eye already projected into the future. In this small craft laboratory, the passion for beer turned into something bigger: in 2013 the Epica Brewery was officially born in Sinagra (ME).
Water, barley malt, hops, yeast, but also a love for traditions, a desire to experiment and to get involved, meant that craft beer was produced with high quality raw materials and with great determination. Epica Beer is a bet, but also a revenge in a land where it is difficult to invest in one’s dreams and make them come true.
Each Epica beer expresses the personality of its creators. The term “epica,” in addition to recalling the initials of the partners, comes from the ancient Greek ἕπος (epos) meaning “word,” and in a broader sense “tale,” “narrative.” We can say that Epica beer tells an extraordinary story and that each sip is a journey of discovery of Sicily, of courage, research and passion.
Epica craft brewery was awarded at the Teatro Vittorio Emanuele in Messina and deemed the best craft brewery in Sicily by Best in Sicily in 2021.
Craft beer in Sicily, tell us your story
The journey is still long and these are just some of the Sicilian stories we have decided to tell you. In the land of wine, Sicily, there are many small realities that have decided to invest in their land and in a unique, inimitable and irreplaceable drink like craft beer.
If you rediscover scents and tastes of this land or want to savor the taste of Sicily, we suggest you try these beers and support the master brewers who continue to keep tradition alive with new techniques and flavors.
Or, do you have a brewery or want to tell us your extraordinary story? Feel free to write us or leave a comment!