Alex Liberati lived his whole life in Rome until two years ago, when he moved to Denver, Colorado to open Brewery Liberati. There are elements of Italian culture he’s gladly left behind—capricious government regulation, high taxes on breweries—and others he’s kept close to his heart, namely, wine grapes and Italian street food. (Good priorities, in my book.)
Liberati brewed in Italy beginning in 2009 as Revelation Cat, a gypsy brewery that mostly produced hop-forward beers and lambics (the latter with wort trucked in from Belgium), the kinds of beers that Italian breweries weren’t producing much of then. Aforementioned taxes and a dominant wine-industry lobby historically led Italian beer to develop in a piecemeal, stunted fashion. Liberati says that many Italian brewers over the age of 30 still don’t speak much English, which isolated them from American brewing trends.
“Italy is more or less like the Galapagos of beer,” he says. (His English, notably, is perfect, thanks to his British mother.) “Things developed in a separate environment with no tradition, so they evolved in their own crazy way. [Italy] developed really randomly, developing styles like the Italian grape ale just by experimenting.”
Yes, the Italian grape ale. Liberati proudly notes that the style was mentioned in the BJCP guidelines’ 2015 revision, though as essentially a footnote in section X3 of Appendix B: Local Styles. They’re in the company of obscurities such as the Argentine IPA and Pampas Golden Ale; even Australian Golden Ales got a more prominent inclusion. But no matter. Several Italian breweries including LoverBeer and del Borgo produce these grape ales, and even American beers like Odell’s Jaunt and Dogfish Head Sixty-One could be considered in this vein. Grape ales are a wine-beer hybrid made up of between 1 and 49 perfect wine grapes to highlight terroir as well as brewer creativity, and Brewery Liberati intends to make these unfamiliar beers its calling card.
I asked Liberati what Americans should expect from the style. “That is a difficult question,” he answered. “Expect anything.”
He asks me to imagine an American pale ale brewed with one percent sauvignon blanc grapes; it would have strong qualities of a typical pale ale, but perhaps with a note of bell pepper that sometimes characterizes that grape varietal. Then he asks me to imagine a beer produced with 49 percent grape must, the fresh-pressed grape juice that contains skins and seeds. That beer, he says, could range from 12-14% alcohol, and might be served still, like a wine with vinous tartness and acidity and aromatics.
“That’s how broad this thing is,” Liberati says. “It’s hard to define it, that’s why it’s going to be good for us.”
In addition to its housemade beers, Liberati will also pour a handful of local drafts (“[Denver’s] beer community has been so welcoming to us, we’d love to give some respect back”) and imported Italian bottles. The 24,000 square foot brewery will also house a casual restaurant serving breads made with beer and wine yeast and authentic Italian street food prepared by a chef Liberati brought over from Italy.
The project is still in the permitting process and hopes to be open by next year’s Great American Beer Festival in Denver in fall 2017. There are small peeks to be had before then, though: the 11th Annual Fresh Hop Festival will take places in Brewery Liberati’s parking lot/patio area on October 1, and Liberati will have a five-gallon pilot system delivered next month to produce one-off batches (not for sale) for friends and perhaps curious industry types. Until then, alas, Denver’s thirst for Italian grape ales will mostly go unquenched.