Hops from Bavaria, barley from Champagne, soft pure water: the alchemy of one of Italy’s finest beers

<span>Biella, the town in the foothills of the Alps that is home to Menabrea.</span><span>Photograph: Marco Arduino/4Corners Images</span>
Biella, the town in the foothills of the Alps that is home to Menabrea.Photograph: Marco Arduino/4Corners Images

The first written evidence of beer being brewed and consumed dates back as far as 4,000BC, with the ancient Sumerians believed to have developed the earliest known methods for creating the alcoholic drink. Its history and connection to human civilisation runs deep, and a number of today’s beers have their own remarkable heritage.

In Italy, the drink was known in Roman times, but it really came into its own in the 19th century when styles that we’d still recognise today started to appear more widely across Europe. One of Italy’s premier beers, Menabrea, traces its origins to this time and has a particularly captivating story – and a lineage that makes it Italy’s oldest continuously producing brewery.

Founded in 1846, Menabrea’s alchemy comes from its ingredients and brewing processes, and also the incredibly fortuitous ecosystem around Biella, the magical town in the foothills of the Italian Alps that Menabrea has always called home. The unique geography, resources, family history and the influence of Italian culture all coalesce to create a premium beer that is fast gaining a name for itself in the UK.

“Menabrea could only have been made in Biella,” says Angus Lawrie, Menabrea’s brand manager, adding that because refrigeration didn’t exist during the brewery’s early days, the family behind the beer made optimal use of the natural surroundings – a practice that continues to this day. “Biella is located at the foothills of the Italian Alps, where the soft, pure water runs straight from the mountain.”

The natural environment around Biella meant that the beer could be cooled and stored for longer periods. And the town’s proximity to France and Germany is also crucial to its alchemy. It is 45 minutes west of well-connected Milan, so founder Giuseppe Menabrea could bring in barley from the Champagne region in France and hops from Bavaria.

By developing a meticulous process, rooted in the Italian tradition of high quality craftsmanship, Giuseppe was able to establish Menabrea as a premium beer, first locally, then nationally. It has been brewed by the same family ever since – a legacy that goes back five generations, with each new generation retaining the same formula, ideals and levels of expertise.

“It’s been passed down from father to son, father to son,” says Lawrie. “When you go to the brewery, there are pictures of Franco Thedy [the current managing director at Menabrea] brewing with his dad, and his dad brewing with Franco’s grandad. It’s that beautiful Italian way – passing down skills and being passionate about what they create.”

Over that period, Biella has remained a relatively small, sleepy town with Menabrea’s brewery growing in size and stature. As the beer’s popularity grew across Italy, the brewery expanded … upwards. Since it is surrounded by residential properties, the only way it could be extended was to go up. More than €14m (£12m) has been invested in recent years to develop a new brewhouse, fermentation cellar, and a modern filtration plant to accommodate ever-growing demand for the beer.

It’s a beer that perfectly complements Italian food – think Parma ham, creamy mozzarella, and beautiful tomatoes. Local delicacies in Biella benefit from the beer’s slightly citrusy notes. Dishes such as ​​ris e malastre, a pale yellow soup made with milk, butter, potatoes, rice and malastre flowers (mountain pansies), and paletta biellese, a traditional pork shoulder ham, make great pairings with Menabrea. Not to mention the mouthwatering beddo, which is a cheese made from raw cow’s milk.

Since it’s a light lager, it won’t bloat you out. “It’s not overly fizzy and it also has a lovely long-lasting head on it as well. So it’s just beautiful,” says Lawrie.

With this alchemy of optimal climate, rich tradition and meticulous craftsmanship, it’s no surprise we’re discovering a taste for it ourselves in the UK.

“The craftsmanship and obsession they’ve had for over 170 years to create this fantastic beverage – that’s what it’s all about,” says Lawrie. “When you go to Biella, you fall in love with Franco. His passion, his care and his love for what he’s doing is a magical union.”

Find your local Menabrea stockist