Monday, 27 July 2015

Birra artigianale a Sorrento pt. 2: Birrificio Sorrento

Before we left for Sorrento, whilst scouting around on the internet looking for beer information, I made an exciting discovery – there is actually a microbrewery based in Sorrento – Birrificio Sorrento. I couldn't wait to try their beers, and even emailed them for a list of stockists so that I could make sure I did. The full list is included at the end of this post.

Birrificio Sorrento has been in operation since 2009, although it appears that they initially brewed using other breweries’facilities for several years. They have had their own small kit since 2013 from which they produce two core beers – Syrentum, a golden ale made with local lemons, and Minerva, a red ale with oranges. I love the use of local ingredients which is, as I understand it, a hallmark of birra artigianale – in the absence of an indigenous beer tradition, modern brewers look to their bountiful produce for inspiration, approaching their beers as part of a wider culinary landscape. This creativity is, to me, far preferable to simply aping Belgian or American brewing. Like many Italian craft beers, which are rarely housed in your basic glass bottle, Birrificio Sorrento’s are beautifully presented in bottles that look more likely to hold sparkling wine. This, again, seems part of a strategy to have beer taken seriously at the dinner table and, in my experience, local restaurants serve them in an ice bucket, the only time I have ever been served beer in this way.

Sorrento is justly proud of its enormous, gnarled lemons. Images of the fruit appear on most of the merchandise on sale in the tourist shops and, of course, they are used in limoncello, the delicious local liqueur. Peel from the lemons also makes its way into Syrentum, which is a magnificent beer. It pours golden orange with a dense, moussey white head, and an aroma bursting with fresh citrus. It tastes, unsurprisingly, of lemon, but not in an extreme or obtrusive way, and tastes fresh and natural, far removed from a synthetic radler. The citrus flavour works because it complements the fruit flavours already in the beer, which seem to be primarily from the yeast, with that faintly sulphuric note you find in Belgian tripels. These ester flavours add depth to the beer beyond the lemon. Syrentum is the easier of the brewery’s beers to find in Sorrento – I found that restaurants that do stock Birrificios Sorrento's wares invariably opt for this over Minerva. This could possibly be because the beer’s clean citrus body compliments the local seafood, but since I don’t eat fish this is pure conjecture.  I've thought about it a lot since returning home, and I sincerely hope I can drink it again someday.

Minerva, a red ale with oranges, doesn't move me so strongly, good though it is. A familiar yeast strain from Syrentum instantly reveals itself, and the two beer’s profiles are quite similar. Here, though, the freshness of the lemon is replaced by a marmalade-like spiciness. The zest treads delicately across the tongue, with a faint prickly sensation, but finishes sweet. I couldn't help but crave the cleaner, more refreshing taste of Syrentum, though I’ll acknowledge that if I was being truly fair, I wouldn't even compare the two.

These two beers form Birrificio Sorrento’s core range, though they do make others, presumably on an occasional or one-off basis. One of these is Parthenope, which I found in bottled form in Vizi e Sfizi, a shop in the centre of town. This beer is quite unlike the other two – it’s a stout made with nuts. In contrast to the beers I’d been served in ice buckets, this one chills in cold water in a bidet – no fridge in the hotel room, you see. It does the trick, anyway, as I don’t like dark beers to be too cold. Parthenope is very bitter and dry, in much the same way that nuts are. The effect recalls the oak tannins picked up in barrel-aged beer, or even red wine. It’s rich and full-bodied, drinkable and satisfying, but some softer chocolate notes might have balanced out the aggressive bitterness. It’s a good and interesting beer either way, and one you should try if you do happen to find it.

I was very impressed with Birrificio Sorrento – all three beers are very accomplished, and Syrentum is an absolute cracker. Sorrento is a lovely town, one well worth visiting regardless of any beer recommendations. But if you’re there, I’d urge you to seek out Birrificio Sorrento with your evening meal.

Birrificio Sorrento stockists (as per an email sent to my by the brewery in June 2015) - Restaurants: Ristorante Pizzeria Aurora, Ristorante Il Buco, Ristorante The Garden, Ristorante Tasso, Ristorante Antica Trattoria, Ristorante Le Basilica, Pizzeria Acqu'e Sale, Ristorante Inn Buffalito. Shops: La Botegga della Birra, Vizi e Sfizi, Bottles Shop, The Garden, Inn Buffalito Concept Store


  1. i absolutely loved syrentium on my recent stay in sorrento and also tend to day-dream about it ocassionally. with your knowledge of beers, could you please recommend a beer that is most similar to it and available in the UK, as we've just finished the stock of syrentium we brought over with us? thanks in advance, jasna

  2. Hi Jasna, thanks for your comment, I'm really glad you liked the beer as much as I did! I don't know of any beers using lemons in the same way, but you might like Wild Beer's Ninkasi - - which uses apple juice and is highly carbonated with a strong Belgian-style yeast profile like Syrentum.