Over the course of the last year, since the deadline for '500 Beers', there have been a few times that I've tried a beer and thought 'damn, I wish I'd tasted and included this little beauty'. I didn't get a great deal of Italian craft beer into the book, just focusing on what I thought might be more widely distributed over the coming couple of years. Birrificio Italiano was my bet, and predictably, that is nowhere to be found currently in the UK. That same foresight made me list Budvar as being 'partially state owned' - I'd second guessed the outcome of this year's Czech elections, after which there is always speculation about the incumbent party selling off part of the brewery. Oh well, win some, lose some.
Happily, beers from Birra del Borgo and Baladin are about to hit the market, brought in by the ever-expanding (and ever-improving) Vertical Drinks. They very kindly gave me a few bottles for evaluation purposes, and so I quickly opened and evaluated a couple.
Birra del Borgo ReAle (6.4%abv, bottle conditioned) is a copper-coloured ale that is totally bursting with the sort of juicy orange and grapefruit character that I associate with Cascade hops, deployed in a classic American style. My first impression was that this beer out-punches Sierra Nevada Pale Ale in terms of balance, flavour and juicy hop character, an impression that was confirmed by opening a bottle of SNPA for comparison purposes. Really, it's that rounded, balanced and just damn tasty. Sweet malt, punchy hops, harmonious finish. Just brilliant.
ReAle Extra (6.4%abv, bottle conditioned) is a paler beer, quite different in character, all pale malt and Amarillo dry-hopping. It's a little leaner on the nose than ReAle, although that's not really a criticism, as if it were any fuller it would seem like a stoopid cartoon version of beer. Leaner on the nose, drier on the palate, with a spicy, slightly medicinal/herbal bitterness, pitching itself somewhere between one of the first generation pale golden English ales (that's to say, without all the C-hop histrionics) and a drier Belgian triple. It's a much more grown-up beer than the straight ReAle, less interested in playing a stadium gig than an intimate in-the-know venue.
The name is also a great play on words. 'Reale' is Italian for 'royal', as eny fule kno, but Birra del Borgo are obviously savvy enough to spot the potential to suggest 'real ale' in the name. Great beer, cool packaging, and a knowing name - what's not to like?