The first place I had Italian craft beer was a small beer bar called Pub 38 about half a mile from the hotel where I stayed in Malgrate, an area south of Lecco, a small industrial town about an hour north-east of Milan. I expected to see some Belgian beers and was surprised to see two beers from The Wall, an Italian craft brewery in Varese not too far from where I was, on tap. They had both an IPA and a barley wine. The IPA was well-balanced and yet had some nice grapefruit and citrus flavors that reminded me of home.
I later returned to the same bar to try the barley wine. I was surprised that the flavors I tasted in the barley wine were more on the Belgian style. If I had to compare it to something more well-known, I would say it reminded me of a Duvel but with some added hops. The flavors worked very nicely together. I was also quite glad that the bar I got these at was very careful about giving proper glassware and cleaning everything properly.
I got to try a few more Italian beers in a bar in Milan after we decided to spend our last day in Italy exploring Milan. It seemed as if most of the craft beer bars were some distance away from the tourist areas so I ended up taking a metro to cut down my trip length a little bit. The bar I visited, called Bere Buona Birra, only had four beers on tap but tons of bottles. I was glad that the bartender and most of the people I met inside spoke quite good English. I ended up having some interesting chats with them about the San Diego craft beer scene.
The only beer that jumped out to me on tap was an imperial saison dry-hopped with citra. Despite generally not liking saisons, I was quite impressed by the flavors of this one. The higher alcohol made it more smooth and the hops added a nice citrus bite. After trying this one, I was offered a lighter extra-pale but since my palate was likely shot I had a local bottle of double IPA from Brewfist instead. The double IPA was also quite malty but had plenty of hop flavors going. I learned later in Prague that this is the style that Europe tends to brew IPAs. The San Diego style of lighter colored IPA doesn’t seem to have obtained popularity there yet.
Thankfully Italy is easy enough to get around that finding some of the out-of-the-way beer bars isn’t too difficult, though you may end up walking a decent amount.