Brewing La Fleurette at Russian River, Part 1

April 11, 2008


When Agostino Arioli founded Birrificio Italiano in 1996, it was the third or fourth craft brewery in Italy. Twelve years later, the Italian microbrewery scene has exploded and there are now over 200. Agostino’s brewery is located in the small town of Lurago Marinone, which is in the Province of Como about 19 miles northwest of Milan.

Two years ago Vinnie and Natalie Cilurzo of Russian River Brewing traveled to Italy to present craft beer at a Slow Food event, the Salone del Gusto in Torino (a.k.a. Turin), and also Terra Madre, which is a world meetup of people and organizations that produce good, clean and fair food with an emphasis on sustainable farming and food. At one of those events, they met Agostino and struck up a friendship.

Agostino is in California this week, and will be traveling to San Diego next week to judge at the World Beer Cups before the Craft Brewers Conference. After much preparation, on Friday, April 11, Agostino and Vinnie (with Travis, too) brewed a single batch of one of Birrifico Italiano’s more unusual beers, La Fleurette. La Fleurette, as you might guess from its name, is made using flowers along with some other uncommon ingredients. I spent the day watching the brewing process from start to fermentation.

When I arrived at 9:00 a.m., it was unusual to see the brewpub closed, with the bar stools off the floor.

The night before, a sour mash was started and left to stew overnight.

A sample of the sour mash, which tasted delicious actually and would have made a good breakfast.

Russian River’s assistant brewer Travis Smith discussing the brew and planning out the day with Agostino Arioli.

Vinnie pitching in and stirring the mash tun.

Taking turns, Agostino stirs things up again.

This went on for a couple of hours, as they worked out details for the more complicated stages to come.

During the time the mash was cooking, Travis — a.k.a. MacGyver — showed us the cork gun he made with spare brewing parts lying around the brewery.

The cork gun.

And the trigger mechanism, which you squeeze and then push forward or pull back quickly to shoot.

Agostino takes aim.

Shooting at a thin cardboard target, the cork strikes it with enough force to punch a hole in it. Travis told us, purely for research, that he had someone shoot it at him (wearing a mask and a cup for protection) and he still has a welt on his chest. I believe it. When you fire it, there’s a very loud crack and it literally shoots out of the barrel at high velocity.

Mid-morning, the trio stopped for a beer break. From left: Agostino, Vinnie and Travis.

After the break, the wort was moved over to the brew kettle.

Then Vinnie, pulled out the spent grain from the mash tun.

The malts used included pale ale malt, wheat and rye.

Vinnie filled four tubs. The spent grain was quite tasty, actually.

The remaining grain inside the mash tun.

Continue on to Part 2