Jeff Evans è uno dei più autorevoli beerwriters britannici, con un impressionante curriculum a partire dagli anni Ottanta quando ha iniziato a scrivere professionalmente di birra. E' stato editor della Good Beer Guide del Camra, la "bibbia" dei migliori pub inglesi, ha scritto diversi libri (sette edizioni della Good Bottled Beer Guide, A beer a day, The Book of Beer Knowledge e il recentissimo e-book Beer Lover's Britain). I suoi articoli appaiono sulle principali riviste in lingua inglese, da All about beer a What's Brewing dal Morning Advertiser a Class. Infine è chairman all'International Beer Challenge di Londra e giudice in diversi concorsi birrari. Incluso, recentemente, quello di Birra dell'Anno. Jeff è molto interessato alla realtà artigianale italiana, mi è capitato di fargli da driver qualche anno fa in visita ad alcuni birrifici del nord Italia, e sono quindi felice di poter pubblicare qui una breve intervista proprio sulla realtà artigianale tricolore vista attraverso i suoi occhi... e il suo palato. L'intervista è pubblicata in inglese, spero non sia un problema per nessuno.
In rete, potete trovare Jeff Evans, i suoi libri e le sue recensioni, su InsideBeer.
You experienced judging at Birra dell'Anno this year, but this is not your first time sampling Italian micro brews. So, what's your overall opinion of the average quality of the Italian craft scene?
It's like the craft beer scene in every country: there are good experiences and not so good experiences. But I find it very exciting. The best Italian beers are up there with the best in the world. There's no doubt about that. Italy has some very accomplished and innovative brewers. I think it possibly comes from being a nation that has not given up on the simple pleasures of taking time over preparing and enjoying food and drink. The wine influence always strikes me as being very important, too.
Strength and weakness of the Italian craft beer. What's your opinion?
It's still a very young sector and people are still learning. There will be a shake out of breweries in time, with those that are not up to scratch leaving the business and those that are good going from strength to strength. That's what has happened in the UK and in the US. Apart from the natural talent and keenness to learn of your brewers, one of the biggest assets is probably the huge competition from wine. This means that brewers have had to compete at the highest level right from the start in order to gain public acceptance as producers of a quality, gourmet product.
Baladin, Italiano, Ducato... Are any "new" Italian microbreweries that impressed you lately?
There are so many new breweries that it is now difficult to keep up. The well-established breweries still set the standard but I know from the results of Birra dell'Anno that there are plenty of challengers now. In addition to the names you mention, I am always impressed with Toccalmatto. Their beers always do well in the International Beer Challenge. At Selezione Birra, they had a one-off saison called Oceania, brewed with New Zealand hops. It was excellent, full of zesty citrus flavours but with the quenching dryness of a Belgian saison.
How do you consider the Italian craft beers in the British market? Do you think they have a chance for success in a traditional beer market like UK?
In the traditional UK beer market no, but the UK beer market is changing fast. We now have lots of specialist beer bars and specialist beer shops, where customers are happy to pay more for exotic beers of high quality. That's where I see the Italian craft beer imports sitting. There are certainly some beers that would prove popular on draught (Tipopils, for example), but it'll mostly be high-end, well-presented bottled beers that will succeed. Sales will not be huge but there will be a market for them as the word goes around that Italian craft beer is something to seek out. What will help is the excellent packaging. Many of the Italian beers just look so classy and inviting.
Last, but not least. Are you planning a "brew-visit" to Italy soon? Which micros would you like to see?
I'm afraid I can't see me getting to Italy for a while but I've promised Giovanni Campari at Ducato and Bruno Carilli at Toccalmatto that I will visit them one day. I hope it will be sooner rather than later. And I'm always open to invitations!