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What’s in a Bottle?

In the early years of Italy’s craft beer movement, the key ingredient to its success wasn’t just barley, hops or malt; it was its bottles.

Teo Musso, owner and brewer of Baladin, began his beer crusade in 1996 by finding a way to fit his beer onto a fine dining table. He chose fine dining as his target because he knew that his beer was of high caliber, made to be paired with fine foods. To the ordinary Italian, this idea seemed farfetched. Many subsequent surveys done in Italy have proven that beer pairs better with food than wine because wine, in a wheel of flavors can’t cover the entire 360 degrees. Think crème brulee. What wine could you pair with a crème brulee? Not red. Not a Vin Santo, too sweet. Definitely not a white. But beer? You get the point.

Teo’s first move was to bring his beer to 500 of Italy’s top restaurants. He realized that if these fine restaurants were going to place his beer on their tables, the beer bottle had to be elegant and look more like a wine bottle. He also invented the TeKu glass, a stemmed glass in the shape of an artichoke designed to highlight the aromas and tastes of the beer.

One particular restaurant loved his beer very much and continued replenishing their order, to Teo’s delight. But Teo soon discovered, to his dismay, that even though the beer was being drunk, they weren’t going to the costumers; the staff was drinking them. They were too scared to even broach the idea to their customers. But they loved the beer.

Teo was meticulous about his bottles. They weren’t just elegant with beautiful designs on the labels; they were also very practical in preserving the beer inside. The worse thing a person can do to a beer is leave it in the sun. Most often, especially for a beer-ignorant culture, Teo’s bottles would be left in the consumers’ hot car or on a counter by a window where the sun blazed down on the beer. This mistreatment eventually reflects badly on the beer as it is destroyed in the bottle and rendered even more detrimental to an artisanal beer where the yeast is still alive in the bottle.

Teo came up with a simple but ingenious little cap with a plastic flange within the bottle cap. This little plastic device allowed the cap to hold tight to the bottle under extraordinary pressure much like how a Champaign cage holds the cork to the bottle. Teo placed his bottles in a little oven, spending months tweaking his caps to pop off at the exact temperature the beer was going to be destroyed. In short, if you mishandle Teo’s beers, you won’t get the chance to taste the detriment caused by your dereliction.

As the movement has grown, there isn’t as much of an emphasis on the shape of its bottles. But if Teo had not started with the details of a TeKu glass or the aesthetics of a bottle on an Italian table, Italian craft beer may not have taken a little longer to come to fruition.

You could say that the entire movement rested on a bottle, not just in it.

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