European Craft Brews: Is a New Style Emerging?

View from craft beer bar in Valletta, Malta

As I’ve spent the last week traveling in Italy and Malta (and will continue in Italy and France over the next two weeks), I’ve noticed an interesting potential trend emerging in craft beer.

I’ve been quite impressed with the Italian craft beer scene (full report to come – got to finish the research!); less so with Malta (not surprising given how small it is); and have tried some Polish beers (here in Malta) while sampling quite a few craft beers in Prague last summer—the latter two both with mixed results.

My observation is this: the brewmasters here are trying to incorporate American craft styles (particular West Coast and New England IPAs) with Europeans tastes (which tend away from hoppy and more toward malty beers). The results, as with any new styles, are mixed, but if they get it right, we may see some interesting new styles emerge.

Take the Polish New England Imperial IPA I tried last night. Wormhole (brewed by another microbrewery for Szpunt Browar Rzemieslniczy) simply lacks the hops bite one expects from a New England IPA. It’s also too malty. It’s not a bad beer, by any means—it’s simply not a good New England IPA. It was the same story with the IPAs I tried here in Malta from The Brew and Lord Chambray Brewing: A for effort, but…

On the other hand, I tried another double IPA from Jungle Juice (an Italian microbrewery) and it was excellent, hop forward, a nice bite. And when these breweries work on more traditional European styles (e.g., stouts, porters, saisons, Belgians), they do a very nice job. I just sampled an excellent saison from Browar Rockmill, another Polish microbrewery. And all of the places I visited were passionate and knowledgeable about craft beer. They are lovely folks and it’s been a pleasure to speak with them and enjoy their products.

Sampling Italian beers in Rome with a coffee cup

It’s super exciting to see the scene grow here. I didn’t expect to find much of anything in Malta and so to stumble across two craft beer bars (67 Kapitali in Valletta and The Brew where we’re staying in Sliema) plus to find an excellent small bottle store with one of the best selections (for the tiny space) I’ve seen, is quite amazing. (This bottle store, Hair of the Dog, is, by the way, one of only two beer stores I’ve ever visited in which they lined the beers up by style rather than brewery, which is the way it should be!)

While some may bemoan the adoption of American styles in Europe, brewing has always been alchemy, pulling in different elements to find out what will happen, not to mention geographically adaptive. I’m excited to see what will happen with this new melding of styles.

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