Birrificio Torrechiara - Panil Barriquée (2016 vintage)
- ABV: 8%
- Bottle Size: 750-ml
- Serving Temperature: 45–52° F
- Suggested Glassware: Tulip, Snifter, Chalice, or Cab Sauv Glass
We’re pretty pumped to be able to offer up this classic Italian sour ale to our Rare Beer Club members—and especially at such a comparatively low price point. Panil Barriquée is one of the truly impeccable old-school sour imports, and it often retails for around $25 or more per bottle. Only a couple hundred cases of Panil Barriquée have usually been making it stateside each year, and this lingering allocation of their 2016 vintage has been aged to perfection.
Panil Barriquée is fermented three times: once in stainless steel, then for 3 months in used Cognac barrels from Bordeaux, and, finally, in the very bottle you now have. It pours a dark, mostly clear amber with garnet hues when held to light. A medium beige head begins thick and fades to an everlasting perimeter. Expect a vibrant, vinegar-like and lemony acidity to strike the nose; one gets immediate refreshing tartness. Deep plum and unripe peaches play a key role, as do SweeTarts candy, faint impressions of oak and smoke, and subtle spiciness.
In the flavor, that firm tartness comes through on the palate, lean and focused, a nice wake-up call to the taste buds. This feels leaner, more focused, and more acidic than fresh bottles we’ve popped recently. There are biscuity notes in that malt framework, with fruity, vinous qualities (think Chianti), black raspberries, suggestions of clove, and some spicy plum notes. It’s not surprising that this beer is remarkably wine-like, given its Italian home. A wonderful complexity comes from the cognac-barrel aging, and this imparts, as one might imagine, very subtle notes of cognac. As it warms, distinct notes of kaffir limes emerge, supplemented by flashes of sour cherry and berries. Giving a good swirl conjures up notes of bitter oranges. It finishes with a wine-like flourish of grapes and tannic, oaky complexity. Worth noticing are the subtypes of sourness from the acids—both lactic (sour) and acetic (vinegary) notes here. Look for a ghostlike impression of stiff liquor along with mild vanilla notes and dry, woody oak character. Each batch of Panil Barriquée is unique, thanks to the wild yeast and bacteria and the barrel aging—but the quality is extremely consistent. We’ve sampled many vintages over the years, and this 2016 is truly exceptional.
While drinking in its prime now, Panil Barriquée will remain refined with a bit of additional aging, with its acidity mellowing a bit over time. This is a perfectly aged, unpasteurized, raw, truly important conservatorium of wild fermentation and traditions. Try pairing with other local specialties, like sliced Parmesan cheese or prosciutto, or a heavier garden salad dressed with olive oil and Balsamic vinegar.
By now, you’ve probably heard all about the growth in craft beers in Italy. Years of headline-grabbing news from a country so well known for its wines made this seem like a surprising story. Maybe it’s simply the novelty of Italian beer, something that seemed oxymoronic (so far as U.S. awareness went) up until perhaps a decade ago, especially in the context of a craft beer selection. We think the best part of the story is the fact that it demonstrates quite clearly that craft brewing is alive and well—enough so that wine nations like Italy and France have all been experiencing a beer brewing renaissance and creating world-class beers. For years, if you were looking for an Italian beer in the U.S., you’d be limited to a somewhat bland set of a few pale lagers from a handful of Italian breweries. In recent years, selection has improved dramatically, and brewery numbers have exploded into the hundreds, though access has not. Until very recently, it was quite challenging to get many beer options from Italy in the States.
Nowadays there are more high-quality Italian beers making it to fine beer establishments in the U.S., and using our beer-combing skills, we’ve lined up one of the most unique for you, from a brewery that embodies the Italian beer renaissance wholeheartedly. Birrificio Torrechiara (aka Panil Birra Artigianale), located just south of Parma in Northern Italy, demonstrates the change in attitude toward beer in Italy very clearly. Since the 1930s, four generations of the Losi family have produced Lambrusco-style wine at their family-owned winery. In 2001, Lorenzo (Renzo) Losi persuaded his father to let him put his homebrewing talents to work, producing some game-changing beers under the name Panil. Today, Renzo produces more beer under the Panil label than wine. His philosophy is to produce beer naturally, absent any sort of chemical preservatives, pasteurization or filtration, permitting in his beer the most authentic, natural flavors and preventing the “industrialization” that has struck even traditional producers who send their libations to the U.S. market. In short order, Renzo moved from only stainless steel fermentation to the barrel.
Panil Barriquée (from the French word for ‘barrel’) was his first to be fermented in wood, employing cognac barrels. According to Renzo, he is the first Italian brewer in modern times to use barrel fermentation; it’s an important move that brings “new tastes, or rather, the recovery of ancient tastes, [the] woody, winey [notes], are absolutely to be recovered,” according to Renzo. The result is an interpretation of Flemish red ale brewed in the style of Rodenbach that has earned critical acclaim as a truly remarkable beer; it does not employ added sugars to make the beer more palatable for the masses in the U.S. market, staying appropriately dry and keeping things au naturel, avoiding pasteurization which would kill the living, wild yeast in the bottle. Certainly one of the most intriguing takes on Flemish red ale we’ve crossed paths with. Redefining the style? Perhaps. Redefining Italian beer? Definitely.
This month we’ve managed to secure a special allotment of the brewery’s 2016 vintage of Panil Barriquée, and we think this well-cellared bottling is the best example we’ve had of this classic Italian beer. The tannins and acidic impacts of the fresh version have developed into something that’s tasting just incredible at this point in its life. Birrificio Torrechiara releases about seven different beers overall, with their oaked and wild-fermented releases being the most popular broad. For the latest info on the brewery, you can check their Facebook page at facebook.com/patlosipanilsoul/ or their website (with English option) at www.panilbeer.it.
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