Brasserie Pietra - Pietra Noël
Serving Temperature:40-45° F
Suggested Glassware:Pint Glass or Pilsner Glass
This old saying illustrates perfectly the Corsicans’ fondness for this splendid tree. Corsica has even been called “the civilization of the chestnut tree.” The island is one of the last regions in Europe where the dried fruit of the chestnut tree is still made into flour, which is then used in many different dishes. Pietra Amber, Brasserie Pietra’s first beer, is made with chestnuts picked by hand and brought down from the mountains of Corsica. Some, picked from trees located in rough hillside terrain, are transported the same way today as they have been for centuries: on the backs of donkeys. The chestnuts are then crushed to make a flour which is introduced to the brewing process during the mashing and boiling of the grains, instead of later as a flavoring or sweetener. This means that the beer itself is in part derived from the chestnuts, not just supplemented by them. The result is a bouquet that is truly unique. Expect malty notes, but don’t be surprised if the beer doesn’t smell quite like chestnuts; a consequence of using this key ingredient so early in the brewing process, the chestnut character is transformed by fermentation into the very makeup of this beer, alcohol and all. Instead, expect notes of marzipan, a slight woody zestiness, minor notes of overripened (soft) Clementine oranges, the faintest suggestion of bubblegum and clove-y phenolics, lemon, honey and a delicate nutty character. And alcohol—the booze makes its presence known in this souped-up holiday version. Interestingly, this beer is fermented colder than most ales, and as a result, there are some lager-like notes contributing suggestions of pilsner yeast (a mild musty, sulfury note). Take note of the look of this beer—it’s quite attractive; clear, brassy, coppery amber, adorned with a sticky, oily, off white head. Oils in the head diffract the light, creating changing colors on the sheen—and the head is indefinitely recharged by ample levels of carbonation; notice the jets rising from the bottom of the glass. The beer crosses the palate with an initial earthy bitterness, leaving an impression of faintly smoked wood, followed by notes of sweet oak, nougat, caramel and fruit. Expect nips from the alcohol to shadow the flavors most of the way through. Red apples and apple skins are quite prominent on the palate, as is a leafy character. Also look for a suggestion of honey wine toward the finish, with a lingering impression of grapes. Bitterness is long lasting and assertive, but not at all abrasive as it coats the tongue with leafy hop notes. Enjoy at least one glass on its own to fully experience this unique Corsican brew. Later, try pairing with lemon-pepper chicken, steamed mussels, or rosemary mashed potatoes.
The island of Corsica, in the Mediterranean, located between Italy and France, has been claimed by both nations—along with quite a few others—during its constant human habitation since the Mesolithic age. Let’s put that into context. Mesolithic means the “middle stone,” wedged between the Paleolithic (old stone) and Neolithic (new stone) ages. We’re talking about an area that’s been populated for seven to ten thousand years! Not surprisingly, there’s great national pride among native Corsicans, fostered in no small part by having been “claimed” by various outside nations, a brief historical stint as a sovereign nation from 1755 to 1768, and the secret sale of the island to the French by the Republic of Genoa in 1764. The announcement that it was a French territory was not made until 1768, and it triggered a civil war. Imagine if you opened the paper and read that your country was owned by and integrated into another, secretly, and there was nothing you could do about it. That’s a national-pride fosterer if we’ve ever heard one. Thankfully, the conflict didn’t last terribly long, and the result seems to have been a lingering, strong Corsican pride regardless of which country they were formally declared a territory of.
All of this history makes it a bit surprising that, until about thirteen years ago, Corsica did not have its own beer or brewery. Why? Location, location, location. Being wedged between Italy and France, the country’s people prefer wine over beer, and there’s also a relatively high proportion of sobriety. With no beers being made locally, coupled with reluctance on the part of a proud people to import beers from other nations, there was little drive to get a brewery based on the island. It was, therefore, a bold move for Corsican natives Dominique Sialelli and his wife, Arnelle, to decide in 1992 to found a brewery that would brew distinctly Corsican beers. Research and fundraising (and with it, lots of “convincing”) took place for the next four years. Their first beer, Pietra Amber, began to flow in 1996.
The word “pietra” is Italian for stone. So, literally, their name translates to “The Stone Brewery.” A nod to the highly regarded microbrewery from Southern California? Despite its world renown, that’s not the story behind the name. Is it a reference to the history of a human presence there since the Stone Age, or a proclamation that this young brewery plans to be around for the long term? Perhaps that’s buried in there somewhere; but, actually, it comes from the name of Dominique’s tiny native village, Pietraserena (meaning “serene stone”).
The brewery has since added a Corsican Cola to their lineup, as well as a lemonade currently in development, at least two more year-round beers, and a whisky. They’re a relatively young brewery, but in keeping with European brewing tradition, they have recently started brewing a fortified beer released once a year. It’s based on their Pietra Amber, which is a very unique beer with a distinctly Corsican heritage (for more on this, consult this month’s tasting notes). The beer has not been available in the US before—so it is a rare holiday treat that we’re pleased to bring you.
It would seem the dawning of a new age in Corsica’s history has begun, one full of inspiring and impressive concoctions that suit the palate, and sense of pride, in this age and beyond. Which makes us wonder . . . in 1762, famed philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau wrote in his work, The Social Contract, that Corsica would one day astonish Europe. Seven years later, Napoleon Bonaparte was born in Corsica. Did Rousseau’s prognostication refer to Napoleon’s legacy? That’s what many think. We submit that perhaps it was the birth of Brasserie Pietra and their expansion into Europe. A beer-centric way of thinking on our part, but what did you expect?
For more information about the brewery, visit their website at www.brasseriepietra.com.
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