From Etna to Bologna: Story of a Beer Artisan…

Esmeralda Spitaleri has taken an unexpected path, choosing to put concrete practice ahead of words.

The first thing that strikes you about Esmeralda is her candidness. This is not someone given to circumlocution. When asked about her education, she explains: “I didn’t have any scientific training. I graduated in Communication Sciences, and I always wanted to work in food communication. Before the end of my undergraduate degree I was already looking for a postgraduate course on the subject. But when I found out about the Advanced Apprenticeship courses starting at Pollenzo I decided to change track and choose something more practical. Writing about food is great, but then you’re talking about the work done by other people. By personally producing something, I can talk about myself through what I do.”

Now Esmeralda, 27, originally from Catania in Sicily, is a brewer. She was one of the first graduates of the UNISG Advanced Apprenticeship courses.

“Beer is my great love: I used to brew at home, with a group of male friends, particularly Dario Sciuto [a recent graduate of the second edition of the Advanced Apprenticeship course], but I never thought that it could become my profession. But after choosing the course at Pollenzo I changed direction. The craft of a brewer is similar to that of a chef, with the two figures both having autonomy over the recipe. Unlike an enologist, who takes the sugars needed for fermentation directly from the grape, the mix of sugars in beer depends on the ingredients chosen in advance by the brewer.”

Esmeralda becomes animated when she talks about the beers—Soccia and Sorbole—that she has created together with Giovanni Boari, Davide Sarti and Pasquale Polito, fellow students and now partners on a brand-new entrepreneurial project, Forno Brisa, which opened in Bologna on December 6. With characteristic frankness, she talks about her babies with great affection: “What we at Birra Brisa produced are two beers that some might call ‘ingratiating,’ but they’ve been designed to appeal to everyone.” Then she adds: “The new beer I’m working on now is fermented in a demijohn with grapes. The result will be a tart, aromatic beer. I want to leave the bacteria to act unrestricted, so that refermentation takes place spontaneously. It’ll certainly be a less immediately approachable beer, but it reflects my sense of artisanal research.”

She has very specific ideas about this: “For my brewing creations I’m studying wild yeasts and ingredient sourcing, working with our grain suppliers, some of whom also supply the grain for the bread. Also I’d like to use Italian hops: I want to know what I’m putting in the beer, to work with suppliers whose production I’m familiar with, to create a traceable chain for beer.”

Currently her energies are entirely directed into Forno Brisa, where she not only brews beer but also works on hospitality, communication and events. That’s not all; as she says, “I have the spirit of a chef, which comes out in production. For example, I create sauces for topping pizzas and focaccia.”

We asked her if she plans to stay in Bologna. “I was born under Etna, a mountain that speaks, with which I have a magnetic relationship. I have to see it and I have to be able to talk to it. In Catania unfortunately I couldn’t find what I was looking for, which is why I left. I came to Pollenzo and then various other destinations before landing here. Bologna is my starting point, where my current project is based. But I know I’ll be back in Sicily, to breath the salty, lava air.”