Friday, January 28, 2011

Cultural connection: NJ & Italy brewing

One more item out of Basil's in Red Bank ...

A familiar face to some in the New Jersey craft brewing scene – certainly to regulars at Basil's – is back in the Garden State.

Francesco "Frank" Barritta, who owns a small brewery in southern Italy with his brother, Pasquale, lent a hand this month at Basil T's when brewer Gretchen Schmidhausler and Tun Tavern brewer Tim Kelly created Gretchen's version of the chocolate-chili pepper beer collaboration between the Tun and Basil's. (That's Frank in the red on the right in the photo above.)

Frank spends winters in New Jersey (he has family in the state) and is a longtime friend of the Red Bank brewpub, a friendship that was struck when the Barritta brothers were scouting for brewing equipment and Basil's was suggested as a stop. The brothers learned the craft of brewing in New Jersey – at Basil's and Tom Baker's Heavyweight brewery, when it was in operation a few miles south in Ocean Township.

"We met Gretchen, and we met (Victor Rallo, Basil's owner), and we started coming here to learn how to brew beer," Frank said over a pint of porter on Jan. 20. "Then we met Tom Baker, and we ended up brewing with Tom, too, down at at Heavyweight. I did a lot of brewing with Tom. He taught me everything there is to know."

That was eight years ago.

Birrificio Cunegonda, the Barritta's brewery in Spilinga in the Calabria region, opened in 2007. The brothers turn out 600-700 barrels of ales, serving a touritst/resort region at the toe of boot that is Italy. (Gretchen toured the region and Cunegonda last year.)

"We figured it was something new for our area, there was nobody – there's still nobody in the area" Frank says. "You have to go 150 to 200 miles away to find someone like us, not even like us, smaller than us. So being that it's a tourist area, we thought 'let's bring something new to the area.' "

Wine's the top draw in Italy, and for beer, it's straw-colored lagers. But the Barrittas are creating some space in that array for their ales.

"When we started, in the first year there were 85 breweries like mine, microbreweries and small breweries like Basil's, bars and stuff. I think now it's up to 200." Frank says. "There's been a little change. But they're small. They're not like 10 barrels; they're very small, like 3 barrels."

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