Interview with the president of the Beer Tasters Union, Mauro Pellegrini


The b2b event in Verona until Wednesday


Verona, 14 April 2024. Until Wednesday 17 April, coinciding with the 56th edition of Vinitaly and with the 28th edition of SOL (International Olive Oil Trade Show), Veronafiere will host Xcellent Beers, the craft beer exhibition with national and international exhibitors, aimed at an business and professional, from Horeca to Superhoreca, from venues equipped with "beer lists" (or that want to create one), to also embrace the online trade channel.

We spoke with Mauro Pellegrini, founder and president of the Beer Tasters Union, one of the most dynamic organizations at national level in terms of artisanal production, for an overview of the trends and future of the sector.

President Pellegrini, what is the trend of craft breweries in Italy?

«Italian craft breweries have an aura of positivity, of lightheartedness that would suggest a long and continuous succession of commercial successes, in the wake of the constant increase in consumer interest in this type of offer. In reality, the Covid period was very difficult and the subsequent relaunch was not so disruptive. Some cities, such as Rome in particular and Milan, drive the craft market with very high percentages of choice, even up to 20%, but the national average remains anchored more or less at 4% of overall beer drunk and there are no great forecasts of change. The companies are almost all very small and any cash flow problems are viewed with great apprehension. A fundamental trend is to equip oneself with a tap-room, a pub or, in any case, a serving point, which in some cases has become one or even more restaurants, widespread not only in the brewery's territory of origin.

Craft breweries experiment and raise the bar, they are the true pioneers, because they try to broaden their market by constantly offering new products and trying to broaden their market to niches of good consistency. An exceptional example is the use of hops: as soon as they are released, agronomic and technological innovations are immediately welcomed and used to produce new products. 

There is a strong tendency towards the rediscovery, but also towards the innovation and hybridisation of bottom fermentation styles: "easy" to drink but certainly not to produce and preserve, this large family can no longer be missing from the proposal of Italian breweries . 

There is also great interest in low and no alcohol products: once certain production limits have been exceeded, this wave seems to be arriving in the craft world too. We will talk about it with a specific talk tomorrow, Monday 15 April (12pm, Beer Tasting Area), listening to the point of view of producers, distributors and publicans. Last, but certainly not least, the orientation of some breweries to offer premixed Beer Cocktails in cans: it is not a marginal phenomenon, because it also involves the proposals of many breweries with tap rooms or serving points. 

Among the trends that have emerged, Italian Grape Ales are also worth mentioning, which continue to arouse the interest and curiosity of a very varied public, and unquestionably represent the link between beer and wine. Two different worlds, but with many elements of common dialogue. Spontaneous fermentations also represent a niche with great historical and tasting content, which with the help of "natural" wine could also have new life from a distribution point of view." 

Is it possible to draw an identikit of craft beer enthusiasts?

«It is certainly the 21-35 age group that represents the fulcrum of the target of craft breweries: this can also be seen just from the graphic choices of the various breweries for their bottles, cans and draft medallions. They are all oriented towards creating a strong chromatic and iconic appeal towards this target. However, there is also excellent feedback in the older age group, i.e. the 36-50 age group: a very attractive segment, because it is a high spender compared to the previous one. Here the proposal becomes more elegant, polished and also oriented towards catering and domestic consumption, rather than the pub. We are speaking in generalizations, of course. Women are on the rise, although in reality they have always been a fundamental market share for the artisanal sector, thanks to their strong sensorial sensitivity and a strong orientation towards quality in all its expressions, even the most extreme ones including spontaneous fermentations or very high gradations.

In general, artisanal products are preferred by all those who, in general, have a very strong orientation towards quality and diversification, as well as an important component of curiosity. Financial resources certainly have an impact: but those who drink artisanal products know by now that it is better to drink less but better." 

How do they rank in terms of average production, production characteristics, destination of the product to sales channels? What are the most used sales lines?

«Craft beer has now entered all sales channels. The horeca channel is certainly very important, because it is the one that supports specialized pubs and beer shops, the true soul of the craft beer market. But in it there is also the catering segment, which still suffers from some of the fundamental components of the artisanal product, including the price, continuous availability and, in any case in fewer and fewer cases, also the discontinuity of the cooked ones. Large-scale retail trade deserves a separate discussion, in my opinion: the availability of artisanal products is growing, especially among the so-called "everyday" styles, i.e. suitable for a wide-ranging combination and for moments of ordinary consumption". 

What is the key to the success of craft beers?

«The diversification of the proposal is, in my opinion, one of the keys to the future success of Italian craft beers: they must be considered attractive companions for all our moments of consumption, from the most ordinary to the most special ones. These are not products to be confined to the very high segment of the range, but a real range, complete, available and attractive to everyone at any time. This is also supported by the decisive takeoff from e-commerce, both from breweries and through dedicated platforms: Covid certainly gave impetus to this segment, which however then settled at very respectable numbers".  

Are there adequate training courses to become a craft beer producer?

«Absolutely yes: from the Cerb of the University of Perugia to the Academy of Professions of Noventa Padovana, up to the University of Udine and I apologize if I have forgotten any other institutions involved in this important task. However, as in any artisanal field, "learning by doing" carried out directly in the brewery's brewing room is very important. Other paths effectively train all the figures who support the brewer: laboratory technicians, for example, who play an increasingly important role alongside production professionals. But also those who work in ancillary activities, such as malt factories: in Umbria and Puglia there are the most interesting realities, whose development was triggered by the investments made by some operators in these regions". 

Professional tasters: are there courses? How long does the training last?

«Obviously yes, and there are never enough of them: in person, online, first approach, professionalizing and for all budgets. They can last a two-hour lesson or 15 and be on one or more levels. We at Unione Gustatori Birre maintain our strong focus on the complete, professionalizing course, consisting of 15 meetings without differentiation by level. We are also active with an introductory format, consisting of four lessons, and with many initiatives aimed at companies: both in terms of training sales agents and as a partner for the creation of brewing experiences during company meetings and conventions. The incentive segment is giving us a lot of satisfaction." 

Why is an event like Xcellent Beers important?

«For various reasons. First of all, it is inside Vinitaly, a magnificent container of people, topics, trade and national and international visibility for the Italian craft beer sector. Furthermore, sweet and savory, all artisanal, which will also act as an exceptionally effective accompaniment to the beers presented during our events in the "pairing area". We will also have very pleasant forays to the stand of the Parmigiano Reggiano Consortium, where we will present the guide to pairing beers with Parmigianos that the Beer Tasters Union has curated with the Consortium. Another strong point: It is a unique event, precisely because it guarantees maximum emphasis on the exceptionality, quality and marketability of Italian craft beer in this fundamental commercial sector. And thanks to the dense program of meetings with foreign buyers, concrete sales opportunities will be created even outside our borders." 


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