Tag Archives: Toccalmatto

Toccalmatto’s Oceania hoppy Saison

Toccalmatto Oceania hoppy saison

Another Toccalmatto with another crazy bit of label design, like Zona Cesarini but more especially B Space Invader. This time, the label seems to portray a strange fantasy Polynesian coconut-tiki-demon seizing a double-jointed (or even bone-less) hula dancer, like some King Kong riff.

Oceania isn’t actually on Toccalmatto’s site (here. Beware! Airbrushed goth babe), or in the Guida alle birre d’Italia 2013, but apparently it was created in 2011 as a one-shot but added to the range on the strength of a good response from punters.

The label calls it a “New World Hoppy Saison” in nice helpful English then expands: Birra doppia malta chiara, secca e beverina / Unisce speziatura classica delle Saison agli aromi dei luppoli Neozelandesi e Australiani / Birra di Alta Fermentazione – Rifermentata in Bottiglia. That is, “A double-malted clear beer, dry and drinkable / Uniting classic saison spiciness with the aroma of New Zealand and Australian hops / Top fermented – Bottle conditioned.”

Toccalmatto Oceania back label

The ingredients are water, malted barley, malted wheat, hops, sucrose, yeast. The sucrose is perhaps unexpected – you’d think with not one but two malts there would be enough sugars for the yeast, but adding more is presumably a factor in its fortification. Yep, it’s another strong beer: 7% ABV.

Some comments online also suggest adding sucrose to your brew can make it taste “cidery”, but others strongly refute this as a misconception that arose from poorly balance homebrew kit beers. This well-informed forum contributor, PseudoChef (a biochemist from Chicago), says: “Adding sugar to your recipe can be advantageous in that it helps ‘dry’ out the beer and thus reducing cloying body sweetness in some styles and accentuating hop bitterness in others.”

Certainly the Oceania is in no way cidery, and is indeed dry not sweet. Overall it’s another great beer from Toccalmatto.

Toccalmatto Oceania

It pours with a decent head. It has an odour of citrus (orange, grapefruit), fresh cut grass, fresh herbs growing in the sun (rather than, say, cut dried herbs or hay. Or is that getting a bit specific?). The body is medium-light, and colour is orangey-yellow and slightly cloudy. It’s well-carbonated, and has a tart, fruity flavour with touches of resin. Presumably from the hops, which in this case are New Zealand (Motueka, Pacific Jade) and Australian (Galaxy, Rakauand).

Finally, it has a fresh, crisp mouthfeel. Indeed, despite having something of that sweet-sour-spicy-fruity complexity you get with a good saison, it’s another lovely refreshing summer beer, and again one that’s so beverina (drinkable) it belies its strength.


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Toccalmatto brewery’s Zona Cesarini IPA

Toccalmatto Zona Cesarini

Zona Cesarini is another interesting beer from Toccalmatto brewery in Emilia-Romagna, northern Italy. Before I leave Italy, I really want to try as many as possible of Toccalmatto’s beers, as I enjoyed their B Space Invader too. They’re not consistently available on tape in Rome though I have had a few at Open Baladin and otherwise I can score bottles from my friendly neighbourhood beer shop, Gradi Plato, which currently has eight outlets around the city.

“Zona Cesarini” is apparently a football term. Reading about it now is a double challenge for me as my Italian isn’t very good and because I don’t really give un fico about football, but it refers to pulling off something remarkable to win in the very last minutes of the game. (It’s named after Renato Cesarini who played for Juventus, as well as the national squads of the land of his birth, Italy, and the land of his upbringing, Argentina.)

Quite why a “Pacific India Pale Ale” that’s made with Japanese and New Zealand hops – the site says “Pacific Gem, Sorachi Ace, etc” – and features a label of potentially dubious political correctness, is named after a football term I don’t know. All I can say is that it’s a decent drink.

I found the aroma to feature notes of hay, or even silage, and elderflower. When I asked Fran what she thought, she said “turps?” I don’t think she meant it in a negative sense as such: real turpentine, after all, is derived from tree resin, notably from pines.

Its medium head dissolved fast and the taste was fruity and sharp, tending to sour. I liked this sourness, which was grapefruity. The other fruit I got was apricot. Fran didn’t contribute any further botanical-chemical comments.

The body is medium to light, the carbonation medium. Strength-wise, it’s another heavyweight (by UK standards) at 6.6% ABV, but the use of the hops here is more subtle than in the last strong Italian craft beer I drank.

According to Evan at the Ruling Glass, the Japanese Sorachi Ace hops are “known for having a fairly intense lemony flavor/aroma, along with herbal notes, lemongrass, lemon verbena, dill, cilantro [coriander], and tea. It can also provide a slight buttery taste that some people find problematic.” While according to Beer Legends, Pacific Gem “is known for having tones of oak and woody offsets.”

I didn’t get any of that here though. Indeed, if I had, it probably would have been a bit much, muddling the experience of an otherwise balanced beer, that even manages to play down its strength with a surprising mellowness.

Zona Cesarini and Oceania


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Toccalmatto’s B Space Invader dark beer

Toccalmatto's B Space Invader Cascadian Dark Ale

This is a pretty bonkers beer. Its packaging is eccentric. The blurb on the label is wilful. The taste is full-on.

I bought this one the other day from a craft beer shop, drawn by the label and the name: B Space Invader. How could I not? I was a child of the late 70s and 80s. Everything conspired for kids (especially boys) born around 1970 to become science fiction obsessives: Star Wars arrived in 1977, when we were totally susceptible to Lucas’s films’ hokey recycled charms and stupendous special effects. The germ of SF geekdom was consolidated by the first flowering of videogaming, with Space Invaders (1978) cabinets arriving in our local ice rink when I was about 10. Then we encountered more grownup fare, like Blade Runner (1982), and things were set. The makers of B Space Invader at Toccalmatto brewery in Emilia-Romagna clearly have a similar frame of reference. As well as the actual name of this beer, the label even includes this quote: “E ho visto i raggi B balenare nel buio vincino alle porte di Tannhause…” Tweaked slightly, but here’s the original – from Blade Runner of course.

So yes, how could I resist. Perhaps you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but it’s certainly fun to buy beers on the strength of their labels. Well, that and actually picking up the bottle and reading how it’s described. The label here calls it an “Intergalactic Black Cascadian Incredible Pale Ale / Birra Scura Estremamente Luppolata”. The latter part means “Extremely hoppy dark beer”. Which I find slightly confusing – a dark (v dark) pale ale? But yes, I should stop being so literal as this is a style of beer that’s become popular among craft brewers and fans the past few years.

Toccalmatto's B Space Invader Cascadian Dark Ale, rear label

Here’s a discussion of this style of beer, which evolved on the North American west coast, written by Matt Van Wyk of Oakshire Brewing in Eugene, Oregon, USA. He says this beer “is known by three different names: Black IPA, India Black Ale (IBA), or Cascadian Dark Ale (CDA)”.  Here’s his definition of the style: “It’s dark in color of course, with a prominent ‘Northwest’ hop aroma – citrusy, piney and resinous. The body has some sweet malt flavors, with hints of roastiness and toasted malt. The flavors should strike a beautiful balance between citrusy-resinous Northwest hops and, to a lesser degree, roasted, chocolate malt or caramel notes. The finish should be semi-dry, not heavy like a porter or stout. Hop aromas and flavors should be prominent, but the malt balance should not be lost in an onslaught of hops. In other words, when closing your eyes, it should not simply taste like a typical American IPA.”

The Guardian’s Tony Naylor offers a more succinct definition, saying this style of beer offers: “a great upfront wallop of tropically fruity and acutely bitter hop flavours underpinned by the smokier, roasted malt character of a stout”.

Like the Italian APAs I’ve been enjoying, an Italian BIPA/IBA/CDA will also be something subtly different to its North American forebears, but broadly B Space Invader conforms to Naylor’s description, though perhaps less so to Van Wyk’s. The aroma is more blackberry, blackcurrant and prune than piney or citrussy. The flavour – once you’ve got past the thick, creamy head – is big and intense. A lot of hops, a lot of roasted malts, though not with the coffee or chocolate flavours you can get with porters. Nor is its body creamy like a porter; it’s crisp and medium carbonated.

Van Wyk also says the American BIPA/IBA/CDA flavour is defined by the use of Pacific northwest hop varieties. B Space Invader is apparently made with Simcoe and Amarillo hops, varieties from Washington State, so that conforms. But it also apparently contains Australian Galaxy hops, shifting it well away from that North American West Coast context.

Toccalmatto's B Space Invader Cascadian Dark Ale, rear label

BIPA/IBA/CDA has also been subject of a debate about whether it’s genuinely a new style of beer. Certainly it reminds me of older black beers, things like Black Mac from Mac’s Brewery in New Zealand. Black Mac played a major role in my path to enjoyment of decent beers. After spending my 1980s adolescence drinking the vile lagers that were popular in the UK then – and, worse, snakebite; even thinking about it makes my head hurt – I gave up booze for several years. It was only while living on a small farm in NZ, aged 24, that I realised beer could be pleasant and interesting. Gosh. Flagons of Black Mac opened my eyes. (This was around 1994, back when Mac’s was the pre-eminent NZ craft brewery. In fact Terry McCashin, the founder, kicked off the microbrewery scene in NZ, much like Teo Musso of Baladin has in Italy.) Black Mac was one of my principle gateway beers, and although B Space Invader is a helluva lot bigger, stronger (6.3%) and more intense than Black Mac (4.8%), the similarities are there: notably in the balance of hoppiness and toasted malts. And yet Black Mac is defined as a dark ale or a Schwarzbier, styles of beer that have been around for since the Middle Ages.

So although B Space Invader is top fermented, unlike Schwarzbier, which is a dark lager and bottom fermented, flavour-wise the boundaries between BIPA/IBA/CDA and some older styles can be minimal. I’m not quite sure what B Space Invader has to do with Space Invaders or Blade Runner, or SF in general – though it made me buy it.

toccalmatto. it (sort of English site) | 05 2453 3289 | info@birratoccalmatto.it

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