When I reach Agostino Arioli by telephone, he is happy to talk about brewing, and he is happy to talk about Tipopils. It makes a welcome change from worrying about the business situation of Birrificio Italiano, the brewery he founded back in 1996.
Initially, Italy was one of the countries hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic. When we speak in early April, Arioli’s business—like many across Italy—essentially has been shut down for six weeks. His team of 12 people are at home, unable to come to work. The brewery’s sales are down 98 percent; the places that remain open aren’t the ones that sell craft beer. In Italy, those sales mainly happen in bars, restaurants, and taprooms, not in supermarkets.
“As you can imagine, it’s very risky,” Arioli says. “I hope we will survive, that the government will activate some mechanisms to prevent 50 percent of the enterprises from going bankrupt. So hopefully we will be able to manage all of this, to survive. But it’s like stepping back at least five years, if not 10 years.”
Our discussion, meanwhile, reaches back farther than that—back 25 years to when Arioli first brewed Tipopils.
“Nobody was dry hopping any lager at that time,” he says. “Probably in the United States they were already dry hopping something? I don’t know, honestly. But not in Germany—not lagers in Europe, for sure.”
Arioli’s idea to try dry hopping a pilsner didn’t come from the world of lager at all. It came from British ales. “I took my idea from the English beer tradition because they used to dry hop beer in the cask. I saw this in England, and I just thought, ‘Wow, I could do that in my beers because I love hops.’”
His dry-hop variety of choice these days, he says, is mainly Spalter Select.
“To be honest, I’ve tried almost every Noble hop from Germany,” Arioli says. He says he tried dry hopping with Hersbrucker, Spalter, Tettnanger, Hallertauer Mittelfrüh..., “then finally I ended up with Spalter Select. And I’ve been using it at least 15 years now. … It’s a hop that I really appreciate because it keeps a special citrusy, lemon-zest touch. I think it’s a very modern hop—despite that it’s an old one.”
Another reason he sticks with that hop: He likes his source—the Locher family farm in Tettnang—and the quality that he gets from there. He’s not the only one: Other well-known brewer-customers include Matt Brynildson of Firestone Walker in California, Yvan De Baets of Brasserie de la Senne in Brussels, and Eric Toft of Schönramer in Bavaria. (Arioli, who is friends with all three of them, is careful to note that he discovered the farm before they did.) The farm is in a corner of Tettnang called Missenhardt; together, Arioli and Toft even collaborated on a hoppy, wheat-based lager called Cuvée de Missenhardt.
“We fell in love with each other’s work,” Arioli says of the Locher family. “They love my beers, even as I love the way they take care of their hop orchard. And they also grow the Spalter Select, so that’s my favorite source for my hops.”
For many years, Arioli says, he was double dry hopping the Tipopils—so it got some hops in the fermentor and again during lagering. These days, all of the dry hopping occurs during lagering, at about 36°F (2°C). The method is unusual: They dissolve the hops in water and spray that fragrant green stuff onto the beer in the maturation tank. “Then we let it settle down and done. That’s it.”
In addition, although the beer when packaged is quite bright, it is totally unfiltered. “No centrifuge, no clarifying agents, no filter, nothing at all,” Arioli says.
Its yeast is the popular 34/70 lager strain from Weihenstephan, and Arioli says they are able to re-pitch it for as long as four months; they remove the yeast from the tank once primary fermentation is done, and it goes to the next batch. They use a Unitank system, so that fermentation, lagering, dry hopping, and carbonation all happen without transferring the beer.
Birrificio Italiano partners with the importer B. United to bring some beers to the United States. Unfortunately, Tipopils is no longer among them. Previously, the importer brought Tipopils over with its fleet of refrigerated bulk tanks. They would dry hop it in the tanks, package it in Connecticut, then send it around the country. Unfortunately, new Italian rules currently prevent beer from being exported that way.
On the bright side, drinkers who want to try something like Tipopils can look for a growing number of American-brewed pilsners aiming for that mark.
Arioli, for his part, says he loves the idea of other brewers being influenced by Tipopils. “We call them tipo-Tipopils. Because Tipopils means, ‘a kind of pils.’ And tipo-Tipopils means, ‘a kind of a kind of pils.’ So it’s a joke we always do.”
He says that he’s had plenty of good pilsners in the United States and that the one brewed at pFriem in Hood River, Oregon, is a favorite of his. Most years, he gets to taste quite a few of them at the Pils & Love Festival—an event that he and Birrificio Italiano started in Italy. In recent years, it has come to the United States, and they have shared hosting duties with Firestone Walker in California and Oxbow in Maine.
“We love it,” Arioli says. “I’ve been doing it for 14 years now. I collect the best beers that I know. And always, there’s only one rule: You can’t use any aromatic, fruity hops. Only traditional German hops. So, you’re not allowed to pour a pils that is hopped with, let’s say, Cascade. Those hops are not allowed—not because we don’t like them, of course. Everybody likes American hops—or Mandarina Bavaria, or Galaxy—wonderful hops. But not for a pils!
“We want to keep the ‘pils’ word like the only small island where these kinds of hops are not allowed,” Arioli says. “Otherwise, we will have, in any style, the same aromatic profile.”
Sadly, because of the pandemic, the Pils & Love Festival is unlikely to happen in 2020. So Arioli’s next chance to try a bunch of American pilsners inspired by his own won’t come again until next year. “It’s something I really appreciate,” he says. “Sometimes when I feel really proud, I say, ‘But Tipopils is still be the best!’”