Using classic Italian flavours and ingredients, Ora brings a dash of sunshine to every beer
Thursday 14 February 2019
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There are certain flavours that are unmistakably Italian, with a magical ability to transport you back to sunny holidays long past – these mouth-watering characteristics are Ora Brewing’s stock-in-trade.
The brewery’s journey began a little over ten years ago, when its three founders, Daniele, Pietro and Emanuele – just 16 at the time – made their first beer in a cooking pot, in a garage in their home town of Modena. The scale increased, the ambition grew and the noise complaints from neighbours rolled in, until in 2016 the trio decided it was time to take their passion to the next level. Ora, which appropriately means ‘now’ in Italian, was born.
Now a regular fixture in pubs and bottleshops around London, Ora’s inventive, gastro-inspired take on classic styles has really caught the mood of the moment, with last year’s Balsamic Milk Stout selected by CAMRA as one of 2018’s most innovative beers.
Co-founder Daniele Costa Zaccarelli says: “The way we define ourselves is that we’re an independent brewery, dedicated to marrying the best Italian ingredients with classic British beer styles. I moved to London five years ago, and I started by walking down Kingsland Road in north London with my backpack full of beers, just knocking on doors. I made my first sales to Borough Wines, and built it up from there, to the point where we’re now struggling keep up with demand.”
The three founders are clearly all foodies, and don’t compromise or authenticity of their ingredients, however outlandish their ideas may at first seem.
“When we first put out the balsamic milk stout, it obviously seemed a bit weird and we had to explain what balsamic vinegar is. In the UK, vinegar has a specific flavour which is an off taste, but it’s actually a really subtle product in Italy, aged for 20 years at least in casks. It’s got a really sweet kind of molasses character that works perfectly in a milk stout.
Likewise, with the limoncello beer in this month’s Beer52 box, the idea wasn’t just to make a lemony IPA, but to really capture the unique character of genuine limoncello.
“It’s a flavour people know very well, so we had to get it spot-on,” continues Daniele. “So the mouthfeel is really creamy, really velvety. We work with lemons we imported directly from Sorento, in the Naples area. You should see them, they’re big lemons with thick peel full of essential oils. So when we’re brewing, the brewery gets flavoured with all this amazing zesty lemon aroma.”
Perhaps inevitably given where they’re from, head brewer Pietro has also turned his attention to a seies of gelato beers, mostly brewed in collaboration with like-minded UK breweries.
“We launched the series in November and it’s been a really big success. So, for example, we made a hazelnut gelato stout with Unbarred, which came out really well, like Nutella but better! And we worked with Brew York on an old school porter, with some coco from Italy and vanilla from Madagascar, which has had some lovely reviews.”
For a small brewery with big ambitions, collaboration seems like an obvious way to grow your brand and reach new geographical markets, but Daniele seems genuinely passionate about the other benefits of teaming up with his brewing peers.
“What I really like about craft beer, particularly compared to other brewing traditions, is there’s a lot of collaboration. These aren’t just good for marketing; for me, it’s because I want to constantly raise the bar of the beer I’m brewing. By talking and brewing together with other breweries with different styles, strengths and backgrounds, it’s a great way to learn. Especially when I’m working with bigger breweries like Brew York, there’s nothing those guys haven’t done, so it’s a really good experience for us. They’ve gone through similar stages and processes ages ago.”
There will definitely be more such collaborations in Ora’s future. The brewery is also looking for a new site of its own later in the year, to support continuing growth and its ambitious export plans. But it will also keep pushing innovation on the beer front too, taking its experimentation in new directions.
“Being Italian we’re wine drinkers too, and in Modena there’s a lot of Lambrusco. We’re considering either barrel ageing, or doing an Italian grape pale: a style that’s famous in Italy, basically mixing beer wort and grape must. It’s really interesting because you get the dryness of the wine and the malty hoppiness of the beer. We’ve done a few experimental batches which have been great, so we’re really excited about that.”
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