22 January 2014

Beer from Bientina at Orzo Bruno, Pisa

A decision to visit Tuscany in January 2014 was influenced by finding a Guardian article 'Tuscany on tap: a beer-lover's guide to the region' by Donald Strachan. Tuscany on Tap (Guardian)

There are plenty of cheap flights from the UK to Pisa and so this seemed a good place to stay on the first and last nights of the trip to allow visits to Orzo Bruno, one of the bars featured in the article.

Further research revealed that Orzo Bruno opened at 7pm and was popular with students due to Happy Hour reduced beer prices and the tradition of providing free food on the bar. The advice was to get there early so my plan was to arrive early with the intention of finding a seat at the bar.

First visit to Orzo Bruno (13/1/2014)

Orzo Bruno is situated at Via Case Dipinte n. 6/8 which is near to Borgo Stretto, the main shopping street, that starts at the Piazza Garibaldi on the north bank of the river Arno. Walking north from the piazza, turn right on reaching Via Mercanti. Turn left on the first road that crosses and the bar is on the right, facing an open area with parked scooters.

The decorated shutters were still down at 7pm but then a side door opened and I was privileged to be the first person to be admitted on this Monday night.

The long bar protrudes from the longer rear wall of the rectangular room and the beer fonts are in the centre.

Wooden blocks, each decorated with details of one of the beers, are strung above the bar.
Having recently walked from Pisa airport to the Sunflower B&B and then on to Orzo Bruno after crossing the railway line and the river Arno, I had worked up quite a thirst!
I found a bar stool to perch on at the furthest end of the bar where I could keep an eye on proceedings.
I started with a refreshing half litre of Martesana, a 5% ABV pale ale, served in a chunky tall glass with a handle. Before 8.30pm, a half litre costs 3.60 euros (0.3 litre costs 2.60 euros). Prices rise to 4 euros (3 euros) after 8.30pm.

The bar had now been filled with plates of tempting bread based appetisers. Long breads had been sliced in half lengthways and heated to crispness and were spread with different toppings, mainly cheese or vegetable based. They were then laterally sliced to give a lot of finger thickness bruschetta type snacks. With a stack of plastic plates and paper napkins at one end of bar, customers were free to help themselves to a plateful of appetisers.

Laminated menus available from the bar give details of the drinks range on one side and the wider range of food that can be ordered from the bar on the other. With paninis and piadines from 5 euros and other hot dishes or salads from 8 euros, the kitchen staff were busy preparing food for customers and for take away food orders.
The room was now filling with customers and several street sellers ventured in during the early evening to find buyers for their stock of cigaretter lighters and tissues. 'No' was not enough for the street sellers but I found that a cash donation was an acceptable alternative to a purchase. 

One barman was kept busy all evening pouring all the drinks. The glasses were filled in stages to give time for the initial frothy head to subside. The flat drip tray under the fonts was deep enough to hold three glasses deep so they would be moved around and topped up in turn until they were full enough to serve.

Valdera Rossa

I was able to try beers in increasing strength order: Valdera Rossa a 5.2% ABV red ale; Montemagno a 7.3% ABV strong ale brewed with honey; Yeti a 7.5% ABV beer with floral and orange peel flavours. The Yeti with some sweetness and spicy flavours was my favourite beer of the evening.

Return visit to Orzo Bruno (17/1/2014)

Four days later, I was back in Pisa on a Friday night. It rained heavily during the day and the street sellers had swapped their previous wares for umbrellas! I must have passed at least half a dozen umbrella sellers on the way from the hotel to Orzo Bruno and every one of them attempted to sell me one from their stock!
I arrived at the bar at opening time and was able to secure my favoured spot at the far end of the bar.
There was a new block sign above the bar to announce the availability of a new beer - Picca. The ingredients were also listed and illustrated: Ginger, black pepper, cinnamon and vanilla. I ordered a half litre of Picca to see if it would remind me of Batemans Black Pepper Ale that was brewed for Sainsbury's 2013 Great British Beer Hunt. It was a good choice as none of the flavours were too dominant and the subtle pepper notes were discernible.
Il Birrificio Artigiano, Bientina, team at Orzo Bruno - Alessio Pontiggia is on the right

Introducing myself as a CAMRA newsletter editor to tonight's barman (Alessio Pontiggia from the brewery - Il Birrificio Artigiano Bientina) gave me an opportunity to present him with a copy of Ullage (West Berkshire CAMRA newsletter). Alessio not only agreed to my request for a photo for Ullage but he went back to the kitchen and brought out the rest of the team for a group photo.
As on my previous visit, the kitchen staff were kept busy preparing free food for collection from plates on the bar as well as meals ordered by customers.
The rain outside may have reduced the number of visitors to Orzo Bruno and it certainly kept the street sellers outside with their stock of umbrellas. A good range of music was played and the low lighting levels and unique decorative style give the bar a good atmosphere. Grey foam rubber strips are suspended from the ceiling in an attempt to reduce the noise which is reflected from the hard surfaces of floor, windows and walls.

Having sampled most of the beers at Orzo Bruno on my previous visit, I decided to order a second half litre of the new spicy Picca. This was an another opportunity to top up my plate with some free bruschetta from the bar!
My final visit to the bar counter was to order a half litre of Yeti, the strong beer with floral notes that was my favourite from the previous visit.

My thanks go to Alessio and the team at the brewery and Orzo Bruno for brewing and serving distinctive beers at reasonable prices. These two visits to Orzo Bruno were highlights of this trip to Italy and any visitor spending an evening in Pisa should not miss the opportunity to visit Orzo Bruno!

All the beers sold at Orzo Bruno are produced by Il Birrificio Artigiano in Bientina which lies about 15 km east of Pisa.

Orzo Bruno,
Via Case Dipinte n. 6/8,
Pisa 56100
The Orzo Bruno website (Italian only) http://www.orzobruno.it/

Il Birrificio Artigiano,
Via Puccini,
Bientina (Pisa) 56031

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