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Looking back at 2017 | Two pints and a packet of ‘krips’, the rise of Maltese craft beer

Christmas Specials • Relatively unknown until a few years ago, craft beer is increasing in popularity with the Maltese. We delve into the world of small-scale independent breweries and the production of flavoursome beers

massimo_costa
Massimo Costa
28 December 2017, 9:03am
John Borg Barthet of Stretta Craft Beers currently homebrews two craft beers
John Borg Barthet of Stretta Craft Beers currently homebrews two craft beers
Craft beer, which until quite recently was a relatively unknown production method of the alcoholic beverage in Malta, is steadily increasing in popularity with consumers.

The last few years have seen the birth of a number of craft breweries in Malta, producing their own beer locally and making it available in shops or at various restaurants and bars.

By definition, craft beer is beer brewed in small quantities, especially when compared to the beers brewed on a large-scale by the big breweries, which distribute their beers widely.

Craft breweries are small-scale operations which are independently owned, use specific brewing techniques, and usually produce beers which are known for their complex flavours. They are traditionally brewed with an emphasis on producing quality and speciality beer.

Moreover, there are now also a few beer importers specialising in bringing foreign craft beers to our shores.

 

The first craft brewery in Malta

The brew house at Lord Chambray Brewery
The brew house at Lord Chambray Brewery
We spoke to Simone d’Imperio, Italian founder and director of Lord Chambray Brewery, the first craft brewery established on the Maltese islands, on how he decided to enter the local market.

Lord Chambray opened in 2014 in Xewkija, Gozo, starting off with producing three bottled craft beers, a Belgian style wheat beer called Blue Lagoon, San Blas, an English IPA, and Golden Bay, a golden ale.

It now brews a total of ten beers, including two seasonal and two limited edition ones, available in shops, restaurants and bars around Malta. Each has its own character and special flavour, the recipes for which are all created by the brewery, some using local ingredients such as caper flowers and carob honey, giving them a unique taste. D’Imperio says he first visited Malta 28 years ago as young child, and then started visiting every summer.

“Malta was my second home and I wanted to move there,” he says, “I eventually decided to relocate here and open a craft brewery, something I knew would be a demanding task.”

“The country has always been dominated by mass-production beer,” d’Imperio maintained, “Until a few years ago, people were mostly aware of the existence of big, easy to drink beer brands which are available everywhere.”

“Brewing craft beer is difficult, insofar as producing on a small scale doesn’t help cut expenses,” d’Imperio explained, “Being based on an island was a big logistical and planning issue in the beginning, but thanks to a very carefully drawn-up business plan we were able to face the challenges.

“To start brewing in a country where most people, until three years ago, didn’t have an idea of the notion of a ‘craft’ beer, and were not overly familiar with terms like ‘hops’, was very hard,” d’Imperio elaborates.

“In this short span of time, the local market has changed incredibly, and accordingly our production has grown significantly. Today a remarkable number of craft beer brands are available on the island,” he says.

 

Homebrewing craft beer

It is not always necessary to run a dedicated brewery in order to produce quality craft beer, as we learnt when we spoke to John Borg Barthet, owner of Stretta Craft Beers, started in late 2016.

Stretta produces two craft beers, India Pale Ale – No. 1, an IPA, and Transatlantic Pale Ale – Muzajk, an American pale ale hybrid, both of which were first brewed and perfected by Borg Barthet on a pilot plant and later scaled up according to demand. They are now sold in many eateries and bars in Malta.

“I started tinkering with fermentation at a very young age, learning wine-making from my family, and later moving on to beer,” Borg Barthet says, “It was a slow start, but my interest and ability grew steadily over time, as I brewed classic and modern-style beers, learning tips and techniques from several good breweries.”

He explained how, taking a lot of what he had learnt on board, he went on to develop his own distinctive recipes – very much in the spirit of what craft beer is all about – which are now doing very well on the local market and on international beer rating forums.

“Home brewing can be fun and produce good quality beer using minimal equipment and basic brewing knowledge. Attention to detail and cleanliness are essential, and the process, which can take anywhere from four weeks to several months, is as complicated as the recipe,” he maintained.

“Local craft beer is going places, rising to the task of catering for people’s tastes, which are turning towards more flavoursome food and beverages. It’s quality over quantity, and people are increasingly more discerning about what they consume,” Borg Barthet remarked.

In-house craft brewery and bar all in one

All the craft beer served at The Brew, which was opened in October last year and now offers five beers, is made on site, brewed by a professional from the Ukraine with more than three decades of experience
All the craft beer served at The Brew, which was opened in October last year and now offers five beers, is made on site, brewed by a professional from the Ukraine with more than three decades of experience
A bar producing its own craft beer and offering a selection of food was something absent in Malta until very recently, but this changed when Alexander Friggieri and his Ukrainian colleague Dmitry Tolok opened The Brew in Sliema.

Friggieri told us how all the craft beer served at The Brew, which was opened in October last year and now offers five beers, is made on site, brewed by a professional from the Ukraine with more than three decades of experience.

He explained how they first started brewing lagers, then moved into dark and light ales, and are now also making winter ales.

“The difference in the number of customers since we started in 2016 till now has been massive. People are becoming interested in craft beers, and we even get foreigners asking to try out beer,” he says.

"Local craft beer is going places, rising to the task of catering for people’s tastes, which are turning towards more flavoursome food and beverages. It’s quality over quantity"
They recently collaborated with MCAST to produce Gallery, the official craft beer of Valletta 2018, which is available in stores and uses a recipe created by his craft brewery.

“We do not add any alcohol or sugar to our beers, and only use water, malt, hops and yeast. Water purity is very important, so we utilise a special filter to obtain very high quality water,” Friggieri says, as he showed us the tanks and equipment, all located at the back of the premises, used to make the beer.

“We currently produce 12,000 litres of beer a month, but are working on opening a dedicated plant and increasing production to 80,000-100,00 litres per month,” he says, “However, we want to keep making craft beer – we do not intend to increase our scale to the extent that we become a mass producer.

“We use beer in a lot of the food on the menu, all of which we cook here – our burgers, sausages, ribs and lamb shanks all have a touch of beer added,” Friggieri says, highlighting that he felt positive about the industry in Malta, especially given the growth in consumer demand.

It is apparent that craft breweries and outlets offering craft beers are flourishing in Malta, and, very much in the same way as is happening throughout Europe and North America, small and independent brewers are set for an expanding market.

massimo_costa
Massimo Costa joined MaltaToday in 2017 as a journalist. He is a graduate in European Stud...