BEER BY LUCA
We spent the afternoon and evening baking Bestemor Bread with Kristian. Bearing a variety of 10 freshly baked bread rolls, we arrive Vilde's aparment who we met after a week at A&E's. What better way to show up as a guest in Norway, than to have a warm bag spilling over it's brim with bread baked by one of the best bakers in Oslo!? Vilde greets us with a squeal and a big hug. We spend the rest of the night sharing stories of our travels, while we cook a delicious dumpster dinner together (when you take the soon-to-expire and forgotten items out of the fridge and the cabinets and get creative). By the time we go to sleep, it is already 1:00 am and we have to wake up at 6:30 to start brewing beer with Luca. This brings me back to my college days, when I used to have a rule not to drink before noon...
I wake up at around 4:00 am to what sounds like someone being murdered outside of my window. I look past the curtains and realize that the incessant screaming is coming from a murder of crows, who are being fed by an evil neighbor. This is not the most prudent way to start a day in which you anticipate beer for breakfast...Slow to start on 3 hours of sleep, we enter Schouskjelleren Mikrobryggeri at 7:30 am to the site of two energetic Italians full speed ahead! The beer master, Luca, welcomes us with a smile as he hops down the ladder of his adult sized jungle gym to greet us. We carefully put our camera and bags down and cautiously walk through the labrynth of stainless steel pipes and tubes towards Luca. He laughs and says: "Heyyyy, don’t worry nothing will explode, you WILL survive!”
Today, we are shadowing Luca and his partner in crime, Michele, as they brew a new batch of an India Pale Ale for a local pub. We begin with the barley, which is poured into the mill by Michele and then vacuumed up into the first tank, where it will be added to water and heated. Luca is incredibly relaxed throughout the brewing process, answering our endless questions as he navigates and manages the brewing. We chat about Luca’s journey to brewdom and he periodically glares at his watch to ensure he does not miss a beat. Luca can brew in his sleep!
Luca is a Milanese living in Norway. He started his career as a telecommunications engineer in Italy working for a credit card company, but ALWAYS had beer brewing in the back of his mind. To evidence that; on a recent visit back to Milan, Luca found an article that he had saved about brewing on his 1996 Compaq computer. During his stint at the credit card company, Luca began brewing at home and experimenting with different beer flavors. Luca adds that the best way to test flavors and spices together is to steep the ingredients in hot water, and drink it as a tea. While developing different flavors at home and taking road trips to brew pubs throughout Italy, Luca began to contemplate a more serious step. Through countless chats with Italian brew masters, Luca heard mention of a Brewing Technologies degree being offered for the first time at University of Perugia. Fortunately, the prerequisite was a science background which Luca had through engineering. He took a chance and applied. Soon thereafter, he was accepted into the first graduating class of 2008 as the only student without an agricultural background…it was time to quit the credit card company!
In the three month interim after quitting his job and until his first day of studies, Luca began working at a bar in Brussels. He continued to use his free time road-tripping to breweries and brew pubs, where he picked up local knowledge on brewing and discovered that his favorite beer is Belgium wheat. After vagabonding in Brussels, it was time to start beer school in Perugia. With classes every other week, Luca was able to work in Milan at a brew pub and study at the same time. Oh the life...
At 10 am, with 30 minutes to wait until the next step of brewing, we head over to the Trattoria for some cawfee tawk. After graduating, Luca started formal training at the biggest microbrewery in Italy; Baladin (French for vagabond). After training at Baladin, Luca was recommended to go work in an old monastery in Liguria called Birrificio Scarampola where he would work side-by-side with the brew master. On his first day at Scarampola, the brew master decided it was a perfect day to gather mushrooms!?! They rushed through the brewing process and went on a mushroom hunt. On Luca's second day, the brew master declared that Luca would be brewing the beer on his own, because he needed to take care of some errands at the post office. Luca recalls how nervous and excited he was at the prospect of making his own batch of beer; nervous because he didn't want to screw up and excited because Luca loves new challenges. With a shrug and a grin, he looks down at us from the scaffold and declares "and the beer, well..it was drinkable."
After five years mastering the art of brewing in Italy, Luca was ready for his next challenge…to work as a brew master in Oslo.
We return to the brewery for the final steps of the process. As Luca transfers the beer to the fermentation tanks, he recounts his Norwegian journey. In February of 2013, Luca celebrated his Carnivale (an Italian celebration of Mardi Gras that is famous in Venice, Italy) by starting work at Schouskjelleren Mikrobryggeri. In Mesopotamia, it was believed that the fermentation used to produce alcohol was an act by God, well Luca certainly found his Eden in Oslo! He invents and tests new recipes in the 500 liter beer tanks located at the Schous Brew Pub. He then serves the beer to the guests and receives immediate feedback from customers. Upon reaching recipe perfection through his own taste and positive feedback and suggestions, Luca begins to mass produce his new beers in the 1,500 liter tanks of the Schous Microbrewery located across the piazza. Most importantly, Luca comes up with a story and punch line when naming each beer. Some examples:
Taste the JOCA (that was created with co-brewer John, JOhn+luCA), Yeastus Christ Super Sour, Ryan and The Beasterbunny, Ninja vs Unicorn, and Luca’s favorite: James Blond (a Belgium wheat blond).
Throughout the day, Luca sterilizes his machinery, treating each piece of equipment like a baby. As he cleans the room, Luca drills the importance of sanitation into our heads for the craft brewing process. He emphasizes that if you keep a clean environment you will never have to throw away a batch of beer nor need to pasteurize your bottles. I ask Luca, what is the difference between craft beer and industrialized beer?" He looks at us in deep concern and sits down.
"Ok, this is very important... craft beer will always be better than industrialized beer because the flavor of the good bacteria will develop rather than be killed off through pasteurization.”
After 8 hours together in which the conversation was never dull and the questions kept flowing, our friend and host Vilde magically shows up. This was a sign to close up the brewery, head across the piazza to the underground brew pub and enjoy a fresh one amongst friends. Right before I put down my notebook and head out the door, Luca looks at me with a impish smile, and in conclusion, simplifies his job to me (a fellow food science nerd) in just a few words:
“I cook [brew] for the most simplest life form [yeast] so that we can enjoy it’s shit [beer]!”
The jokes continue, as we head to the brew pub. We huddle around a candle lit table in the medieval tavern to taste (& smell) some of Luca's favorite flavors. Luca urges us to smell the beers before we taste them so that we experience the full effect. Prior to tasting each beer we try to guess what flavors he added. Cinnamon, chocolate, orange, we were shocked by the variety of flavors! Tasting the unbelievable beer, we realize the creative genius behind Luca. Luca's phenomenal brews are most definitely made with love! We are so happy that our Recipe Hunting has led us to met Luca and hear his inspirational story!