Peroni: The Beer of Italy, the Story of Civilization
Like so many of the great food and beverage institutions of Italy, the story of Peroni begins in the nineteenth century. That’s when Francesco Peroni, an entrepreneur in the country’s north, opened a brewery in the city of Vigevano.
To drink beer is to drink the Earth itself, and location was everything to Francesco’s operation. It was practically designed by God for beermaking: the Alps provide glacial ice and water, and the arable land between the Adda and Brembo rivers offers fertile fields for growing crops. Thus Birra Peroni, as he called his company, offered perhaps the finest beer in Italy—pale and medium and well suited for food and conversation. Right away, the country just could not get enough of the stuff.
In 1864, two decades after opening its first brewery, Peroni had to open a second site in the city of Rome (itself no slouch in agriculture). It was the only way to keep glasses full in thirsty Italy. Seventy years later—a blink of the eye in the time scales of Italian companies—Peroni was the biggest brewer in the country. Today, it’s one of the biggest in the world.
It is no accident that practically every civilization in history has, at some point, independently invented beer. In fact, some scholars assert that, beyond its obvious appeal, beer is the reason civilizations exist in the first place. The hypothesis—though, of course, they didn’t know any of this at the time—goes like this: grain is not really very tasty—and especially the grain consumed by prehistoric humans. (It’s not like they had Tony’s to spice things up.) And some parts of the grain—like the bran your least favorite cereal is made from—are especially hard to digest, while others are easy to make use of but difficult to get to. Grain was and is a vital source of nutrition, and for a civilization to thrive they would need to grow it in abundance and consume it eagerly.
Enter beer. Its repeated discovery was likely an accident, perhaps the result of rainwater soaking into stored grain and fermenting over time. (The fermentation was very likely accidental and certainly a mystery.) This yielded a rich, dark liquid, which, at some point, a bold and possibly desperate human being decided to drink. Whatever the reason, no matter the circumstance, it kept happening. People realized pretty quickly—time and again—that beer was amazing, and they wanted more. Humankind had just found its new favorite thing.
While one might imagine early civilizations as an endless begrudging toil in the fields to harvest horrible-tasting grains and perhaps boring, butterless bread, it improves dramatically when you add beer. You’ve suddenly got industrious tribes cultivating every square inch of land imaginable, because more grain means more beer, and more beer means fewer nights sitting around the campfire thinking about how cold it is, or how hungry you are, or how bad everyone smells, or what the wolves are up to in the shadows. Instead, you’re tipsy and telling everyone about that saber-toothed cat you took down with your bare hands, and, inexplicably, dancing much better than you used to.
Ten thousand years of human industry, a steady improvement in beermaking, and one family’s devotion to quality bring us to Peroni. More than a beer, the name is a symbol of Italian glamor and practically a lifestyle for its drinkers. Peroni’s two most famous beers, by far, are its original beer, named after the company, and Nastro Azzurro, a pale lager. The latter is made with a corn exclusive to the company—Nostrano dell’Isola maize—which imbues the beer with its color, clarity and characteristic citrus, spice, and bitter balance. The beer is brewed with Saaz-Saaz and Hallertau Magnum hops, responsible for Nastro Azzurro’s ephemeral touch on the palate. Taken together, with two-row spring barley in the mix, you get a premium beer notable for its especially crisp finish. If human civilization has done nothing else, it has given us Peroni—Italy bottled and delivered the world over.