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Study Abroad: Torino Brewery looks ahead to ride out second wave of COVID-19

Amidst all of the noise and popularity of Italy’s world-famous wine scene exists an often-overlooked industry that’s quietly on the rise. While craft beer has been all the rage stateside for many years now, Italy is now beginning to experience its own renaissance in the brewing world. 

While I was abroad last spring semester in Torino, Italy, I had the wonderful opportunity to intern with a small craft brewery making a big splash in their local community. In operation since 2006, Birrificio San Paolo has a strong reputation in Torino as a producer of high-quality American IPAs, German Pilsners and so much more. Even though I only spent a brief two weeks working at the brewery before the pandemic canceled my program, I learned an incredible amount about the craft beer industry in Italy and developed a strong friendship with the owners. 

Currently, Italy is in lockdown due to a second wave of COVID-19. While the first wave started in February of last year and lasted until about early August, the second wave struck mid-September and is still holding fast. I reached out to Graziano who owns Birrificio San Paolo to ask about how his business is coping with the lockdown. All quotes are roughly translated from Italian, as Graziano feels the most comfortable speaking his native language. 

“We [Torino] are in a light lockdown. We were open for about four months before the second lockdown,” Graziano said. When asked about a timeframe for reopening, Graziano stated, “Hard to say … hopefully next month.” 

For three months now, the brewery’s taproom and restaurant have been closed. Their brewing and distribution operations were also halted. However, recently this changed, as Graziano has now begun brewing again in preparation for an anticipated reopening in the coming weeks. 

All businesses in Italy are facing the same lockdown restrictions as Birrificio San Paolo, which has sadly resulted in several less fortunate Torino breweries shutting down forever. 

“The government mishandled the brewing [industry] and consequently damaged the craft beer production as well. It was enough, with the rules of spacing and the masks, to keep everyone open,” Graziano pointed out. 

The harsh restrictions imposed by the Italian government are quite different from the regulations on American craft breweries and bars. While circumstances like higher confirmed case numbers may point to the legitimacy of the restrictions in Italy, brewery owners like Graziano nonetheless see the approach taken by the Italian government as damaging and unnecessary. 

Here in Orono, breweries have the option to remain open to the public or not. Orono Brewing Company decided to close but continues to brew and distribute beer. Marsh Island Brewing, on the other hand, is keeping its taproom safely open by enforcing mask-wearing, social distancing and capacity limitation. 

While never completely afraid that his brewery would permanently shut down due to the lockdown, times have still been very difficult for Graziano and Birrificio San Paolo. 

“From the state, a very small amount of money, and from the customers almost nothing,” Graziano said about the kind of support he has received during the crisis. 

Even within the Italian craft beer scene, there is limited help to be found. According to Graziano, there is very little collaboration between neighboring breweries in Torino, even in light of the lockdown. He suggests that Italian breweries need to team up in the future and perhaps create a sort-of “consortium sales system.”

As the coming weeks unfold, it will be interesting to see how the Italian government handles its current lockdown situation. Breweries like Graziano’s can only survive without sales for so long; things need to change soon if the Italian craft beer industry is to continue its inspirational growth. Perhaps the lockdown will cause brewery owners to realize the importance of internal collaboration and unity — values that are currently embraced by craft breweries in the United States.

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