Bruno Gentile is the owner and founder of Birrificio San Michele, in Sant’Ambrogio di Torino, in the Lower Susa Valley. The brewery – located in a former cotton mill and motorcycle factory – is named after the Sacra di San Michele, the magnificent medieval abbey sitting atop Mount Pirchiriano.
The excellent products of Birrificio San Michele have already collected three Beer of the Year Awards in a row – a major accolade from the Italian UnionBirrai association. We sat down with Gentile to ask him a few questions about his work.
How and when did your passion for craft beer begin?
It was around 2000, when I traveled to Brussels for work and had the chance to taste some of the local beer. I realized that until then I had never tried “real” beer. After that, out of curiosity and an innate attraction to good food, I purchased a home brewing kit. After the first fermentations, I was hooked. Until then my job had consisted exclusively of computers and technology, so I was really excited to see yeast create something – even if it was just a sugary concoction at the time. In the following years those first terrible results improved… like in a fairy tale, they transformed into little “princesses”. It was a dream come true.
How would you describe your beer’s quality and style?
The main element in our beer is passion. Then come the artisanal production method, without filtering; the selection of pure mountain water; and a preference for organic ingredients.
Finally, there is the care and attention we put in every single bottle.
What about your work philosophy?
We live in times marked by an increasing “food identity crisis”: we know less and less about what we put on our tables. We would like to raise awareness about beer, the most popular drink in the world. We would also like to debunk some common prejudices about pairing it with lunch and dinner dishes. Birra San Michele beers have names, colors, labels, and bottles that derive from the precise combination of emotions and perceptions – through sight, hearing, taste, smell, and touch – that our products evoke upon tasting.
Do you have a hard job?
As I mentioned, I had twenty years of experience as a manager in large multinational companies, such as Oracle and IBM. I often worked as a consultant to major Italian companies, and have acquired deep knowledge about production management and customer experience systems… Thus I can confirm for sure that a brewery like ours faces management issues as complex as large organizations’. A brewer’s job is very difficult. If you take into consideration the limitations set by customs regulations, keeping production in Italy is an arduous challenge.
Luckily, our efforts are compensated every time someone tastes our products, and falls in love with craft beer.
How widespread and solid is craft beer culture in Italy?
It is still lacking, especially among the age brackets more interested in trends than in real quality. The mass media can be blamed for part of this, because they don’t present products in depth. Obviously, this is true for craft beer as well as for many other foods. However, I think it is only a matter of time before awareness develops on the matter: we can already see some important signs of change.
What are your sales goals? Is the foreign market achievable?
Right now our sales cover most of the national territory and a few countries in Northern Europe and Asia. We’ve actually been very selective in market development, both to ensure we could uphold our high quality standards and to allow the brewery to grow in a harmonious way, especially in terms of infrastructures, organization, and professional skills. Our company is constantly managing change, which forces us to always stay up to date. Today, thanks to our newest plant, we are ready to face new markets.
Your plant also has a tasting area…
Yes, to try beer paired with different food. Every week our chef helps us design a beer-based dish, ranging from sushi to grilled Argentinian meat. Our goals are to encourage clients to taste excellent food with beer – experimenting with new flavors – and, most importantly, to promote craft beer culture.