With oyster, tobacco and watermelon-flavored brews, Italy's craft beers are flourishing despite a punishing recession that is putting thousands of other businesses out of work.
From just seven craft breweries in 1996, there are now more than 445, challenging wine's traditional dominance. Experts say there is scope for more growth in a country where tastes for beer are still being shaped.
A report by Assobirra, the association of Italian brewers, said 71 percent of Italians drink beer and the beverage is quickly catching up with wine; 28.8 percent chose it as their favorite drink, compared to 37 percent for wine.
The authors of the report said beer was considered "the most democratic drink," as it could be drunk at all occasions and was cheaper. Craft beers have a higher price tag, however, with a 75-cl bottle of "Birra del Borgo" selling for around 10 euros ($12.50).
"Creativity and experimentation are the current characteristics of the world of craft beer in Italy," said Luciana Squadrilli from Birra del Borgo brewery in the tiny town of Borgorose, some 100 kilometers from Rome.
The brewery, which was a pioneer in the sector when it opened in 2005, produces around 30 different types of beer every year. It was set up by Leonardo di Vicenzo, a biologist who decided to turn his hobby into a business.
"At the time we had a total production capacity of 500 liters per cycle of production. Now we have 2,500 liters," said chief brewer Andrea Lecchini, also a biologist who holds a master's degree in brewing.
"I think consumers like the variety, the chance of combining typically Italian ingredients to make unusual drinks – especially in a country where there is no tradition of beer making so tastes are not pre-determined."
The brewery employs 15 people in everything from production to administration and bottling. Their average age is around 30, which is very young for a company in Italy where workforces tend to be older.
"Five or 10 years ago we could only have dreamed that the future could look so rosy," said Brooks Carretta, a brewer at Eataly, a temple to Italian gastronomy that opened in Rome this year and includes a small craft brewery. A 50-cl bottle at Eataly can sell for as much as 25 euros ($31).
"We produce around 1,000 liters per week and now we are going to bring out beers with watermelon and papaya flavours," said Carretta, a young Italian-American who is currently working on a beer with lemons from Amalfi.
Craft beers currently make up around two percent of Italy's beer market but the share is growing in double figures every year as the trend catches on.
Carretta said he did not think there was any conflict with wine, as the two drinks "are two separate worlds and their paths cross only rarely."
"I like discovering the novelties, knowing that there are now major differences between the beers in Italy depending on where they come from," he added.
An Eataly customer, Martina Bertolli, said she enjoyed experimenting. "I like to discover new products, knowing that we now have a wide selection of different beers."
Food matching is also a source of adventure: "It is interesting to ask whether a dark beer can marry with red meat, or what beer would go well with shellfish," explained Bertolli.