20 Questions with Morris from The Pilot Beer

Maurizio “Morris” Catagnoli made the leap from homebrewing to brewing commercially on a nano scale. Along the way he’s set up his own homebrew supply shop, often importing yeast, craft malt and hops from small producers in the United States and Canada. To find out what drives his curiosity, we invited him to play 20 Questions. 


Hop: What got you interested in brewing?

Pilot Beer: I became interested in brewing when I started drinking beer. I was fascinated by the many varieties of styles, flavors and aromas. When I realized that brewing allows you to experience anything that goes into your head, I thought it would be fantastic to learn how to do it and then I started brewing.


Hop: Can you describe your first brewing experience?

Pilot Beer: My first brewing experience was a long time ago, I was 16 years old and without any experience, I bought my first kit (and the only one) which contained the necessary to produce 23 liters of beer. It all started in my kitchen, with a hopped extract and plastic buckets.


Hop: Did you do all grain or extract?

Pilot Beer: It was the only time I used a can of hopped extract.


Hop: Did you brew with someone experienced or fly solo?

Pilot Beer: I started brewing alone, unfortunately I didn't know anyone who produced beer at home at that time and for this reason the path was more difficult. It was not easy to find information and guidelines, I had to buy books and read many articles on blogs.


Hop: What did you brew?

Pilot Beer: If I remember correctly, the can of hopped extract contained the necessary to prepare a Mild Ale.


Hop: How did the beer turn out?

Pilot Beer: It's been a long time and I don't remember the taste of that beer but it would be nice to find a bottle to taste it today.


Hop: Do you have a favorite beer or favorite style of beer to brew?

Pilot Beer: No, I don't have a favorite style to brew, but I really like to make SMASH beer to better know the ingredients I'm using. I find it interesting to make good and balanced beers using the minimum necessary ingredients in the recipe.


Hop: What are your favorite books on brewing?

Pilot Beer: There are many books that I have read and that have helped me a lot in this journey, but one in particular impressed me: “Designing Great Beers” by Ray Daniels. I recommend everyone read this book


Hop: Do you have a favorite brewing resource?

Pilot Beer: Not exactly. Before making a beer I always inquire about the guidelines of style, comparing professional and amateur recipes, the advice of brewers. And after collecting as much information as possible, I start creating the recipe.


Hop: What is your brewing setup like?

Pilot Beer: When I started brewing my equipment consisted of a steel pot, a few plastic buckets and little more. Now I use a professional 100-liter system and SSBrewtech fermenters. The upgrade was great! And I noticed that the quality and stability of the beers produced also benefited.


Hop: Do you have a favorite beer to drink or a preferred style of beer?

Pilot Beer: Like so many people do, I love drinking every style of beer. Over time I realized that for every situation there is the right beer to drink, in this way I can continue drinking different beers, different styles and different interpretations of them. However, I have always been fascinated by the German Pils for their ease of drinking.


Hop: Have you ever tried to brew that beer?

Pilot Beer: No not yet but it is definitely on the list of recipes to brew.


Hop: If you could offer one piece of brewing advice to yourself as a beginner, what would it be?

Pilot Beer: There have been many steps taken that have improved the beers produced and the techniques applied. In general, I could advise myself to pay more attention to every single production process, even a small mistake can compromise the final result.


Hop: How long have you been brewing?

Pilot Beer: I started when I was sixteen so I have been brewing beer for just over 10 years.


Hop: Do you have a favorite hop?

Pilot Beer: The world of hops is great and I don't think I can say I have a favorite hop but I have preferences based on the style of beer to be produced. In German and Belgian ales I like to use Saaz hops, Fuggles hops for Porter and Stout, and for hoppy beers I love to experiment with different varieties and combinations.


Hop: What hops do you want to try out that you haven’t brewed with already?

Pilot Beer: I would love to learn more about the New Zealand hop varieties. I have had few experiences with these hops but I think they are unique and delicious!


Hop: Do you ferment anything besides beer?

Pilot Beer: At the moment, no, but I would like to try to produce Cider.


Hop: What’s the strangest ingredient that you’ve ever brewed with?

Pilot Beer: Probably the most unusual ingredient was Stroopwafel. We produced a Stout by adding Stroopwafel (Dutch cookies made mainly from milk, flour, caramel and cinnamon) directly into the Mash tun. The beer turned out to be very good, the Stroopwafel flavor was strong and well balanced by the combination of special and toasted malts. We are already thinking about using Stroopwafel again for the next Imperial Stout on the list


Hop: Do you take notes when you brew?

Pilot Beer: Absolutely, yes. I take notes when I create the recipe and when I brew it. Then I compare the data. I think it is very important to take notes during the production process; it allows you to get to know and improve the equipment and production techniques.


Hop: The best-known beer in American from Italy is probably Peroni. Is that indicative of Italian brewing?

Pilot Beer: Maybe many years ago yes. Today, however, the world of beer in Italy is much more developed and continues to grow. The demand for craft and local beers is increasing, and many microbreweries and brewpubs are springing up.


Hop: What can you tell us about Italian hops?

Pilot Beer: Not much because we recently approached some Italian company that grows hops but we can't wait to know something more about it. Some of these have also developed native hop varieties. As soon as we have the chance, we will definitely talk about them!


Hop: Are there uniquely Italian styles of Craft Beer emerging that we should know about?

Pilot Beer: IGA, Italian grape ale! This is the only Italian style of beer and it is very interesting: it combines the innovation of beer production with the Italian wine culture.


Hop: What inspired you to start a small brewery?

Pilot Beer: The passion for production led me to open a nanobrewery. What I wanted to do was turn the hobby into my job.


Hop: Which came first- the brewery or the homebrew business?

Pilot Beer: They are definitely going hand in hand and have grown at the same time. Both have been a combination of needs and desire to increase my hobby and my business


Hop: Where do you distribute to?

Pilot Beer: We currently have the opportunity to distribute our beers in local pubs but we want to expand and deliver our beers to the rest of Europe and why not? Even in the United States.


Hop: How hard was it to start your brewery?

Pilot Beer: It was quite difficult. In Italy, we have a lot of bureaucracy and a rule to follow but the desire to do it has been stronger than the many problems that have occurred.


Hop: If you had to start all over again, would you?

Pilot Beer: Yes, a thousand times more! it was one of the nicest things done!


Hop: Any advice for a homebrewer looking to take their passion and turn it into a business?

Pilot Beer: There are many tips that I could give but I want to say one in particular: do not stop trying and always keep your goal focused.


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