From maths to beer: four friends and their brewpub in Altona

Many of us have dreamed about it: opening up a bar with your friends so that you’ve always got the best things on hand: tasty beer, good people and your choice of music. For Francesco this became reality when he, together with three Italian and Spanish friends, opened up Malto: a brewpub in Altona. With Birrificio Shanghait they brew pale ales, Belgian beers, porters and more — no pilsners though. We sat down with Francesco and asked him why he — a mathematician — turned to beer brewing and what it’s like to own a pub with your friends.

Text & photo: Sabela Garcia Cuesta

Hi Francesco, how did you end up in Hamburg?

I arrived almost 8 years ago. I am originally from a small town in the Apennine mountain region in Italy. I never thought I would end up living in Germany but I opened up my mind during my international master’s program, when I first moved to Canada and later here.

When did you start brewing beer?

I started brewing in October 2014 while I was still studying mathematics. It was a moment in life when I started questioning myself about what I wanted to do, and where I want to do it. I lost two of my grandparents during that time and I realized most of my memories of them involved food and drinks back in Italy. Picking grapes from our vineyard or harvesting vegetables and fruit when in season. Beer brewing reconnected me to my roots as I was finally doing something with my own hands.

Don’t Italians usually drink wine?

Yeah, maybe – but I found out that beer can be a drink that has much to offer, much more than what people expect from it. It offers a great challenge and a whole world of new opportunities.

Alright, so family memories … That’s the reason why you started brewing beer?

Also because the beer I was drinking here in Hamburg was boring (laughs). Sorry, but who really likes the taste of Astra?

Fair point! How would you describe the craft beer community in Hamburg?

Tiny. In comparison to Berlin or other cities in Germany, in Hamburg there is still much room for improvement.

But what about your career as a mathematician? Did you completely drop it?

There were many job offers to work as a mathematician but not any that would fulfill me. Most of them were in front of a laptop and working with excel sheets. Really something not for me.

What does mathematics mean to you then?

Mathematics is freedom, it’s another language. It helps you to make things in the physical world more abstract.

And how does your brewpub, Malto, fit into all this?

Having a bar is for me like having a container box. Think about it, I can gather together all the things I like: people, arts, music … We started Malto  with the four of us, Petro, Antonio, Mattia and me. Mattia and I started brewing beer together, and we’ve have actually known each other for 20 years already.

Wow! So are the four of you still good friends?

We don’t see each other that often anymore – one is at home, one is at the bar or the other way around – but of course we’re still friends. We’ve had some strong arguments and different points of view along the way, but we always find a solution.

What about the beers you serve at Malto?

We serve all our beers from Birrificio Shanghait as well as some guest beers. I like hoppy or fruity beers and we offer many of them: full of flavor and intensities. But we don’t brew lager. I’ve learned that to be able to brew certain types of beers you must really study for it. Especially in a country with such a beer tradition like here in Germany.  

Which beer is your bestseller?

The Prima Cotta: an India Pale Ale. It means “first crush or love” but also “first batch” – it was the first we brewed.

Finally, where do you like to hang out in Hamburg besides your own bar?

I loved the old Yoko Mono in Markstraße… Maybe at some point I will visit the new one.

I also feel very comfortable at Golden Pudel. I love going there especially on Sundays or Mondays because of the chilled environment. I also like places where I can listen to very weird experimental music: between Schlump and Sternschanze there is a hidden spot that I would definitely recommend: Frequenzgänge.

Need a cold one? Visit Malto  for a craft beer or two in a friendly atmosphere, check out their tap list here. As they say: “Passion cannot be grabbed but it can be poured from a bottle.”  Malto, Max-Brauer-Allee 88, 22765 Hamburg.