Italian Word of the Day: Birra (beer)

An alcoholic beverage prized the world over is beer, known as birra in Italian. Like its English counterpart, its origin can ultimately be traced back to the German Bier.

/bìr·ra/
cover image with the word “birra” and its translation written on a notepad next to a cup of coffee

Birra is a feminine noun whose plural form is birre. The definite and indefinite articles are as follows:

la birra
the beer

una birra
a beer

le birre
the beers

delle birre
(some) beers

Historically, Italy hasn’t had much of a beer-drinking tradition, barring the north-eastern regions of Veneto and Lombardia where the Austrian influence is strong, but this has changed in the last ten to fifteen years or so thanks to the emergence of numerous breweries (birrifici) across the country that brew their own craft beer (birra artigianale).

Although you can buy birra in bottiglia (bottled beer) or birra in lattina (canned beer), true connoisseurs enjoy birra alla spina (beer on tap).

When you go to a pub or restaurant in Italy, the waiter will normally ask if you want a small (piccola), medium (media) or large (grande) beer. The most popular types include birra rossa (amber ale), birra chiara or bionda (pale ale), birra scura (dark ale) and birra amara (bitter ale).

Posso avere una birra rossa media, per favore?

Can I have a medium amber ale, please?


Mugs with different sorts of beer on a wooden table.
Vari tipi di birra = Various types of beer

A few common verbs you will see used with birra are:

  • bere la birra = to drink beer
  • andare a bere / prendere una birra = to go out for a beer
  • fermentare la birra = to brew beer

The ironic expression farci la birra (lit. to make beer from it) is used to indicate something that is useless or unusable. For example:

Puoi farci la birra con quel rottame!

You can’t do anything with that piece of junk.
(lit. You can make beer with that piece of junk.)


Facciamoci una birra or andiamo a farci una birra, on the other hand, means to go to drink a beer somewhere (to grab a beer).

Ci facciamo una birra stasera? – Certo, anche due!

Do you want to grab a beer tonight? – Sure, why not two!


Diverse friends drinking beers together
Due amici che si bevono una birra. = Two friends drinking a beer.

Idiomatic expressions with the word ‘birra’

Curiously, birra is also used in a figurative way to mean endurance, strength or energy. In this sense of the word, it appears in a few interesting idiomatic expressions:

Andare a tutta birra

Literal translation: to go all beer
English meaning: to go at full speed, full throttle, flat out
* You can substitute the verb andare (to go) with correre (to run) and partire (to leave)


Dare la birra a qualcuno

Literal translation: to give the beer to someone
English meaning: to overtake someone in a competition of speed


Avere molta birra

Literal translation: to have lots of beer
English meaning: to have lots of energy and endurance


Avere ancora della birra in corpo

Literal translation: to still have beer in one’s body
English meaning: to still have energy left

Young woman running in green forest.
Corre a tutta birra! = She’s running at full speed!

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