We jumped off the Metro at Barberini to see some sights, starting at the sun-drenched and stunning Trevi Fountain, walking to the awe-inspiring and awesome (classic meaning, not the Americanization) Pantheon and then Piazza Navaro, plus a while just wandering and exploring and seeing what we could find (churches, piazzas, amazing statues; the usual). Conveniently this left us just a few minutes away from Open Baladin...
Hidden down an alleyway, it's made easier to find by a small sign on the old stone wall pointing the way. An open, colourful place packed with chairs and tables for eating the simple food (burgers, home-fried crisps, rice balls). The bar, backed by a wall of empty bottles, takes up the whole front of the space while there’s also another back room, past the kitchen, which is quieter and more intimate. Cool music plays, changing tempo and tune at different times of the day to suit the custom (lazy jazz at 5pm, upbeat and toe-tapping at 10pm). The beer list makes it a hard place to leave with around 40 choices, mostly Italian and mostly kegged.
I started on Scik Pils by Birra del Borgo, needing a thirst-quencher from the hot Roman sun. It arrived with a big rocky head, pillowing over the rim of the glass (this will become the normal – beers are aggressively poured, allowed to settle, then topped up, giving that handsome head in a glass). Lemony, grassy, a quenching bitterness. A damn good start.
Baladin Open was next; floral, a little spicy, dryly bitter and a touch savoury. Not what I was expecting but still good. Then a beer I couldn’t ignore: Xyauyu 2004. A barley wine, 13.5%, old. This beer is a masterpiece that belongs in the museums around the city; as astounding as the Roman architecture. Amber colour with a subtle aroma of caramel, spice and orange pith which opens up as it swirls around the glass. The body is thick and syrupy but somehow so light that it never becomes cloying. For a beer that was made in 2004 it’s not slightly oxidised and of remarkable quality with so much flavour making it so interesting to drink. Incredible.
Two days later we returned after dinner and sat at the bar while diners filled all the tables behind us. Lambrate Ligera, a 4.7% US pale ale, was a glass of lemon and lime, easy drinking with a quenching sort of bitterness; a great beer to start the night on. Then Borgo’s Re Ale Extra, which was bursting with fruit – mandarin, tangerine, peaches, mango – plus something cakey and vanilla-like in the body. I loved every joyous gulp of it. Then I spotted something in the beer menu which caught my eye: Baladin Super Bitter. I don’t understand a word of Italian, nor do I read it, but things like ‘collaborazione’ ‘Americano’ and ‘Stone’ formed an exciting translation in my mind (although I can’t find anything about it online so maybe it was all a dream...). I couldn’t not order it, choosing it instead of a Xyauya 2007. At 8.5% it drank like a supersized glass of bitter with some spicy character similar to Belgian yeast, some nuttiness and a little orange pith. It was a glugger, though not what I was expecting and not hugely bitter, but still good.
On the day we travelled home we decided to take a long walk around the city which conveniently I managed to route right past the open doors of the bar... San Paolo’s Pecan is a crisp kolsch, completely opaque like orange barley squash, with a big creamy head and it was delicious – unfiltered, smooth, a bitter bite and perfect for the warm day. Then a Troll Dorina, a herby (mint, rosemary) blonde, crisp and dry, a little unusual in the flavour but really intriguing all the same. And then we had to leave for the third and final time.
I loved Open Baladin. I loved the long beer list, the friendly staff (something wonderfully refreshing from the gruff services you get everywhere else in Rome – though not in any of the beer bars), the cool atmosphere and the great selection of beer. It’s a great introduction to Italian craft beer.