Showing posts with label Italian Beer. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Italian Beer. Show all posts

Saturday, 30 April 2011

Rome Beer Trip: Veni, Vidi, Vici, I Got Drunk

Here’s a video of my trip to Rome, including some of the sights and some of the beer bars. The music was a choir singing in the Pantheon – an amazing sound.

Rome is an incredible, awesome place. It’s impossible not to be struck with a sense of wonder as you walk the worn streets, to be filled with the stories, shadows and shapes of history, to wonder how many great men have walked here or seen this or made that happen, to get philosophical about life and work and play and feel tiny at the base of giant and beautiful monuments.

The Trevi Fountain is stunning, a story in stone; the Pantheon makes you marvel, the huge columns holding it steady are impossible to forget; St Peter’s Basilica is the sort of place where you forget to look down only to miss something amazing under your feet, but then you look to the side and see a statue or a painting that you’ve read about or seen in books and there it is in the real world; the Colosseum makes you think harder than any other, think about the eight years it took to build, the lives of the 30,000 slaves, how they made it to be over 50 meters high, and then the fights themselves, the raw brutality of it all, the savage entertainment of it; Palatine Hill seems overgrown now, a different place to the history books, but the stories that are set there are the beginnings of the city. (There’s also the Spanish Steps which are a bit shit and can easily be skipped).

It all combines to be a powerful, almost overwhelming, experience in looking at the past and seeing it in the now. It makes you philosophical, which is where the beer comes in; there’s nothing better than a few glasses of beer to make you more loquacious about life and history and philosophise about the past and the present.

And Rome has lots of good beer. Bir&Fud, Ma Che Siete Venuti a Fa (or the Football Pub which is far easier to spell and remember), Open Baladin and Brasserie 4:20 are the four places that anyone interested in beer should visit in Rome. It’s in these bars that you’ll find the best of Italian beers and the best of world beers, with each bar standing out in their own unique ways: the pizza and Italian beer in Bir&Fud, the drinking atmosphere in the Football Pub, the cool interior and the long list of Italian beers in Open and the smart dive bar brasserie with casks and kegs of world beer in 4:20.

And then there’s the food. The great thing is that food and drink is central to everything and they always go together. Buckets of home-fried crisps, aperitivo, impossibly thin pizza bases, rice balls, gelato everywhere (I am now obsessed with hazelnut ice cream), bowls of silky pasta. Our favourite place to eat was Pizzarium and the pasta in Brasserie 4:20 was incredibly good. We ate very well in Rome.

There are two warnings. The beer costs 5 euros a glass and most places serve it in 330ml glasses (6 euros for a pint). The glasses change size and shape depending on what’s in it, and the beer is well cared for and well chosen, but that’s a lot of money even by big city standards. Yet if you know it’s coming and are happy to pay, which I was, then it’s not so bad. The other is that none of the beer bars sell Diet Coke. For most people this is a good thing (I think it’s a good thing), but when you are dragging your girlfriend who doesn’t drink anything but Diet Coke around these bars until as late as she can possible bare them, she turns grumpy and you (I) have to drink very fast...

Rome is the sort of city that is hard to take in, hard to understand, hard to appreciate. It’s epic in all senses, it’s busy, it’s as exciting looking up as it is looking side to side or down. It’s also a sad place to visit; nowhere has ever struck me as so rooted in history, so important historically, with so many lives and stories played out on its maze of streets. There is also sadness that I could never tell what was real, or original, and what was new or preserved. Was I looking at something made 2,000 years ago or is that just a recreation? You also get used to seeing such enormous and beautiful buildings that they no longer surprise you and you even expect them (oh look, there’s another piazza, another church, wow that’s a big one).

As for the beer? I loved it all. It was all great, all interesting, all delicious. Bitters, pale ales, saisons, sours, beers with fruit, wheat beers, stouts. A mix of it all, all with a classy Italian stamp. I went expecting to be impressed with the beer and it beat my expectations.

For a mix of amazing sites and sights and great beer bars, Rome has to be high on the list of places to visit.

Sunday, 17 April 2011

Pizzarium, Gradi Plato Beershop, Domus Birrae

We’d had lunch at Pizzarium as quickly as we could after arriving in Rome. A small by-the-slice pizza place not far from the Vatican City walls (go here after visiting the museum as the exit puts you right where you want to be), where impossibly thin pieces are cut from large slabs of pizza and where the bases are incredibly light and crisp and yet still keep a chewiness to them and the toppings are piled perilously high. They also sell good beer, though not as much as I expected; I got the last bottle of craft beer that wasn’t 750ml on our first visit (it was so good we visited the next day as well and Lauren wanted to go back again on the last day). The bottle was an excellent Milk Chocolate Stout from Brewfist (some good info on the brewery here), all chocolate, nuts and fudge and great with pizza – I like the depth of dark beer with tomato and cheese.

Gradi Plato Beershop is about a 10 minute walk from Pizzarium or from the centre of Vatican City. Hidden down a side street, it’s filled with bottles and fridges inside with a selection from around the world and lots of Italian beers. It’s a really good shop with more than enough for a thirsty traveller to choose from – I got some really interesting things to bring home.

The other beer shop I visited was Domus Birrae, about 5 minutes from Termini, the main train station (it’s also only about 10 minutes walk from the Colosseum). This place is excellent: big, filled with mostly Italian beers alongside a few from Denmark and America, plus a homebrew section with ingredients and equipment. I spent about half an hour (probably longer...) looking at everything, asking staff for recommendations or to explain what the beers were. The selection is larger and broader than Gradi Plato but both are definitely worth visiting if you want to bring bottles home from Rome. I bought nine bottles from Domus Birrae, somehow stuffing them into my backpack, and struggling onto a very full bus back to the hotel.

These three plus Open Baladin, Bir & Fud, Ma Che Siete Venuti a Fa and Brasserie 4:20 made up my three days in Rome and filled them with great beer (there's a map below with them all on). If you are going to Rome then I recommend fitting all of them in, if you can. And don’t miss Pizzarium for lunch one day – it ended up being the best place we ate at in our four days in Rome, huddled over chopping boards and greedily stuffing our faces while sitting on the bench outside. Rome is a good place to visit for beer. There's also so much else to see and do while you're there, so, like me, you can veil a beer trip with the lure of a city trip to see the sights!

View Drinking great beer in Rome in a larger map

Friday, 15 April 2011

Brasserie 4:20, Rome

The final of the Big Four Roman beer bars is Brasserie 4:20. You’ve walked across the bridge from Open Baladin to Bir & Fud and you’ve then crossed the bustling cobbled street to Ma Che Siete Venuti a Fa, all within 10 minutes of each other. 4:20 is another short walk, hugging the Tiber as you head south through Trastevere.

It’s located in a railway arch with a line of kegs and scooters outside as noticeable as the cool neon green sign. A hole in the wall with dark wood floors and stone walls, the bar takes up the left hand side and food and drink takes up the right, with two giant blackboards listing the offerings. All around are hops and bottles, funky jazz plays, green lights glow at either end, extending the electric entrance inside.

The beer list is, like Ma Che Siete Venuit a Fa, mostly imports. The cask list would instantly make it my favourite pub, if I lived nearby: DarkStar, Moor, Gadds, Boon. The keg list would make me travel a long way to get to it: Mikkeller, Southern Tier, Pizza Port, Nogne.

There were two Italian beers on tap, both by Revelation Cat, which is the brewery attached to the pub (attached in spirit; it’s a gypsy brewery). West Coast IPA and West Coast DIPA were the choices (possibly brewed at Gadds?) so I started on the IPA at 6.5%: Super fruity and bursting uncontrolled out of the glass, a tangy body of malt and sticky hops; citrus mango and pine; not a kill-your-tastebuds bitterness which makes it easy to drink. Nice.

We chose dinner from the menu which was patiently explained and translated by one of the staff in much-appreciated English. All the dishes feature beer in some way, which I like a lot, and they focus on fish, which not many other places do. I had a bowl of crab fettuccine made with a dubbel which enriched a light tomato-based sauce and it was perfect apart from the fact that I wanted another few bowls after as it was so good. Also on the menu were home-smoked ribs which looked amazing. If you go then make sure you eat.

We had a Tiramistout (tiramisu make with stout) for dessert and it was fantastic. I ordered a Pizza Port Z-Man Stout to go with it which had a handsome cappuccino head and was smooth and rich with chocolate, nuts, sweet coffee and cocoa. It was a great stout but slightly overpowered by the dessert (which I think was made with Nogne Imperial Stout) so better alone than with the food.

The Revelation Cat DIPA came next, arriving in a pint glass, and for something over 9% that scared me a bit... It had a similar aroma to the IPA and in many ways was an intensified version of the IPA: intense mango, pithy citrus, dry and piney, booze and bitterness. It’s a big beer and a whole pint became a challenge – a half would’ve been great. Needing something to recover with before rushing for the last train I had the cask Boon Lambic Foeder #10, a sharply sour but really refreshing bite of Belgium.

Brasserie 4:20 is another very cool Italian beer bar. The food is really delicious, the beer list is excellent and it’s got a fantastic atmosphere, especially the roof terrace upstairs. For me, on a Roman beer expedition, I wanted more Italian beers, but take me back there tomorrow and I’ll happily work my way through everything on the exciting beer list (especially as I rarely see casks of Moor and Gadds near me). 4:20 is another place, like Ma Che Siete Venuit a Fa, for proper drinking; it’s a bar you could spend all night in and never get bored. 

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Ma Che Siete Venuti a Fa (aka: Football Pub), Rome

If the journey from Open Baladin to Bir & Fud was short and easy, then the one from Bir & Fud to Ma Che Siete Venuti a Fa is even easier: turn right out of Bir & Fud and the Football pub is the first bar on the left, the one with all the people spilling out onto the street.

Tiny inside, it creeps back from the tightly filled bar past to-be-used-soon keg and opens into a small box of a room with football on the TV and beer posters all around. Downstairs is another small room, dark and cool, a great late-night drinking spot. And that’s definitely what this place is: somewhere to properly drink. Bir & Fud is for chilling out, eating and enjoying a few beers, the Football Pub is where it kicks on.

The beer list is more imports than Italian, including some American, Belgian and Danish beers, ranging from little and light to big and dark, although the front line of the beer taps are led by two A-list Italians: Italiano Tipopils and Bibock. I start on Tipopils which was one of the must-have beers on my list before we arrived. I’ve had a few bottles before, I’ve enjoyed it with homemade pizza, and I like it a lot, so wanted it on tap. It arrived in a chunky pint glass, very pale in colour, and smelt like fresh noble hops, zinging with grassy, subtle fruitiness. However, I must’ve got a bad batch because it tasted like hopped wort, which was gutting.

Moving on, I had a Italiano Bibock and it was sensational. A caramel-red colour, smoothly malty underneath and then the most incredible hop flavour I’ve tasted in a beer in a long time – so fresh, so clean, so fruity and grassy, vibrant and pronounced and delicious, plus a bitterness that gets your full attention. I could still taste it the next morning.

Then we had to go home and sleep because it was past midnight and we’d been up since 4am. But we did return later in the week and I had another Tipopils and it was fantastic. Cool and crisp, simple yet wonderfully complex and interesting and tasty, with those noble hops showing who is boss. I must’ve got unlucky with the first one because this was brilliant.

The Football Pub is for drinking in, a ‘spit and sawdust’ kind of place, as Zak Avery says, compared to the clean temple of Open Baladin. It’s for groups of friends to hang out and order beers and talk shit until you can’t drink any more. Some bars are just made for that kind of thing and this is one of them. It’s a great place (the 2nd best bar in the world, according to RateBeer’s Best Of list).

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Bir & Fud, Rome

Turn left out of Open Baladin and walk to the end of the narrow cobbled street, then take another left and follow the street lined with high buildings and small shops to the bridge which is at the end. Cross the bridge, taking a few photos on either side, especially if you time it at dusk, and you’ll step off opposite some steps in a busy square lined with trees, scooters and new roads to go down. Choose the correct road off of here and you’ll find Bir & Fud.

Shuttered doors are open to show the Bir menu as the bar inside glows under a line of taps. Narrow, the space winds back passed the bar and gradually opens up into seating for the Fud side of things, past some beer fridges on the way. We arrive at 8pm on a Wednesday and it’s quiet except for a few young families and a few beer sippers at the bar. We take a table.

The beer menu is excellent and not overwhelming. Around 18 to choose from tap, all Italian, all listed by the brewery, beer name, style and strength, with some assumption that they’ve been hand-picked for their quality so you know you’re getting something good. The food list is equally simple and tasty-looking, although I didn’t get past the pizza page...

I started the night on Toccalmatto’s Stray Dog, a 4.7% bitter with an amber body and a tight creamy head. I chose it at 4.7% because I’d just had a 13.5% beer and didn’t want to pass out in my pizza. The beer was the best beer I drank all weekend, or at least the beer I’d want to drink most of – I loved it. A massive aroma of sweet and tangy citrus mixed with an intoxicating array of other fruit; bold and bitter but smooth and light, very fruity but never sweet. English-inspired with new world hops. A perfect beer.

Also a perfect beer for the pizza which was sitting in front of me. Bir & Fud is known for their pizzas. Big wood-fired domes, bubbling up in dark blisters, crisp at the edge, soft and chewy in the middle. Everywhere which sells great beer should also sell great pizza like this, I’ve decided.

Next beer was a Bi-Du Artigian Ale, a 6.2% strong bitter with that familiar and good-looking head rocking over the rim of the glass. Held in that head is a big US hop aroma which leads through to the taste – smooth and a little toasty then the hops jump out, fruity and bitter, some spiciness like you’d expect from English hops to meet the citrus of the Americans.

Then a Montegioco Garbagnina. A couple of years ago at GBBF my favourite beer was Montegioco’s Mammia, which was pulled straight from the barrel it aged in, so I wanted to try more from the brewery. Garbagnina is 6.5% and made with cherries and pours a hazy red under a thick ice cream foam. It’s like a Belgian blond, dry and a little spicy, but the cherries are there providing a background shading of fruit, with cheeky extra bursts every few sips.

No, this isn't in focus...
Getting itchy feet for what was opposite (more tomorrow...), we left after that beer, but we returned a couple of days later and sat at the busy bar in the evening where the staff constantly pass us carrying trays with glasses of different shapes and sizes filled with many different colours of beer (all glasses, by the way, are around 330ml in here). I ordered a Toccalmatto Zona Cesarini (because Stray Dog wasn’t pouring right, they said) and it was delicious. Big tropical aroma in this 6.8% IPA, loads of Citra-esque fruit, a squeeze of lime, a little floral and a lingering bitterness beneath the mango juice fruit. Lovely.

Then an Italiano B.I. Weizen with a bucket of home-fried crisps. Handsomely hazy, banana and spice start it off, the body is very clean and smooth with lots of delicious creamy banana, a little lemon and some vanilla, before a dry, crisp finish. Great with the crisps, although any beer would be great with those crisps. Not a style I drink much of but this was great. And then I got itchy feet again and headed opposite...

Bir & Fud rocks. Small, cosy, a great atmosphere and a simple but interesting and exciting beer list to drink from. Add fantastic pizza to that list and you aren’t far off beer heaven. More of a restaurant than a drinking hangout, it’s one to relax in, order food and work through the beer list. I loved it and would go back every week if I could.

Monday, 11 April 2011

Open Baladin, Rome

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.

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

I've had some great beer recently

I’ve had a lot to drink in the last few weekends with the Old Ale Festival, some London drinking, the Pigs Ear and some bottles at home. Here are some of the highlights...

Birra del Borgo’s Re Ale Extra (cask). Italian IPA, hoppy, fruity, bready, toffee, bitter, easy drinking. Just a perfect example of crisp, cool and delicious Italian beer.

Bear Republic’s Racer 5 in The Rake (keg). As above with MORE. Tropical fruits, mangoes and oranges, bitterness, body – just more American-ness. I’d been waiting to try this one for ages and managed to drink in on Thursday and Friday last week. Fantastic. More beer should be like this (most beer should be like this).

De Molen’s Amarillo (cask, I think – definitely draught). The colour of peach flesh, bright and so incredibly fruity with peaches, apricots and mango, full bodied and sweetly delicious, punching bitterness adds an easy drinking and more-ish quality. After we’d left The Rake earlier in the day I had a string of disappointing beers and probably sounded like a broken record repeating the words ‘I want a Racer 5’ but then I had the Amarillo and Oh My it’s awesome (and like a completely different beer to the bottle).

De Molen’s Lood & Oud IJzer (bottle). A Pigs Ear festival special mixing Rasputin and Amarillo in a black-and-tan-in-a-bottle. My mate Matt bought this for us. Just an awesomely good beer. You know, one of those beers that you want to bathe in, that you want to drink for hours just to keep tasting it and experiencing it’s fruity hops, the roasted malt, it's stunning balance. It’s understated considering it’s mixing two big beers and it’s constantly interesting. I probably should’ve bought a bottle for myself to take home.

Durham Temptation (bottle). A brewery and a beer I’ve heard lots about. This was great. Dark fruits, bitter chocolate, vanilla sweetness, smooth, big (this was late in the day after starting at 11.30am so I can’t offer more than Gordon Ramsay-style brevity with my notes).

And a bottle of Goose Island IPA (bottle) on the Saturday with a takeaway curry because I couldn’t be bothered to cook. I forgot just how good this beer is. I need to buy more of it. So easy drinking, fresh, vibrant, fruity, delicious. I will never fully understand why anyone buys and drinks bottles of lager when they can have something like this.

I'm thirsty now and it's early in the morning. I'm craving the fruity hops in the Amarillo and Racer 5 (my on-going hop love affair is showing no signs of abating, even in this cold weather). Bear Republic is on my list of places to visit next year. I guess De Molen is too. And Birra del Borgo... It's a long list. A long, expensive list...