Sunday, 11 November 2012
Quando a Roma. Ottenere la birra. Bere birra.
(When in Rome. Get beer. Drink beer.)
I began part one of my Roman adventure with a quote from Sir Walter Scott, but this time I'm going to cross the Atlantic and quote Abraham Lincoln. "I see a very dark cloud on Americas horizon, and that cloud is coming from Rome" might not be one that immediately springs to mind when writing about beer but if I change it (admittedly more than) slightly to "I see a very bright light on the beer horizon, and that light is coming from Italy" then you might see where I'm going with this.
Italian craft beer is a relatively new phenomenon and really a 21st century one, with the number of micro-breweries now in excess of 300, but Italy still has the lowest consumption per capita per annum of beer in Europe. However, the quality and diversity of what these small breweries are producing is quite astonishing. Taking their influences not only from existing European beer styles and the US Craft Beer scene, but also from its wine-making heritage and the quality and diversity of its produce to create some truly amazing and unique beers.
What more could we do but investigate further.
Our first full day in Rome dawned, and we knew what we wanted to do so it was a short train ride to the Flavian Amphitheatre or to give its more common name the Colosseum. It is a truly awe-inspiring feat of Roman architecture and engineering and we spent a long morning exploring and marvelling at its magnificence. Lunchtime beckoned and as we had had a tip-off that there was a place serving good beer nearby we set off. As it turned out, Open Baladin wasn't where it had been pointed out to me on the map, however with a little more walking it was relatively easy to find. We were very glad that we did, for this is the sight that greeted us when we walked in:
Opened in 2009 and showcasing it's own and other Italian beer, it also had Thornbridge's Jaipur and Brasserie Dupont: Saison Dupont on tap on our first visit. Thankfully for us the staff had a better grasp of English than my pitiful attempt at Italian and very soon I was drinking a prickly hoppy brown ale called Jehol by Birrificio BiDu with its delightful spiced milk-chocolate finish, whilst we perused the menu. Sarah, my wife, opted for Panada, a big refreshing citrus Belgian Witbier by Birrificio Troll which she became quite partial to. Both the beer and the food menus are only in Italian but relatively easy to translate and the staff are also more than happy to help. I went for the Halloween burger, it being that time of year. This was a fantastic meaty delight, coming in a pumpkin bread bun, topped with pumpkin seeds and with a slice of pumkin inside. I have to say that it was one of the best burgers I have ever tasted. I needed another beer to go with this, and Nora, one of the house beers by Birrificio Baladin (pictured below), fitted the bill perfectly. Made with Egyptian kamut grain and flavoured with myrrh and ginger, this had a huge spicy and herbal orange cough-drop taste with more than a nod to a Belgian spiced ale and was simply staggeringly good.
Lunch over, we spent a wonderful but eventually tiring afternoon exploring the fantastic expanse of Roman remains that is the Forum and the Palatine Hill.
Dinner that night was prefixed by a bottle a Birra Peroni by Birra Peroni at our hotel, before my stunning veal steak served in sage butter at Ristorante Cesarina just up the road from where we were staying, was accompanied by a few large glasses of draught Birra Poretti by Birrificio Angelo Poretti. Only a pale lager, and available in the UK, but it went down rather well.
Wednesday morning it was raining and we were off to the Vatican, arriving there by taxi with our driver showing considerable skill in negotiating the traffic, squeezing into spaces seemingly the exact size as his car. St Peters Square was filling up with people so we realised something was up. There was no access to the library which I had quite fancied seeing so we took the opportunity to walk around the outside of an entire state. It took us around forty minutes to circumnavigate the 110 acre site and as we arrived back at St Peters the Pope had put in an appearance, holding a mass and explaining the crowds.
We had seen enough so, keeping the Tiber on our left-hand side we made our way back to Ma Che Siete Venuti A Fa to see if we could get some lunch there or whether Bir & Fud was open. Sadly the latter wasn't so I settled for a draft Caterpillar, a collaboration between Italian brewers Brewfist and the Danish Beer Here. This was sharp and hoppy, waking up my taste-buds and leaving them tingling with a slightly aniseed finish.
Looking at the map we noticed that yesterdays lunch venue, Open Baladin, was only a short walk away so saying our goodbyes we set off to get some food.
It was a little fuller than the day before, and we wanted to be a little more adventurous with our menu choices so we settled down with a Baladin NormAle while we decided. This is a dry, floral golden ale which went down rather nicely with our starter selection of, for want of a better description, deep-fried potato balls with various cheese and bacon fillings.
Next beer up was a Birrificio del Ducato Nuova Mattina (New Morning), a deliciously sharp spicy saison brewed with ginger, green pepper, coriander and chamomile. Sarah chose a salmon risotto for her main whilst I went for another delicious burger, this time topped with various Italian meats and served in a flying-saucer-shaped bun.
Delicious food finished it was time for another beer, and I wanted something hoppy so I went for a Grooving Hop by Birrificio Toccalmatto. Helpfully the beer-board in Open Baladin lists them by style so chosing is easy with everything listed very clearly. This was my favourite beer of the trip, Hallertau Mittelfruh and Nelson Sauvin hops combining to give a big sharp blast of dry grapefruit. It was lip-smackingly gorgeous.
Paying the bill I got into conversation with one of the owners, whose name I apologise for forgetting, about beer and blogging. I was delighted that he took details of my blog and gave me a copy of 'Il quaderni di Open Baladin - Carte delle Birre' , a nicely illustrsted booklet covering the history of Open Baladin and many of the breweries and beers it sells. It is in Italian but I'm gradually working my way through, a bit at a time, translating as I go. I also picked up a bottle each of Birra del Borgo ReAle and its Dogfish Head collaboration beer My Antonia (Italian version). I had intended to take these bottles home with me but after a wet meander back to our hotel, stopping briefly to shop for souvenirs and to pick up a bottle opener, we needed something to help us dry out. These really helped.
The ReAle was dark and fruity, quite sweet with hints of chocolate and some background hoppiness. My Antonia, in Dogfish Head style, is continuously hopped for 60 minutes with Simcoe, Warrior and Saaz hops, and is an Imperial Pilsner, big with pine, citrus and caramel which has a clean crisp finish, making it a very interesting beer. Incidentally, drinking these in the bar would have cost 20 Euros each but taking them away meant they only cost 5 Euros a-piece, something you may want to consider.
A fantastic dinner in a nearby restaurant we chose at random was accompanied by more Birra Peroni. This meal was awesome, and in fact we didn't have a single bite to eat in the whole of our time in Rome that was anything less than exceptional. It was quite late by the time we climbed into bed.
The next day was the last of our short break, and as we weren't being picked up for our 6.30 pm flight back to Gatwick until 3.30 pm we spent a relatively slow morning getting ourselves packed and sorted before checking out of our room around 10 am.
With no particular place to go (isn't that the title of a Chuck Berry song?) we made our way to the Trevi Fountain before realising we hadn't visited the Pantheon. This glaring omission was quickly rectified as it was conveniently nearby, and after a magnificent spicy pizza in a restaurant off the main tourist traps, we both fancied a beer. Astonishingly (!) Open Baladin 'just happened' to be nearby (and if you that believe you'll believe anything) and we went for one last drink in the Eternal City.
It was even busier than before and my wife decided on one last Birra Troll Panada, while I went for another saison. This was a spritzy peach and green apple tasting Vielle Ville by Birrificio del Ducato, and while we were discussing the beers we'd had there we were approached by an English couple on the next table on their first visit there. Talking about beer is something I love to do, and so is sharing. I'd offered a taste of my saison to them and I was delighted that as we were leaving I was delighted to hear the husband order one. He'd previously confirmed himself as an ardent wine drinker but was impressed with this 'cider-like' style which he hadn't heard of before.
Soon we were back at the hotel collecting our bags and it was time to go.
We'd had a fantastic time and Rome is a fantastic city which I'd recommend in an instant, with or without the beery delights.
Gaius Julius Caesar, probably Romes most famous dictator, once wrote "Veni, vidi, vici", which translates from the classical Latin as "I came, I saw, I conquered".
I'd like to paraphrase this slightly and convert it to modern Italian as "Mi e venuto, ho visto, ho bevuto qualche birra impressionante".
I came, I saw, I drank some awesome beer.