Last Updated : 16/09/08
suppose it had to happen eventually... I'd wanted to visit Rome for as many years as I've been able to gawp at pictures of the city just to see if it's as interesting as it seems to be on the printed page. So now, thanks to easyJet, I can say that it definitely is - and it also has a superb beer culture too with micro brewers coming out of the woodwork almost as fast as Denmark - and that's fast.
Ah, Rome, the eternal city… cradle of civilisation, birthplace of the Roman Empire… but beer mecca and scooping hotspot? Surely not… well, in common with much of Italy – and the rest of the world, come to that – Rome has recently developed a beer culture of impressive stature and is improving all the time. I’d first been alerted to the city’s bars by Stonch of blogging fame and so, after some research of my own, decided that this phenomenon simply had to be checked out and so booked some cheap easyJet flights to Ciampino airport and immediately began the laborious process of gen collation… I’m a martyr to my gen, I know…
With the flights to Rome booked I was slightly miffed to discover that all of the city’s brewpubs were way out of the centre and consequently difficult to get to, or had closed, which meant that we’d be sticking with the new-wave bars which offered a wide range of brews plus the superb-sounding Johnny’s bottle shop which I hoped was as good as the other Italian beer shops we’d visited in Milan and Turin. We had mixed views on Italian micro-brewed beer after our trip to Northern Italy, having found some delicious brews intermingled with some downright dross and/or infected beer, so I hoped that I would finally find the vein of form which other people had discovered in Italian artesanal brews…
Saturday 8th December 2007.
Flying from East Midlands at 10:45 gave us something almost unprecedented in recent months, that rare thing which made the whole trip go so much better; a lie-in! The journey up to East Midlands was trouble-free and we were soon waiting in departures for our flight where we saw that the airport had been plasticized to an even greater degree than on our last visit with the homely, folksy atmosphere replaced by the cold glow of corporatism everywhere – there was even a betting shop in departures for those sad individuals who, even when flying out on some trip to the Costa del Stella, still couldn’t resist giving more of their hard-claimed benefits to big business.
The flight left early and we headed southwards above the customary blanket of grey which prevented us seeing anything below. Once through security at Ciampino I acquired tickets for the airport bus and our city rover tickets and we trooped outside to find the bus stop. Now you’d think that this would be easy, wouldn’t you? We’ve had practise at finding transport stops at quite a few airports now and, despite there being a row of stops outside arrivals, it’s not at all obvious which one the bus goes from, which bus it is, what company operates the bus and even how much it should cost… it’s a good job I got the ticket gen beforehand and knew roughly what time the bus would be departing!
Eventually a blue bus pulled up (if this was our bus, as I had suspicions it was, then it was at the wrong stop) and disgorged it’s load of passengers onto the tarmac before everyone else who’d been stood at the wrong stop got on! With there being no destination on the front I asked the driver who confirmed that it was indeed the bus to Anangina metro station and so we boarded, flashing our tickets, relieved that we’d got a seat after such a shambolic bus farce! The journey to the metro station took far longer than the distance had suggested it would, but eventually we were there although all I could see was the biggest flea (read tat) market I’ve ever seen and a rather shabby and badly-signed entrance…
Beer shop of the year?
Inside the station was a very old plinthed metro train (or was it a tram? we weren’t sure) plus even more shops hawking tat and I was pleased that I’d managed to get our transport tickets sorted out in the relative calm of the airport than in this boisterous mêlée of humanity (and tat). We boarded the first train bound for the centre and alighted at San Giovanni Metro station to avail ourselves of the excellent-sounding Johnny’s beer shop which, if it was as good as other Italian beer shops we’d visited, would provide us with a host of juicy winners for the next three nights in our hotel!
As we left the station being in Rome suddenly came home to me as there, not 200 metres away, was a Roman wall and some kind of palace. This distracted us from our quest for a few minutes but within a short time we’d grown bored of staring at old masonry, had extracted some cash from an ATM, and were inside the small yet absolutely packed-with-beer shop staring with amazement at the Italian micro-brewer selection plus casting an envious eye over the comprehensive range of Lambic beers from all the real producers… this place really did have everything we could want, it was just a shame we only had enough nights to drink Italian craft beers!
Johnny himself wasn’t in, although the server was more than adequate in describing the different beers and breweries on sale and even had the nerve to apologise for being “low on stock” at present – well, there was plenty for us to buy and we emerged into the afternoon sun with ten scoops which included some new breweries and some very unusual brews amongst them, chestnuts being one additive! Next stop was our hotel and so we carried on with the metro to Centrale Stazione and walked the short distance to Via Palestro although, even after a thorough search, we couldn’t see a hotel of the name I’d booked anywhere along the street! The address I had seemed to be an apartment building with two other hotels within and so it was decided to go and ask at one of them as we really wanted to divest ourselves of the clinking (and heavy) packs.
Find the hotel.
We boarded the superbly heritage lift – one of those in a central atrium with black steelwork rising up inside the building – and it lurched it’s way upwards at a decent rate of knots. Suddenly we noticed a sign on the wall we’d just sailed past with Hotel Alex on it and so, elated at having found our accommodation but wondering why they were so shy in advertising themselves to the outside world, we took the lift back down a floor to the third and clinked in through the very new-looking front door.
The hotel was similar to one we’d stayed at in Genoa, being one floor in a building used for a variety of purposes, and we soon found out from the very sociable girl behind the desk that they had only been open a few months and hadn’t yet got a sign to replace the one outside but that most guests managed to find them and so I imagine this sign will probably never appear! Formalities completed we were soon in our spacious, modern and comfortable room which had just what we needed considering all the beer we’d bought – a mini-bar to cool it down in!
Having loaded the mini-bar with scoops for later we consulted our various maps. Time had crept up on us somewhat and so we decided on doing just one of the “must do” pubs that evening and so off we went via a supermarket back to the station where we could take a tram down past the coliseum to Ippolito Nievo and so to Brasserie 4:20. As we neared the station we noticed a high-pitched screeching noise which rose to a crescendo as we approached; this turned out to be thousands of birds roosting in the trees outside the station as it was, by this point, going dark, so we pressed on past the shady-looking characters hanging around outside to the tram stops which aren’t – as you’d expect – outside the station (those tracks are abandoned) but down an obscure side-street!
A hidden gem.
There was a huge queue for the trams but luckily three real ones arrived at once and easily accommodated all the normals within a couple of minutes and we were soon under way. We had enough time to squeeze in a couple of quick tram leaps before it was time to take No.3 from Porta Maggiore¸ but when we tried to locate the tram all we could find was one sat there looking very under-utilised and a line of buses… this didn’t bode well for our move one bit and a quick confirmation with the driver told me that the route was suspended due to roadworks and buses were being provided instead; cheers then!
Having no alternative we took the bus, passing the iconic coliseum along the way, before alighting at our stop where, after our usual confusion with the map, we were soon walking along a dark road with nothing obviously there; this wasn’t how I’d expected it to be and was all of a sudden sure I’d made a mistake with the address… until there it was, in an old railway arch as I’d read, Brasserie 4:20. This is a new venture which majors on artisanal beer from all over Europe plus it also serves up some interesting and tasty food but all we wanted at that moment was to sit down with a local brew and relax for a while.
Inside was all bare brick and bore a passing resemblance to the two Berlin brewpubs in railway arches – but then it would, being in one – although it seemed a lot smaller and cosier. The bar sported dozens of taps hanging from a large copper pipe suspended from the ceiling although very few of them were Italian and, even worse, there were no cask ales available from the White Dog brewery of Modena which I’d wanted to try, although we did have several of their bottles back in our room which mitigated the disappointment slightly.
One of the barmen saw me consulting my list and came over to see what we wanted. Having ascertained we were English and after some good beer, he told us that he would put White Dog’s Christmas special cask beer on for us in ten minutes and so we had some Maxl Rainer Zwickl (5.2%) to start off with. This was an atypical German unfiltered lager with a full grassy nose, lots of nutty, honey-maltiness in the body and a slightly bitter, dryish and grainy aftertaste; nothing to change the world but a very well-made and balanced, tasty and interesting beer, just the sort of things German brewers tend to excel at.
The barman returned (I’m guessing he was the owner by the way he spoke to us) with news he was pulling the White Dog through, although he found time to help us decipher the menu as some of the words meant nothing to us and, as usual, weren’t in the menu reader section of our Rough Guide… we ordered some pasta with large prawns but, as we waited for the cask ale to come on, a couple of plates laden with appetisers were pushed across to us “gratis” and it was at this point I realised just how hungry I was, and these delicious deep-fried tempura style bits of Aubergine were a perfect stop-gap until our food arrived.
The beer spluttered from the pump and a pint of surprisingly dark beer came my way but, sadly, it turned out to be a ginger stout which isn’t really a good thing when neither of us likes ginger in beer… I grimaced and supped at the pint and found that the further I got down it the less the ginger offended my tastebuds so it wasn’t a total disaster; imagine having to tell the landlord of a pub the beer he’s just put on specially for you really isn’t the kind of thing you like and you don’t want it! Luckily, this didn’t happen and I stoically supped my way down the glass, helped by our superb food which soon arrived, although delicious as it was I’d have liked a bit more on the plate… this is a minor point, though, as I’m a greedy bastard so I’m assuming the portion would be ample for most other diners!
In the book after all.
For our final beer I chose a new Italian micro, Menaresta, and their San Dalmazzo was obviously inspired by the Belgians as it possessed a strong candy-sugar aroma and flavour with a typical Belgian taste profile of sweet malt, candy sugar, spiciness and some bananary hints too; overall a decent enough beer but sadly, again, not really what I was after – I’d hoped for some of the more interesting Italian beers I’d heard so much about – but I reasoned we had a whole load of bottles back in the room plus the legendary Football Pub the next evening and so, tired as usual on our first day, we paid the bill (we got a discount, although I’m not sure if this was because we were beer lovers or simply as it was happy hour!) and headed for the tramstop and a bus back to the city centre.
Fortuitously, as it turned out, we just missed the tram which we’d planned to catch up to Argentina for a bus back to the hotel and so, bemoaning our luckless brush with the Roman transport system thus far, we waited for the next one – only to see it come in with Porta Maggiore on the front! This was confusing as we’d been told the line was closed, but if it were true then we couldn’t turn down what may be our only chance to scoop the line in and so on we got. The destination board wasn’t lying and we were soon speeding along past various sites of world importance on a tram with a mere handful of people aboard although, seeing as there was supposed to be none whatsoever, I wasn’t really surprised…
We’d seen the offending roadworks on the outward journey and were trying to work out what would happen when, suddenly, it dawned on us that we’d be doing the non-revenue route which showed on the track diagram I’d brought with us – my lords! As expected, we turned off the main line and headed along the non-passenger route which brought us out at Vittorio, close to the station, from where we trundled the last few hundred metres before terminating at Porta Maggiore; what a hellfire move that had been and our luck on the Rome tram system seemed to have improved tenfold in one trip!
A real tram was soon scored back to Stazione Centrale and we walked back across the forecourt where some of the dodgy characters seemed to have acquired a stereo of considerable ampage and were dancing away to music which had attracted a small crowd of curious onlookers! The noisy birds were settling down for the evening – although some still screeched above our heads – as we trudged up towards our hotel, pausing for a moment to admire the absurdity of a gentleman of considerable years carrying a walking stick whilst pushing a car with what I assume was his wife inside… understandably he wasn’t making a great deal of progress and was soon helped by a crowd of slightly more sprightly locals, therefore saving us offering to help!
Back in our room we started on some beers as I now had a hankering for some Italian micro-brewed scoops! Ducato A.F.O (Ale for Obsessed, 5.2%) was first up and was an immediate hit with both of us for it’s fruity, hoppy and slightly Belgian aroma and quite bitter, citrus hop-accented taste and finish which had more Belgian yeasty malt. Sguaraunda Bergamasca Rossa (8%) came next although this seemed to have an infection in common with some of the beers we’d had during our previous trip and although it wasn’t undrinkable it wasn’t particularly pleasant.
White Dog IPA (5.9%) hissed open and immediately I could smell dried yeast and a rich maltiness but no hops… so much for being a proper IPA! Some hops did show their heads in the flavour although there were nowhere near enough of them and the beer faded out into a full-bodied fruity, malty finish with the vaguest suggestion on bitterness and hops. Our final brew of the evening was Montegioco Bran (8.5%), an imperial stout, which had a lovely liquoricey, malty and aniseed-like aroma and taste which developed some sweet fruity fullness at the end with more liquorice and malt. It tastes nowhere near it’s considerable strength but was at least a tasty brew to finish our first in Rome on and left me wondering how good the Football Pub would be the following evening; could it be as sociable as the 4:20?
Sunday 10th January 2008.
A spot of culture.
After a very sociable night’s doss and a slightly less sociable breakfast – which must rate as one of the stingiest I've ever experienced although at least we hadn’t paid extra for it – we headed off into the city to observe some Roman ruins and suchlike. At Porte Maggiore we found what must be one of the world’s most surreal tram junctions where trams run in a complete circle around (and even through!) the ancient walls plus the hellfire 950mm gauge Ferovia Urbana tramway also punches it’s way through several sets of walls on it’s way out of the city. We also saw a cat taking some rays in the ruins which looked suspiciously like ours back home… or, at least, that’s where we hoped he was and this spitting image wasn’t our Minsk! After ten minutes of study, however, we finally decided that this example of monochromicity wasn’t quite as sociable as ours and so, somewhat relieved, it was off to scoop some of the city’s heritage trams.
A short while later we were back at the Porte Maggiore, wondering what to do next, when a semi-plastic tram approached us bearing the route number 8. For a second we were confused, as this route is the one which we’d assumed was isolated by the line closure, but I suddenly realised that this vehicle must be on it’s way to Argentina (the square, not the country!) via, presumably, the route we’d done the previous evening and so we clambered aboard to scoop the rare “empties only” route outwards in daylight!
Examining a map I’d printed out we followed the route (as the previous evening it had been dark and we’d not fully appreciated it) although we couldn’t really understand why all trams weren’t going this way when it was an obvious diversion route? Such difficult questions were soon forgotten as we trundled along the mega-rare track, past the coliseum and other historical relics, until one particular irate old bloke began ranting at the driver that he was on the wrong tram and wanted to get off! I did have some sympathy for him as he’d probably assumed that no trams went this way owing to the blockage, but maybe he should have read the destination on the front before getting on!
We abandoned the old bloke at a station just past the coliseum, still ranting away at the injustice of it all to no-one in particular, and carried on towards Argentina which would be a really massive scoop of a “rare curve” where we joined the route. We were to be denied this, however, as the tram turned left instead of right and carried on to Casaletto, the other terminus, where we changed for another tram back towards the city. We alighted by the Tiber for a well-earned stretching of the legs and a few photos of the city and riverscape before following the tramlines to Argentina where we hoped to see some of the square’s famous cat population.
Torre Argentina is a square full of Roman ruins which, for reasons unexplained, has a large feral cat populace which seemed to be collectively enjoying itself in the afternoon sun by lounging around about the columns and masonry below. After a spot of cat-watching we decided, as we were in the centre of the city, that it was time for the serious tourist bit of the trip and so spent the next four hours traipsing around various ancient relics, buildings and monuments including, in no order, the Trevi fountain (big and beige yet impressive), the Pantheon (the world’s first concrete ceiling, and it’s still in decent nick!) the Spanish steps (just some steps draped in tourists) and the main square (impressive, especially the statue which looked just like Browny although I hear it’s actually supposed to be Neptune) whilst laughing at a brat dressed as a crocodile for reasons never explained.
Tempo del Birra.
We then took one of the very cute little electric buses up Vatican way to rest out feet but we soon worked out that these tiny buses – which only seat eight – are a great way to see the city as they scurry down tiny lanes which seem totally unsuitable for traffic of any kind! We finally decided, as darkness fell over the city, that it was time for some scoops and so after a quick espresso in a café on Argentina we wandered over the river to Trastevere where, I hoped, we’d be even more impressed by the Football Pub as we’d been by 4:20 the previous evening: surely this place couldn’t be as good as I’d heard on the net… could it?
The roads got narrower and more atmospheric as we clumped over the cobbles towards our target for the evening’s imbibing and, as we arrived and saw a just a door in the side of a building, I had a sudden feeling that this was either going to be the biggest let-down for quite a while or a very surreal experience indeed… Once inside I immediately knew that we’d found Italian beer nirvana; taps filled the entire bar, complete with two handpumps, and the wall behind was a mass of bottles from all manner of countries including – and this was just a quick scan – America, Denmark, Belgium and the UK! We were perusing the bar, wondering where to start, when a tall bloke with long hair appeared from another room, took one look at me, and said “You must be Gazza”.
To say I was taken aback would be the world’s greatest understatement; I was, to coin a phrase, absolutely withered and stared at him in a way which suggested as much. Manuele, for this was the landlord, simply laughed and said that he’d seen my picture on Ratebeer and read that I was coming so had naturally assumed I’d be in the best beer bar in the city at some point, to which I replied that we were pleased to be there and the range of beer would keep us going for a while… which wasn’t a lie!
I’d no idea where to start and so, sensing this, Manuele poured us a couple of tasters of beers from a famous Italian brewpub, Birrifico Italiano. Tipopils was a stunner of a lager with a lovely fresh, zingy hoppiness, plenty of bitterness alongside the biscuity malt body then a superb finish where the malt, bitterness and spicy, floral hop combined to a lip-smacking crescendo of lupulous delight. Bibock was equally as good a beer yet in a totally different style with plenty of toffeeish malt flavours but still with a glorious razor-sharp bitterness before a balanced finish of luscious maltiness and bitter hop – this is what bokbiers would be like if German brewers had the cajonas to put some hops in the copper, I thought!
No sooner had we got halfway down our glasses then Manuele produced two more foaming scoops for us to try; Italiano Vudu was billed as a dunkelweiss, not my favourite style by quite a long chalk, but unsurprisingly they made a decent job of it and, once again, I mused that these guys could teach most German brewers a thing or two about lager production! Speaking of Germany, Beckbräu Bock was next up and this was certainly from a company who knew how to make the stuff with a typically Germanic honeyed maltiness reminiscent of haylofts and suchlike allied to a restrained herby bitterness and a full yet subtle aftertaste which had yet more honey, grain and dryness – top stuff.
Once again Manuele passed over two more glasses before we’d finished and, rather worryingly, we now had six glasses on the bar with various amounts of beer in them – this was turning into an epic tasting session! Achouffe Houblon was next, a beer which I’d wanted to try for quite a while, although I never for a second thought I’d get to scoop it in Rome! A kind of bizarre Belgian attempt at a full-strength IPA, this had grassy hops mixed with some citrussy ones towards the back of the mix with a full, malty and slightly candy-sugared malt body which I thought overshadowed the hops somewhat. The finish was still very malty yet with more leafy, grassy hop which didn’t quite get above the sticky Belgian malt character and rendered the beer interesting yet not really hitting any targets at all in my opinion. Our final tap beer was Beckbräu’s kellerbier with it’s luscious fresh bread character, plenty of wheaty, grainy malt and a subtle grassiness in the finish which made for a suppable yet fairly uninteresting brew which, whilst being good for it’s style, couldn’t compete with the Italiano brews in my opinion.
Straight into the top-ten.
It was time to sample the beers on cask: or, rather, cask beer as Manuele apologised that Del Borgo stout had run out the previous evening! A pint of Del Borgo ReAle extra was procured – we’d really enjoyed the standard ReAle on our visit to Milan – although nothing could have prepared me for the stunning aroma which billowed from the glass! I buried my nose in the vessel and revelled in pure hop heaven; this beer had some hops in it alright, and they were the gloriously fruity, citrussy American ones that I loved… Manuele interrupted me from my hop-haze with the news that Leonardo, the brewer, was stood next to us and so I told him in a reverent tone just how much I was enjoying his beer at which he seemed genuinely surprised that I liked it so much!
As we supped this glorious hop-monster Leonardo interspersed my paroxysms of praise with gen that this beer was his homage to American pale ales and was made with Cascade, Tomahawk and Amarillo hops which he seemed to be using with amazing skill and in very generous amounts, yet the beer was obviously made by someone who knew exactly how to create perfect poise in his beer as, despite the prodigious hop levels, this was a very drinkable beer with masses of complexity and character which simply begged me to stick my nose into the glass, inhale deeply, and grin like a village idiot!
I’m not exaggerating when I say that this beer is in my top ten of all-time and stands alongside such eminent company as Dobbin’s Chinese Pale Ale, Green Flash IPA, Weyerbacher Simcoe and Pictish Riwaka – yes, it’s that good! My tasting notes ramble over eight lines and mention “amazing citrus, pine, rose, fruit and simply immense American hop aroma… massive blast of bitterness, sweet malt, Turkish delight, pine needles, lemon and grapefruit… finish is amazingly balanced with a huge bitterness which somehow isn’t harsh at all, a huge fruity hop character, aromatic rosepetals… it fades into an incredible hop finale which just begs you to inhale…” so, as you can see, I kind of liked it…
Manuele and Leonardo seemed chuffed that I liked this beer so much but, before we had a chance to fully appreciate it by supping another pint, Manuele took some bottles down from the shelves to prolong this impromptu tasting session. I felt as if I were dreaming; surely no-one walks into a pub they’ve never been to before, is recognised, and then finds one of his favourite beers ever… do they? Well, I certainly had and the next beer was yet another massive scoop; Drie Fonteinen Doesjel was billed as a “lazy gueuze”, similar to Cantillon’s legendary Loerik, and was a superbly mellow lambic packed full of woody, aged flavours with Madeira tastes playing a major role along with a very Girardin-esque sharp acidity to bring things to a delicious conclusion; this was a stunner and, had we not have supped the perfection that was ReAle extra, this may have been beer of the evening!
Yet another bottle was soon opened, this time Dolle Oerbier Reserva 2006, and this was yet another cracker; did Manuele sell anything rating below “excellent”, I wondered? A deep brown brew, it had plenty of lactic sourness, some acetic hints, then a winey, deep and full maltiness with molasses and toasty flavours before a very woody, acetic, sour and intensely complex finish. I've never been that impressed with Dolle beers previously, thinking them over-rated in general, but this one was certainly the best I’ve had and may make me think again about going through their whole range to reassess their quality!
The restaurant at the end of the beer universe.
By this point we were ready for some food and, as I’d already ascertained, Manuele owned the pizza restaurant Bir&Fud across the street which was certainly very good news for us as we were absolutely starving! He led us over the road where we found a bustling place where, probably uniquely for an Italian restaurant, beer is the main drink! We were seated and got busy with the bowl of freshly-fried crisps on the table (now that's a winner, Italian artisanal crisps!) whilst we perused the menu. Manuele soon reappeared carrying a tray upon which, I was amazed to see, were seven glasses almost full of beer! He apologised that a mere seven were available before placing the glasses in front of us complete with a meticulously written list of what they all were complete with hop varieties and suchlike; was this for real, I thought, as I stared at the scoops in front of me… this man was a total beer god!
Our pizzas soon arrived and as we tucked into their garlicky delights I began to scoop the beers. Del Borgo pils was a light, hoppy, malty and very suppable brew, just the sort of thing to drink on a hot day, and well up to their usual high standards as was Cortigiana, a pale ale with Tomahawk hops, which has a delicious rosepetal and almost “forest floor” character with plenty of bitterness, hop and malt – yet another hopmonster from Leonardo! His Duchessa spalt beer came next and, despite non-malt grain beers not being my bag, this was a commendably drinkable brew with a sweetish grain flavour. Better was Keo RePorter, a strange concoction made with tobacco leaves (honestly!), which possessed a most unusual flavour which, had I not known the ingredients, I’d have really struggled to pin down to tobacco!
Ducato Chimera came next and this was a straightforward reddish ale with some treacly malt, fruity hop and a decently balanced finish with some bitterness; not great but certainly not a bad beer. Amiata Drago delle Selva was a lovely black toasty stout with ample roast grain, molasses, toast and liquorice flavours leading to a very impressive burnt grain finish with lots of other flavours hinting their presence around the fringes. Our final beer, unfortunately, wasn't up to standard and simply emphasized my disbelief at the cult status that Baladin’s beers have acquired; Super was very phenolic and smokey in both peat and wood ways which, in both our opinions, simply didn’t work at all and resulted in a nasty-tasting astringent brew which was easily the worst of the evening.
Our meal (and beer!) finished and with time marching on we made our way back over the road to say our goodbyes to Manuele, promising to return the following evening, before walking back across the river to Argentina where we took bus 40 to the station for the short walk back to our hotel. Back in the room I was still in the mood for scoops and so we cracked open two from our stash; Amiata Bastarda Rossa, in addition to the excellently offensive name, had a good chocolate and toasty grain flavour which, whilst not that exciting, was very suppable and ended with a good dark chocolate maltiness. Following the theme of brown ales, Ducato Sally Brown was dryer and less chocolatey with more of a liquorice theme to it’s makeup yet still had a good rich dark malt finish.
As I drifted off into sleep I couldn’t believe just how good the evening had been; not only had I found one of the best beer bars I’d ever been in I’d also drunk one of my top ten beers ever, been able to tell the brewer how good it was, been treated to some massive scoops by a real-life beer god, had our table in the restaurant filled with glasses of scoops, eaten home-made crisps and huge pizzas… the list goes on, but I’ll suffice it to say that we had an evening to remember! Rome… nothing besides old ruins, eh?
Monday 21st January 2008.
Off to see the Pope.
After scooping in Rome’s new trolleybus we took a bus over the Tiber to have a look at the Pope’s place. Don’t think for a second that we actually wanted to see him or any of his adherents, for that isn’t the case, but we thought that we may as well have a look seeing as we were in Rome and, anyhow, it counted as a new country to scoop! I must admit to being distinctly underwhelmed by the whole experience; I’d expected the buildings to be far bigger and more impressive yet, standing in the centre of the square, it all seemed so artificial and pointless… maybe if the Pope had appeared and explained it all to us we might have been more impressed yet, without such a guide, I must say Vatican city was one big let-down…
The remainder of the day was spent exploring the city again, interspersed with tram and electric bus scooping when we felt tired, although we’d seen most of the good stuff the previous day and had to make do with second-division Roman remains! The huge Monumento a Vittorio Emanuele was extremely self-important yet offered good views over the city plus amusement value as the many police on duty seemed intent on blowing their whistles frantically when any of the tourists showed any inclination of sitting on the steps… pity they don’t do the same on the Spanish steps in my opinion, you might be able to actually walk down them if they did!
After a walk around the main ruins at Circo Massimo which, although impressive, required a fair amount of imagination to picture as a whole, we passed by the coliseum on our way back into town. Going in was a no-no as we’d have to pay for the privilege but we did see a horse attempt to bite a passing tourist which was, on reflection, probably more interesting than going inside as we’d seen what was in the thing – not a lot – from a tram the previous day! Back in town we scooped in the cutesy little tram through the walls at Porte Maggiore before returning in time to see some tramway staff carrying off some badly-parked scooters which were impeding the tram’s run-around loop; these were plonked down some distance away with blatant disregard for their suspension or bodywork! Okay, so you had to be there, but it was funny, honestly… and we hadn’t even had a drink at that point!
Back to Manuele’s.
We scooped more of the tiny electric buses and, inadvertently, discovered the city’s alternative youth hang out at Piazza del Popolo. As we sat waiting to depart a commotion occurred when a girl in a ludicrous pink furry coat had it set on fire by one of her fellow youths to much shrieking and laughter – we were firmly on his side as she obviously thought this coat conferred popularity to her and hadn’t reckoned on it being ignited! Back at Torre Argentina we had another fortifying espresso in our favourite café before walking back over to Trastevere for another evening on the beer in our favourite scooping pub in Rome.
We were soon back in position at the bar where Manuele, true to form, began to produce bottles of huge winners with alarming regularity. Such whoppers as Ernst Bauer Gose, Raasted Imperial Stout, Nøgne Ø Imperial Stout, Ølfabrikken Islay cask stout and Rug IPA plus Great Divide Hercules IIPA (amongst others) were cracked open to the appreciation of all present, plus we managed to have another pint of the still delicious Del Borgo ReAle extra! The stand-out beer for me was the Ølfabrikken which had a huge iodine character to it but, unlike the Brewdog beers where the stout is too feeble to stand up to the ravages of Islay malt, this massive beast of a beer had enough roastiness to counterbalance the intense peaty malt resulting in a fascinating interplay between stout and whisky flavours. Then, just to top a great evening, Rancid came on the TV…
All too soon it was time for us to leave as we had a fairly early start in the morning and so, wishing Manuele all the best, promising him we’d return and offering many thanks for the numerous scoops I’d managed in this one pub, off we went again back to Torre Argentina for the bus back to the station and thence our hotel. We still had three bottles to drink and so straight into them we went; Panil Barrique sour was a beer I’d been really looking forward to trying and it didn’t disappoint with masses of sour, lactic and acetic flavours in a beer awash with woodiness and a delicate toffee malt body with a developing bitterness in the puckeringly sour finish – top stuff, and probably better than any Flemish reds currently being made in Belgium!
Maltovivo Black Lizard porter was decent enough in a chocolatey, dry and malty way although it failed to ignite our interest as much as the Panil had which, thinking back, should have been obvious and maybe we should have had the Panil last… ah well, Del Borgo ReAle extra came last and, having scooped this masterpiece on cask, I was really looking forwards to sampling it bottle-conditioned. Well, comparing the bottled and cask versions is a bit like the infamous chalk and cheese analogy as this beer was very different indeed from the cask one; a lot darker in colour, it had a similarly huge hop character with all the pine/rose/citrus and huge bitterness we’d marvelled over a couple of hours previously yet it was quite obviously a different brew and somehow not quite as magical... very good indeed, definitely, but not as amazing as the cask one had been.
Tuesday 22nd January 2008.
Online check-in blues.
We had a brief wander around the city before it was time to take the metro to Anangina and thence the bus out to Ciampino airport. We had no idea what times the bus ran at, having forgotten to check the timetable when we’d arrived and my printed one had been proved wrong by the timetable on our outward journey, so it was pure luck that we got to the bus stop a mere ten minutes before one was due to leave. I had been hopeful that we’d be able to present our tickets as unused as they had no obvious mark on them, but the driver took one look and shook his head, motioning towards the ticket machine – ah well, it must have been the little hole in the tickets that meant they’d already been stamped at the airport even before we used them!
Back at the airport we had the luxury of already having checked in online but, when we attempted to go through the security gate, we were turned back with the explanation of “online check-in does not work here”; cheers then, luckily the easyJet desk was empty and we were able to re-check-in there but I’d have been really pissed off had this happened and there had been a queue snaking half way across the car park…
Rome is a revelation beer-wise; I always knew it would be worth a visit to see the remnants of the Roman civilisation which were, in part, impressive, but beer was the trigger that finally got us there and that didn’t disappoint. Rome has had an underground beer culture for years although the range of beers sold seems to be pretty dull, but the new kids on the block certainly aren’t that way at all and I’d struggle to name many bars with such a solidly excellent range of beer as the Football pub has or a superb range of bottles as can be bought at Johnny’s… the range there was exceptional and it’s lambic selection alone was probably the best I've ever seen in a shop outside Belgium and I can’t think of many places in Belgium itself with a range even close to what Johnny has – and that’s before I start on the Italian artisanal beers!
Northern Italy is in the throes of a major beer revolution with brewpubs and micros popping up everywhere and, on the evidence of our visit, it seems as if this new-found love for the grain is spreading southwards. Okay, so Rome has no brewpubs in the centre now Starbess has closed, but there are still two in the suburbs and another out on the coast at Ostia Lido which, so I’m informed, does some top-notch brews; if this passion for beer continues it can only be a short time before yet more beer bars and even a brewpub or two open in the city centre.
Those who think Italian beer starts and ends with Peroni are in for a major shock at the hands of the country’s artisanal brewers who seem to revel in using unusual ingredients and large amounts of hops although tobacco leaves, chestnuts and spices were present in some of the beers I scooped on this trip with chestnuts seemingly a local favourite for dunking in beer, plus we also had some fairly hoppy beers too – and I’m not even going to mention ReAle extra! So, if you’re bored of the staid UK, German or Belgian beer scenes why not have a trip down to Italy’s capital and experience a beer revolution in full creative ferment and get in before everyone else… Italy is probably Europe’s best-kept beer secret at present, get over there and experience it!
Getting there and getting around there.
Getting to Rome is dead easy – every man and his dog with a plane flies there making it one of the cheaper routes – and with the current fare rises across the board owing to the high oil price this is especially welcome news! Put simply, wherever you live there should be an airport reasonably close to you from where one (or more) of the budget carriers flies to Roma. There are two airports, Fiumicino (which deals mainly with the big airlines and package tours and is sometimes called “Leonardo da Vinci”) and Ciampino (mainly budget carriers) and, although Fiumicino is connected directly to the city by train, it’s hideously expensive to get into town making Ciampino’s slightly annoying bus-metro combo ludicrously cheap by comparison.
The buses run from outside Ciampino’s terminal (from the line of bus stops, usually the one closest to the terminal) every hour or so and terminate at Anangina metro station from where you can catch a train into the centre of the city. As the buses are run by a different transport company (COTRAL) than the city’s transport (ATAC) you have to buy tickets for these separately, either in the terminal or from the driver. The same kiosk within the terminal in arrivals can also furnish you with a pass (either a Biglietto Turistico Integrato, €11, valid for 3 consecutive days or a Biglietto Integrato Giornaliero, €4, valid on day of stamping) for the city’s transport of trams, buses, trolleybuses and diddy electric buses and it’s highly recommended that you get one of these in order to get about, seeing as the city is fairly well spread out and the scooping bars aren’t that close to the centre. The trams aren’t a lot of use to the general beer scooper although, if you’re a tram lover, there are still some old vehicles in service even though it must be said the system isn’t the best and could do with some investment.
Staying around there.
As is to be expected from a city at the centre of the tourist world Rome has hundreds of hotels catering to every taste from prince to pauper or, in these more prosaic times, posh snob to stag night. We stayed at the Hotel Alex at Via Palestro 35 which, for what we paid, was excellent value and only a ten-minute walk from Centrale station and it’s massive bus station. Even accounting for the piss-poor breakfast I’d still recommend the hotel if you can get a good rate as it’s clean, modern and in a location close enough to the centre to be handy yet far enough away and on a quiet enough street to avoid the worst excesses of Rome’s notorious street noise.
Pub of the trip.
Easy – the Football pub wins and, even if it were transplanted to a city such as Manchester or Sheffield, it would still be in with a good chance it’s that good. Let’s not forget the new boy, Brasserie 4:20, which has a very impressive range of beer and they even put a cask beer on just for us… how sociable is that? The two bars are a quick tram ride apart (plus a short walk at each end) so you can easily do both in an evening although I’d recommend spending far longer in each if it’s at all possible!
Beers of the trip.
Without a doubt my brewery discovery of the trip has been Del Borgo and I look forwards to sampling more of their interesting, hoppy beers when I’m next there.
These sites are the best I've found for Italian beer gen, in decending order of usefulness - Microbirrifico, Mondobirra, Maxbeer and Beercoasters. Also, many thanks to beer blogger Stonch for the advice and contacts which made this trip as good as I'd hoped.
My updated Google beer-map is here.
Finally, I want to say that this trip was a real eye-opener for us; on previous trips we've found decent enough bars and good beer shops but a lot of the micro beers have been less than perfect... well, this time we found one of my top-five pubs in the world thus far (Football Pub) plus an amazing beer shop (Johnny's) and one of the best beers I've had - and probably will have - this year in the shape of Del Borgo ReAle extra (6.4%) hopped, as the brewer himself told me, with the magic combination of Cascade, Amarillo, Tomahawk and Columbus... one of the best beers I've ever had in one of the best pubs I've ever been to, is that good, or what?
Rome Beer Gen
Rome currently has two brewpubs (Rome Brewing, aka Starbess, by the Vatican has stopped production as the brewer, Mike Murphy, has moved to Denmark) although both are miles from the centre;
Atlas Coelestis – Via Malcesine 41. Hours not known.
Out in the north; take Metro B to Cornelia, then bus 446 (Every 12 mins or so, it's terminus is at Cornelia, 200m N of metro station) to Forte Trionfale / Pascolato (17th stop?) and then walk to the brewpub.
No gen on opening hours although I assume it's the usual Italian shambles of evenings only making it difficult to get there and back before public transport gives up. The pub now bottles it's beer which, according to their website, is available in central Rome - although we didn't see any!
Stazione Birra - Via Placanica 172, Morena, Ciampino. Hours not known.
As the address suggests this place is way south of the city (about 10 miles!) close to a railway station not that far from Ciampino airport. It's possible to reach from the southern terminus of Metro line A at Anagnina; from there, take bus 551 to it's terminus at Vigne Di Morena and then carry on as it returns to Anagnina (via a different route!) and alight at stop Casignana (6th one) from where it's a 500m walk south along Via Placanica; easy, eh!
The station name comes from the railway close to the pub... well, when I say pub, from their website it sounds more like a live music venue which incongruously has a micro-brewery attached! Sounds strange? With it's opening hours unknown and being just too much of a trek we didn't get here, maybe next time... They apparently brew five beers in rotation including a lager, a bock, a wheat beer, a Vienna and a Bohemian Pils.
Then there's this one, almost at the end of the metro line from Porta San Paolo station (close to Piramide metro) to Lido.
Birrificio Ostiense Artigianale - 1, Piazzale dei Ravennati, Ostia Lido. Open from 19:30?
Take the local train from Porta San Paolo station, metro Piramide, about 10 miles SW on the coast and alight at Lido Central from which the pub is a short walk next to the seafront. The trains from Rome run every 10 mins until late, but be aware the metro closes at 23:30 (00:30 on Saturdays)!
Not having visited I'm not an expert on the place, but apparently it's a relatively new (2005) brewpub which does ten beers, all bottom-fermented. I've heard that the beers are well worth trying and, on the way, you can stop off and see the ruins of the old Roman port of Ostia Antica.
Thankfully, the city's array of beer bars seem to be easier to reach;
Brasserie 4:20 - Via Portuense 82, Trastevere. Opens from 18:00 until 04:00 daily! ()
Tram 3 / 8 to Ippolito Nievo (on Viale di Trastevere), or tram 3 (dir: Thorvaldsen) from Ippolito Nievo to Circo Massimo metro or Manzoni metro. Note that tram 3 is currently suspended and replaced by buses owing to metro works for the new line C.
This is a new bar based in old railway arches and looking like some trendy club but a quick glance at the beer range will tell you that this assumption is way off the mark. For a start, the pub sells cask ales - via handpump! - from, generally, the White Dog brewery near Modena plus up to 12 other brews on tap from Germany, Belgium and elsewhere. It's a right cracker of a bar which serves good food too; overall we were very impressed with this place!
Ma che siete venuti a fà (The Football pub) - Via Benedetta 25, Trastavere. Open from 17:30 daily. ()
This bar can easily be reached from the city centre by either walking over the Ponte Sisto or, by public transport, taking tram 8 to Belli then a 400m walk along the river. You could also take bus 280 to Farnesina/Trilussa on the riverside or alternately, from Termini station, bus 40 drops you off at Via Torre Argentina (750m away) where you can peek at some Roman ruins plus their resident cat population before the short walk to the bars!
The name, apparently, means "what the hell are you doing here?" although as soon as we entered the place, looking at the list of a dozen very good beers plus a superb Italian cask ale, I knew exactly what I was doing there - drinking top-quality beer! Manuele the landlord is a superb host and will gladly discuss beer well into the night and keeps one of the best bars I've ever been to - it easily gets into my top-5 anywhere with the varied and quality range of beer from all over Europe and even the USA. Just get yourself there and experience this temple to beer that is the Football Pub! (just to clarify, it's not some Ing-er-Land place obsessed with footy but a bar adorned with some football decor and they do show it on the TV, although on our second night music was being played - which included Rancid!).
Bir&Fud - Via Benedetta 23, Trastavere. Open from 20:00 Tuesday to Sunday, closed Monday. ()
See details for the Football Pub above; it's very close (as you'd probably guessed by the address).
Owned by the same people as the Football Pub, this pizzeria is unique in Italy - and probably the world - by only serving beer with their food and no wine! Up to nine draught beers are on offer to go with the relatively cheap and drool-inducing menu of enormous, crispy pizzas and other stuff, plus you get a dish of freshly-fried crisps on your table! If you want to eat pizza in Rome and like good beer, then there's only one choice...
Apart from these three, there are a whole load more bars of the so-called "first wave" of beer bars in Rome which seem to have been left standing by the three above. I'll list them all here in case anyone wants to do some research, but don't blame me if they're crap, okay?
Le Bon Bock, Circ.ne Gianicolense 249. Stonch reports Greede Kerching UK beers although they do have other stuff...
Mastro Titta, Via del porto fluviale 5e. Apparently a tastefully themed bar with a very good beer selection, mostly Belgian.
Oasi della Birra, Piazza Testaccio 38. Apparently this bar has a list of around 300 beers but reports say that many are not available when requested. May still be worth a blast, though, and not far from the Brasserie 4:20.
Kenny's Pub (ex Rome Brewing), Via Passaglia 1 near the Vatican). This used to be the home of Starbess beers, brewed by an American, although this has apparently closed although some beers are still available from an unknown brewery. We may have a look at this one...
Bierkeller, via Amerigo Vespucci 42. Used to be highly rated although I'm not sure for what exactly. Close to the Oasi della Birra.
Senza Fondo, Via Germanico 168c. Another bar up by the Vatican which, so I hear, sells lots of Belgian beers.
Via Giordano Bruno 25 - Largo Trionfale- Roma. Bar with lots of
Belgian beers, open from 20:00 or so.
Devil's Chair Pub, Via Tripolitania 190, out in the Northeast. A strange-sounding bar which carries lots of Breton beers in bottle, apparently! Open from 20:00 until late.
Il Vecchio Gandalf pub, Piazza San Calisto 15. Close to the Football Pub, this beer bar has the lovely Carlow stout from Ireland on tap (alla spina) plus 50 Belgian bottles.
Two good beer shops can be found in Rome;
Johnny's Off-License - Via Veio 4. ()
Close to San Giovanni Metro station. It's open 10.00 - 22.00 although I don't know which days, sorry!
Despite sounding like somewhere you'd pop into for a case of Stella or Fosters, this shop seems to sell an amazing range of beer from Belgium, Germany and Italy plus oddments from Denmark and France. Johnny is Irish and doing much to educate the locals about artesanal beer; his Italian range is stunning and includes beer from many obscure micro brewers as well as the larger ones and that's without mentioning the amazing Lambic selection... put it this way, we bought ten Italian beers when we could have staggered away with well over 30 winners and that's before we'd looked at the Lambic and German beers... Johnny's is truly a temple to good beer and is one of the best off licenses I've seen anywhere.
Bir&Fud Bottega - Via Luca Valerio 41/43, Marconi. Open 10:30 - 21:00, Monday to Saturday.
Pick up bus 170 (Termini) or 791 (C.ne Cornelia) from metro Marconi and take either 4 stops north to stop Marconi/Gheradi from which it's a short walk east.
A shop offshoot of the superb-sounding beer restaurant in Trastavere, this place has around 100+ beers which come from all the major brewing nations plus artesanal cheese, pasta and other delicacies. It sounds well worth a visit although it's not that easy to get to.
© Gazza 16/09/08 V1.0.
|Johnny's off license, one of the best off-licenses I've been to. Anywhere.||Brasserie 4:20, Trastevere, - a new an excellent bar.||Football Pub - you'd never guess how good it is from the door... !||Bar at Football pub, showing the taps and bottles!||Gazza presenting the scoops at Bir&Fud.|
|King Aston? Surely not...||Seagull on Browny in Piazza Navona...||The cult of Dave Brown at Santa Maria in Aracoeli?||Del Borgo ReAle Extra - one of my top ten beers ever!!!||En-route home over the Alps.|