Turin and Milan
Last Updated : 21/01/09
ll good things come to those who wait... here, at last, is the Turin and Milan beer report with all the usual gibberish and inane ramblings about public transport you've undoubtedly come to expect from me... enjoy, if you can...
’d wanted to visit Milan for a long time. Not only is it Italy’s beeriest city but it also manages to possess other non-alcoholic attractions such as a dazzling array of architecture and, predictably of more interest to us, some of the oldest running trams in existence - the Ventottos - which date from the 1930’s; all in all this sounded like a winning combination and I’d spent many an evening hunched over my computer working out details for when we would eventually visit.
I know what you’re thinking; “Just go then! If you want to go, why don’t you just bloody go and stop whingeing to us about it?” Well, it’s not quite as easy as that as the city is a veritable tourist honeypot and therefore has to be avoided at particularly busy times, the airports are all well out of the action and consequently expensive and time consuming to travel in from, the brewpubs have strange opening hours which limit scooping options and, finally, flights to Milan are notoriously expensive which, being parsimonious types more used to paying £40 return to anywhere in Europe, we weren't that pleased about – and being a miserable bastard I’ll mention again that Milan’s airports are bloody miles away from the centre and requiring a lengthy (and expensive) bus journey to reach the city action.
I eventually worked out that our best move seemed to be a return flight to Turin – which had another tram system for us to scoop, as well as a brewpub – then we could take a train to Milan and save money by only stopping there for one night in the city’s preposterously expensive hotels before training it back to Turin for the final day and flight home. Cackling to myself at the cunning of this plan, I hurriedly booked our flights to Turin with easyJet from Luton (yet again!) for a very reasonable rate, but should have known that being conceited was bound to lead to something pretty major going tits up…
…Which, predictably, it did when it was time to book the hotels; the one in Turin was easy: hotel Urbani by the station got good reviews and was reasonably cheap so I got us in there for our first and third evenings, but when I checked prices of Milan hotels I was in for a nasty shock; Milan’s trade fairs are frequent throughout the year and we’d managed to book a week when one of the major ones was on, meaning most of the hotels were booked solid and those that still had space had jacked their prices up to stratospheric levels! Cheers then, I fumed, conscious that I should have checked the hotels and/or trade fair dates prior to booking, but it was too late for that now and I’d have to find a way out of this mess somehow.
After a few hours of fruitless searching for a cheap, well-located hotel (predictably, most with space were either one or the other) I admitted defeat and cast around for somewhere else to stay. My gaze fell upon the historic city of Pavia, a mere 30km to the South of Milan, where I could get a hotel close to the station recommended by the Rough Guide for a reasonable sum and so, with the lack of any better alternatives and after checking that we could physically get there and back on the train (easily, it turned out), I bit the bullet and booked us into the Hotel Aurora in Pavia. I knew that this meant we’d miss at least one brewpub in Milan but on the positive side we’d get to see another place which otherwise I doubt we would have visited and we’d still get a full day and a bit in Milan… after this damage limitation exercise I vowed always to check hotel availability in future as the next time it might not be so easy a hole to get out of…
Thursday 19th April 2007.
The M1 in the rush hour.
Another less than appealing facet to the trip was the flight time; normally we’re used to having a mere few hours fitful sleep before getting up at some daft hour for a cruise down deserted trunk roads to an airport over a hundred miles away – after four solid years of (mainly) doing this we’ve become accustomed to it and having a flight at 13:00 was an alien concept to us! It also meant that we wouldn’t have the luxury of deserted roads during our drive to Luton which, considering it’s just off the M1 and a massive slice of roadworks start just prior to junction 10, wasn't the most inviting prospect and had the potential for missed flights and all that kind of stuff which I don’t really like to think about…
Happily our journey wasn’t anywhere near as bad as I’d feared, and we were at our usual car drop-off point after a mere two hour’s travel, which isn’t a hell of a lot quicker than the middle of the night! As I handed the keys over to the greeter he informed me that they now had to run through a list of checks for damage before we left to ensure they weren’t blamed for any scratches or dents afterwards; he walked around my car looking for obvious problems but such was the crusting of filth covering it he soon gave up with the admission “I can’t tell the dirt from damage”, although there isn’t actually any damage to the car yet so he needn’t have bothered!
Once inside the terminal we were up to our usual tricks of ignoring the huge queues of normals in assorted Ing-er-land clothing or very sad “Bert’s stag night 2007” t-shirts with some shit place underneath and the nickname of whoever was wearing the shirt somewhere on there too; just how sad is this to be wearing a uniform to go out being a twat abroad? I suppose at least the locals know they’re from Britain and can take appropriate measures… anyhow, we ignored the snaking lines of said normals queuing for the “all flights” desks and headed straight for the “hand baggage only” check-in which, as usual, was deserted and somehow we persuaded the woman there to open the Turin flight for us an hour early and that was it, check-in numbers 1 and 2 yet again, sorted, jobs a good’un!
Seeing as there were hordes of normals around we decided, despite our flight not leaving for hours, to head through security straight away and make the best of it airside. The queue for security was barely half a dozen deep yet we were still held up by some “Posh spice” look-alike who patently couldn’t read the signs as she was trying to take a handbag and carry-on luggage through - when all the notices stated only one bag per person - but was amusingly stopped by the guard! She obviously thought that these rules couldn’t possibly apply to someone as important as herself and so argued the point but, after a while, she had to admit defeat and shuffled to one side as she attempted to squash her handbag into the already stuffed designer bag she was carrying with accompanying muttering about the injustice of it all; I can just hear her whingeing to her equally up-themselves friends later about how she was “victimised” by the security guards; bollocks: read the signs or FOAD, you self-important bimbo!
Once through the scanners and x-ray machines we wandered around the shops aimlessly in the vain hope of killing a few minutes of time. I managed to scoop a taster of whisky in the form of Dufftown Singleton 12 years old but withered the geezer giving it out by declaring that it was “alright, but it’s too rough for me”. That was the highlight of the fester although we managed to get a seat looking out over the runway so at least could see something happening; after what seemed like years the flight was finally called and we headed off to some distant gate for boarding. We joined the correct queue A but it soon became clear we were in no danger of having to fight for a seat as the flight was a third full at most, and must be one of the emptiest I've been on for a couple of years which doesn’t bode well for a return trip to Turin as cheap airlines are notorious for axing unpopular routes. The plane was yet another scoop, the latest in a long run of winners, and we left on-time for the 120-minute flight which took us on the usual flightpath over Paris although the cloud prevented us seeing too much – as usual!
Transport infrastructure meltdown.
We touched down on-time and were soon through security in the arrivals hall where a cash machine was quickly plundered for readies. A sign on a kiosk told us that train tickets were available there and so I tentatively asked the bloke behind the desk if he spoke English to save both our blushes with my appalling Italian; “No, Chinese!” he joked with a grin and proceeded to sell us two “Giornaleiro” tickets (€5.50 and valid for the rest of the day on Turin’s public transport) for the train into Dora station. “There’s one in five minutes” he prompted, gesturing towards the exit in a very Mediterranean way, and with that we were off at a gallop towards the station as I already knew the trains could be 40 minutes apart…
The train station seemed determined to give away as little information regarding trains and platforms as possible but, through a combination of guesswork and crank’s intuition, we soon located the correct platform (seeing as there are only two, simple guesswork would probably have sufficed, but I digress) and waited for the promised train. One soon pulled in but I was slightly concerned as it wasn’t the type of train I’d seen on the airport’s website and we boarded with misgivings that we would actually end up in Turin after all.
I needn’t have worried as it seemed as if there was only one physical track we could possibly traverse and we were soon clattering into the bijou terminal station of Dora. As we were already impeccably valid for the local transport we were quickly outside where we expected to find a tramstop… whereas all we found was a Somme-like expanse of building work and no tram lines to be seen! After a short search we located the tram stop at the top of the hill to the left of the station but it was immediately obvious we would be waiting a very long time for a tram as the tracks had been lopped off next to a mammoth hole and replacement buses were running instead – cheers then!
We crammed ourselves onto the next replacement No.10 bus and off we went towards the centre of Turin trying to see where the hell we were going through the writhing mass of humanity inside the vehicle. It soon became obvious we were nearing the centre as we crossed line after line of tram tracks although we had no idea which ones were live; great, we’d missed the best of yet another city’s tram system! Suddenly, just as we were becoming really confused, we crossed Corso Vittorio Emanuelle II and we alighted at the next stop which we saw, with much relief, was alongside the rail station and therefore about where we’d wanted to get off all along...
After a quick walk around the station to acquire some maps from the tourist information kiosk we traversed yet more roadworks associated with the new metro line being built (why is that everywhere we go is being dug up?) before locating the Hotel Urbani one road away from the station. Check-in was efficient and we were soon slumped in our room with the conviction that that had been a lot more difficult than it should have been…
“Are you sure it’s up here?”
A brief rest and bag contents reallocation later we were out and on our way to see what the city’s tram system would turn up. With the light fading and rush hour upon us we weren’t sure what to expect, but managed to find a “real” tram (I think they’re 1940’s vintage although they look a lot more streamlined than you’d expect for a tram that old) on it’s way to Brissogne and so, with nothing better to do with our time, we found space aboard the creaking old beast as it ground it’s way along the track full to bursting with locals on their way home for the evening. The journey itself wasn’t the most scenic tram ride I’ve ever done although for the return we had the pick of seats in the almost empty vehicle and saw a lot more of the wide boulevards than we had on the way out!
After a few more leaps on the old trams we decided that as we weren’t going to be able to reach most of our target pubs due to the severe tram shambles being caused by the metro extension we may as well get ourselves along to the city’s sole brewpub to see what was on offer there. A few stops on tram 15 was enough to reach our target but it didn’t look promising - the streets were dimly lit, few people were about and the area had a slightly desolate feel to it – not the kind of place you’d expect to find a brewpub, to be honest! Despite the feeling that we were in the wrong place (and that wouldn’t be the first time…) we persevered with our search and were rewarded when the brewpub appeared just where I thought it should have been, and it was full of people too!
Once inside, we bagged a table and proceeded to examine the menu. Four beers were available, as I’d expected, plus the food suddenly sounded very appealing as we realised we’d not eaten for hours; I quickly ordered two plates of pasta to go with the helles and rossa and settled back to examine our surroundings. The pub seemed to have been well put together with bare brick and wood-panelled walls adorned with brewery adverts and the usual gleaming coppers sitting behind the bar looking very well looked after and, overall, the feel was of a relaxing and well-run bar which seemed to be well appreciated by the locals given the number of them who were in, and still coming into, the pub.
Our beers arrived and I took my first sip of the helles; an average slightly honeyed brew, malty and fairly bitter, Clara was unfortunately a little too safe for my palate although was a perfectly drinkable beer in it’s own right. Rufus (rossa) was next and this too showed signs of being brewed for the unadventurous palate although it did have more flavour than the helles with a dry malty taste backed up with caramel and bitterness and it had a very attractive copper/red colour too. Not a great start to our Italian scooping campaign, but I’d rather have bland beer than bad beer any day if you know what I mean…
The food appeared and despite not being the best we’ve ever had it was filling and just the kind of thing we needed after a long time without eating anything! This was followed by the two remaining beers; Sahara wheat was a very full-on clovey, bananary brew in the kind of style I dislike intensely but, trying to put my hatred of wheat beers aside, wasn't a bad example of hefeweiss at all… I tried to put my loathing aside, I really did, but I still struggled to finish the glass and Sue was no help as she dislikes weiss more than me! To wash the taste away we had a glass of Ambrata Primavera (5.6%) which, as with the other two bottom-fermented brews, was a decent enough dry and malty beer without much of interest.
By this point we were beginning to flag and so after I’d taken the obligatory phots of the brewery we braved the dark and deserted streets as we made our way back to the tramstop and thence back to the hotel. We’d only managed to pick up one bottle for the room during the day – which was a blessing as we were both knackered – and so the Menabrea 150th Anniversary blonde didn’t last long as we hurriedly gulped it down so we could get some sleep. I may have been tired but that didn’t stop me wondering as to why a brewery celebrating it’s 150th anniversary should have the nerve to put it’s name on such a light, weedy and generally unspectacular brew such as this one – but then forgot all about it and went to sleep.
Friday 20th April 2007.
After a very welcome night’s sleep we were up relatively early for an appointment with a train to Milan. The more I thought about our move the better it seemed, as we’d scooped Turin in addition to Milan (trams and extra brewpub) plus the train was so cheap it would probably end up costing us less than the bus in from the distant airports at Milan! So, after a decent breakfast, off we went to brave the minefield of metro construction work and Italian drivers between our hotel and the train station to get the day’s scooping underway.
We soon located a ticket machine which was, if this can be possible, even better than the German ones in that it listed the trains and how much each would cost! We selected a cheap service which only took five minutes less than the more expensive expresses but, for some reason, the machine decided that my debit card wasn’t the kind of thing it wanted to accept and resolutely declined it. The answer was to insert Sue’s card – exactly the same – and the machine happily debited hers! I wasn’t complaining, but Sue was…
The journey took around 90 minutes and was fairly boring as we sped along beside flooded fields which I can only assume are for rice growing as surely nobody would purposely flood mile after mile of fields for no reason? “Sorry Luigi, I’ve flooded those fields again…” We eventually pulled into Milan’s huge and impressive Centrale station right on time and set about finding a tourist information stand for a map and, that having been easily accomplished, a tabac which sold tram tickets which wasn’t as easy as I’d assumed it would be! We found one just outside the main arrivals hall with the ATM logo in the window and I was soon in possession of our 48-hour tickets for the eminently reasonable price of €5.50 each.
We spent the next couple of hours enjoying the superb trams – the old Ventotto are some of the oldest trams still in service anywhere, dating from the 1930’s – before a wander around the Galerie Vittorio Emanuelle and Duomo areas. The Galerie was very impressive, suggesting to me a much grander version of London’s Leadenhall market, and the Duomo was as spikily gothic a cathedral as I’ve seen. All was going well until some scrounging bastard approached with a handful of sweetcorn which, I assumed, he wanted me to buy off him in order to feed the hundreds of pigeons which flapped and bobbed around our feet as we walked. As anyone who knows me will confirm I’m not the world’s greatest giver to charity – unless it’s something I believe in - and so I refused his offer, but the bloke was extremely persistent and despite my best efforts to convey to him I didn’t want his sweetcorn he continually hassled me until, eventually, he tried to physically put it into my hand – which I wasn’t putting up with and so knocked the pigeon fodder from his hand and gave a look which, I hoped, would say “Don’t mess with me pal, best you piss off now!”
Scoops at the end of the line.
After another hour or so of walking around Milan’s admittedly beautiful streets we were ready for some food and, in my case at least, some well-earned scoops! Taking tram 5 to it’s eastern terminus of Ortica we followed my map towards the Giardino della Birra brewpub; what I wasn't prepared for was for the road to vanish into a subway! The map making no sense we decided to press on regardless and I was mightily relieved when we emerged from the subway and could see where we were on my admittedly inaccurate map; lesson learnt, never trust Microsoft Autoroute when you’re trying to find brewpubs!
Despite the map’s best efforts to thwart us we were soon entering the brewpub which, for the reasonably quiet and suburban area it was located in, was remarkably busy with business types and their ilk availing themselves of the comestibles on offer. We sat at the end of a long room, too far from the brewery for my liking, and ordered all three beers (yes, even the weizen!) plus some much needed sustenance as, by this point, we were famished having not eaten for a good six hours – which is a long time for us!
The menu was a strange one and, feeling adventurous, I ordered an Argentine beef carpaccio to go with my scoops. The slightly confused waitress (we always confuse the waiting staff, unintentionally I must add, by ordering all our beers at once) brought our beer and food within a few minutes and so I was straight into the scooping! Helles bionda (5%) had a notably bitter edge to balance the maltiness and was slightly buttery whilst retaining an interesting malt/hop balance and complexity; a good start then, and so far Milan was living up to the praise lavished on it’s beers. Contessa weizen (5.1%) came next and, had I liked wheat beers, I’d have loved this with it’s orangey colour (reminiscent of Cheddar Valley cider!) and stacks of clovey esters in addition to a fresh bread character. Not to my taste, but a very good example of German-style wheat beer… made in Italy!
After polishing off my plate of raw beef and salad – delicious, in case you were wondering – I took a gulp of the final brew available, Conte Jack (6.2%), which I’d guess is some kind of bock as the beers here are bottom fermented with the obvious exception of the weiss. Deep red caramelly and toffeeish, this wasn't as good as the previous brews and we decided that it’s cloying sweet maltiness might become quite nauseating after a glass, although it was interesting enough in flavour and, if it lost a bit of the sweetness, could be very suppable.
After an impromptu brewery tour conducted in Italian and a smattering of English – prompted when the brewer saw me leering through the windows trying to get some photos of the gleaming copper – it was time to head off for some more trams and sightseeing. Only now was I beginning to realise that there was no way we were going to cover all six brewpubs in Milan (due, in part, to our enforced stay in Pavia) but also that the hours they kept weren’t really conducive to a good day’s scooping; most of the brewpubs opened in the afternoon until around 15:00 then re-opened in the evening at a time varying from 17:30 to 20:00 before closing at some obscure hour in the morning; great if we had been staying in town, but bad as we had to leave by 21:00 to get to Pavia! Cursing the bad luck which had prevented our stopping in Milan, we trudged back to the tram terminus at Ortica for the next tram back into the centre.
The best beer shop in Italy?
Annoyingly, we seemed to have hit on a gap in the schedule and so waited for what must have been a good 20-25 minutes until a Ventotto creaked it’s way around the corner. Back in the centre of Milan we had a look around the castle and it’s environs before realising that we’d better get some more money as it was time to visit the highlight of the trip - beer-shop wise - A tutta Birra, we found an ATM and then indulged in an espresso at a small café close to La Scala which amazingly, considering the location, was only €0.70 a shot! The café had a sting in it’s tail, however, as the toilets were up an amazingly narrow and spindly spiral staircase whose slender dimensions necessitated using it sideways! It’s not that I’m too fat, honest; it was just really narrow…
We made our way to the beer shop knowing that it would be our only chance to pick up some Italian scoops for the night; I’d already checked out Pavia on the net and was pretty sure that no brewpubs or decent pubs were there. The shopfront was tiny and didn’t really inspire confidence that we’d find a lot inside, but this was another of those Aladdin’s cave moments; it seemed as if every available space was stuffed with beer bottles from Italy, Germany, the UK and Belgium and within five seconds inside I was convinced that this place was a great find! There was so much choice we were – momentarily – stumped as to what to buy, but reluctantly we refused the Cantillons and German ticks for the Italian microbrewery selection which, whilst not being massive, occupied a fair amount of the right-hand wall!
We browsed the shelves for a good ten minutes and eventually emerged with just five massive Italian microbrewery scoops – four in 75cl bottles – as we didn’t really want to carry much more around with us for the remainder of the evening! There was so much more we could have bought that we really must get another move planned for Milan; this shop could provide a good few days of room beers and is one of the best beer shops I’ve found yet on my travels.
The boisterous brewpub.
We took a tram around to Lambrate station and alighted on via Porpora where I hoped to find the Lambrate brewpub. I say “hoped” as I’d not a lot of faith in the maps I’d printed from Autoroute but this time, after some brief navigational issues, we easily found the pub down a narrow sidestreet off the main drag. Although we had arrived relatively early it was already full to bursting point with locals and, indeed, most of them had spilled out into the street and were taking advantage of the very clement conditions; I’m glad they were or we’d never have got through the door!
Inside was a riot of noise with everyone shouting at each other in a very Italian way above some decent-sounding Ska playing in the background. We weaved our way to the rear of the pub where we found space at a little table in an alcove from which I ducked and bobbed to the bar between animated Italians and examined the taps; six beers were available but, before I could order the first two, the barman realised I was English and waved my money away; he collected six half-pint glasses and into each sloshed a generous measure of each beer and then leaned against the bar to watch as I sampled them. I thanked him profusely and so, amazed that I’d been given what must have been 100ml of each beer for nothing, began my scooping.
Montestella (4.9%) was first up and was a lovely pale, dry, hoppy brew with a good grassy hop character over a firm malt body; a good start then! Porpora (5.4%) came next but this brew was nothing like the first, possessing a sweetish caramel-toffee taste and not enough going on below to interest me. Lambrate (6.8%) was supped and this was a strong and beefy malt brew with a full body and a sweetish malty finish with a prickle of grassy hops; not bad, but I still preferred the Montestella!
St Ambroeus (6.8%) was duly scooped although I wasn't a huge fan of this one; similar to Lambrate in taste, this beer had an extra slug of sweetness which made the brew a touch cloying, especially with the strength it had. Domm Weiss (5.2%) had been put off until now owing to my dislike of weiss and with, it turned out, good reason as it was, to quote my tasting notes in their entirety, “Very wheaty!” – as you can probably guess, it wasn't my beer of the evening! Last, but certainly not least, was the most unusual beer of the lot; Ghisa smoked stout (5%) smelt like a bonfire had recently been extinguished in the glass and I was expecting something very OTT, but despite the aroma and jet-black colour this was a subtle and moreish beer with an intense charcoal, malt and roasty taste with a sense of chewing burnt matchsticks (not that I do that every day but I do partake occasionally) and a sweetish, burnt and complex roasty finish; superb!
With no time to do another brewpub we sat in the midst of Milan’s Friday night and drank some more of the beers, although I had to pay for them this time! I enjoyed a pint of Montestella which, if anything, tasted hoppier than the sample I’d had first off and we also had halves of Lambrate and the Ghisa. Despite the pub being totally wedged we still managed to raid the free snacks area at the end of the bar and so had a gratis plate of vegetarian nibbles and very nice it was too, although physically getting through the bar was becoming increasingly difficult as the evening drew in and the hordes outside began to make their way inside.
55 years too late.
Eventually it was time to make our escape and head off to Lambrate station and so, saying a big thanks to the sociable barman, we trotted off along the street to the nearest tramstop where we hoped to catch a tram to the station. After five minutes we’d decided that as none had yet appeared we may as well walk it and so off we stormed along the wide boulevard towards Lambrate station, not knowing if we had enough time to walk there, get a ticket and then find the train…
Of course, we did! It only took us five minutes to reach Lambrate station but then it must have taken another five to find our way through the subway to the ticket office which, predictably, was at the far side of the station and had a massive queue! We decided to split up and so, as Sue joined the snaking mass of people, I battled with the ticket machine in an attempt to get a ticket to Pavia. A couple of minutes later I’d acquired said validity (I’ve no idea why the other normals weren’t using the machines, but there you go) and so off we went to the platform to wait for our train. As Lambrate is a very busy station with trains coming and going every minute or so I was mildly concerned that we might miss it or end up in Sicily but the destination screens on the platform worked perfectly and ten minutes later we were sat on our train speeding south from Milan into the Lombardy hinterland.
Half an hour later we were walking away from Pavia station towards our pre-booked hotel, the Aurora on Viale Vittorio Emanuele, which is handily situated on the main road close to the station. As we crossed the station forecourt, however, I saw something which stopped me dead in my tracks – tramlines! I glanced up to see if any wires were around and realised that we’d stumbled upon the remains of a tram system… cheers then! It had obviously been closed for some time as there was no sign of any wires and the track quickly vanished under the tarmac of the road; maybe thirty years ago we’d have scooped it but, in 2007, we were way too late! (Pavia’s trams ceased running in the 1950’s I discovered later!)
The hotel was a short walk along the road and we were soon checked in and sorting out our packs in the room. After a quick walk through Pavia – which seemed to be a very picturesque place and worthy of a proper wander in the morning when it was light – we got a properly made (done there and then before going into a wood-fired oven) pizza from a restaurant on the main square and then wandered back with it, seeing some more abandoned tramline in the process on Piazzale Minerva – oh, the pain!
Tickin’ em in Ticinum.
Back in the room, having munched our way through the very real and exceedingly tasty pizza, it was time to start on the beers we’d bought from Milan. With the weather being particularly warm we resolved to try and cool the bottles down (and at the same time remove the labels: genius, eh?) and so filled the wastebin with water – it was very clean, before you recoil in horror at the unhygienic way we cool our scoops – and dunked the bottles in to soak for 20 minutes whilst we fiddled with the TV in the usual vain attempt to locate something remotely worth watching… look, it’s not that we expect channels devoted to Industrial Goth or Folk-punk, we’re not that choosy, but we’d just like something amusing to watch along the lines of our viewing of the Southpark “Mr Hankey” episode in Goslar. Pure class that was, but predictably there was nothing at all to watch and so after I’d nipped out to reception to blag two glasses worth drinking out of (the room ones were those crappy plastic things which make anything taste shite before splitting and decanting the contents all over the floor) we opened the first bottle and prepared for some serious Italian micro-scooping!
Our first beer was the beautifully wrapped (in paper with Celtic drawings and writing on it – a very professional and interesting label) Montegioco Birra Runa (4.8%) which I was gutted to discover was actually a wheat beer; cheers then, read the bloody label next time! It was a cloudy brew, plain, dry and bready, not bad and certainly without the horrible bananary/clovey taste which I dislike, but if truth be told the beer didn’t live up to the packaging and was a touch bland and uninteresting.
Next up was the only small (33cl) bottle of the evening! Paul Bricius Red Ale (7%) was a murky brown beer, thick and rich in taste, with a syrupy toffee flavour which we both found too cloying and sweet to be interesting and masked the other subtleties of the brew; the evening wasn’t going well thus far, but I had faith in the next bottle – Panil Barriquée (8%) – which, from what I had read, was a classic brew even if our bottle wasn't the extra-sour American export version!
It poured a reddy/brown hue and immediately gave off woody, musty and toasty aromas. The sweet, malty and caramelly flavour had hints of toffee, wood, acidity, bitterness and was overall a pretty interesting combination of flavours, it’s just that it needed something else to make it a great beer – and the extra sourness in the USA version might just be that! Even with this reservation, it still scored well (3) and was one of the three best beers we’d had thus far.
Beba Birra Integrale Re Magi (8.5%) came next and this one, sadly, had a touch of infection which overshadowed what promised to be a decent enough amber and quite malty beer; a shame as it promised quite a bit, but the lactic/vinegar character ruined the flavour for me. Last up was a brewery who I’d heard lots about and had been thrilled to find in A tutta Birra; Baladin from Piozzo, not far from Turin, which has a good name on the beer circuit and their Nöel brew (9%) promised to be interesting… well, it was alright, but nowhere near as good as I’d hoped from all the hype! A dark brown brew with a dry, chocolatey flavour and an unusual taste which I couldn’t quite place (Yule spices?) then a slightly sour, caramel/chocolate and malty finish which, for me, ended a touch quick and safe. Yes, it was okay, but not as exciting as I’d thought it would be… ah well, time for bed…
Saturday 21st April 2007.
Blown out again.
We awoke to a glorious morning and decided to have a wander around Pavia before we caught the train into Milan; we slipped out of reception under the watchful eyes of the receptionist who, so it seemed, thought we might do a runner without paying and eyed us with the same distrustful look he might have cast upon a Cockney barrow boy or convicted felon. Our intentions were honest, however, and we spent an hour or so wandering around the admittedly ancient and pretty town – where we discovered we’d narrowly missed meeting the pope who was due the next day – before returning to the hotel to the immeasurable relief of the receptionist who’d probably already informed Interpol of our payment evasion…
Our exploration complete and hotel paid for, we walked the short distance to the station to buy a ticket for the train – or at least that was the plan! When we arrived the whole waiting room was taken up by snaking queues for the ticket windows and, for reasons best known to Italian railways, the ticket machines were out of order! With ten minutes to go before our train I was getting slightly fretful… eight minutes later and I’d almost reached the front of the queue when the bloke in front decided to ask about monthly season tickets to Kathmandu via Paris - or at least that’s what it seemed to my increasingly frantic ears. The bloke behind the counter seemed to be taking an astounding amount of time to answer the query and I’d already given up hope of making our intended service (which had just arrived) when the neighbouring window opened and, taking advantage of everyone else’s hesitancy, I made a dash for it and somehow managed to purchase two singles to Milan and, even more amazingly, we made the train too – but only with by an amazingly slender margin and a very necessary dash over the ballast!
The quick trundle back into Milan soon passed (despite being stopped at some random station in the Pavia hinterlands for twenty minutes) and it was with relish that we were back in the centre of Milan, tickets already valid, and spent the morning scooping as many tram routes and old Ventotto trams as we could before it was time to try and scratch one more brewpub in; I’ve already mentioned the rubbish opening hours of the Milan brewpubs but it’s worth saying it again – how the hell do you expect people to buy your feckin’ beer if you’re never open?!? According to my research, the only one which should be open in the narrow window of time before we had to return to Turin was Ambrosiano but, after a lengthy tram journey to it, the door was firmly closed and the sign outside said it was open from 18:00 which isn’t what their website says at all…! Ah well, there was nothing we could do and so went back to the tram scooping.
Back at Milan Centrale station we plundered the supermarket and emerged with a gut-busting selection of comestibles to ease the journey away. The journey back to Turin was past the same flooded fields and boring vistas as we’d experienced on the outward trip and it was with some relief that we alighted at Turin’s Porta Susa station where we hoped to be able to take a tram to the day’s essential visit, the Fermento beer shop, to stock up on some tasty bottles for the evening’s pleasure.
Under a shroud of beer…
A quick tram ride on one of the city’s sleek-looking yet ancient orange trams (the innards of them date from the 1940s!) and we were walking back towards the shop having overshot it owing to a poor choice of stop on our part. As with the Milan beer shop there seemed to be a huge range of beer but here it was more spaced out and “expensively” arranged, if you get my drift. There was a huge range of UK bottles to the right of the shop but we avoided those and cast our eyes over the sadly smaller Italian microbrewery selection where we were joined by the owner, and a very sociable bloke he was too; he explained where each beer was from and it’s style and seemed genuinely surprised when we deposited four 75cl bottles on the counter!
After a genial chat about UK bottled beers - I voiced my opinion that most are rubbish - the proprietor seemed to be even more amiable towards us and bade us to wait a second whilst he scurried out back and feverishly wrapped something in newspaper; he pressed two items wrapped in paper into our bag (very attractive paper bags with the shop’s logo on) with a conspiratorial “some glasses for you” and a wink! Bidding him and his excellent shop good evening, it was off to the Hotel Urbani again to check-in and get the bottles stood up for later – and we now had something to drink the beers out of, too!
This time we were allocated a room right up in the rafters which, despite having a potentially head-cracking pair of beams running down the room (painted black too, just in case you had half a chance of seeing them in the middle of the night), was large, spacious and had one very important item – a mini-bar! Now before you get the idea we were wanting to munch our way through €5 bars of cheap chocolate and suchlike, let me assure you that our frugal sense is totally intact; we wanted the mini-bar not for it’s contents but for a far less altruistic reason – to chill our bottles of beer in! So, within five minutes of us entering the room, the mini-bar was emptied of it’s random tat and our bottles safely installed within to cool nicely for later…
A most interesting evening out.
On the strength of a report on the internet which had praised it’s beer range we’d decided to visit the Auchan supermarket on Giulio Cesare and so boarded a plastic No.4 tram heading north through the city. We didn’t know how far along this road the supermarket was and so, as the city gradually thinned out, we began to think I’d cocked up the gen-finding yet again… not so, as it soon appeared right on the edge of the city and a right monstrous edifice it was! The phrase “out of town hypermarket” would probably sum it up best and it was with some trepidation that we headed across the enormous carpark towards the brooding monster some miles away on the horizon (okay, maybe it wasn’t that far really, but the car park was feckin’ huge and it took us a good five minutes to walk from the tramstop!).
Inside was my image of hell made real (I don’t believe in the concept of hell, but let’s just juxtapose the classical image of hell into everyday life to see what I mean) and was packed with shoppers rushing around grasping whatever they could as if it were the last hours on earth before some catastrophe occurred, or maybe shopping was being prohibited the following day? The sheer size of the place was overpowering and we almost gave up at the door but, deciding we’d come this far and may as well have a look, in we went and braved the hordes of dead-eyed mammon-slaves with their attack-trolleys.
After weaving through the panic-buying multitude we arrived at the beer aisle where it soon became clear that we’d been lured out here on false pretences; the Italian range was poor with 95% being multinational stuff and only a few token micros such as Amarcord from San Marino – which isn’t even Italy! The Belgian selection was scarcely better with only a smattering of decent beers and so, empty-handed and jostled from all sides by the zombie-like shoppers, we decided the best course of action was to get out of there as fast as possible!
We made for the tills and squeezed through a small gap towards freedom but were met on the other side by an irate manager-type who gibbered away in Italian which, to paraphrase, the general gist of was “Who the hell are you? This isn’t an exit; get back in there with the rest of the zombies and buy some tat, you stupid English tourists!” After suffering the horrors of the shop for what had probably been ten minutes but had felt like ten years we weren’t in any mood to humour some official and so ignored her protestations and simply walked out through the forbidden exit to her intense displeasure!
After a five-minute yomp back to the tramstop across vast acres of tarmac littered with cars and trolleys we had to suffer the indignity of a fester for the next tram and, even worse, a local village idiot decided he’d try and befriend us; we ignored him until someone more accommodating sat next to him whereupon he gave us up as a bad job and turned his attention to the new entrant! Eventually a tram arrived and we piled aboard for the run back into the city centre; we were now of the opinion that we couldn’t be arsed to try and find any of the bars on my list (we couldn’t get to some due to the tram shambles caused by the metro work) and so resolved to get some food and get back to the hotel pronto and get stuck into our bottles.
As we neared the centre and stopped at a set of traffic lights we were treated to a spot of street entertainment as two blokes were fighting with each other and then being restrained by their mates before kicking off again; most amusing, but we started off before it was clear who was going to win! With this minor excitement over the rest of the trip passed quickly and we were soon buying a bottle of water from an Asian supermarket on Via Saluzzo before popping into a nice little bar next door for a quick espresso to keep us alert during the beer tasting to come.
A free pizza and a beer tasting.
When in Italy, do the Italian thing… which means eating pizza and so, for the second night on the run, you find us waiting in a pizza restaurant for a takeaway. The restaurant was opposite our hotel and was equipped with a proper wood-fired oven and so, after the quality of the food in Pavia the previous evening, we were sold on the idea and hastily ordered two Neapolitans and waited, watching the pizzas being prepared. We were slightly concerned as we’d only seen one Neapolitan being made, and indeed when our pizza was presented only one was forthcoming much to the embarrassment of the server! He held a brief argument with the chef which resulted in another pizza being made and cooked whilst the other was kept warm(ish) on the stove and when we came to pay we were only charged for the second one but were handed both with another apology – result!
After smuggling them into the room we indulged ourselves in a feast of pizza (they were superb, too, and even better for having one each!) before it was time to get started on the beers and how we praised our foresight of stashing them in the mini-bar; lovely and cool beer on a warm, sticky night was just what we needed, especially after our “shopping from hell” experience! First out of the fridge was Vallecellio Intensa (6.2%) which was a reddy-brown dry beer with a fair hit of smokiness although we felt the main flavours of sweetish toffee overpowered the other more subtle tastes. Next was Del Borgo ReAle (6.4%) which was billed as an IPA and it was just the weather for it! This was an amber brew with basketloads of Gewürztraminer-like rose petals and soft exotic fruits on the nose and tongue, a sweet malt body, and then a good, hefty bitterness reared up towards the finish although we felt that this bitterness was slightly caustic and could have been taken down a peg or two in favour of more spicy hoppiness. Whatever, it was a superb beer for a hot evening and, indeed, a good beer for any evening!
The tasting continued with Cittavecchia Formidable (8%) and this was a full-bodied red/amber brew with a huge sweet toffee character, very mellow and sociable, then a smooth toasty toffee and malt aftertaste which could be described as a touch cloying and plain, but we quite enjoyed it and it marked a total change in flavour from the previous beer! Last up was another Baladin beer, Super (8%), and I hoped we’d like this one better than the distinctly average Nöel the previous evening… sadly, either I’ve just not got the taste of Baladin’s beers or they’re not as good as they’re cracked up to be. It was a brassy brown beer with smooth, toasty malt flavours then a dry, tangy, spritzy malt finish which overall was “okay” and nothing more; I wanted to like it, I really did, but it just didn’t do it for me…
That was the end of our beer scooping in Italy; 23 scoops for the weekend wasn’t too bad and I know that we’d have had plenty more had we not been forced to stay out in Pavia and thus miss at least one and probably two more brewpubs, but we can always go back! All that remained on our final day was to scoop a few more trams, have a decent look around Turin in daylight and fly back to Luton, but a return trip to the region is definitely required – although this time I’m checking for trade shows first!
Although the trade fair in Milan royally shafted my attempt to cover at least four of the city’s brewpubs (and I wasn’t aided by their daft opening hours, either!) I’ve now got a taste for Milan’s beer culture and aim to return as soon as possible to clear up the remaining four brewpubs and also do some of the bars I didn’t have time to do – in addition to many more of the hellfire Ventotto trams! Turin wasn’t as beery a place although, with the shambles being caused by the metro construction works at present, I might give it six months before there’s any chance of a return trip there; with the brewpub done there’s not a lot beer-wise to go back for so it depends how the flights to Milan pan out!
Turin (Torino in Italian) is an attractive city with interesting architecture and a feel not unlike Manchester, if a little more upmarket. There are plenty of sights and things to see in and around the city including the Sassi rack railway and you should be able to spend a day there without getting bored relatively easily. The city’s beer scene is nowhere near as developed as neighbouring Milan, although there is an excellent beer shop (Fermento) and some bars which we didn’t visit owing the the present transport shambles which is the Metro construction and so we may have missed out on some right whoppers.
Milan is a huge, sprawling city with more than it’s fair share of attractions; the gothic prickliness of it’s Duomo, the La Scala opera house, and of course – more interestingly – it’s large tram network with some of the oldest trams in service anywhere in the world (from the 1930’s). Despite the size of Milan the central areas are easily walked (or trammed) and it’s actually quite a human place to wander around gawping at the architecture around you. The city’s beer scene is famous throughout Italy and there are currently six brewpubs scattered around, although note that none are in the centre and all require a tram ride/walk/both to reach. Add to this a very impressive beer shop and some apparently decent local bars and you have the best beer city in Italy by quite a long chalk, although I need to visit again to fully appreciate it!
Micro-brewed beer seems to be available in decent amounts if you know where to look – for a price – and the region is certainly a great place to start a search for Italian beer. Having visited Pisa and found little decent ale (except one bar) and Venice (one strange brewpub) I can recommend a visit to the Piemonte region for a scooper wanting to open his/her account with Italian microbrew and, if you like trams, then you’re in for a treat too. Add to this the proximity to some stunning scenery in the Alps and whatever you’re into then this region will probably offer something you want from a trip away.
Getting there and getting around there.
Many airlines fly to Milan, that’s an incontrovertible fact, but very few fly into Linate, the closest of the city’s three airports, and you’ll almost certainly have to make do with arriving at either Malpensa (27 miles NW) or Orio al Serio (also known as Bergamo after the nearest town, 29 miles NE) both of which entail lengthy trips into the city; see the excellent to and from the airport website for all details of how to get into the city from your arrival point here.
Airlines currently flying to Milan are listed here, see skyscanner for up-to-date details.
Alternately, do as we did and add the city of Turin to your itinerary! With regular trains between Turin and Milan taking only 90-100 minutes it’s almost as quick to fly there, scoop the brewpub and shop plus a few trams, then train it into Milan, arriving at either Lambrate station (five minutes on foot from the brewpub of the same name) or Centrale, right in the heart of the city centre. Flights are far sparser to Turin, but still easyJet go from Luton and Ryanair from Stansted so it’s possible to fly out to Turin and back from Milan should you wish. Just an idea…
Milan has a huge tram system, at over 150km one of the largest remaining in Europe, operated by ATM. Tickets are available from any tabac or shop sporting the ATM logo, and 24-hour plus 48-hour tickets are available which must be stamped on first use; prices are very reasonable too – for the 48-hour “bi-giornaliero urbano” (two-day urban ticket) we paid only €5.50 with the 24-hour being a mere €3. Trains run from Milan’s huge Centrale station to all points in Italy and beyond, so it’s possible to link Milan in with another wider trip; see the Italian railway site for more details, or use the superb DB travel finder here. There are frequent trains between Turin and Milan, so it’s very feasible to scoop both cities as we did.
Turin’s Caselle airport is a mere 9 miles north of the city and is linked by frequent(ish) trains from the adjacent new rail station to the inconveniently placed Dora terminus – inconvenient until the new metro opens that is, when it’ll be easy to reach the centre! Alternately, you can take a bus every 20 minutes or so to Turin’s central station which costs €5 although the train takes half the time and, for €5.50 (from the kiosk in arrivals sporting the GTT logo), you can have a Giornaleiro ticket which is valid on the train and then all day on Turin’s transport system; a total bargain.
If you bought the Giornaleiro ticket then you have free run of the city’s severely pruned tram network plus buses and metro (if they ever finish it) for the rest of the day after first stamping, although the ticket isn’t valid on the Sassi funicular. A standard day ticket is €3 from the occasionally found machines or the more omnipotent tabac kiosks.
Staying around there.
As is to be expected, Milan is filled with hotels of all shapes and sizes but a word of warning – don’t do what we did and book a trip only to find there’s an expo on and all rooms are full! Check first before you book… if you do, there are plenty of cheap and reasonably located hotels in the city to base yourself from, try the excellent hotel.de site to find cheap deals or any of the more flashy ones such as Expedia, Venere or Octopus will turn up plenty. Don’t forget the airlines’ hotel booking services either, as they sometimes offer discounted stays – easyJet’s is particularly good for this and well worth a look.
In Turin we stayed both nights in the handy and smart Urbani at Via Saluzzo 7, just one block from the main station of Porta Nuova. The price was around €79 a night with breakfast and both rooms we had were extremely acceptable; one overlooked the central courtyard whilst the other was up in the rafters with a view down Via Saluzzo. I’d recommend the Urbani and would definitely stay there again if in town.
My failure to check hotel availability is well documented in the report and so I’ll say no more than there are loads of hotels – it’s just a matter of booking early when there’s no fair on! Hotel.de usefully tells you if there is one on during your booking. I’ve since done some research for my next trip and the following all seem okay;
We stayed in Pavia, a delightful old town only 20 miles to the south of Milan, which despite robbing me of a clutch of scoops was definitely worth the visit if only to see the remaining tracks of the city’s tramway which was abandoned in 1954 and our near-miss with the Pope who was due the following day! If you can’t get into anywhere in Milan and fancy seeing Pavia then the Hotel Aurora at Viale Vittorio Emanuele 25, just along the road from the station, was decent enough for €78 a night.
Brewery and Beer gen.
Turin has one brewpub, a great little beers shop and several decent-sounding bars which we didn’t get chance to try due to limited time and the shambolic metro works going on at present. As usual, see the excellent Microbirrifici site and also Maxbeer.
Birrificio Torino, Via Parma, 30. Open 20:00 – 02:30 daily. ()
Just N of the little river “Dora Riparia” and the Giardino Real. Tram 18 (dir. Sofia) to Parma.
A strange place in an unpromising area; as you walk here from Parma tramstop it seems unfeasible that a brewpub would be situated in such a quiet and deserted place, but when we were there it was buzzing with locals and it’s been done out very well indeed with bare brick walls, brewery adverts and a shiny copper kit behind the bar. The beers are average but it’s the only brewery in town!
Fermento, Via Cibrario Luigi, 31 bis/A. ()
Take tram 13 (direction Campanella) to Schina, or it may be the stop before… the shop is on the left-hand side of the road.
Cracking little beer shop selling a large range of all things beery; many UK beers and a decent selection of Italian micro beers too. The owner speaks good English and is very sociable; he was happy to explain the styles of all the beers he had and even gave us free glasses! Highly recommended and not far from the centre.
Other bars which I located but didn’t have time to visit are –
Piper Pub - Via del Ridotto 22. Near Dora station, Tram 10 (Massari) to Vibo.
Chez Gaby - Via S. Croce 2 – bar with some good beers.
La Pioletta - Corso Francia 195. Shop day, bar by night, on the main road running west from the city centre.
See my new and updated Milan beer gen page here...
Milan has a thriving beer culture with six brewpubs, many bars, a cracking shop and Italy’s best-known beer writer, Lorenzo Dabove (Kuaska), living there. The one problem is the opening hours of the brewpubs which are generally a few hours in the afternoon then from early evening until late; not much use if you only have daytime hours to scoop! Saying that, Milan was a great beer experience and I am planning to return as soon as possible!
Giardino della Birra, Via Ortica 10. Mon-Fri 12:00-15:00 & 19:00-02:00, Sat-Sun 19:00-02:00. ()
Take tram 5 to it’s eastern terminus at Ortica. Continue under the railway arch (in the direction the tram was going), go through the subway, continue for about 250 metres and the pub is on the right.
Makes more of it’s food than it’s beer, but it’s still good to see the room of conditioning tanks and gleaming copper inside. The food is adventurous and good whilst the beers are above average if not as different as Lambrate’s. A fair trek out in the east, but the brewer is sociable and will probably give you a tour of the plant if you appear interested enough.
Birrifico Lambrate, via Adelchi 5. Mon-Fri 12:00-15:00 & 18:00-02:00, Sat evenings only. ()
Out in the east by Lambrate rail station, tram 33 (Lambrate) to Porpora/Teodosio (close) or tram 23 to Lambrate FS station then a five-minute walk.
Like a British pub! Noisy and bustling when we were there (it was happy hour, free snacks at the end of the bar) although it was easy enough to get served. The barman gave me samples of all beers first and they were all pretty interesting, especially the smoked stout and Montestella. Well worth a visit, but would be better at quieter times as it’s not very large inside!
During the course of my internet research I unearthed these following bars which apparently sell a good range of beers; as I didn’t get to any of them I have no idea what a “good range” is, but I will have a look next time… in the meantime, here they are, and if you know of any more then please let me know…
Hop, Via Regina Margherita, ang. fr. Campi. Open 12.00-15.00/18.30- 02.00. Apparently has a good beer list. It is to the south-west of the centre on the “ring tram line”, take trams 9, 29 or 30 to Monte Nero/Campi.
Isola della Birra, Via Medardo Rosso. Open 1200-1500, 2000-0200. Tram 3 (Bausan) or 4 (Niguarda) to Farini/Galli.
La Ratera, Via Ratti 22. Good new beer pub.
Mulligans Irish Pub, Via G. Govone, 28
Woodstock, Via Pestalozzi 1. Apparently expensive but with loads of beers!
After the brewpubs and bars comes this superb beer shop which I can honestly say had one of the best ranges I’ve ever seen in a shop (maybe with the exception of the awesome Ølbuttiken shop in Copenhagen!) and is an essential stop when in Milan.
A Tutta Birra, Via Lazzaro Palazzi 15. Mon 16:00-19:30, Tue-Fri 09.30-13.00 and 16.00-19.30, Sat 15:30-19.30, Sun closed. ()
Trams 11 (Lambrate) or 5 (Ortica) to Tunisia/Buenos Aires then follow a map!
Superb beer shop with 300+ beers including some decent Italian micro brews, this place is like an Aladdin’s cave of delights! Only five minutes from a tramstop and with a friendly owner, it’s highly recommended to visit and pick up some huge scoops whilst in Milan.
Gazza’s bar and beer of the weekend.
We didn’t get to as many bars as I’d have liked due to matters beyond my control (!) we still managed to scoop a few in and what we saw was – on the whole – pretty good. So, my bar of the week for it’s raucous sociability, free nibbles, good music, excellent beer and all-round excellence was the Birrifico Lambrate.
As for beer, I was slightly let down by a few of the beers but generally saw a lot of promise in the young micros of Italy who deserve every encouragement in experimenting with a very eclectic range of recipes! My top three of the weekend is therefore:
And congratulations to Lambrate for brewing two of the top three beers! It’s encouraging to note that eight of the beers I scooped scored three or above, meaning I am looking forwards to my next trip to Italy to see if I can find even more good brews and, maybe, even a classic…
To see all the brewpubs and suchlike, click on this link here...
© Gazza 14/07/07. V1.0
|Birrifico Torino, Turin||Birrifico Torino's outside||A classic 1930's Ventotto tram in the centre of Milan||Giardino della Birra Milan||Giardino della Birra's gleaming copper Milan|
|A tutta Birra, the superb beer shop in Milan||Fermento brewpub Milan|