In mid-October my wife and I joined her family for an eight-day jaunt through a land of great pasta, pizza, wine, and...BEER! Before this trip I had last visited Italy in 2007. While I had certainly begun my craft beer journey by that time, I wasn't quite as obsessed with seeking out great beer while on vacation. We spent time in Milan that summer and had our fair share of Peroni and Moretti (both widely available here in the United States). As I learned during this most recent visit, that was a huge mistake. Italian beer is so, so much more than those two export brands - in fact, much like the United States, Italy has seen an explosion in craft beer production since the early 2000s. This BKABC will be split into two parts covering both Tuscany (Florence & Siena) and Rome. Now for the finale: Better Know A Beer City, Part 4 - Roma, Italy!
We departed Siena early on a Thursday morning and arrived in Rome around lunchtime. The main focus of the day was a guided tour of the Vatican Museums and St. Peter's Basilica. We're hopeful that VBC will one day have the same visitation rates as the Vatican - 20,000-25,000 people enter the Museums per day! Michelangelo's famous frescoes on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel are the obvious highlight, but the sheer scale of St. Peter's is also awe-inspiring. It can hold over 60,000 people! Our tour finished around 5 PM and we were all in need of sustenance. Luckily enough, the Trastevere section of Rome is a 15 minute walk from Vatican City and features many of the best craft beer establishments in the area.
We decided on a visit to Bir & Fud (owned by Birra del Borgo in Borgorose, Italy), which greeted us with 30 taps, 6 cask ales, and freshly fried potato chips. What could be better after a long day of walking? I started out with a Madamin from Birrificio LoverBeer, which is a Flanders Oud Bruin produced in Marentino (just outside of Torino). The sourness of the beer was mouth-puckering and delicious. The bartender then kindly offered me a complimentary glass of the 2013 Oud Bruin from Brouwers Verzet (a small Belgian brewery that opened in 2011), which had an even stronger sour profile! Finally, Erin and I split two beers poured from the hand pumps. The first, Acerbus, was an English-style Bitter from Croce di Malto in Trecate, Italy. It was the perfect beer to be poured from a cask and provided some needed relief for my taste buds after so much sourness. The second was Ortiga, a golden ale from Birrificio di Lambrate in Milan. The beer had a different, interesting, and very enjoyable bitterness that resulted from the use of Aurora and Slovenian Styrian Golding hops.
After a couple of hours of tasting I was practically dragged out of Bir & Fud so that our group could eat a classic Italian meal. The best part of eating in Italy: it is completely and entirely socially acceptable to eat pizza, pasta, or pizza AND pasta at literally every meal. After dinner we walked back into Trastevere with the intention of revisiting Bir & Fud. The crowds were too much for us, but luckily we looked across the street and noticed Ma Che Siete Venuti A! It's a sister bar to Bir & Fud and has an equally amazing, though smaller list of Italian and European craft beers. Over the next few hours we sampled three non-Italian beers: the Leipziger Gose from Bayerischer Bahnhof in Germany, the Brewer's Reserve Rye IPA from Lervig Aktiebryggeri in Norway, and Undercurrent (an English-style Pale Ale) from Siren Craft Brew in England. All three were excellent, although the Brewer's Reserve Rye IPA stands out in my memory as one of the spiciest Rye IPAs I've ever tasted!
The next day was our final day in Rome and we spent the morning touring the main sights. The Pantheon, built in the 2nd century AD (the 2nd century AD!) is an incredible sight to behold. The perfectly-proportioned church contains what is still the world's largest unreinforced concrete dome. The oculus at the top of the dome allows natural light to enter the building, as well as rain. The Romans thought of everything, though - they built drains in the floor of the building! After viewing the Pantheon we walked from the Centro Storica section to Ancient Rome, where we were presented with stunning views of the ruins of the Forum and Palatine Hill (the site of the founding of Rome in the 8th century BC). Our final destination was the Colosseum, which was built in the 1st century AD and remains the world's largest amphitheater. When standing on the walkway ringing the second level of the structure it is almost impossible to imagine that such an engineering marvel was completed 2,000 years ago. It is a must-see when in Rome!
At the completion of our tour we walked back to the Campo dei Fiori for a late lunch. We had a free afternoon and tired feet, so after a short walk around the area we located Open Baladin Roma. One of two pubs owned by Piozzo's Birrificio Le Baladin, Open Baladin Roma has 40 drafts and 4 hand pumps that feature Italian, European, and American craft beer! My first choice was a cask beer, #02 Session IPA from Vento Forte in Bracciano, Italy. At only 3.6% ABV it had great hop aroma from the use of Chinook, Centennial, and Amarillo hops. My second beer was a Wayan from Baladin, which is a saison brewed with barley, spelt, wheat, rye, buckwheat, and 9 spices. Five of those spices are peppercorns, and I am an absolute sucker for a peppercorn saison! It was an incredibly well-balanced and drinkable saison that I will constantly be searching for here in the US. My final craft beer in Italy was Tripping Flowers from Opperbacco, a brewery that was established in Notaresco, Italy, in 2008. It had great floral notes and a grassy finish, and was a great beer to end our Italian craft beer adventure!
While Tuscany had its beer highlights, Rome was the clear winner of the craft beer battle. Both places are worth visiting, though - in fact, at this very moment I am wishing I could be transported from this Starbucks to anywhere in Italy! Alla Salute!