Friday, October 4, 2013

Birre di Roma

Italy is not a country renowned for real ale, being more the home of some rather fine (albeit not French) red wines, and that watery piss bottled and carbonated by the likes of Peroni, Moretti, et alia. Recently there has been a bit of a renaissance of craft brewing, however, with many specialist bars importing especially Belgian and American ales, and a growing number of local microbreweries putting an Italian spin on these beer styles. On a recent trip to Rome, I had the chance to try a few home-grown beer varieties, and was on the whole pleasantly surprised by the experience.

Bir & Fud (Trastevere)

The "Bit and Fud" pizzeria and bar (whose gimmick is to spell all their signs phonetically according to the Italian pronunciation), serve 17 craft ales on tap (15 of which were available on Tuesday night) plus a range of bottled beers, which I didn't get the chance to try. The pizzas are all made without chemicals and using some kind of naturally rising dough (I wasn't clear on the details, but it led to very uneven thickness but nice flavors). Service was friendly but very patchy: to be fair I guess they were busy, and this is Italy where brusqueness is a national sport. It was nice to see real ales on tap on the menu, although nothing I tasted was really spectacular.

Bi-Du, H10Op5: (billed as an American Pale Ale) a light orange, cloudy beer with a fuck-off huge head of foam, like an ice cream. A hint of orange zest in the aroma, and a very pithy first touch with almost no sweetness. Some red grapefruit flesh chewiness in the mouth, enhanced by a complex combination of citrus fruit peels, and ending with harsh peach pit kernel/cyanide bitterness. Interesting and robust, but somehow a little unsatisfying on the swallow; too sparkly with a bit of pilsen flavour. (Our American colleague characterized it as: "Like a real APA filtered through an Italian pilsner taste.") It is wonderfully hoppy, but that's all there is to it; there's nothing like enough of a balance of flavors. Maybe it would have been better with food, to be fair, but the pecorino cheese we had as a side-snack didn't help much.

Troll, Brunalpina: this one had a clear, golden-brown, earthy color, with a subtle creamy and malty smell. There was cakey maltiness on the tip of the tongue, some clean, chewy green vegetable taste in the mouth, and a bitter medicinal aftertaste, like an Amaro liqueur. Overall this displayed quite a nice balance of perfumes, but the combination was a bit underwhelming and not terribly memorable.

Lariano, Comunale: a pale, lemon-yellow beer, with light, aerated froth, a hoppy, tart, juicy smell, and watery citrus in the first taste. Nicely balanced later, both sweet and bitter in equal measure in the swallow, but neither in a very intense way. This one really was nice with food, but is a bit bland on its own. I guess I could drink a couple pints of it, although it's deceptively strong on alcohol, but I'm not really enamoured. Possibly the best of the evening though.

Bi-Du, Artigianale: (billed as an ESB) a cloudy brown, rather flat ale, with apple-blossom and mango on the tip of the tongue, chewy, sweet, malty dates further back in the mouth, and a very bitter grapefruit pith swallow. The bitterness was pretty ephemeral, and followed by cloying yeastiness. This ale was not nearly bitter enough for the ESB label, more, as Vale put it, like "a breakfast bitter". Again not terrible, but maybe Bi-Du tone down what an American or British ale afficionado might like for the Italian audience?

Bar dei Brutti (San Lorenzo):

A little street-bar, right next to my hotel and with no special reputation, which I popped into with a bunch of students after a class, this place turned out to have a reasonable bottled beer selection. I only tried one, but ironically it was actually better than most of the fare we went out of our way to try in the highly vaunted specialist beer venue the night before.

Birrificio Pintino, Runner Ale: (live in bottle) a light golden ale, sparkly and with visible sediment in the bottle; it had a taut grapefruity aroma, with zesty and fleshy dark orange first taste. Later a smooth but intense pithy bitterness, a bit monolithic, but very nice. A couple of hop varieties hit hard on the swallow, which lingers tolerably, but doesn't tickle any special tastes. Certainly better than the so-called APAs we had last night, but still far too Italian (sparkly, cold, pilsey) to really deserve the "American" label.

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