Associazione Degustatori Birra (Lazio branch) were kind enough to invite me out to Rome for a few days in mid-March, in exchange for some words on Irish craft beer at their St. Patrick's Day event. My last visit to the Eternal City was just a couple of years too early for the rise of Italian craft beer and it had been on my return-visit list for a while so I leapt at the chance.
An early start had me in downtown Rome by late morning on the 17th and I took advantage of the fine weather to do some exploring of historical sites I missed last time round. Returning to my hotel in the afternoon I called in to Domus Birra, the city's best-known bottle shop. A boggling array of Italian craft beers were on offer so I picked a reasonably priced one more or less at random, and because of the name.
Zip aplenty I found a few hours later down at Il Maltese a fun little craft beer shack on Piazza Epiro which was hosting my talk. Brewfist's Bionic amber ale was on tap. Like the foregoing, and like most Brewfist beers, there's a waxy bitter punch at the start. However what follows is a tour de force of citrus hop flavours: spritzy, juicy and very moreish, shading towards heavier weedy funk at times as well.
We were joined briefly by the brewers behind a brand new start-up. I may be among the first anglophones to encounter the brand though was far too polite to point out the inadvertent hilarity of their chosen name: Superbum. Still, quality will carry them a long way and that they have. Blondie is a 5.2% ABV wit-like blonde. The wit spicing is missing but the orange peel is very present, enhanced by the generous addition of orangey Styrian Goldings. What it lacks in veracity to the witbier style it makes up for in refreshment power.
Top of my hitlist for day two was the city's best-known beer specialist Ma Che Siete Venuti A Fà in Trastevere. The poky two-room pub was in the middle of a German-themed festival and I'll cover the good stuff from that in the next post so the only Italian beer I had there was Lambrate's Robb de Matt. This is a near-perfect recreation of a pale 'n' hoppy English bitter, if a little strong at 5.5% ABV. The aroma is a gentle citrus which translates into a lemon sherbet and peach flavour, with some light herbal notes and just enough bitter punchiness. The cask serve gives it a beautiful soft effervescence.
Hoping for something a bit like the previous day's feline black IPA experience, I chose del Borgo's Hoppy Cat Cascadian dark ale. 5.8% ABV and dark garnet in colour, topped by a creamy ivory head. It lures the drinker in with a mild mandarin aroma but there's a sucker punch of bitterness in the first sip, next to a different sort of bitterness from the roast grain. Overall a simple and pleasant brew and very different from Revelation Cat's soundalike.
Sticking with del Borgo, I realised that I've never tasted their original beer ReAle, and since it was here on cask I decided I'd put that right. Another English beer clone, this time a quality brown bitter, it's a clear burnished copper colour with all the proper nutty flavours, waxy bitterness and refreshing tannins. Only the massive 6.4% ABV strength detracts from its balanced sessionable qualities.
On the basis that you should never pass up a beer with your name and ethnicity on it, I went next for Nut Irish Jinn from Black Barrels in Turin. It was listed in the sour section of the menu but I wouldn't like to hazard a guess at the style: there's a lot going on in it, starting with a sweet lactic perfume aroma, a sort of floral balsamic effect. Dry hopping in the barrel has given it a light citrus zest and there's also a savoury ambergris resinousness peppered by sparks of incense, all this set on a clean refreshing sour base. Phew. It's a workout for the palate, and the notebook, but well worth it.
One last glass before running for the airport bus and I wanted to make it count. Say hello, then, to Baladin's Xyauyu barley wine. This 13.5% ABV version has been given time in rum casks and arrives dark brown and completely flat, smelling like all of its strength plus brown sugar and marker pens. The barrel has certainly left its mark as it tastes like nothing so much as aged dark rum: hot and woody. The beeriness is almost lost, with a caramel malt sweetness just peeping through. A tasty drop, but mostly it left me wondering what the unaged version tastes like.
We'll retrace our steps in the next post, looking at the non-Italian beers on offer in Rome.
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