17 April 2014

Where all roads lead

Following on from Monday's post on the Italian beers I found last month in Rome, this one is about the foreign selection. I did try to drink local as much as possible, but some things were just too interesting to pass up.

My reasoning behind choosing Lervig's Johnny Low in Il Maltese is that I had a whole evening of talking ahead of me and wanted something I could sip safely while waiting for the event to start. A Norwegian IPA at 2.5% ABV seemed like just the ticket. It's lovely too: pale yellow with loads of lemon sherbet. Yes, the body is watery but not in a bad way -- it adds to the quenching power and drinkability. In fact, it was tough going to keep sipping it, this beer virtually pours itself down your throat.

I'd been through most of Il Maltese's draught selection by the time I got to Hoepfner Porter, exported from Baden-Württemberg. It's a wan pale red colour and very sweet, to the point of sickliness. It lays on cherries and milk chocolate without the weight of body to support the strength of the flavours. Just a mildly dry finish and a sudden sharp burst of cherry sourness rescues it, but I wouldn't be rushing back for another.

Before leaving I got a small taste of Amager's Wookie 9% ABV double IPA, before it all ran out. I can see why it's popular: pale blonde and with a super clean pithy hop flavour, unsullied by booze heat or crystal malt sweetness.

I mentioned on Monday that I found Ma Che Siete Venuti A Fà in the middle of celebrating German beer. It would have been rude not to join in. Besides, turning down a Schlenkerla beer I'd never tasted before is simply unthinkable. And so a large glass of Schlenkerla Fastenbier was acquired. Funny, I thought this style was usually super-strong, but this one is a mere 5.5% ABV, arriving a rich chestnut red colour. It has a lot in common with other beers from the Bamberg brewery: bags of beechwood smoke, of course, and a little bit of the tarryness you find in the Urbock, though not as pronounced. The real genius of this beer -- I opined to myself as the glass emptied itself more rapidly than one would expect for something so powerfully flavoured -- is the finish: there's virtually none. All the action happens while it's in your mouth, and when it's gone, it's gone. Which means you have to take another mouthful. And then order another glass when the first one empties. "Moreish" barely begins to cover it.

But I'm made of stronger stuff, me, and worked my way heroically across the taps. Freigest Salzspeicher caught my eye, a 6% ABV sour raspberry porter. This squirted flatly from the tap, forming a loose-bubbled head over a black body. A wary sniff revealed something that smells like the bottom of a punnet of elderly raspberries. The flavour is fresher, but still all raspberry and hardly any porter, only a tiny touch of dark roasted grain. The sourness kind of gets buried too: while the high attenuation is tasteable, the tartness of the raspberry dovetails very neatly with the inherent tartness of the beer and it's hard to tell which contributes what. It's an interesting experiment, but after the genius that is Schlenkerla it tasted like amateur hour.

There was an English stout on the handpumps: Siren's Sweet Dreams. This has a heady cocoa aroma tempered by the acidic tang of curing tobacco. The flavour is simpler, dominated by that chocolate and nicely smooth to drink. It's unusual for a beer that's not a pale ale to be worth it just for the aroma alone, but this is one of those.

I couldn't resist a swift tot of Gänstaller-Bräu Affumicator before moving on, an all-time favourite. Magic.

Later that evening, wandering alone in the depths of southern Trastevere I popped into Birrifugio for one. There's a small but eclectic selection in this vaguely English-style neighbourhood pub, with a beer each from Adnams, Carlow Brewing, Weihenstephaner, Dark Star and Amager on tap. What caught my eye, however, was Bayerischer Bahnhof Original Gose, as far as I know the only example of this style-of-the-moment brewed in the city most associated with it: Leipzig. It arrived looking and smelling like a simple witbier: hazy straw-coloured with mild herbal aromas. Its true nature is much more apparent on tasting as the salt and coriander are right up front giving it a lip-smacking crispness and offering cold ocean-grade refreshment. I'd loved to have stayed for another, and loved even more to be in a city where this is the sort of beer you get when you ask for a beer. I could drink a lot of its simple complexity.

But that's where this trip's beers end. A big thank you to Silvia and the team at Associazione Degustatori Birra for making it all possible. I did little more than scratch my major itches regarding Rome's craft beer pubs but I'm aware there's still plenty more to explore on future visits and that the local beer scene is expanding at a phenomenal pace. Forza la rivoluzione!


  1. That Norwegian IPA sounds interesting. We've heard 2.7% put forward as the lowest ABV at which a beer is ever likely to be palatable.

    1. On the one hand the rules on advertised strength are quite lax. On the other, this one is made by Norwegians.

  2. Great post and some very interesting sounding beers. I love Schlenkerla so much. They just nail smoked beers in a way that no other brewery even comes close.

    p.s. 'simple complexity' ? Surely that can only be applied to a black IPA? ;-)

  3. Anonymous7:53 pm

    I don't understand how a raspberry porter would work. I suppose raspberry and chocolate is a fine combination, but raspberry and coffee? It sounds as if it wasn't truly a porter at all...

    1. "truly a porter"? I think the Italians kicked out the style Nazis along with the other kind.