Right, this isn’t a normal GOTBlog post as it’s about my recent visit to Rome. As it’s supposed to be a grumpy blog I’ll get the whingy bits out of the way and then post some nice bits for a change!
First up, Rome is old, old, old. A bit like me. And needs a bit of TLC. A bit like me. It’s a dirty city. Lots of the streets, roads and buildings are just mucky and in disrepair. And they stink. Of piss. A bit like…
The drivers are maaaaad! They don’t indicate, cars and bikes chop each other up like it’s a sport. They don’t stop at pedestrian crossings – even when the ‘man’ is on green, and they park everywhere. Every street is jam-packed with parked vehicles on both sides of the road. Thousands and thousands of cars and bikes parked every conceivable way. Nose-to-tail (with no possible way of exit), sideways, crossways, double-parked, triple-parked, parked on corners, on crossings and at traffic lights, you name it. There seems to be no parking control whatsoever, although like pedestrian crossings, there might exist some kind of system I couldn’t fathom.
Right let’s get one thing straight. Rome is a big city. By that I mean the buildings are fucking HUGE! There are absolutely no small buildings in this town. No Sireee! It’s as though the council, when considering new building applications look at the blueprints and go ‘Well it’s nice enough, but we’re only going to pass the plans if you add another two million bricks and 120 feet to the height’. It’s big. Consider the Colosseum, built almost 2,000 years ago before JCB and Wimpey’s (the building firm, not the burgers) had been invented. The scale of it is breathtaking, as is a lot of the more modern architecture in this city. There is some BIG shit in Rome! It’s B-I-G, geddit? Now, having got the bigness over to you, it is a big city in size but also fairly compact. It’s very easy to get around by bus and tram, including a hop-on, hop-off service but I’m not writing this as a travel guide, so you can piss off to the Lonely Planet website for that.
Despite its bigness, it is easy enough to get around by foot (minding the maaaad motorists on the way) and we elected to walk everywhere, preferring to explore all the back streets (of which the are hundreds) on the way. Don’t bother with maps, just use Google. Forget about your personal privacy and giving Google all your data. Give ’em everything, including your car, old dying granny and your inheritance. They’re worth it! Just punch your destination into Google Maps and follow the arrow!
Now on the subject of the post; We were only here for the beer! Italy has a surging craft beer scene that has been emerging over the past few years (they have gone from about 70 breweries eight years ago to around 650 today) and several bars are spearheading the revolution by supplying domestically brewed and imported craft beer on draught (including brew-pubs), plus imported bottled beers and even some local and British real ales served on hand pump.
A short period of research on Google – love them guys 🙂 – Gave me a short list of no less than nineteen pubs to find and visit:
- Baguetteria Del Fico – Della Fossa, 12, Roma
- Bir & Fud – Via Benedetta, 23, Roma
- Birra Più – Via del Pigneto, 105, Roma
- Blind Pig – Via Gino Capponi 45, Roma
- Brasserie 4:20 – Via Portuense 82, Porta Portese, Roma
- BrewDog Roma – Via delle Terme di Tito, 80 (Via del Monte Oppio), Roma
Brigantino – Via San Martino ai Monti 50a, Roma
- Domus Birrae – Via Cavour, 88, Roma
- Donkey Punch/Nel Buco del Mulo – Via della scala 33, Roma
- Emporio Alla Pace – Via della Pace, 28, Roma
- Fass & Cask – Via Fanfulla da Lodi 3A, Roma
- Hopificio – Piazza Cesare Baronio, 2, Roma
- Hopside – Via Francesco Negri, 39, Roma
- Knick Knack Yoda (Dal Papa) – Piazza Risorgimento, 11, Roma
- Ma Cha Siete Venuti a Fà – Via Benedetta, 25, Roma
- My Ale – Via dei Cappellari 79, Roma
No. Au – Piazza di Montevecchio, 16, Roma
- Open Baladin – Via Degli Specchi, 6, Roma
Sinister Noise – Via dei Magazzini Generali 4a, Roma
Here’s a breakdown of our beery adventures.
Having spent most of the previous day travelling, this was our real first day in Rome. As we’d pre-booked tickets on-line to avoid queues at the Colosseum, we thought we’d get this obligatory visit out of the way. What a day! A massive and absolutely torrential thunderstorm caused everybody to take refuge inside the Colosseum arches and we were packed like sardines. The resourceful street vendors outside swapped their goods from selfie-sticks and hats to ponchos and brollies, selling them through the railings to the drowning people inside. Being a right tight-arse, I decided to drown.
After a soggy visit we found the very near-by BrewDog Roma  in which to sit and dry off in. If you’ve ever been in any other BrewDog bar, you’d be in familiar surroundings. Standard BrewDog offerings in here, plus some Italian and American craft cousins on draught (tap). Sampled on this occasion were BrewDog – Ace of Citra at a piffling 4.5%, Vento Forte – Session 20 at an even more girly 4.1% and an Oude Beersel – something or other at 9%. I’ll not bore you with tasting notes as it’s a very personal matter, suffice to say all were enjoyable other that the eye-watering price of €5.50 for a (questionable) 2/3 pint measure.
One thing I did mention after we found this place was the lack of a prominent (‘swinging’ or otherwise) sign outside, as we had walked past once and not noticed it was a bar. This was to become a common feature (or lack of) in other bars we visited. Maybe it’s a condition of planning in these parts, along with the 2 million bricks and 120 foot high rules.
Anyways, having dried off somewhat and with the rain almost having abated, we went to explore the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill, adjacent to the Colosseum and included in the ticket price. There is so much to see here it’s just bewildering, too much to take in for my tiny little brain. So after about three hours we went hunting for beer again. We found it at Domus Birrae , not a bar but a bottle-shop in which you can sit and drink the beer you’ve purchased, albeit out of a plastic cup. The choice here was staggering. At least four (maybe five) double fridges packed with beers from around the world, including several from the UK. There was also a warehouse with stacked shelves at the back. Selected beers here were a Dugges / Stillwater collaboration – Tropic Sunrise, a superb mango/pineapple/raspberry sour at 4.5%, followed by a Brewski – Passion Feber IPA at 7% which was totally hoptastico, mate. The young chap behind the counter was wearing a baseball cap the wrong-way round (I never understood that) and seemed more interested in selecting a choice of punk/metal crossover music he was playing from his laptop but seemed pleasant enough. I showed him my pub list and he marked his recommendations and told us that Brigantino  and Sinister Noise  had closed, so they were duly crossed off.
One of the pubs that reverse-cap man had recommended was the Fass & Cask  so we thanked him and set off for that, not realising how far a walk it was. Having recently sold my neighbour’s dog to them, I referred to Google again, who told me it was a 40-minute walk. Well, we either walk very slowly or Google are lying bastards, because it took us nearly an hour. It was a L-O-N-G walk through some very dodgy-looking areas. By this time it was getting dark and although we were never approached or felt threatened it was a bit unnerving. After passing it twice, due to no sign outside (again) we finally found the F&C down a side street and entered an empty pub. The two blokes behind the bar seemed happy enough to see us and although they told us their English was ‘not-ah too good-ah’ they seemed genuinely passionate about the beer they sold.
On the end of the bar there were three hand pumps, evidently two in use serving a ‘Stout’ and a ‘Pale Ale’. Because their English was not-ah too good-ah, we couldn’t get any more details from mein hosts. We ordered one ‘pint’ of each and they landed on the bar with a lovely three-inch head so we probably only got two-thirds measure. But hey, when in Rome…
It was at this point when half a dozen folks came in and it was apparent they had good English, so I asked them about the beer. The chap I got talking to was Gabriele Monteoluro a freelance brewer, formerly of Birrifico Pontino, and who was obvious in his passion for beer. He told us that the beers in our glasses were from Hilltop – Gallagher Stout and Pale Ale, and to be honest they weren’t half bad. Not the best cask beer I’ve had, but very acceptable. We had a good chat about beer styles and brewing before we supped up and left. The conversation was so engrossing that it wasn’t until we were half way to the next pub that I realised we hadn’t paid! It was a long way back so I contacted the Fass & Cask through their Facebook page to own up and apologise and offered to send them the money via PayPal. The next day they got in touch and said ‘No problem, the beers are on you when we visit your pubs’. Result!
Next stop was Birra Più (or Birra +), another small place, just off the main road. All keg taps here, but what a choice! First up: L’Olmaia – Brown Sugar, a DIPA at 6.5% which was absolutely superb, even if it did cost €5. The next up was Sixpoint – Double IPA, this time at a mere 9% and the last of the night. The keg ran out whilst pouring this one and it was given free. Brucie bonus! We watched the barman change the keg, located in a tiny cabinet beside the bar containing maybe three or four other KeyKegs, which made me aware of how little space you actually need for a set up like this.
Time for the long walk home, this time via a different route (and less dodgy – or maybe I was so spannered that I didn’t give a toss by this time?), courtesy of my mate Google.
After recovering from the previous day’s walk (8 miles – according to me bezza mate Google), we set off on foot again to do a bit more touristy stuff – Trevi Fountain, The Vatican to see the Pope (he was out, despite us being in town. I’m assuming nobody let him know), Pantheon and all that kind of thing, and it was soon time for beer. We headed off over the River to the Trastevere district of Rome, a cobbled maze of medieval streets which hosts numerous cafés and bars. First on our list was Bir & Fud . Guess what they sold? Yep! The long and narrow room opens out to the street. Along one side, a bar takes up the whole length of the wall, on top of which sits 30 taps for the craft offerings and six hand pumps for the casks at the back. Enormous choice here, but I only sampled two: Reichenbrand – Original Ritterguts Gose at 4.7%, and Brewfist – 2Late, a stupendous 9.8% DIPA. We also ordered fud – tip: don’t order chips, you get crisps.
Literally across from the B&F is another fantastico little bar with the snappy and memorable name of Ma Cha Siete Venuti a Fà , which, I was told by the barkeep, means ‘What the hell have you come here for?‘ Again, tiny in size but big on choice, this time with 13 taps and three handpulls. Here I only had time for one so I opted for another Italian craft brew; Montegioco – MC Mummy, a 5% peculiarly tasting peated sour beer. It was like a cross between a Rauchbier and a Lambic and nothing I’ve tasted before, but enjoyable nonetheless.
Next on the hit-list was the fantastically named Donkey Punch (Nel Buco del Mulo) , which basically is a sandwich shop with a fridge full of fabbo beers. This place was tiny but full of character and had brilliant mural painted on the wall opposite the counter depicting rock heroes past and present. I selected a bottle of Plureale – India Pale Ale 7%. We sat at the tiny table for two outside and sipped from our plastic cups people watching and waiting for the heat to drop a little. The sun was getting lower, the day a little cooler, so it was time for the next pub, which was a half-hour walk.
We trudged down a long and pretty characterless road, which appeared to be the motorcycle-shop centre of Rome and eventually arrived at Brasserie 4:20  around 6.30 and although the doors were open, the pub didn’t until 7pm (Google told me it opened at 6. What does he know, useless twat!) However, the very friendly barchap welcomed us in and served us anyway. Another amazing selection here, 17 taps and no less than 12 hand pumps. Here I sampled two, both from Vento Forte – Follower IPA 7.1% and DIPA at 8.5%. I also felt compelled to sample the food menu as they served ‘hopburgers’ – a Chianina beef burger, cooked to perfection, with a sprinkle of hop flowers on the top. Very tasty nom noms. It was a fair walk back to the hotel so we decided to call it a day.
After some more obligatory sightseeing we searched out No. Au . After circling the block several times and finding no trace (which we didn’t find surprising, due to lack of signs outside), we asked a very nice young lady in one of the adjacent offices, who told me it was permanently closed. Poo. On to the next one, which was only two minutes away, Emporio alla Pace . To our surprise, this wasn’t a bar at all, but a patisserie (that’s a cakey shop to you) that sold beer. No apparent outlets behind the counter, but we spotted a fridge which was stocked with a small but interesting range of bottled beers including BrewDog, Buxton and Adnams from the UK. I went for an Alta Quota – Principessa, a farmhouse/saison style at 5.8% which was a little on the thin side but tasty enough.
We had to have a compulsory gelato (ice cream) – well, it was a blistering 33 degrees by now – on our 15 minute walk to the next bar. This ice cream was apparently made from pig’s milk and was supremely thick and creamy. But at €5 a tub I should frikkin’ expect so! I half-expected two trotters sticking out of it for that price but all I got was a sodding little plastic spoon. We set off to find My Ale , but when we found it, it was a tiny food shop (selling beer) with nobody in there, so we gave it a body-swerve and headed onward.
Next beer stop was Open Baladin , a BrewDog-like bar situated on the corner of a quiet, faceless street, again no signs outside and we walked past it without noticing and had to double back. The exterior of the Baladin held no clue as to what lies within. You walk into this place and are immediately faced with a long bar containing no less than 35 – yes, 35! taps, three hand pumps and an entire wall lined with bottled goodies.
I tried three from the tap in here: Lucky Brews – Apollo 4.9%, golden and hoppy, CR/AK – Mundaka pale ale at a mere 4.8%, which was darker than I expected, but tasty nonetheless, and Free Lions (on me shirt) – Lo Straniero, an absolutely superb 7.7% American IPA with a fantastic nose and citrus flavour. Pinch me, I must-ah be in Heaven-ah! Whilst I was in Open Baladin, I was Facebooked by me mate Stuart of the superb North Riding Brewery, tipping me off about a pub that wasn’t on my list, the curiously named Tree Folk’s (their apostrophe, not mine!). Time was again marching on so we decided to make a move and give it a visit on the way back to the hotel.
A half-hour walk past the Colosseum and other most awesomely impressive architecture (did I mention Rome’s buildings are fookin’ HUGE?) and we arrived at Tree Folk’s  and this time we spotted it from the end of the street as it actually had a swinging sign. These things could catch on! As soon as we entered we saw that they had eight hand pumps and were actually selling British cask ale! On our visit they were only four cask beers featuring one brewery – Celt Experience – and I tried all of ’em: Castro Mosaic 3.8%, Dark Age 4.0%, Battle of the Trees 5.9% and Galaxy Equinox at 5.6%. To be honest, the quality was pretty average and they all tasted tired, but as they were playing Metallica and Pantera on the sound system, I felt quite at home and enjoyed the visit.
One thing that was a very apparent problem with cask beer in Rome was the dispense. One of the beers in Tree Folk’s took about ten minutes to serve a half (or ‘small’) beer. The barman must have pulled the hand pump at least thirty or forty times, beer was fobbing all over the place and he scraped the head off with a spatula three or four times, letting it settle in between scrapes. How much he lost in the drip trays to dispense a half, I can only weep at. Finally after getting a half(ish) glassful, he sponged around the outside of the glass (including the head!) and handed it over. Nice!
The problem of fobbing and poor dispense seemed common in all the bars where I tried the cask beers, so it seems to me they need some technical advice. It wasn’t coming from me – I was on holiday and I ain’t a busman.
By Saturday we had done most of the sights – it’s difficult not to – you just ‘happen’ upon them, there’s that much to see. So we decided to revisit the Trastevere area and of course the best thing to do in 34 degrees of heat is climb to the highest mother flippin’ point in Rome, the Gianicolo Hill. Did I mention it was hot? The views from up here are spectacular though and we rewarded ourselves at the top with a nice sit down for ten minutes before trudging down again. To the pub! Our proper reward was waiting at the aforementioned Bir & Fud, where I had an Eastside – Sunny Side, another superb 7% Triple IPA. Take it from me – the Italians are brewing world-class beers!
Back to the riverside and walking adjacent to the Tiber and past St Peter’s Square in Vatican City – there were literally tens of thousands of people walking around. It’s mind-boggling to think how much money is going into the church on a daily basis and to me it smacks of hypocrisy – brought us to the delightfully named ‘Knick Knack Yoda‘ , again with a tiny frontage and no sign outside. This isn’t a bar per se, it’s actually a burger/pizza joint that brews its own beer. I asked for details of the brews, but again the chap’s English was not ah too good ah. I was offered IPA, Pils or Weiss. I opted for IPA which was full-bodied and maltier than previous Italian IPAs I had tasted, but it was nothing more than OK. I couldn’t glean any other information on the beers other than my IPA was 6.8% so if anyone can enlighten me on KKY beers, please leave feedback in the comments form below. Evidently KKY also runs a record label specialising in electro/punk crossover music, so there’s a lot going on with this small business. Good luck to them.
Just a side note, it wasn’t until we arrived back in the UK that I read that Mother Teresa had been canonized this day, so that’s why there were so many people around. We had been part of it and not even realised!
A short detour on the way back to the hotel took us back to Tree Folk’s for another half of Celt Experience (I think he was still pulling it from the evening before). Then onwards and into BrewDog Roma for our second visit of the holiday to end the evening. It was HOT in here. I needed something to cool me down so I opted for an Eastside – Sunny Side 7% (already sampled at the Bir & Fud), Rurale – 3° Miglio, an American Pale at 5.8% and to cap the night off, Dugges – Tropic Thunder a stupendously good 4.5% mango, passion fruit and peach sour. Perfect 10! Nighty night.
Last day here and we had to leave for airport at about 5 o’clock so we planned a lazy day trying to keep cool before the flight. Yeah, right! Despite it now being a scorchio 34 degrees, we decided to make the long walk back to Trastevere to take lunch at one of the numerous (and reasonably priced) restaurants there and then some beer whilst we watched Lewis Hamilton win the Italian Grand Prix. We found a nice little eatery, La Casetta di Trastevere, where I tried a spag bol which was very tasty and there was so much that I couldn’t finish it. Then around the corner to Ma Cha Siete Venuti a Fà once more for beer whilst watching the race.
Well, Lewis muffed the race but that didn’t stop us sampling some great beers: Rurale – Seta Special 5%, a refreshing Witbier; Eastside – Sera Nera 6.5%, a fantastically hoppy Black IPA and finally a Cantillon – Rosé de Gambrinus 5%, a beautiful Lambic Framboise from Brussels topped the afternoon off nicely before a slow walk back to the hotel to pick our bags up and then catch the bus to the nearby Ciampino airport for the flight home.
A wonderful and welcome break and a city I will definitely revisit some day (I still have four pubs on my list left unvisited!). All-in-all a fantastico break, if a bit tiring. Rome, quite apart from the beer and smelling of piss, is a splendid, vibrant city and highly recommended. If you’re a bit of a beer geek then it’s even better. If you’re a beer geek and into architecture, you’ll cream yer pants. Probably.
Thanks to Steve Westby for some pre-visit gen and for a bit more serious reporting of the Italian craft beer scene, read this article.