An Ode to Italian Craft Beer
Nicky Vowels is back in the building! I Just had a relaxing and enlightening two weeks in Italy, where my father was born, and wanted to tell you about something that is not usually synonyms with the word “Italy”: craft beer.
Most beer drinkers are fairly familiar with Peroni and, possibly, Nastro Azzurro or Birra Moretti, but what many in the States do not realize is that Italy actually has an up-and-coming craft beer scene. While you can find craft breweries all throughout the country, the epicenter of the craft community is found in Rome. At the tail end of the trip, I ended up in two beer bars that not only had a huge selection and great atmosphere, but they boasted some of the top beers/breweries in all of Italy.
The first bar I stopped by was a brewpub called Open Baladin. The restaurant/beer bar is home to many beers from Birra Baladin. The Baladin brewery was originally created in 1996 as a brewpub (production and bar) in Piozzo – a small village in the Langhe area in the province of Cuneo – by its founder and master brewer Teo Musso. However, over time Musso expanded his plans and now has a brewpub in Rome, among other major Italian cities. The establishment offers 40 beers on tap (most from Baladin, but the rest are from other Italian breweries) and 100 bottles. There were a couple American brands in there, but that’s only because they were collaborations with Italian breweries. The burgers and fries are also awesome.
While there, I tried four brews, two of which were from Baladin:
- Elixir, Birra Baladin: A Belgian dark strong ale fermented using whiskey yeast
- Nazionale, Birra Baladin: Their flagship, a tasty and well executed Belgian Pale Ale
- BiBock, Birrificio Italiano: a medium-bodied amber lager
- Farmhouse Reserve, Vento Forte: a funky, bottle-conditioned wild ale
I enjoyed the ones from Baladin best, but all were good for different reasons. Back at the hotel, I was also able to try Duchessa, a saison from Birra del Borgo (known for their collabs with Dogfish Head Brewing), which was one of my favorites.
On my last day, I scoured Rome proper one last time and found a Porchetta sandwich on fresh baked bread and washed it down with a deliciously dank IPA from Microbirrificio OpperBacco called Violent Shared…right across from the Pantheon. Who would have know?
What really blew me away, however, was the beer scene in a Williamsburgian neighborhood in Rome called Travestere. Packed with picturesque buildings, cobblestone streets, buzzing restaurants and great beer bars, Travestere was all that I hoped to find on my final night of vacation. My fiance, brother and I popped into a craft beer haven called Ma Che Siete Venuti A Fa (a mouthful, I know) and found a great mix of Italian craft brews and other top selections from Europe, including a Grand Cru from Cantillon. In 2010, RateBeer named it one of the top beer bars in the world. The place was small, but Italian craft beer enthusiasts spilled out into the street to sip, chat and enjoy the suds.
While the other beers were tempting, we went the “When in Rome…” route and drank two delicious Italian-made beers…while playing Scopa, an Italian card game, on a barrel:
- Seta, Birrificio Rurale: a flavorful witbier touted as one of the best in Italy
- Tripel, Extraomnes: Probably the best beer I had while in Italy, a true Belgian-style tripel
After that, I ate my 100th and final dish of pasta at Osteria Zi’mberto that was close by, played fooseball and drank a very solid golden ale by Birra Plurale with my family and headed back to the hotel.
I learned a lot while in the Fatherland, but for the purposes of this blog I will tell you that the beer scene in Italy was a pleasant surprise. Not only was there a high demand for it, but the bars were incredible. They love making Belgian style beers, but are not afraid to dabble in IPAs or bocks, either. I will certainly be on the lookout for Italian beers now that I’m home, and you should too. There is more to the Italian bev scene than wine and limoncello (though both are delicious).
Thanks for reading!
– Nicky Vowels