One of the reasons I started this blog was to keep a record of all the wonderful Italian artisan beers I’ve been trying. I’ve been remiss.
I won’t say I’m going to “review” these beers. I might have reviewed several hundred films and videogames in my time, but I’m really not sure I have the right vocab for appraising alcohol. So yes, it’s just a record, and hopefully a source of some useful info for other anglophone beer enthusiasts who might find themselves in need of a good brew while in Italy.
Anyway. We had this one last night, in the wonderfully named Oasi della Birra (“Oasis of Beer”) in Testaccio in Rome. It’s a pretty cool place, basically a shop that’s expanded sideways and crams in dining tables among the wares (which can give it a feeling of eating in a warehouse, though at least that’s novel). In all honestly, though, a better of oasis of Italian craft beers in Rome is still Open Baladin bar, for the simple reason it has dozens on tap, whereas the Oasi, disappointingly, only has German beers on tap. Go figure.
The Oasi does, however, have an extensive menu of bottle beers, and a fairly epic menu of wines. Why it’s not called the Oasi del Vino I don’t know. It also does a reasonable aperitivo buffet, where you can pile up a plate for a fraction of what a restaurant meal would cost you, that is €10 for a drink and a plateful. (The cost of eating out is something that continues to confuse me in Rome – restaurants, and even most trattorie, are not cheap. Broadly, the only cheap way to eat sitting down in an establishment is an aperitivo buffet. There don’t really seem to be many options half-way between, in terms of price, bar a few genuinely cheap trattorie, mostly outside touristy areas, or the occasional good tavola calda. This literally means “hot table”; wordreference.com translates it as either “cafeteria” or “hash house”, neither of which is quite right. The former makes me think of British caffs, the latter sounds like “crack house” or “opium den”. They’re places that are generally defined by seating and a glassed-in counter displaying various dishes you can select. Volpetti in Testaccio has a good one, but it’s overpriced. The yummiest I’ve tried food-wise is Pasta… e pasta on Via Ettore Rolli near Ponte Testaccio, but I don’t want to get into the habit of eating there there I have an ethical problem with the throwaway plastic plates, cutlery, cups etc. Every diner creates probably around 50g of waste with each meal. It might not sound like much, but imagine the pile after just one busy day, say, and think of all that plastic sitting in a landfill for millennia. It’s a waste of resources, full stop. I know food and catering is all about overheads but we just have to think more sustainably in the 21st century.)
Anyway. Back to the beer.
So last night I tried to get a Sally Brown, a lovely brown (yep) beer that I’ve had at Open Baladin. It’s from Birrificio del Ducato, and on their site here it’s described as Birra di alta fermentazione, a cavallo tra le oatmeal Stout e le Porter inglesi – “A top- fermentation beer that straddles the styles of oatmeal stout and English porters.” The Oasi, however, had run out. This seems to be a typical factor of drinking from the Oasi beer menu. They don’t generally have what’s on the tatty photocopy, but are always happy to give advice about an alternative. It’s a process I really enjoy actually, as it usually involves trying something new.
This time, that something new was, well, I couldn’t work out what it was called last night, so had to check online today and in my Guida alle birre d’Italian 2013. The 75ml bottle is very elegant, with a minimal design. But as I’d never encountered this beer or this brewery before, I wasn’t sure immediately what was what from the label. Now I know though. The brewery (birrificio) is called 32 Via Dei Birrai.
The blurb on the homepage of their site says: 32 Via dei Birrai è il primo micro birrificio artigianale italiano a ottenere la certificazione di qualità ISO 9001:2008 DNV e la certificazione CI, a testimonianza di un prodotto 100% Made in Italy. / Passione, per 32, significa infatti selezione di materie prime e accorti procedimenti che rendono onore al nome stesso di essere e fare birra. Which means: “32 Via dei Birrai is the first Italian micro bewery to obtain the certificate of quality ISO 9001:2008 DNV and the CI certificate, testimony to a product that’s 100% made in Italy. Indeed, passion, for 32, first and foremost means the choice of materials and a grasp of how to make beer that honours our name.” (I know I could just put my [not Google translate’s] English translation, but I like the two side-by-side, it helps me learn Italian. Plus, my translation is probably a bit shonky, so if you speak Italian and English, you can likely do it better.)
Anyway, 32’s beers. Atra is from a range of nine beers, most of which are made with top fermentation and bottle conditioned. Atra itself is, well, molto buono, as the waiter who recommended it said. But then he also said it’s non troppo forte, “not too strong”, when in fact it’s 7.3%ABV. I love how that’s not strong in Italy. In the UK, anything above about 5% is considered strong. To give some context to the Italian attitude to beer strength, Tennent’s Super is popular here, and that’s 9%. Apparently, it’s even considered kinda classy, as it was among the first import beers to make inroads here. The mind flippin’ boggles, as in Britain Tennent’s Super is basically a beer for alcoholic tramps on park benches. I’ll say now, so as not to confuse things, it’s popular among undiscerning Italian beer-drinkers, in much the same way as Fosters, say, is popular among British drinkers despite them having so many wonderful quality beers to choose from; hell, even if you like lager, you can choose a better lager… (I’m trying not to get started.)
Okay, Atra itself. It’s dark (“the colour of friars’ habits”), with a taste that’s charcoaly (ie from well-toasted malt) and surprisingly sweet. It’s very pleasant indeed. We had no idea whether it’s the done thing to drink such beers while eating, but it went very well with a plate of salads and cheese and salumi and bread. Indeed, now I’m reading the brewery’s own description, it seems like it’s fine to drink it with food. But as with wine culture, Italian micro-breweries are very specific in their descriptions of their beers and what to drink them with. So here it says, Abbinamento suggerito: contorni di lenticchie e fagioli, minestre con legumi, stinco con cotenna caramellata, torta al cioccolato, crème caramel, panna cotta. “Suggested accompaniment: lentils and bean sidedishes, vegetable soup, shin with browned bacon rind, chocolate tart, crème caramel, panna cotta [‘cooked cream’ desert].”
If you want a more in-depth appraisal, the Guida 2013 says it has scents of coffee, cocoa, liquorice and toasted cereal and a taste of barley coffee, cocoa and caramel. I’m not sure I got the liquorice, but I can’t argue with the rest. Delicious. And also remisicent of my friend Michele’s Cotta 74 from Mastri Birrai Umbri brewery, which I talked about here.
Hopefully next time we go to the Oasi, they’ll have more from 32 Via dei Birrai, as I’m keen to try the others. And I do like the design of the bottles. Especially now I know 32 is the abbreviation for the name of the brewery.