Category Archives: Bars, pubs etc

Lambrate’s Ortiga golden ale at Birrifugio, Portuense, Rome

Dark Star Revelation and Lambrate Ortiga, Birrifugio

We finally made it to another of Rome’s beer bars the other day: Birrifugio. It’s a place we’ve passed many a time, when we’ve been feeling like a 6pm beer but it’s run along Roman beer bar hours, not opening until 7.30pm. It’s one of the self-styled “6 historic pubs of the capital”1. It’s also styled as “Birrifugio Trastevere” on the business cards and website. Except it’s not in Trastevere.

Trastevere is one of the city’s rioni, neighbourhoods that were mostly established in medieval Rome. Apart from Prati, the area north of the Vatican, these rioni are all within the 3rd century Aurelian Walls. Birrifugio – whose name is a nice little pun, “beer-refuge” – is just off Viale Trastevere, but about a kilometer outside the walls, which cut across the boulevard at the Ministry of Education.

The hospitality industry does like to be liberal with its definition of Trastevere, as it’s such a popular area, with its narrow cobbled streets hung with laundry, churches, restaurants and whatnot. But no, Birrifugio is firmly esconced in the postwar urbanisation between the Viale and the Tiber, in the same area as Sunday’s sprawling Porta Portese market So what is this area?

It’s something that’s bugged me for ages, as we live just up the hill and traverse it often en route to Testaccio etc. We just resorted to calling it “that triangle”. But apparently it’s technically within Portuense, which isn’t a rione, it’s a quartiere. This name – “quarter” –  is used for some of the districts that developed with the urban sprawl of the 20th century.

Sorry, I had to get that straight. But the point is, if you go looking for Birrifugio, it’s not a pub in the depths of cutesy Trastevere like Ma Che Siete Venuti a Fà? It’s in a very different neighbourhood –  but is no less decent a bar.

Birrifugio beer menu

Indeed, we arrived just as it was opening and the barman was immediately friendly and helpful. He gave us menus, talked us through the beers, both in the menu and on the blackboard, and chatted about his recent trip to a beer festival in London.

Unlike, say, Open Baladin or No.Au, Birrifugio (and its sister bar in Ostia) doesn’t have a great emphasis on Italian products. Instead, it has an international selection, on this occasion including brews from Belgian, England, etc. It also has a fairly comprehensive food menu, including Roman favourites and a more diverse choice: wurst, goulash, crêpes, sauerkraut. And something listed as “fish & chips”…

As the place feels not unlike a British pub (albeit a fairly modern one fitted out to feel a bit olde), I went for the latter. Just cos. It wasn’t really fish and chips in the proper sense (that, really, can only be done well in Britain or NZ, in my experience), and nor was the fish filetto di baccalà, the traditional Roman battered salt cod that is actually fairly similar to British chippie fish. It was instead a crumbed affair, probably from frozen. But no matter: the antipasti we had, speck rolled around mozzarella and walnut and served with a sauce made with a lot of mustard and weiss beer, was clearly freshly made and delicious. As was Fran’s burger, again handmade.

Birrifugio taps

But we weren’t really there for the food, we were there for the beer

I had the only Italian beer they had on tap, and Fran went for a Revelation from Dark Star. This is a brewery in West Sussex, in the south of England, not far from where we may well be living next year. Revelation is a seriously hoppy APA style ale. My beer on the other hand was an Ortiga from Lambrate brewery in Milan.

This is an immediately likeable, easy-drinking 5% ABV golden ale (“in stile English golden Ale“), one of those top-fermented beers that could open a whole new world up to lager drinkers. It’s a bright, clear orange-yellow colour. It’s made with pilsner and crystal malt. It’s got a light, fresh aroma, slightly piney, slightly citrusy, but nothing very strong, and a flavour that’s similarly fresh and very crisp.

It’s got a clean, dry mouthfeel, and is very hoppy at the end. I can’t state with certainty which hops are used though. Lambrate’s site doesn’t say, and other sources aren’t entirely in agreement. It’s either Aurora and Cascade (according to the Guida alle birre d’Italia 2013) or Aurora and Styrian Golding (according to Ratebeer). Ratebeer also says it’s dry hopped, which really sounds about right.

Lambrate Ortiga label

It’s a pity I didn’t know about this brewery when we visited Milan last year, as it’s got a brewpub and another bar in the Lambrate district of the city, and the Guida has a quote that says the former is “probably the best brewpub in Italy”.

Oh, and Lambrate’s beers have great labels too. They’re designed by an artist called Roger Webber, whose work can be seen here. I sort of get the text2 on Ortiga’s comic strip-style label, but when I Googled it for more info, I got a wiki page written in Lombàrt orientàl, that is East Lombardian, the language used in Milan and thereabouts. Considering I’m struggling enough with Standard Italian, this was a challenge. According to (English) Wikipedia, “Milanese and Italian are distinct Romance languages and are not mutually intelligible.” Or, as I’d probably prefer to phrase it, they’re mutually unintelligible.

So a friendly, professional beer (and whisky) bar, a pleasant beer, and a label with linguistic implications I don’t even want to think about too much.

Via Federico Rosazza 6, 00153 Roma
(+39) 06 5830 3189 | |

(Also at Via Ferdinando Acton 18, 00122 Ostia)

Birrificio Lambrate
Brewpub Via Adelchi 5, 20131 Milano
Pub Via Golgi 60, 20133 Milano
Tel (+39) 02 70606746 | |

1 It’s on a flyer I picked up at Ma Che Siete Venuti A Fà? The six are: Ma Che, Birrifugio, Il Serpente (San Lorenzo), Le Bon Bock (Gianicolense), Mastro Titta (Ostiense), Treefolk’s (near the Colosseum).

2 The label says: “Faceva il palo nella banda dell ortica, ma era sguercio non ci vedeva quasi più ed è così che li hanno presi tutti senza fatica, li hanno presi tutti, quasi tutti tutti, fuorchè lui.” Which is standard Italian I think and means something like “He was on lookout duty for the Nettle Gang, but he was cross-eyed and he pretty didn’t see them [the cops], and just like that, they caught everyone without hassle, they took everyone, almost everyone, except him.” Or, in you prefer, in Milanese: “Faceva il palo nella banda de l’Ortiga, ma l’era sguercc, el ghe vedeva quasi pù, e l’è staa inscì che j’hann ciappaa senza fadiga, j’hann ciappaa tucc, ma proppi tucc, foeura che lù.” More info about the song here. In Milanese.

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Loverbeer’s Madamin oak amber ale at Ma Che Siete Venuti a Fà?

Loverbeer's Madamin at Ma Che Siete a Fa, Trastevere, Rome

Exactly two years ago, me and Fran, the missus, moved to Rome. We opted to travel by train, leaving England in a mild-mannered 17C and arriving in Rome to a fierce 40C-ish heat.

So naturally we were thirsty.

Before we moved into what would be our home for the next two years, we spent a few nights in a flat in cutesy old Trastevere. And would you believe it, right at the end of our street was one of Rome’s best beer bars. This was Ma Che Siete Venuti A Fà? The wonderful name means “But what have you come here to do?” It’s apparently a football chant – effectively taunting the rival team with “why bother?”. But in context of walking into this Hobbity hole-in-the-wall boozer, the obvious answer is “drink quality beer, of course”. The bar does have a football thing going on, with two TV screens, I didn’t really register this element initially, as they had such an intriguing selection of beers.

Furthermore, as we’d just moved from Lewes in southern England, it was amusing to discover posters for Harvey’s Brewery, a Lewes institution, in Ma Che’s (generally fairly smelly, now redecorated and still fairly smelly) back room.

Harvey's brewery poster at Ma Che Siete Venuti a Fa', Trastevere, Rome

As 25 August was our two-years-in-Rome anniversary, I thought we needed to go back to Ma Che and drink some more interesting beer.

Brettanomyces and Saccharomyces
We’d already had three or so fairly boozy days, so I vowed to just have one beer. I wanted something weird and challenging after all the nice easy golden ales I’ve been drinking lately. There was a selection of about 16 beers on tap, with three on hand pump. They rotate their stock, but on this visit the beers were from Italy, Germany, Belgium and Norway.

Ma Che Siete Venuti A Fa' beers, 25 August 2013

I try to only drink beer from the nation I’m in at the time, so it had to be Italian, giving me a choice of nine. Ruling out the golden ale, pils and IPA narrowed it down more. Stouts are Fran’s department, so that ruled out another two. In the end, I chose Madamin Oak Amber Ale from Loverbeer brewery, which is in the Turin region of Piedmont, northwest Italy.

adamin is an unusual beer by any standards.  It’s very fruity as it’s been conditioned in “tini di rovere” – oak vats, formerly used for wine production. I found it very sour and tart, and the initial fruitiness I got in the smell and taste was more sour cherry, plum and blackcurrant than grape. Maybe this was my memory playing tricks on me though as one of the first ever beers I had in Ma Che two years earlier was a kriek lambic.

Anyway. Some more info. It’s a top fermentation beer, inspired, according to the blurb on Loverbeer’s site, by Belgian beers – meaning lambics, as the fermentation here relies on wild yeasts in the wood of the vats, specifically Brettanomyces (aka Brett, Dekkera), in contrast to the Saccharomyces cerevisiae more commonly associated with controlled bread, beer and wine production.

Taps, Ma Che Siete Venuti a Fa', Trastevere, Rome

Beer, wine, scrumpy
The blurb also says that the process heightens the acidity and restrains the bitterness of the beer, making it a versatile drink that’s suitable accompaniment for Mediterranean cuisine.  (“L’acidità appena pronunciata e l’amaro molto contenuto, rendono questa birra versatile  negli abbinamenti e adatta ai piatti tipici della cucina mediterranea.”) I’m not sure about this: do Italians want their beers to be more sour and fruity? I get the impression from the amount of vile strong import lager (Ceres, Tennent’s) Italians drink, many prefer acrid, metallic lagers.

Either way, I’m not sure it’d be a good meal accompaniment. It was too deciso (“decisive”). And indeed, it’s a beer that simultaneously complex and strangely rustic, like some pungent, low carbonation farmhouse scrumpy from the Southwest of England.

Loverbeer Madamin and Brewfist Fear at Ma Che Siete Venuti a Fa'?

So this 5.7% ABV, handsomely reddish-brown, medium-light bodied beer, named after the Piedmontese dialect for “young lady” (madamin, closer to the French mademoiselle than the Italian signorina), was certainly an interesting choice. A memorable beer to celebrate our two-year anniversary in Rome. But I’m not entirely sure I’ll be rushing to buy it again. Though I’m always happy to try the wares at Ma Che Siete Venuti a Fà?, an essential destination for any beer enthusiasts visiting Rome.

Ma Che Siete Venuti A Fà?
Address: Via di Benedetta 25, Trastevere, 00153 Rome, Italy
Tel (+39) 380 507 4938 | (English site)

Lovebeer di Valter Loverier
Strada Pellinciona 7, 10020 Marentino, Piedmont, Italy
Tel (+39) 3473636680 | |


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Laboratorio Piccolo Birrificio’s Steamer at Tram Depot, Testaccio, Rome

Steamer beer at Tram Depot, Testaccio, Rome

We’ve been hanging out a lot in the hot August evenings at this (relatively) new place in Testaccio. It’s basically a converted kiosk on the pavement, like an old newsstand (edicola), but somehow it manages to be cool, charming and strangely mellow considering it’s right beside the busy crossroads of Via Marmorata and Via L Galvani/ Via M Gelsomini. There’s live DJ action with great tunes (hip hop, rare groove etc) on an evening, and the kiosk looks like a vintage tram coach to boot.

Its main appeal for Fran, Rachel and chums is the grattachecca. Grattare is the verb “to scrape, to scratch, to grate” and is a reference to the way a large block of ice is treated. At Tram Depot, a veteran grattachecca sensei in a bandana skilfully scrapes and grates the ice, fills a beaker, and pours over your choice of cordial. In this case, that means French Sirop de Monin. A few bits of fruit or fresh coconut complete the refreshing concoction.

It’s a relative of granita. Or, basically, a Roman Slush Puppy, given an extra classy twist with French cordials. Which use fewer artificial colours than Slush Puppy, but some of them still look a bit gaudy to be entirely natural. The Monin site says they’re “highly concentrated, natural flavourings” – no mention of natural colours. So I’m guessing there are some coal tar derivatives in some of them….

Piccolo Lab's Steamer, label, at Tram Depot, Testaccio

I can see the appeal of these alcohol-free ice drinks on a hot Roman summer’s day, but personally I’d rather have a beer. Tram Depot have one industrial lager on tap, but thankfully they also have a few bottled real beers. Among them is Steamer, a “hopped amber ale” created by brewer Lorenzo Bottoni that I’ve previously had at Necci. Though at Necci they had it on tap and it was comparatively flat. The bottles are markedly more carbonated.

The first time we had them, it had a massive comedy head. “Bad pour! Bad pour!” scolded my friend Stels, who was consuming a less troublesome grattacheccha. All three of us drinking the Steamer had the same Attack-of-the-Froth!

Steamer beer head

Stels told me about a technique for making the head subside. Rub a finger in the greasy crease alongside your nose and stick it in the foam. I’d never heard of this before, but she’s from New Jersey.

And yet, it works, after a fashion. Like putting soap in your bath foam, it makes the bubbles collapse. In the above pic, the orifice on the right with larger bubbles is where I stuck my finger.

The beer itself was still good. I wrote the other day after drinking Birrificio Math’s La 16 how I wasn’t entirely sold on Italian strong ales, but Steamer is pretty good stuff. It’s a lovely deep, misty amber colour, it’s pretty hoppy (it says 39.7 IBU, but it tastes like more) and it’s fairly darned strong (7.6%) but supped slowly on a summer’s evening is a great alternative to grattacheccha. Until someone invents beer grattachecca.

Tram Depot, via Marmorata (angolo Via Manlio Gelsomini), Testaccio, Rome
Open 8.30am (ish) to 2.00am, seven days a week.

Laboratorio Piccolo Birrificio /

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Dartmoor Brewery’s Legend at The Castle restaurant, Bude, Cornwall

Dartmoor Brewery's Legend at The Castle Restaurant, Bude, Cornwall

Right. Here’s my last write-up from my recent visit to England. Really must get back the matter at hand – ie Italian stuff, notably Italian beers. And baking. More baking to follow.

I had this ale in the old-fashioned English seaside town of Bude at The Castle restaurant. The Castle isn’t actually a castle – it’s the former house of a local chap who went by the stupendous Dickensian name of Goldsworthy Gurney. Brits can be so dull with their naming conventions these days. I don’t know anyone called Goldsworthy. I don’t even know anyone with a pet called Goldsworthy. Fy, for shame.

Gurney was a remarkable figure – one of those enterprising, inquiring inventors and engineers who helped shape Victorian Britain. Not only did he build himself a bunker-like miniature castle on the dunes where the River Neet (aka the River Strat) empties into the Atlantic, alongside the mouth of the canal (itself another great bit of Victorian engineering), he even invented one of the first horseless carriages. This was basically a somewhat volatile steam engine bolted onto a traditional coach. He also invented an efficient heating stove, which is still in use today in a few locations. His most successful accomplishment was a gas injection lighting system that was used in the House of Commons for 60 years.

We went to the Castle on a typical north Cornwall summer’s day, dashing indoors in heavy rain, and passing a Gurney Stove (sadly out of commission). The Castle restaurant is one the area’s best eateries, though I was disappointed the waiter couldn’t actually give me the provenance of the fish on the menu. Still, at least they had a couple of decent bottled beers. I had Legend from Dartmoor Brewery.

Dartmoor Brewery’s blurb says “Situated in the very heart of Dartmoor National Park at 1400 feet [427m in new money] above sea level we are the highest brewery in England and we believe the best!” Modest. The brewery focuses on three types of beer from a purpose-built brewery opened in 2005 with a capacity of “300 brewer’s barrels (1200 nine gallon casks) per week.”

Honestly, the UK might have managed a bit more metrication than, say, the US of A, but the brewing industry still adores old-fashionedy weights and measures. As much of the world is (very sensibly, logically and practically) metricated, and much international brewing talks in hectolitres (hl; 1hl = 100 litres), I’m going to try and always include an hl measure.

So 300 UK barrels is about 49,000l, or 492hl.

So a little bigger than the previous brewery I was talking about, Holsworthy Ales, but then Dartmoor Brewery is a bit longer established, having been opened in 1994.

Their three products are: Jail Ale, “a full bodied mid-brown beer with a well rounded flavour and a sweet Moorish aftertaste” (Do Moors drink beer? Surely they mean moreish? Or is it a pun on Dartomoor? [thanks for pointing that out Fran]); Dartmoor IPA, “a highly drinkable amber coloured beer. It has a deliciously smooth thirst quenching taste and subtle hop aroma”; and the Legend, “a classic cask conditioned beer smooth full flavoured and balanced with a delicious crispy malt fruit finish.”

Dartmoor Brewery's Legend at The Castle Restaurant, Bude, Cornwall

Mine was bottle conditioned, though it was indeed smooth and balanced, a kind of easy-going bitter, with some fruitiness and some biscuity, fresh-baked-fresh malt. It was an amenable beer to wash down my fish and wedges (the menu lies – it says chips, but they are wedges; always a disappointment when you want chips) but, I dunno, considering it’s made with Dartmoor water, Devon malts and English hops I really wanted to like it more. It was pleasant but just a bit… generic. Maybe I’ve been drinking too many nice, easy balanced golden ales and mellow bitters of late. Time for a trip to Ma Che Siete Venuti a Fà? for some challenging Kriek or suchlike methinks.

Still, eating it in Goldsworthy’s old withdrawing room (or whatever), replete with the same wallpaper we used to have in our old house in London, with the rain lashing the windows and the Atlantic surf churning a few hundred metres away, it was part of a dining experience that was, overall, very satisfying.

The Castle Restaurant, The Castle, The Wharf, Bude, Cornwall EX23 8LG | |+44 (0)1288 350543

Dartmoor Brewery Ltd, Station Road, Princetown, Devon PL20 6QX | |+44 (0) 1822 890789

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Ale in Holsworthy and Holsworthy Ales, Devon

Holsworthy Ales' Tamar Sauce, enjoyed in the Devon sun

Holsworthy, in northwest Devon, is a quiet little agricultural town, largely bypassed by the tourist hordes frequenting the coast 10 miles away. In days of yore, it was a significant market town, having been designated a “port” in the early middle ages. This is slightly confusing for an inland town, but in this older, Saxon sense port meant a safe place to trade.

Holsworthy had a railway line until 1966, when it was closed as part of the Beeching cuts. Some remnants of the railway route are in part being used today for Sustrans traffic-free routes, including the very handsome Derriton Viaduct. The Viaduct is one of the town’s key attractions. The other – for ale enthusiasts – is the beer scene, which is surprisingly vibrant for a town with a population of 2500-ish. Indeed, it’s one of those remarkable British towns with a pub every five yards.

The best beer pub is the Old Market Inn (or Olde Market). Lee, the publican, is welcoming, helpful and knowledgeable. He made a point of installing several handpumps and casks when he took over the pub several years ago, despite naysayers telling him he wouldn’t be able to sell real beer there.

Casks, Old Market Inn, Holsworthy, Devon

The Old Market went on to become North Devon CAMRA’s Pub of the Year 2010 to 2012 (it’s been pipped by the Ship and Pilot, Ilfracombe for the 2013 title). Lee also told me that he was chosen from among thousands to be accredited as one of the top 50 Guinness pubs in the UK although he says “I’m just doing what I’ve always done” – that is, keeping his beers properly. He even does his own beer call BOMB (“Best Old Market Bitter”), which he makes by dry hopping a beer supplied by a local brewery. He couldn’t say which though! He’s also started trying to further the beer education of his punters by stocking a fridge with bottled “Beers of the World”.

When I’m in the Old Market, however, I tend to stick with the most local option possible: which means brews from Holsworthy Ales. On this trip I made a point of sampling more of its spring and summer products, brewed just outside Holsworthy in Clawton. The microbrewery was founded in 2011 Dave Slocombe, who was a home brewer and solicitor who worked in London and Bristol before relocating to Devon. He has a smallholding nearby where he’s planted a vineyard; he says, “We do plan to make wine commercially but it is still some years away.”

Dave says he makes about 11 barrels a week in the summer – that’s 164l UK barrels, so 18 hectolitres. Although he started out using a commercial yeast, he now crops the barm, maintaining his own, unique yeast culture – to give his brews some added distinction. He says his beers are regularly in about eight pubs, adding that they’ve been in about 85 since he started producing in 2011.

A pint of Make me Hoppy at the Old Market Inn, Holsworthy, Devon

I had a pint of Dave’s Make Me Hoppy at the Old Market Inn. It’s his latest beer, a seasonal brew for Spring 2013. A 4.7% ABV beer, it is, as you’d expect, all about the hops – and is made with a blend of three, Green Bullet, Perle and Hersbrucke Hallertau. He says, “I wanted a floral, fairly Germanic beer, as a contrast to the fruitiness of Tamar Sauce, its predecessor.” And it is just that: crisp and floral.

My dad got a load of Holsworthy Ales in at their house, and I also tried the bottled version, which was slightly more carbonated than the cask version. This is natural, but especially so in the summer. Dave explains, “Bottled beers will nearly always be more carbonated, although I bottle out of the fermenter and (usually) at the same time as I cask up.  It is down to two factors: (1) the beer will often have more time in the bottle and kept in warmer conditions so has more time to have (relatively) vigorous secondary fermentation and (2) cask beer is generally kept in cellar conditions slowing down secondary fermentation and in a hand pull situation a lot of the CO2 is forced out of the beer in the pumping process, especially if the pump has a sparkler on it.”

Holsworthy Ales, brewery, Clawton, near Holsworthy, Devon

Holsworthy Ales currently does eight different beers. I wrote about the Autumnal Conker King here. This time round I also had Tamar Sauce, a pale ale with reasonable carbonation (in the bottled version), minimal head and a fairly thin body. It’s made in the summer and is a suitably refreshing floral and fruity drink for a warm weather (yes, the sun was out when I had mine, as you can see from the pic). It’s “hopped with New Zealand Cascade hops. This gives strong fruity notes which are balanced by bitterness from Green Bullet hops.”

Sun Shine (ABV 4%) is another nice summer drink, again with a fairly thin, well-carbonated body and a crisp, dry flavour and finish. It’s not unlike the (bottled) Make Me Hoppy, but is fruitier and less bitter.

My favourite of his beers in this sampling though was Mine’s a Mild. It’s a delicious low alcohol (3.7%) brew that’s great for a refreshing lunchtime drink, just right for when I had to keep my wits about me to go scrumping firewood after lunch in the gloomy, tangled woods nearby. It’s medium bodied, smooth and very malty, with a toastiness I found almost smoky.

Holsworthy Ales' Mine's a Mild

Holsworthy’s changed a fair bit in the 14-ish years I’ve been visiting. The one decent pasty shop closed down years ago, and the town acquired a supermarket – though some good independent shops manage to survive, like a nice little cheese shop and a great cook shop nextdoor. Oh, and Bergerac/Ispettore Barnaby himself has moved in nearby too. Best of all though, the beer scene really has gone from strength to strength thanks to the likes of Lee and Dave (whose next brew is a “Belgian style beer” specifically a “Chimay/Kwak type beer”). Not bad for the middle of nowhere in perennially soggy northwest Devon.

Old Market Inn
Chapel Street, Holsworthy, Devon EX22 6AY | |+44 (0)1409 253941

Holsworthy Ales
Unit 5, Circuit Business Park, Clawton, Holsworthy, Devon EX22 6RR | | +44 (0)7879 401073


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Thornbridge Tzara at the Cut Bar, London

Thornbridge Tzara at the Cut Bar, London

Yes, yes, I know Bread, Cakes and Ale seems to be focussing more on ale at the moment, but, well, I just spent a week back home in England and it’s a lot easier to booze than it is to bake when you’re on the road (figuratively speaking. Don’t drink and drive kids!). Meanwhile, back in Roma, it’s too darned hot to really embrace the baking. I’ve only been back since Tuesday, but it’s been reaching about 40C every day, or 104F is you’re an adherent of ye olde Fahrenheit and enjoy the drama of saying “It’s over 100 degrees today!!”.

Anyway. To continue my coverage of beers sampled and pubs (etc) visited while in Britain, on my one evening in London I wanted to go somewhere near Waterloo railway station, so my sis could get home easily on the train. Google told me the Cut Bar had some real beer, alongside sparkling wine and fruit-based drinks for the ladies, so the Cut Bar it was.

The Cut Bar is a fairly cavernous, gloomy boozeria that’s part of the Young Vic theatre. Hence, you may or may not see the stars of the current production (see below). It was pretty busy when I arrived and met friends around 6pm. As I’ve said before in my coverage of Roman boozing, Brits like to go straight out after work, unlike Romans who have their aperitivi a little later (frustrating my programming). Sadly the nice-looking balcony was already full so we perched on stools.

It’s not a specialist beer bar, but at least it tries to cater to beer drinkers with three taps and some bottled brews. I just cut to the chase and went with the guest beer, which was Tzara from Thornbridge. This is a brewery located in Derbyshire. It began producing beer under the Thornbridge brand in 2005 in a shed at Thornbridge Hall, a private stately home. In 2009, they opened a new “state of the art” brewery called Riverside.

Both facilities still brew, the Hall site, with a 10 UK barrel (16 hl) capacity, focussing on the “traditional infusion mash ale system”, while the 30 UK barrel (50 hl) Riverside site “highlights our ability to innovate through technology”. Which sounds great. I’m not into fusty dogmatic adherence to tradition – I’m more keen on a knowledge of and respect for tradition seasoned with an openness to experimentation and new ideas. This seems to be Thornbridge’s attitude too – their motto is “Innovation Passion Knowledge”.

Thornbridge call Tzara a 4.8% ABV keg beer that’s described as “a hybrid beer, fermented like an ale but matured like a lager. A broad, almost fruity palate with some bready notes. A crisp, refreshing beer.” I was intrigued. Did it mean it’s top fermented then conditioned at cold temperatures? A visit to Thornbridge’s blog tells me Tzara is a Kölsch-style product. Kölsch is a type of beer specifically from Cologne (Köln) in Germany. And my guess was right: it is indeed an a top-fermented beer, and it is fermented and lagered at a lower temperature.

The Thornbridge blog gives all the details of what defines a Kölsch and what they’ve used to make Tzara: Pilsner malt and wheat malt – both sourced in Germany. Likewise the hops. They also explain that while an authentic Kölsch is filtered, Tzara isn’t – instead, it’s centrifuged which “allows us to clarify the beer without stealing those delicate flavours we put into the beer in the first place.”.

It was another very pleasant summer beer, like the Pacifica Pale I’d drunk at lunchtime at the Cask. Indeed, it tastes similar to a classic golden ale, light, crisp and subtly fruity with well balanced sweetness and mellow hoppiness – but it’s not an ale. The Thornbridge blogger says “It does ferment at near ale temperatures, but one has to consider how the Germans themselves classify Kölsch – ‘Obergäriges Lagerbier’ – top-fermenting lager beer. Calling all top-fermenting beers ‘ales’ is simply misusing the name.”

I’m glad we’ve cleared that up.

Oh, and just to finish, in case Chiwetel Ejiofor, of Children Of Men, 2012, Serenity,  American Gangster etc fame and one of the best British actors of his generation, happens to chance upon this blog: I wasn’t trying to take a picture of you, honest. I was taking a picture of the guest beer sign on the wall and you walked into frame.

The Cut Bar, The Young Vic Theatre, The Cut, London SE1 8LZ | +44 (0)20 7928 4400 / +44 (0)20 7922 2906

Thornbridge Brewery
, Riverside Brewery, Buxton Road, Bakewell DE45 1GS | + 44 (0)1629 641000


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Tyne Bank Pacifica Pale at Cask Pub & Kitchen, Pimlico, London

Tyne Bank Brewery's Pacifica Pale at the Cask, Pimlico, London

The reason I went to Britain last week was the get a new passport. The UK embassy in Rome no longer has passport renewal facilities (though they do quite a pleasant Guy Fawkes party) and there was no way I could get it in the post as I don’t have any official documents for my address in Rome. Ergo, I did my bit for climate change and joined the budget airline masses.

The passport offices are located just near Victoria station in London. As I assumed some hanging about would be involved, I hunted about online for a suitable place to get some lunch – and have some real beer. A search presented me with the Cask Pub & Kitchen in Pimlico, a five minute walk from the passport office.

Although I lived in London for around 15 years, I left a few years ago. It’s amazing how fast things change there. Not only is there now an acre-wide hole in the ground right beside Victoria, but there are several new breweries and real beer joints too. Although the Cask opened back in 2009, this was my first visit.

Despite being surrounded by handsome Victorian housing stock, the pub itself stands out as it’s located in a 1970s red brick building on a corner. Inside, it’s fairly spacious and uncluttered, with a long bar and several fridges. It’s the sort of place that can cater to all beer requirements, having bottled beers, keg beers and hand-pumped cask beers.

When I visited several of the taps were dedicated to Tyne Bank Brewery, which is located… on the banks of the Tyne, no less, in Newcastle. The friendly, helpful barman said they do “meet the brewer” events, and where many pubs have a guest beer, the Cask has guest breweries. Tyne Bank is a microbrewery producing “60 barrels or 17,000 pints per week”.1

The Cask Pub & Kitchen, Pimlico, London

The Cask site says “All our hand pumps serve nothing but the absolute best ale available from the UK’s top micro-breweries.” The keg taps, meanwhile, offer a more international selection; ditto the bottled beer, with the site modestly claiming “We have a staggering collection unrivalled anywhere else in the UK.” They didn’t have any Italian craft beers at the time though! Not that I wanted to drink any. I’m always keen to eat and drinklocal produce as much as possible, though in this case I was keen to sample Tyne Bank’s wares. It may not be local to London, but I used to live in Newcastle so it at least had a personal connection.

My beer tastes are pretty broad so I tried a few things, and discussed the (innumerable) options with the barman. It was a fairly warm-ish summer-ish day, so I went for the Pacifica Pale, a golden ale.

Tyne Bank beers at the Cask, Pimlico, London

This was one of those very unchallenging beers. I probably should have gone for something a little more interesting, but as I was having a burger too I guess an uncomplicated golden ale was a nice accompaniment. The beer had a fruity, honey-ish smell, minimal head and low carbonation. The colour was dark gold, and slightly misty. The taste itself was easy and even, an undemanding mix of sweetness and mellow hoppiness. Tyne Bank’s site says it uses four different hops, but I can’t say it made it especially distinctive. Pleasant, but not distinctive.

After I’d eaten and finished the pint, I chatted some more the barman and tried a few one. Certainly more distinctive was another Tyne Bank brew – Tropical Haze. This one’s a festival wheat beer – made with mango puree. This gives it a notable sharpness. Which probably wouldn’t have gone as well with my burger.

All in all, I really liked the Cask, it was friendly, practical and unpretentious. Though next time I might ask them for a more challenging pint. And a fork. They don’t seem to serve their food with forks. What’s that about? Some kind of phobia?

Cask Pub & Kitchen, 6 Charlwood Street, Pimlico, London SW1V 2EE ‎

Tyne Bank Brewery, Unit 11, Hawick Crescent, St Lawrence Road, Newcastle Upon Tyne NE6 1AS | +44 (0)191 265 28 28

1. One UK barrel is 36 imperial gallons or 164 litres. So 60 barrels is nearly 9840 litres or 98.4 hectolitres [hl] a week. Slightly confusingly, 17,000 pints is 9660 litres or 96.6hl. Either way, they have the capacity to produce around 5,000hl a year. 5,000hl is the progressive beer duty threshold for a brewery in the UK and as such, since the policy was introduced in 2002, has been a form of definition for “microbrewery” in the UK.

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Ruddy Darter at The Black Boy, Winchester

Ruddy Darter at The Black Boy, Winchester

My hometown is Winchester, in Hampshire, an hour southwest of London out of Waterloo railway station. Although small, it’s technically a city, the ancient capital of England, boasting a cathedral – with the longest nave of any Gothic cathedral in Europe, apparently. My mother says she often overhears tour guides saying the high street is the oldest in Europe too, but I’m not sure how that’d be qualified. (When it was a Roman city, the main drag was in the same position, if that’s any help.) It’s got an Iron Age hillfort, King Arthur’s Round Table (honest), some bits of medieval city wall, and even a few city gates, despite the Victorians’ best efforts to destroy the historical infrastructure.

It’s also got a lot of pubs, though many of them are pretty mediocre. Among the not-mediocre Winchester pubs is my old local, The Black Boy. (My old old local, The Mash Tun, died the death and now seems to be a tapas bar.)

I’ve been going to The Black Boy for, well, probably decades. It’s a great little pub, in a low-ceilinged old building, replete with plenty of novelty clutter (taxidermied beasts, eviscerated books), fireplaces (that are actually used in the winter), and plenty of nooks and crannies. More importantly, however, there’s also a decent selection of real beers. Not only that, they have a policy to stock local real beers, so expect stuff from breweries and Hampshire (mostly) and other parts of ye olde Kingdom of Wessex, like adjacent Wiltshire. Oh, and it’s friendly too – not something you always experience in British boozers.

The Black Boy, Winchester

The Black Boy always seems to carry Flowerpots Bitter from The Flowerpots Brewery in Cheriton, a few miles away from Winchester. I often choose their 3.8% bitter (so mild-mannered after all the strong Italian beers I’ve been drinking lately!), but for this visit to The Black Boy I sampled some of the other ales they had on and chose Ruddy Darter.

Although it’s classified as an English bitter by Beer Advocate and a Premium Bitter/ESB by Ratebeer, more specifically I’d call Ruddy Darter an amber ale, with its deep coppery-red colour. Andwell, the Hampshire brewery that makes Ruddy Darter, refer to it as a Ruby Ale, in a Premium Ale style. (Andwell, by the way, was founded in 2008; Ruddy Darter is their most recent beer.)

However you define it, Ruddy Darter is delicious. It’s got a fruity smell, which continues into the taste, which is also warmly malty, with a good sweet caramel flavour and mellow hoppiness. My pint was hand-pumped, with low carbonation, though I suspect the bottled version would be bubblier. (Something I experimented on a few days later with some beers from Holsworthy Ales, in Devon. Will write that up shortly.). Oh, and it’s named after a dragonfly, which is pretty cool. All in all, a very pleasant quick visit to an old haunt.

[Usual apology for quality of photos. One of my reasons for visiting Winchester was to get a new phone with a good camera, but I couldn’t quite bring myself to sign up for another 24 month contract or whatever.]

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The Hangry Hour and Birra del Borgo’s ReAle

Birra del Borg's ReAle at The Hole, Trastevere

One aspect of Roman life I just cannot get used to is meal times. Or more specifically, dinner time. During the hot summer months (ie now) we’ll be going to bed around 11pm, thinking of that pesky alarm going off at 6.30am the following day, while the sound of chatter, and crockery and cutlery, and kids crying, wafts towards us from the restaurant a few doors down. How the heck can they still be eating at nearly midnight? What are those babies doing up at this hour? My body clock just couldn’t cope with those hours. I cannot even begin to imagine how I’d survive Barcelona.

My troubles usually start around 5pm. I’ve eaten a big lunch at 1-ish, I’ve had a few snacks during the afternoon, but still my body starts telling me it’s time to eat big towards late afternoon. I’m just too programmed. Growing up, the main meal of the evening was always at 7pm, or even earlier when I was a little kid. Around 6pm I’m getting hangry, and around 7pm I really really want to eat. Don’t talk to me. Just give me some damned protein. It’s the Hangry Hour. Or at least it used to be, but in Roma it can turn into the Hangry Two Hours, or more.

This problem often coincides with meeting Fran from her train home from work. On a summer’s evening, we sometimes head straight from the station to a bar for an aperitivo. Last night, this involved a jaunt to the less touristy part of Trastevere – that is, east of Viale di Trastevere, in the bend in the river. Specifically, Piazza del Ponziani.

Although neither of the bars there are any good for satisfying my Italian craft beer cravings, it’s just a nice spot. Although there are ex-pats and tourists there, for the most part it still just feels like an ordinary neighbourhood piazza, where the locals all seem to know each other. I even recognise a lot of them now, and their dogs, though I’m probably still just another straniero to them. I don’t think the girls in one of the bars, The Hole, recognise me yet either, but I still like their bar. I’m not sure what. It kinda lives up to its name, they’re reliably surly, and we even got shat on by gulls earlier this summer, but we keep going back.

As it was The Hangry Hour, Fran insisted with get a snack. In a lot of places, you get a snack (or even a buffet) included in the price of your drink at aperitivo time, but not at The Hole. We paid €8 for a plate of salumi e formaggi (cold cuts and cheese), which turned out to be just the latter. And they were pretty poor. A worse culinary crime, however, was the bread.

Many foreigners still labour under the delusion that you can’t get bad food in Italy, it’s all artisan and hand-made. And blah. Seriously, blah. That’s just a load of bollocks. The bread The Hole gave us was what’s known as pancarré in Italian – basically industrial white sliced bread. It’s not unlike British white sliced made with the Chorleywood Bread Process, the industrial invention that did more than anything else to destroy the craft of baking in Britain.

The process turned 50 last year, and continues to dominate wheat-based industrial “food” products in the UK, despite its nutritional poverty and the fact that it’s quite likely at the heart of people’s problems with eating wheat products, from feelings of bloating to Coeliac disorder. Although certain quarters have been determined to deny Chorleywood products are problematic, other – scientific – work has proved that long fermentation breads are digestible to people with coeliac. Ironically, this work lead by a scientist from the University of Naples.

So yeah, despite the Hangry, I couldn’t really eat that pancarré – I tried a nibble, but it was spongy and bland. And stale.


At least The Hole has the one Italian craft beer on their menu available this time. That beer is ReAle, from Birra del Borgo.

Like Birradamare (which I talked about here) Birra del Borgo is one of Lazio’s main local micro-breweries and fairly easy to find in Rome. The 6.4% ABV ReAle is a classic Italian craft beer. It’s an APA – and most Italian craft breweries seem to do APA style beers. So much so that Italian APAs really need a name or category of their own, as they’re evolving from APA much like APA evolved from IPA and other pale ales. (Even though Italian APAs still use American hops, like the ever-popular Cascade. Maybe one day they’ll grow more hops in Italy, and have enough to realy hone a fully Italian APA.)

Italian APAs are generally less hoppy and more malty than genuine US APAs, to suit the Italian palette. ReAle is no exception – the predominant flavours here are malt – notably crystal malts, as the beer has a nice slightly-burnt-caramel flavour, along with a certain orange or grapefruit fruitiness. It’s a very nicely balanced beer, with a certain warmth – not warm like a nice cup of cocoa, but warm from the bright amber-copper colour and flavour.

So even though the beer didn’t exactly take the edge off the hanger, it certainly distracted me from the terrible pancarré and dodgy cheese. Afterwards, we eschewed the dubious delights of Trastevere and headed back to Osteria Pistoia on Via Portuense for a pretty decent dinner.

Birra del Borgo (English site) | 07 463 1287 |

The Hole
Via dei Vascellari 16, Rome
06 589 4432

Random addendum
Talking of hangry, among the many T-shirt designs I’ve mused about over the years, how about a pic of Hulk (smashing, perhaps) with the text: “You wouldn’t like me when I’m Hangry!” If you do have a T-shirt printing operation, feel free to steal this idea – but drop me a line if you do!


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Baladin and del Borgo beers at No.Au bistrot, Rome

Baladin Nazionale, Bira del Borgo Keto Reporter at

Just to the northwest of the faintly grotesque tourist nexus that is Piazza Navona, Rome’s Centro Storico (“historic centre”) offers a maze of streets, alleyways and piazzette. There, it’s possible to wander, get lost, find yourself again, elude the tourists mobs, bump into them again, and even find filming locations from Eat Pray Love (ugh). Among the cobbles and crumbling apartment blocks are numerous bars, restaurants and gelaterie. Our destination last night was No.Au, a bar/restaurant located between the handsome Chiostro del Bramante and the somewhat chichi Via dei Coronari (which even boasts one of Rome’s few cupcake shops these days. Bloody cupcakes).

No.Au, which opened in summer 2012, is a collaboration between several big names in Italy’s craft brewing and food scene who wanted to “recreate the atmosphere of a Parisian bistro, with quality products and good company, in the centre of Rome.” You’ll find the whole spiel (in English), and an explanation of the name of the place, here on the Baladin site. Why is it on the Baladin site? Because one of those (five) big names is Teo Musso, the founder and master brewer of Baladin, Italy’s biggest craft brewer.The bar and taps at No.Au Rome

So key is Musso in the Italian craft brewery scene, a biography has even recently been published. It’s called ‘La birra artigianale è tutta colpa di Teo’ (“Baladin. Craft beer is Teo’s fault” – ie Musso is to blame, ie responsible, for the whole craft beer scene in Italy.) Presumably the title is slightly tongue-in-cheek, but certainly Musso is among the most influential of Italy’s craft brewers. His collaborators here are Luca Tosato (also of Baladin), Leonardo di Vincenzo (master brewer of Birra del Borgo), Paolo Bertani (also of Borgo, and previously Baladin) and Gabriele Bonci (renowned pizzaiolo and TV regular whose company produces the breads for Open Baladin bar. We did a pizza course with him last year).

It’s no surprise, then, that at No.Au, the main beers you’ll find on tap are from Baladin and del Borgo, but they also have others, in bottles, both Italian and international. Beside where we sat was an old box of US brewer Dogfish Head’s intriguing/strange Midas Touch. I stayed with Baladin for my first choice. As I’d tried a lot of the offerings on tap, I went for a Nazionale (6.5% ABV), which the friendly, helpful waitress described as a “simple” beer. It’s described as an Italian Ale – as it’s top fermented and also because it’s made with entirely Italian ingredients. This includes the hops – which was a pleasant surprise, as so many Italian craft beers seem to depend on international hops.

No.Au Rome snacks

This really was a pleasing beer, perfect to accompany the antipasti we’d ordered:  a plate of bufala e prosciutto and some very fine freshly cooked potato crisps/chips accompanied by three flavours of mayo. As the waitress said, it was simple – a golden yellow, with a quickly subsiding soft head, very subtle aroma of ginger and lemon, and a fairly sweet, mildly hoppy smooth taste (27 IBU). Molto beverina.

Fran’s first beer was Keto RePorter (5.2% ABV) from Birra del Borgo. This porter is made with the addition of Kentucky tobacco leaves, but it was also very mild from the few sips I had.

As the beers were served in half-pints, and we’d finished the antipasti, I fancied trying something a little more interesting, so the waitress recommended Baladin’s Open Rolling Stone, which they described as an Italian APA on their blackboard, but as an IPA on Ratebeer. Either way, this beer, branded for the magazine of the same name, is very tasty. It’s relatively strong, at 7.5%, and had a slight perfume of camomile and a reasonable head. At first taste it was soft and sweet, but this gave way to a drier, slightly hoppy flavour (it’s still only a fairly moderate 36 IBU though, according to Baladin’s site). I was enjoying this one, but about half-way through my half-pint it started getting a bit detergenty, losing its crispness.

Wine, food, beer at No.Au Rome

Fran’s second one was a Genziana from del Borgo. I’ve had this before, though didn’t try it last night. It’s a really interesting beer made with bitter gentian flowers.

When some friends arrived, we ordered some more food. The emphasis here is on snacks and food that’s either stirato (“ironed” ) or crudo (“raw”). The ironing takes place on a piastra (flat top grill).  I was slightly surprised to see a lot meat available (such as sandwiches made with burger buns and sliced roast beef), as over at Katie Parla’s site she reports how Bonci’s places are going vegetarian for a month to protest Rome’s lack of appreciation of Lazio’s farmers and producers. I asked the waitress, and she said the menu was in transition. So if you visit any time in late July, there may be more vegetarian food.  I had seppia (cuttlefish), which had been ironed in a folded sheet of parchment, with zucchini. Served with an ink mayo, it wasn’t bad, but I would say this place is more about the drinks and antipasti, more a place for aperitivi or after-dinner drinks.

Talking of after-dinner drinks, when we’d eaten, I ordered one more (hey, that still makes just one and a half pints).  I got Baladin’s Isaac, a 5% blanche made with orange zest and coriander and it was a perfect palette cleanser.

No.Au exterior, note like of sign

All in all, a very pleasant evening. Although the place only started to fill up, and the lights went down, around 8.30-9.00pm, it’s definitely a good place to visit for quality Italian craft beers. And plates of cheese. And maybe even some wine. Oh, and the music was pretty good too. All this within a stone’s throw of Piazza Navona and its thoroughly-worth-avoiding eating and drinking options.

No.Au, Piazza di Montevecchio 16A, 00186, Rome
No.Au blog / / 06 45 65 27 70

Baladin brewery (English site)

Birra del Borgo brewery (English site)


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