Tag Archives: beer

A week in Rome: Etruscan necropolis, Etrusca beer

Stone beds at Banditaccia necropolis, Cerveteri

We didn’t spend out entire holiday just eating and drinking. I made a point of doing a few day trips. One was to the Etruscan necropolis – city of the dead – of Banditaccia, a train ride, a bus ride and a surprisingly pleasant walk from Cerveteri, a town near the coast to the nortwest of Rome.

Banditaccia is such an evocative name. It makes me think of bandits and other unsavoury rural types using the old underground chambers (hypogea) to hide away in the middle ages. It’s quite likely they did too, though I can’t report that as fact.

The necropolis was established at the beginning of the 7th century BC, at least. I love this – you wander round Rome going “Wow, Colosseum…” but that particular monument only dates from the 1st century AD. Etruscan civilisation, which gave its name to Tuscany, was already remarkably sophisticated when Romulus and Remus were still just dirty wolf-boys shouting at each other, mythically, from huts on the adjacent hilltops of the Palatine and Aventine.

Etruscan pot, Cerveteri museum

Cerveteri, called Caere by the Etruscans and located a mile from Banditaccia, has a museum in the castle that dominates the centre of town. Even after all the best finds from excavations were filched by the Vatican, it’s still full of amazing finds, mostly ceramics. They show how closely the Etruscans traded through the Med, notably with the Greeks, as the art style is similar, as are the gods and mythological characters featured.

Multimedia hypogea
Visiting the tombs themselves, and imagining how they would have looked decorated with these urns and other funerary furnishings, is an amazing experience. The place was pretty much deserted when we visited, so a staff member was able to turn on multimedia installations for us in three of the hypogea. I have mixed feelings about all the holes in the tuff volcanic rock drilled so they could install projectors and speakers, but the systems work surprisingly well, lighting up the tombs and giving a sense of how these spaces were used.

What struck me, even centuries later, with the tombs mostly denuded of their decorations, is how homely they are. And this is just the point. The Etruscans created the necropolises as mirror images of the cities of the living. Each hypogeum was a home for several generations of family. The dead were initially body wrapped in cloth, then buried, or burned and put in urns. The hypogea consist of rooms with stone beds, and some even feature incredible decorations. The most famous example is Banditaccia’s Tomb of the Reliefs – amazing 3D designs of tools and utensils, for war and domestic work: those two most important activities of the living.

Tomb of the Reliefs, Banditaccia, Cerveteri (Photo: Fran Hortop)

As Fran pointed out, the notion of the tombs being the mirror image of homes is also expressed by the fact that these spaces, firstly large, rounded tumuli, then later in rows much like terraced housing, were carved out of the tuff. It was a process of creating a living space for the dead by hollowing out spaces in the ground. This contrasts with building a home above ground, creating space by erecting walls and roofs.

Terraced tombs, Banditaccia, Cerveteri

It’s interesting too that although the Roman Republic eventually subsumed Etruria, the final three kings of the Roman Kingdom were an Etruscan dynasty (in the 7th-6th centuries BC, though this period isn’t well documented). And as they had so much common culture, the guide we spoke to said the Romans respected the Etruscan funerary arrangements enough to leave the necropolises alone, even after they had effectively quashed their civilisation. Indeed, there were still new tombs being carved in the 3rd century AD. It was only later they were semi-forgotten, becoming overgrown. Although some did provide strange cave-like spaces for shepherds – and bandits? – over the centuries, most were lost and the area resembled a series of lumps and small hills in the 19th century, before Raniero Mengarelli started his systematic excavations in 1909.

Tumulus Etruscan tomb, Banditaccia, Cerveteri

It’s a wonderful place, right up there with Ostia Antica for my favourite ancient sites in Italy: partly because these two are just undersubscribed compared to the better-known Pompey and Herculaneum, but also partly because Banditaccia has a reminded me of its fellow UNESCO site Angkor Wat in Cambodia. Banditaccia – or at least what’s been excavated – is a lot smaller but both have a similar substantialness and sense of mystery. Angkor Wat is a lot more recent (dating from the 11th-15th centuries AD) but I love these places where ancient stones have trees growing through the weathered old stonework, itself carved with sheer manpower.

Etruscan beer
After visiting Banditaccia we went beer shopping and it seemed only right to get a bottle of Birra del Borgo’s Etrusca “archeo birra”.

Borgo Etrusca label

Etrusca is actually the name of three beers, first made during a fascinating project in 2012 by Birra del Borgo (in Lazio, east of Rome), Baladin brewery (in Piedmont, NW Italy) and Dogfish Head (in Delaware, US). The brewmasters of all three worked with Dr Patrick McGovern, an archaeology professor and director of the Biomolecular Archaeology Project for Cuisine, Fermented Beverages, and Health at the University of Pennsylvania Museum, who had worked on various other ancient ale projects previously with Dogfish Head.

Together they established a list of ingredients that were consumed by the Etruscans. The Baladin site says, “Under Dr Pat’s supervision, ingredients have been selected on the basis of the findings made at several Italian archaeological sites.” According to a post on the Dogfish Head site, meanwhile, “the team clearly found that the Etruscans had a taste for ale.”

I know the ancient Romans drank beer, so it’s not a stretch to imagine the Etruscans did too true. Although grain-based beer is more associated with northern Europe, grain was of course grown in ancient Italy too, and the Dogfish site continues “The backbone of Birra Etrusca comes from two-row malted barley and an heirloom Italian wheat.” This wheat is ‘Senatore Cappelli’, which I saw in several Italian craft beers on this recent visit.

Italian society never underwent the seismic changes experienced in Britain during our comprehensive industrial revolution. Nor did it embrace as fully as Britain or the US the post-war approaches to agriculture based on rejecting ancient practices in favour of plying farmland with tonnes and tonnes and endless tonnes of petrochemical industry derived fertilisers, pesticides and herbicides. Plus, pockets of mountainous Italy remain isolated to this day. Unlike Britain, where we rejected our heritage grains in favour of modern varieties bred by agri-corporations to thrive with said chemicals, Italy still grows some of the same varieties of grain it has grown for centuries. Cappelli, however, arguably isn’t such a grain: it was selectively bred from Tunisian ‘Jenah Rhetifah’ durum wheat at the start of the 20th century. It’s conjecture, but ‘Jenah Rhetifah’ may have ancient heritage, and may indeed have been related to grain traded or cultivated by the Etruscans. I don’t know; I need to consult an expert more. Or find some funding to bloody well do a PhD!

Weird and wonderful
The beer also contains various other weird and wonderful ingredients, based on, according to the Baladin site, “research carried out on Etruscan habits, as they would [have] spiced fermented drinks with hazelnut flour, pomegranate and pomegranate juice, honeys, sultanas, natural resin and gentian root”. The “natural resin” in question is probably what the Dogfish site refers to as “the sarsaparilla-like Ethiopian myrrh resin.” The myrrh and gentian are the bittering agents, though the recipe does also include a “handful of whole-flower hops”.

Recording cultivation of hops in Europe didn’t come until centuries later, though as Humulus lupulus is native to Eurasia and north Africa there’s the chance it was utilised by the Etruscans. Wondering about this, I sent an email to Dr McGovern, the “Indiana Jones of ancient ales, wines, and extreme beverages”. Though busy on a lecture tour in Australia he kindly replied and said, “There is some evidence of hops being found in association with beverages at Etruscan sites, but not much.” I’ve just ordered his most recent book, ‘Uncorking the Past: The Quest for Wine, Beer, and Other Alcoholic Beverages’ (Berkeley: University of California, 2009) so perhaps that will tell me more. Check out the article ‘The Brewing of Etrusca Beer’ via Dr Pat’s site here (a PDF download) as it gives more detail of the procedure, while a second article on the same page, ‘Ancient Italic Beer The archaeological finds at Pombia (NO), discusses the evidence of hop usage in this era, though it refers to finds from a “proto-Celtic” population in Piedmont/Piemonte, nortern Italy, that is north of ancient Etruria.

Birra del Borgo's Etrusca

So what does it taste like?
Evaluating the experience of drinking a beer like this is tricky as the story of its genesis is so fascinating it’s potentially distracting. Not only was the recipe created with Dr Pat’s expert input, but the three breweries used different materials for the ferment. Dogfish used some bronze plates in in the vats, Baladin used wooden barrels, and Borgo used specially made terracotta jars. This is appropriate given the importance of terracotta for storing liquids in ancient Italy. We were staying in Testaccio, and drank our bottle of Etrusca there, a mere 100m or so from Monte Testaccio, which is also known as Monte dei cocci – which could be translated as “Hill of the earthenware shards”. Yes, the hill is a massive mound of broken ancient Roman amphorae.

Suitably enough, given our day trip, Fran said the beer, which is a pale, cloudy golden colour, “smells like an old cave somewhere”, with all that nuttiness, fruit and fermentation giving a certain mustiness.

Dammit can't read the label

Fran got more earthy smells from it – mushrooms, humus (leaf litter not chickpea). I got a more sharp, sauerkraut smell, with honey. The taste was sour, honey, balsamic, metallic. Fran thought it tasted like fermented tomato juice: not that she’s ever drunk that, as far as I know, but it did have a certain minerally, Bloody Mary quality.

It’s not a beer to spend a relaxing evening with, perhaps, but it’s unique. I wish I could try the Dogfish Head version, but I’ve never seen any of their ales for sale in Italy or the UK, sadly. The comparison would be interesting, and Dr Pat says that he finds the “pomegranate and myrrh are more pronounced and better integrated” with the Dogfish version.

Either way, I love these historical experiments, like Harveys’ Priory Ale from earlier this year, commemorating a slightly more recent bit of history, the Battle of Lewes 750 years ago. Dogfish Head has produced a series of these experimental brews, with their most recent collaboration with Dr McGovern a prehistoric-style Nordic ale they’re called Kvasir. There’s more about their working process, and why we lost our inclination to make such diverse brews, in an article on The Atlantic’s site here.

So anyway, Etruscan remains, Etrusca archaeological ale recreations: what a great day. And far too long a post. I was planning to mention a few other beers I tried on the trip but that will have to wait.

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Filed under Ale, beer, Breweries, Discussion, Italian beer, Misc, Rome

Fritti, pizza, local Sussex booze – and chocolate pine nut ricottta tart

Slice with strawbs and cream

We’d been planning a pizza and local beer evening with friends here in Lewes, Sussex, for a while. This evolved into a pizza, local beer, local wine, local cider and Roman-style fried starters (fritti) evening, with the latter becoming viable after we borrowed a deep fat fryer.

We started the evening with an aperitivo of kir royales made with sparkling wine from Breaky Bottom, one of several vineyards we’re lucky enough to have near us on the chalk South Downs. I tried not to drink too much though, as I was driving the deep fat fryer.

Breaky Bottom

Missing these things from Rome, we did suppli al telefono, which are deep-fried balls of risotto with melting mozzarella inside; carciofi alla giudia, Romano-Jewish deep-fried artichokes, which I’d never done before, but worked very well (you trim the artichoke, remove the choke, then deep-fry it. Then deep-fry it again); and calamari fritti – fried squid bits, which I simply floured with semolina.

Fritti

Seasonal pizza
For the pizzas, I did about 2kg of dough. Here it is before and after its 24 hour prove. It was a monster.

Pizza doughPizza dough, after final prove

Then we made four different topping. One thing we learned from Gabrieli Bonci in Rome is to not be afraid to experiment with toppings, not be a slave to the canonical pizzas, and to use seasonal ingredients. It’s a great time of year for seasonal produce, so alongside the artichokes, the markets also furnished us with other good stuff like asparagus and radicchio. Here’s our pizza menu, typos and all.

Pizza menu

We were so busy trying to bake them and serve them – and drink our way through a very fine selection of further wines, cider and beer – we forgot to take any pics. The booze included Danebury Vineyards’ Madeline Angevine white (not Sussex, but Hampshire, though bought from Harveys) and various beers from Harveys and Long Man, the brewery named after the giant figure on the hillside at Wilmington, about 10 miles east of Lewes.

We did do one classic pizza, a Margherita, but otherwise we used seasonal ingredients and local cheeses and meats. For the latter, we used some smoked pancetta from Beal’s Farm Charcuterie, combined with local asparagus. The other two pizzas we did were bianche – white, that is, without tomato sauce. This is commonplace in Rome, but international pizza all seems to default to rossa (red), with tomato sauce. First, we did radicchio, fresh garlic and two cheeses from High Weald Dairy: their ricotta and Medita, a salty feta-style sheep’s milk cheese. Second, we did roasted baby leeks with mozzarella and Twineham Grange, a local parmesan-style cheese, aged for 15 months, which satisfies my need for a local cheese that’s good for grating on pasta dishes etc. We did use bog-standard mozzarella throughout, as no one’s making a Sussex version. Yet.*

Pie!
After all that fried food and stodge, what else did the meal need? Ah yes, fat and sugar. A dessert. After making a pine nut tart recently, I’ve been wondering about a chocolate version. As, like any sane person, I adore chocolate. Plus, we’d seen the High Weald ricotta on the market.

Side, through glass cloche

Anyway, the chocolate pine nut ricotta tart is based on a recipe by Giada de Laurentiis, granddaughter of the legendary film producer Dino and iconic actress Silvana Mangano. The original recipe was in cup measures. I tried translating these to grams using online charts, as well as using actual cup measuring spoons: each approach gave me completely different weights. This is why I’m not a fan of cups – for flour, especially, they’re inaccurate, as there’s the question of how compacted the powder is.

The resulting pastry was very crumbly and impossible to roll, so I effectively filled the bottom of a loose-bottom cake tin with it, as you would with biscuit crumbs for a cheesecake. Indeed, this is basically a type of cheesecake, though the filling is dense and very rich. After all that fritti and pizza and booze it was perhaps a bit much – or at least a big slice was a bit much. Perhaps it’d be a more suitable end to a slightly lighter meal!

You’ll need a food processor for this recipe.

Pastry
200g plain flour
20g polenta
100g pine nuts, toasted
35g caster sugar
Pinch salt
120g butter, melted and cooled slightly

Filling
110g water
150g caster sugar
225g dark chocolate, chopped
200g ricotta
8og full-fat cream cheese
3 eggs
100g pine nuts

1. To make the pastry, combine the plain flour, polenta, 35g sugar, salt and 100g toasted pine nuts in a food processor, blending until the nuts are well ground.
2. Add the butter and pulse until the mixture is well combined. It’s unlikely it’ll ball up like a normal pastry dough.
3. Use the mix to line a 26cm loose-bottomed tin. I used a cake tin, though a flan or pie tin would work.
4. Put the pastry case in the fridge for at least half an hour, or for a day or so if you make it in advance.
5. Preheat oven to 180C (160C fan).
6. Line the pastry case with baking parchment then fill with baking beans.
7. Bake for about 25 minutes, then remove the beans and parchment and bake for another 10 minutes until golden.
8. Allow the pie case to cool while you prepare the filling.
9. Heat the water and 150g sugar in a small saucepan, bring to the boil and simmer to dissolve the sugar, then remove from the heat and allow to cool slightly.
10. Over a separate pan of simmering water, melt the chocolate in a heatproof bowl, avoiding contact with the water.
11. Beat together the eggs.
12. Using a hand blender or the food processor again, combine the ricotta and cream cheese, then slowly add the egg.
13. Continue beating or processing until smooth.
14. Slowly add the sugar syrup, beating or processing until all combined.
15. Pour the filling into the pastry case and bake, at the same temperature, until almost set – check at about 15 minutes.
16. Sprinkle the other, non-toasted pine-nuts over the top then continue baking until it’s all set and the pine-nuts are nicely toasted, another 15-20 minutes, depending on your oven.
17. Allow to cool and serve. We served it with some cream and macerated strawberries.

Cloche

A note on the food matching
Although we and our guests put together a great collection of local boozes, after the initial aperitivo I stuck with Harveys’ Knots of May. This is a seasonal light mild, reddish-brown in colour and only 3%, which I bought direct from cask at Harveys in a 4 pint / 2.4 litre plastic jug, aka container, aka rigger, aka growler, aka polysomething or other.

It’s a delicious beer, but I’m not sure its malty sweetness made for the best food pairing with the fritti and pizza. Something a little more acid or bitter might have been better for cutting through the fattiness of the cheese etc.

It did, however, work well with the desert. I’m still blundering uncertainly through the beer and food matching business but that malty sweetness, and light, low body, went well with the dense, chocolately pudding.

Little brown jug - empty

 

* There is a British buffalo mozzarella being made these days, from my home county of Hampshire, just to the west. I’ve yet to try it. Plus, mozzarella di bufala is far too good – and pricey – to use for melting directly on pizza. For that you use the standard cow milk mozzarella, known as fior di latte (“flower of milk”, “milk flower”) in Italy. Bufala is best added after the end comes out of the oven and allowed to melt just slightly with the latent heat.

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Filed under Ale, beer, Baking, Pies & tarts

Types of beer

Are innumerable: even the key styles have sub-varieties, or the names may have changed meaning over time and distance, or the same style may have different names in different languages or dialects, just to add to the muddle.

This list is just an attempt to consolidate my knowledge. I’ll keep adding to it, either as I learn more, or realise I’ve forgotten stuff, or when people correct me. Or to add images.

Abbey
Belgian beers in vein of Trappist beers, but without the official monastic supervision.

Ale
Generic term for beers that are made with top fermenting yeasts at warmer temperatures. Historically, ales were unhopped but not any more. Not for a long while.

Altbier
“Old beer”, a German (specifically Düsseldorf and Westphalia) dark ale.

Amber
Coppery ales that derive their colour from crystal malts.

American IPA
US evolution of the English IPA. Big, aromatic, bitter ales made with the distinctively citrussy, resiny West Coast US hop varieties: Cascade, Amarillo, Chinook, Simcoe, Centennial, Columbus. The quintessential beer of the craft beer movement.

APA
American pale ale. “The first true American craft-beer style, this took inspiration from the pale beers brewed in Europe and then made them American by using the hugely fruity hops grown the West Coast of the United States.” (Mark Dredge). On a spectrum with pale ales and American IPAs.

Barley wine
A fairly generic term, but basically an English style of strong ale, with 8% ABV plus. Indeed, at 12% some have a comparable strength to grape wine.

Bière de Garde
“Beer for keeping”, strong ale from Pas de Calais, equivalent to Belgian saison beers.

Bitter
Synonymous with English pale ale. Ales with wide variation in colour and strength, but most typically around 5% and golden-brown. By modern standards not especially bitter or hoppy, more defined by mellow maltiness.

Bière blanche
See witbier (below).

Blonde
Generic term for light, golden coloured pale ales of varying malt and hop profiles.

Bock
Strong German lager. The name, purportedly, derives from accent and dialect variables in Germany, where the place where the style originated – Einbeck – became ein bock (“a billy goat”). Variables include doppelbock (see below).

Brown ale
Fairly generic term for a sweet, brown generally mild, lower alcohol ale. More specifically an English ale type, originally.

Doppio malto
Italian birra doppio malto (“double malt ale”) can be seen as the equivalent of English strong ales or even some barley wines, or strong Belgian abbey beers, or Trappist dubbels. Italian beers are classified as analcolica (non-alcoholic, though technically low-alchohol), leggera(light) or normale, speciale and doppio malto, with each category defined by its gradi plato – a measurement of density.

Dubbel
“Double”. Medium to strong brown Trappist ale.

Dopplebock
Dark, maltier version of bock (see above).

Dunkel
“Dark” in German, and used to refer to various dark lagers. More typical of Bavaria. Malty, not as strong as dopplebocks.

ESB
Extra special bitter. An English brewer’s highest original gravity bitter, after session/ordinary bitter (lower) and special/best bitter (middling).  Synonymous with premium bitter.

Faro
A type of lambic (see below). Made by blending  a lambic and a young, sweetened beer.

Frambozen, framboise
Dutch/Belgian raspberry lambic (see below).

Fruit beer
Any beer that uses fruit adjuncts. May be whole fruit, purées or juices. Kriek cherry lambic is a fruit beer, for example, but others may be more convention brews augmented with fruit ingredients.

Geuze, gueuze
A type of well-carbonated Belgian lambic, made with blend of older (2-3 years) and young lambics.

Golden ale
Generic term for light golden ales, sometimes used synonymously with “blonde”. Arguably, golden ales have less body, and are crisper, more like lagers.

Hefeweizen
“Yeast wheat” in German. A type of wheat beer with low hoppiness, high carbonation, phenolic clove aromas. See also kristallweizen.

Helles
“Bright” in German. Distinguishes this lager from dunkel. Munich pale lager inspired by Czech pilsners.

IPA
India Pale Ale. Now a varied style (see American IPA) but original English versions were less punchy, made with older, mellower English hop varieties. The hoppiness originally developed out of necessity – its preservative quality allowed the ale to survive the long journey to British imperial India without going off.

Imperial stout, Russian Imperial stout
Strong (9% ish ABV) dark beer style first brewed in 18th century England for export to Russia. Brewing industry veteran Ian Swanson, teacher at the Beer Academy, said it was a case of the ships needing ballast as they went to Russia and brought back timber.

Kolsch, Kölsch, Koelsch
A light, lager-like top fermented beer from Cologne (Köln), Germany. Becoming popular as it’s easily accessible to lager drinkers, but is quicker to make, not requiring lagering (cold store conditioning).

Kriek
A type of Belgian lambic made with sour cherries.

Kristallweizen
A type of wheat beer: a hefeweizen that’s been filtered for brightness.

Lager
Generic term for beers that are made with bottom-fermenting yeasts at colder temperatures, and involve a cold “lagering” (literally “storage” in German) conditioning period, originally in caves or tunnels.Where caves or tunnels weren’t an option, winter ice was used to cool the cellars. This was superceded by refridgeration in the 1870s. Lagers were first brewed in Britain in Glasgow and Wrexham in the 1880s, but didn’t really start to take over until the 1960s. Despite German (etc) pride in lagers, it’s the culprit for some of the worst crimes against beer in its long history, and the reason I stopped drinking for years as a teenager in the late 1980s. Shockingly for a country with such an important ale history, the biggest selling beer in Britain since 1985 is a generic industrial lager. Mentioning no names. …. Carling.

Lambic
Distinctive beer style specifically from Pajottenland region of Belgium (southwest of Brussels). Relies on spontaneous fermentation and wild yeasts (like Brettanomyces bruxellensis and Brettanomyces lambicus) and lactobacilli, and as such is very different to other beer styles with their tightly controlled yeast strains. Various sub-varieties, like kriek, geuze, faro. 30% unmalted wheat. Winey and sour flavours. Hops used for preservation not bitterness, so often old and intentionally cheesy. Aged in sherry and wine barrels.

Märzen, Märzenbier, Marzen
A malty lager originally from Bavaria though now more generic.

Mild
Low gravity, malty beer from England. “Mild” originally referred to a young, fresh beer, as opposed to a more flavoursome old, or stale, beer but more recently can mean “mildly hopped.” X to XXXX strengths, historically.

Milk stout
A variable of stout (see below), made with lactose (milk sugar). Lactose is unfermentable so the resulting beers have a thick, creamy body with lower ABVs.

NZ draft, NZ draught
Common New Zealand beer style. A malty, minimally hopped brown lager with ABV around 4-5%.

Oatmeal stout
Stout made with oats alongside the malt, adding a smoothness.

Oktoberfest, Oktoberfestbier
Traditionally Märzen lagers brewed in March and largered to October. Now a registered trademark of six members of the Club of Munich Brewers.

Old ale
Name for dark, malty British ales, generally 5% ABV plus. Originally contrasted with mild ales.

Oud bruin
“Old brown”. From the Flemish region of Belgium, a malty brown ale with sour notes due to an atypically long aging process.

Pale ale
Generic term for ales produced with pale malts. English bitters, IPAs, APAs and Scotch ales are all variations on pale ale.

Pilsener, Pilsner, Pils
Type of pale lager that originated in the Bohemian city of Plzeň (Pilsen), now in the Czech Republic. Now many lagers made outside of Pilsen are considered pilseners.

Porter
Originally a dark, nutritious ale drunk by London porters in the 18th century, made with dark brown malts . A strong porter was a “stout porter”, though now the terms are almost interchangeable.

Pumpkin beer
US style, made with pumpkin flesh and often unveiled ceremoniously in the Autumn. Often spiced with pumpkin pie spices: nutmeg, cinnamon, cloves and allspice. A type of vegetable beer.

Rauchbier
“Smoked beer” from Bamberg, Germany. Made with malt dried oven an open flame.

Roggenbier
A Bavarian type of rye beer with light, dry, spicy taste. Brewed with same yeast as hefeweizen (see above).

Rye beer
Beers featuring rye alongside the more typical malt (malted barley). See roggenbier.

Saison
A fairly generic French term (“season” ) for strong-ish pale ales. Saison beer evolved in the farms of Wallonia, French-speaking Belgium, where it was brewed in late winter, and stored for drinking by farm workers slaving away at the harvest and whatnot.

Schwarzbier
“Black beer”. German term for dark lagers made with dark malts.

Scotch ale
Scottish style of pale ale, malty but lightly hopped. Also known as “wee heavy”, apparently. May feature peaty or smoked malts, often fairly strong (6-9% ABV).

Session
Not so much a style as a strength: weak-ish beers (4% ABV or less, generally) than can be drunk fairly copiously in a “session”. Generally more about the (US, citrussy) hops than the malt.

Smoked beer
Beers made with smoked malt – which is dried with open fire. Not a fan.

Stout
Originally a British term to describe strong beer, such as “pale stout” or “stout porter.” Evolved and muddled up with porter, and came to be another name for dark (black-ish) ales. Remained popular in early 20th century when porters all but died out, before its revival in the 1970s.

Trappist
Beer produced by, or under the supervisor of, Trappist monks. As of 2014, there are 10 Trappist beer producers, mostly in Belgium, but also in Netherlands, US and Austria. Chimay most famous. Various top-fermented styles, classified as Enkel (single), Dubbel and Tripel.

Tripel
“Triple”, strongest of the Trappist beers.

Vegetable beer
Any beer that’s made with vegetable ingredients – like the US pumpkin beers. Another popular vegetable beer flavouring ingredient is chili pepper. Even though it’s technically a fruit (see fruit beer).

Vienna
Local equivalent of dunkel or schwarzbier, that is a dark lager.

Weissbier
“White beer” in Bavarian. A category of wheat beers that includes hefeweizens.

Weizen
“White” in German. Wheat beers, same as weissbier basically but a different dialect name.

Wheat beer
Beers (usually ales, see above) made with a high proportion of wheat – at least 50% – along with the malt.

Witbier
“White beer”, aka “bière blanche”. Wheat beer from the Netherlands and Belgium (predominantly). Tends to be hazy when cold, due to yeast and wheat proteins suspended in the liquid. Mostly feature gruit: a Dutch term (grute in German) for blends of herbs, spices and fruit used for flavouring and preserving certain continental beers prior to the popularisation of hops in the middle ages. Today these may well involve coriander and orange zest.

It’s one big happy fermented family! Pop Chart Lab, a Brooklyn-based design team have done some excellent visualisations of it, here and (a newer version) here.

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Filed under Ale, beer, Misc

Thin air, good beer

And a little sunburn.

Bear Lake, Rocky Mountain National Park Colorado

We’re currently in Estes Park, on the edge of Rocky Mountain National Park, an area just recovering from terrible floods in September. Today we’ve had an icy walk around a lake at 2888m (9475ft), played some crazy golf and stocked up on beer from Estes Park Brewery, which is at an altitude of 2292m (7522ft). This tickled me as Dartmoor Brewery claims to be “England’s highest brewery” – at 1465ft, that is 447 in sensible, modern metre measures.

Baby Bugler 2 pint bottles of Estes Park Porter (left) and Redrum Ale (right), with Rockies sunset

The air is thin for us lowlanders, but the beer is good, especially when drunk on the veranda of our cabin with the sun setting and coyotes howling. (It’s also the elk rut and we’ve had a lot of their eerie bugling. I even cooked dinner on our first night here with these massive deer grazing just outside the window.)

The Shining Ale, Estes Park brewery

Really enjoying the brewery’s amber ale, named Redrum ale. Yep, we’re in The Shining territory. Stephen King was inspired to write his classic story while staying in room 217 at the Stanley Hotel in Estes Park. The brewery even does a The Shining beer to further milk the connection – especially in this run-up to Halloween, a festival that reaches bonkers proportions in the US, compared to the UK’s more traditional shifting of Samhain/All Souls’ Day/Halloweeny activities to Bonfire Night, 5 November.

Tomorrow we head downhill again, but only to Boulder – a town that’s already a mile high. And has 25 breweries within county limits. I don’t think we’ll be visiting them, as we need more child friendly activities, but maybe I’ll be able to try a few brews in passing.

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Final beer at home in Rome

Birra del Borgo's ReAle 8

We’re leaving Rome tomorrow. The shipments of boxes we sent a few weeks ago has arrived in England, the cats similarly made it home on their road trip. But we’re still here until tomorrow, with just a suitcase and rucksack each. And massive piles of clobber to fit therein. It seems to have bred since we packed the boxes.

And of course we have a few final bottles of beer, one of which is this Birra del Borgo eighth anniversary brew, ReAle 8, from their birthday back in May 2013.

Along with Baladin, Birra del Borgo is one of Italy’s most respected breweries. Plus, it’s in Lazio, so, during our time in Rome, I could drink a lot of their wares while also maintaining locavore inclinations. Yay.

Birra del Borgo's ReAle 8 label

ReAle 8 is an Italian American Pale Ale-style brew, amber in colour and part of their annual birthday celebration variations on a theme. I’d love to tell you about the scent/nose/odour/smell, but I’ve got a stinking cold. All Fran can say is “metallic”.

The taste, however, I am getting (at least in part): it’s full-bodied, rich and fruity, providing one of those great, almost chewy mouthfuls with its well-balanced flavour of malts, stewed apple, caramel, and a hoppiness that’s fresh rather than overly bitter. It’s also made with gentian, but I’d be lying if I said I got that.

Thanks to Michele Sensidoni from Mastri Birrai Umbri, who gave us this beer, along with five bottles of one his new test brews. One of which I’m hoping to smuggle back to Britain tomorrow. He’s been a big part of my education in Italian craft beer.

Thanks also to everyone who’s ever served me a craft beer here in Italy, notably Elise Grazzini at Open Baladin whose knowledge and multilingual skills also helped with my  education, after we first found the bar early in our time here.

Oh, and thanks to Nanni Moretti too. His film Caro Diario (Dear Diary, 1993) was one of the first specifically Rome-based films we watched when we moved here, and it helped give us a sense of affection for, and some rudimentary glimpses of understanding of, the city. And, would you believe it, he moved in next door a few weeks ago. So we arrive seeing him on film, riding his motorino up Via Dandalo, and we leave seeing him in the RW, parking his motorino just outside our palazzo.

Borgo 8, leaving Rome home

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Post number 100, a celebration of Italian craft beer, and getting ready to leave Rome

Italian craft beers

According to WordPress’s strange date conventions I started this blog with a post published 2012/11/07. For most of the world1, this would otherwise be known as 07/11/2012, 7 November 2012.

It was started so I had a place to write about my baking experiments, my interest in the baked goods I encountered while living in Rome, where we moved in August 2011, and my burgeoning enthusiasm for Italian birre artigianali (artisan beers, craft beer).

Some Baladin beers

Leon, Wayan and Isaac from Baladin, the brewery that really kicked it all off in Italy and still produces many of the best, most intereting beers here.

Now, almost 11 months later, I’ve arrived at my 100th post…. just as we’re preparing to leave Rome after two roller-coaster years. These included:
difficult work (Fran);
unpaid work/unemployment (me; including one [dubious] SF-fantasy novel, an internship on the American Academy’s Sustainable Food Project, and this educating-myself-about beer and waffling on about baking project);
faltering attempts to learn Italian;
lots of baking (some great; some heavy; some that went mushy);
lots of food (some amazing, a lot mediocre);
lots of beer (mostly interesting);
bewilderment at the Italian ways of doing things (or not doing things; like having to wait five months to get our internet connected, or the post office that doesn’t sell stamps);
still no kids (sadly);
neighbours from hell (WTF!? It’s 4am! Again! Che cazzo state facendo?! Stiamo provando di dormire. Mortacci tua!);
zanzare;
some great new friends;
witnessing Palme d’Or winner Nanni Moretti move in next door;
and, overall, an incredible immersion in this bonkers, intoxicating, dilapidated, exasperating, traffic-choked, caffeine-fuelled, history-sozzled city.

Draco beer

Draco, from Birrificio Montegioco. Made with bilberry (aka blueberry) syrup, no less.

When I wrote the 99th post, I thought, “Accidenti! I better do something interesting for the arbitrary landmark of number 100″. But that stymied me.

So instead, here are a load of pictures of beer. They’re mostly from a party we had at the weekend that doubled tripled up as a goodbye, a free jumble sale, and a celebration of Italian craft beer. Although we had a great selection of fascinating brews, they are only the tip of the iceberg of the 500 or so birra artigianale breweries currently operating in Italy. I wish I could stay here and keep on drinking my way through them, but we need to return to Britain.

Noa Reserve

Noa Reserve – one of the strangest beers we had that evening. Aged in barrels, it basically tastes of whisky, brandy, or as our friend MM said, “a memory of foreign land you’ve never been too.”

I do hope any readers of this blog won’t be put off by the fact I won’t have the glamorous “I live in Rome” factor any more. For the next few months, we’ll be visiting friends and family in the US and NZ, before settling back home around Christmas. So the blog will change slightly – not its tone, but its context.

We’ll see how it goes.

I certainly have no intention of stopping baking and I’m really excited to get back to the real beer scene in the UK, which, like that of Italy, has grown exponentially the past few years, with 197 new breweries opening in the past year alone, while London alone has nearly 50, up from just two in 2006.

Ecco, more photos of beer:

Marche'l Re

Marchè’l Re from Loverbeer brewery. Possibly even stranger than Noa Reserve, me and chef Chris Behr concluded it was like “drinking fruit beer from an ashtray”.2

Gotica from Brasserie Lacu

Gotica from Brasserie Lacu, a light double malted Belgian abbey ale – made in Belgium for the Italian market.

Rubbiu MRL

Can’t really find out much about this one, Rubbiu, but it was a great gift – as it came from a small brewery in a friend’s small home town outside Rome.

Zagara beer from Barley brewery

Zagara beer, an orange blossom honey ale from Barley brewery in Sardinia. So the first Sardinian beer I’ve ever had.

Line-up left

Line-up, centre

Line-up, right

And finally, a bit of nocturnal ambience. Thanks to anti-mosquito candles.

Isaac, anti-mozzie candles

1 Except you contrarians in the US, of course, who would insist on confusing the rest of us by using putting 11/07/2012 for 7 November 2012.

2 We didn’t necessarily mean this in a bad sense. I wish I’d written about Loverbeer more in my time here, but I’ve only really discovered them fairly recently. (I did write about their Madamin.) As they really are producing some of the most interesting beers in Italy. They seem intent on combining the traditions and tastes of wine and beer. So their D’uva beer  is made with 20% grape must and tastes much more like a sparkling wine than a beer, not unlike say Birra del Borgo’s Rubus.

I’m increasingly interested in this whole area of making beer that doesn’t really taste of hops or malt. It’s fascinating, and I’m very divided. The above mentioned Noa Reserve, from Almond ’22 brewery, is another example, as is the fascinating Etrusca (which can be seen in one of the above pics), a beer made by three different breweries (Baladin and Borgo in Italy, and Dogfish Head in the US) according to an ancient recipe; it tastes much more like wine or mead than beer. I very much enjoyed experiencing the weirder beers we had, but I think my favourite of the evening was Ius Primae Noctis (“right of the first night”, Latin for “droit du seigneur”), a hoppy, citrussy Italian APA from Birrificio Aurelio, which is in Ladispoli, not far from Rome. So yes, I’m clearly not leaving behind hoppy beers any time soon.

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Black beer bread

Black beer bread

Readers of this blog may have already spotted that we’re ‘Game of Thrones’ fans. ‘Game of Thrones’ is not only the name of HBO’s excellent TV series, it’s also the title of the first book in George RR Martin’s A Song of Fire and Ice cycle of books and it made a cameo appearance in this post, where we were lolling around in the park drinking Birra del Borgo’s Rubus, reading and enjoying the sun.

I can’t remember what hyperlinked amble took me there, but Inn At The Crossroads is the officially recognised blog for recipes based on foods found in A Song of Fire and Ice. Being a baker, my attention was immediately grabbed by their bread recipes. Specifically black bread – something that’s mentioned in the books as common fare of the people of Winterfell and the North.

Here is Inn At The Crossroads’ first Black bread, and here is their Black bread redux, aka Black beer bread. I wanted to try something similar, but not using commercial yeast – as this didn’t seem to fit into the whole quasi-Medieval vibe of Martin’s world. Instead, I wanted to use beer barm, a byproduct of fermentation.

My first experiment with a real barm bread was pretty successful, though I didn’t use any actual beer or dark flours to make it, so it wasn’t really a black bread or a black beer bread. This, however, is.

Again, I used Mulino Marino Pan di Sempre, a stoneground organic white flour that is made with a blend of Triticum aestivum (that is, common bread wheat), Triticum spelta (spelt wheat) and Triticum monococcum (einkorn wheat), but I also added some wholewheat flour.

I made a leaven with the same barm as before, feeding it up with flour over a few days, then I made up a dough, using beer as the only other liquid, not water.

Now, I mentioned that Dan Lepard’s ‘The Handmade Loaf’ has a recipe he calls “Barm bread”, though he makes it without actual barm, just beer and a leaven. He also heats the beer, killing the yeasts, but retaining the flavour. I wanted to retain the live yeasts from a bottle-conditioned beer, so didn’t heat it.

Flour, dark ale and barm leaven for my Winterfell black bread

The beer I used was Birrificio Math’s La 27, a 4.8% dark beer from the brewery near Florence. They call it a stout, but stout, traditionally, meant strong, and more recently has come to be associated with more full-bodied creamy porters. It’s neither.

The La 27 has a solid fruity smell: specifically black berries like blackberries (!), elderberries and blackcurrants, with a touch of smokiness and a little chocolate, but taste-wise it’s dull, a little charcoal, but not much more depth of flavour. The body was thin and watery, and over-carbonated. The aftertaste was oddly bitter. It was black though, or black enough for a black beer bread.

So anyway, here’s the recipe. If you try it, don’t be afraid to adjust the quantities, as I was very much experimenting when I made it.

I made my beer barm leaven with barm, flour and some cooking water from farro grain; I’d say it was about 80% hydration, effectively. If you can’t get hold of a beer barm, a normal leaven/sourdough starter will suffice, though it won’t be quite as fun.

For the beer, use a non-pasteurised, non-filtered, bottle-conditioned dark ale, stout or porter (not Guinness).

280g beer barm leaven
400g flour (a mixture of white and wholegrain)
10g salt
250g dark ale, stout or porter

1. Combine the salt and flours.
2. Combine the leaven and beer, stirring well.

Winterfell black bread
3. Pour the liquidy gloop into the flour.
4. Bring together the dough. It’ll be pretty sticky. Which is good, albeit tricky to handle. Don’t agonise.
Winterfell black bread

5. Form a ball with the dough, put it in a bowl or plastic container, cover with plastic or a lid, then put in the fridge.
6. Leave in the fridge for around 14 hours.

Winterfell black bread
7. Take the dough out of the fridge and allow to come to room temperature (around 20C ideally).

Winterfell black bread
8. Form a ball, then put it – smooth-side down – in a bowl or proving basket lined with a floured cloth.

Winterfell black bread
9. Prove again for about 5-8 hours more. This will depend on the temperature of your room, the liveliness of the yeasts, etc. You want to leave it until it’s doubled in size and is soft to the touch, nicely aerated.

Winterfell black bread, final prove
10. Preheat your oven to 240C.
11. Upturn the ball onto a baking sheet (so the smooth-side is up), slash, then bake for 20 minutes.

Black bread
12. Turn down the oven to 200C and bake for a further 20 minutes, or until the bread is done. This can be tricky to judge, but you want it to feel lighter, and sound hollow when tapped on the bottom.
13. Cool on a wire rack.

Black bread

Now, the finished loaf looked rather pleasing, and had a lovely smell of chocolate, a scent that you get with certain stouts. Oddly, this smell wasn’t strong with the beer itself, but it’s come through with the baking.

Winterfell black bread

Taste-wise, it’s certainly pretty rustic but is oddly bitter-sweet. I’m not a chemist, but I wonder if the bitterness is related to the alcohod.

I’m sure it would have served very nicely for the hungry Brothers of the Night’s Watch, freezing their behinds off on the Wall. We, on the other hand, enjoyed it for breakfast on a mild late-summer Roman morning slathered with honey. Then for lunch with a lovely crunchy, sharp medium aged pecorino.

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Croce di Malto Temporis at Le Café Vert, Monteverde Vecchio, Rome

Croce di Malto Temporis at Cafe Verte

Le Café Vert is a small place that opened near us in our Rome neighbourhood of Monteverde Vecchio a year or so ago. It’s something of a gem actually, as it manages to be cool for breakfast, a reasonably priced snacky lunch, and for an aperitivo in the evening. They’re into KM0 too – that is, food that’s not travelled too far – and they stock a decent selection of real bottled beers.

The latter is important to me, of course, but it also indicates they’re taking their principles seriously, and extending them to not just the coffee, or the milk they use (organic), or the food, or the wine, but also to the beer. This morning we went for a coffee at the café in Villa Doria Pamphili Park, Vivi Bistrot, and while it also seems to be into natural and organic foods, it frustrates me that they don’t extend their principles as far as the beer. Their fridges are still stocked with all the generic industrial lagers favoured by Italian beer drinkers in less enlightened places (Ceres, Becks, Peroni, Tenants and whathaveyou).

I did an excellent wine-tasting last night, and talked with the sommelier, Hande Leimer, about why Italians drink so much of these acrid, metallic lagers. Sure, it’s partly marketing and mindwashing, as it was in the UK when industrial lager took over in the 70s and 80s, but here, Hande suggests, it’s also because these tastes are preferred when having a drink without eating. Italians always drink wine, on the other hand, to accompany and complement food, where the relationship calls on differing qualities of drink depending on what is being eaten. Something that tempts me to write “of course”, but many Brits just aren’t aware of this, as we don’t have a strong, traditional viniculture, and beer, on the other hand, was traditionally “liquid bread” and safer to drink than water. A practical drink.

Okay, chiaro, but there are also now Italian craft beers that can fill this niche, of something to be drunk without food: there are plenty of crisp, light options, particularly the summer golden ales (eg Baladin’s Gold One, or Birra del Borgo’s Cortigiana, or Lambrata’s Ortiga). These are in some ways akin to lagers. Except they’re generally better: they taste better and more interesting, they’re more naturally produced, not pasteurised, not filtered and, most importantly, they’re not rushed. They’re real beers.

So come on Vivi Bistrot – make that leap, be more holistic with your principles, and support your local craft brewers! (Such as Birra del Borgo, or Birradamare/ʼNa Birretta, or Turan, or Free Lions, all in Lazio.)

Le Cafe Vert, Monteverde Vecchio, Rome

Anyway, we stopped by Le Café Vert again the other night for an aperitivo. It’s just two blocks from our place, and not only that, their tabletops are decorated with a map of the neighbourhood. And not only that, when we sat down, I noticed that our very street was located just under my elbow. We’re leaving Rome in about three weeks, so this was a slightly emotive bit of synchronicity.

Le Café Vert seems to rotate its beers, after a fashion, and this time they had a whole shelf filled with bottles from Croce di Malto. I’d had one Croce di Malto beer, the English bitter-like Acerbus, at Fermentazioni 2013 the other day and was keen to try more. They’re not a local, Lazio brewery though – they’re in Piemonte*, west of Milan. Indeed, Piemonte is the Italian region with the highest proportion of craft breweries, all radiating out from Baladin, the mothership of the Italian craft beer scene.

Croce di Malto Temporis at Cafe Verte

I chose a Croce di Malto Temporalis, 6% ABV. It was straight from the fridge, so a little bit cold, but I was too impatient to leave it in my armpit warming. (Hande scolded me at the wine-tasting for holding my glass by the bowl, but I’m constantly trying to warm up beers to the right temperature, in this case 8-10C, which has resulted in bad wine-tasting habits.)

Considering it’s the end of summer  at the moment, it was perhaps not the best choice as apparently this is a beer “dedicata per la primavera” – dedicated to spring. It’s certainly a fresh, lively beer – even when drunk a little too cold. The scent is floral and orangey, while the taste is crisp and citrussy, sweetly malty, slightly herby. It’s got a medium body. It’s a bright, orange-straw colour, with some mistiness and a nicely foaming head.

Although it’s a saison, it’s at the more drinkable, accessible end of that spectrum – complex, but subtly so. As one critic says on Beeradvocate, it’s “lacking in saisony funk” – but that’s fine by me; there are plenty of other more challenging saisons, and this was a perfect accompaniment to Le Café Vert’s delicious aperitivo snacks. Blimey, their panelle (Sicilian fried chickpea pancake) is good. One of the many things I’m going to miss about Rome. Fried chickpea goodness and a crisp saison two blocks from home.

Addendum:
Went back again the other night and tried another Croce di Malto beer. This was Triplexxx (7.8% ABV), a slightly unfortunate name with connotations of dodgy Australian lager and, well, porn.

It was a slightly strange beer too.

I was intrigued as the three Xs refer to its use of barley, oats and wheat, as well as “spices” and zucchero candito (“candied sugar”, presumably candi sugar) but overall the abiding smell and taste is banana. Isn’t chemistry bonkers? How can those incredients, when combined and brewed, produce molecules that give such a strong flavour of a totally unconnected fruit? Though I’d say the smell also had some bubble gum too, and the taste some toffee: so maybe it’s bubble-gum-banoffee-pie beer. Strange.

Info:
Via Anton Giulio Barrili 47-47/a, Monteverde Vecchio, Rome
+39 06 588 0065 | lecafevert.it | info@lecafevert.it

Croce di Malto brewery
Coros di Roma 51A, Trecate, Piemonte
+39 0321 185 6101 | crocedimalto.iti | info@crocedimalto.it

* Why do we anglicise this as Piedmont? Are anglophones so lazy we can’t say “pee-ah-mon-tay”? Is saying “pee-ed-mont” really any easier?

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Real beer barm bread

Beer barm bread

Once Upon A Time
Once upon a time, breweries and bakeries lived side-by-side harmoniously. Brewers merrily went about their noble work, mashing, sparging, fermenting. One blessed by-product of the process was a foam that frothily formed on top of the fermenting liquor. The dusty baker from next door would welcome consignments of this malty foam – barm – and use its natural yeastiness to leaven his dough.

And so it went for long ages.

Until some learned men in the late 18th and 19th centuries improved humankind’s understanding of bacteria and yeasts. By the late 19th century, yeast specifically cultivated for bread-making had become commercially available in block, then in dry, granulated form. And slowly, sadly, the close bond between breweries and bakeries faded away.

This idea of bread being made with brewery by-products has intrigued me for ages, but not having had a ready supply of barm, I’ve never actually tried it before.

A Dan Lepard beer bread

Beer breads
Dan Lepard in ‘The Handmade Loafʼ does a loaf he calls “Barm bread”, but it’s made using a bottle conditioned beer, that is then heated. This seems counter-intuitive, as it kills the yeasts in the beer, but apparently it’s to cook off some of the alcohol, which retards the action of any yeast in the mix. Lepard was effectively using the beer as a flavouring, and then re-introducing yeasts, I believe; so however lovely the results were, it wasn’t a genuine barm bread. (One of my attempts using his method a few years ago is picture above.)

My recent enjoyment of Game of Thrones and the Song of Fire and Ice novels, the source for his great HBO TV series, lead me to the Inn At The Crossroads. This inspired blog features involves real-world interpretations of the fantasy world foods mentioned by George RR Martin in his books, and it got me thinking again about pre-industrial yeast bread-making.

Westeros’ finest
Specifically, I was checking out The Inn At The Crossroads’ bread recipes. They have a few for Martin’s black bread, with the second version made using dark ale, stout or porter. Okay, thought I, that looks fun. But I had one criticism. Surely in Martin’s quasi-Medieval world, they wouldn’t have had “1 packet yeast”; bread would surely have been made with the barm method.

I made a comment along these lines, and one of the site’s creators, Chelsea Monroe-Cassel replied, saying “I agree that this would be the very best way to make this bread!” She also said, “I’ve made several trub breads, with great success.” I’d not heard of trub bread too, but this one is made using the sediment from the fermenter.

Beer barm

My project slightly moved away from the black bread theme, though, as initially I just wanted to make a bread with barm, and with flour with older grain – ie arguably more medieval – varieties.

I bought some Mulino Marino Pan di Sempre, a stoneground organic flour that is made with a blend of Triticum aestivum (that is, common bread wheat), Triticum spelta (spelt wheat) and Triticum monococcum (einkorn wheat).

My friend Michele Sensidoni, a brewer, kindly furnished me with a bottle of barm. It wasn’t very prepossessing stuff: gloopy, brown and malty, separating slightly, but it was exciting to finally get my hands on the stuff.

Beer barm and Mulino Marino Pan di Sempre flour

So:
100g barm
100g flour
Mixed and left overnight. My kitchen was at around 23C. The next day this was clearly alive, and reasonably vigorous. Here’s the before and after shots:

Beer barm leaven Beer barm leaven

I formed a dough with:
200g barm leaven (ie, all of the above)
500g flour
10g salt
300g water

Adjust the water if necessary; you want a nice moist dough.

Beer barm bread, dough

I then put all this in a container and left it in the fridge for 24 hours.

I then took it out of the fridge, and let it come back to RT (again, around 23C).

Beer barm bread dough, before final prove

After a few hours, I formed a ball, and put it in a proving basket lined with a floured cloth.

I let it prove again at RT for around 9 hours.

Beer barm bread dough, proved

I preheated the oven to 230C.

Beer barm bread, pre-bake

When the dough was nice and swollen and soft, I baked it for 20 minutes, then turned down the oven to 210C and baked for another 20 minutes.

Beer barm bread, fresh from oven

The results are very pleasing. It’s got a chewy crust, a reasonably open crumb and a taste that’s subtly sour. Yay.

Crumb CU

Oh, and for etymology geeks (like me), the British English word barmy, meaning a bit bonkers, crazy, comes from barm. As a barm is the foamy scum that results from fermentation, someone who is barmy is a bit bubbly, excitable, unpredictable and possibly even frothing at the mouth. Don’t worry though, making and eating this bread won’t have that effect on you. [insert suitable smiley here to compensate for lame attempt at humour]

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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.

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

Laboratorio Piccolo Birrificio
piccololab.it / info@piccololab.it

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