Tag Archives: birra del borgo

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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Birra del Borgo’s BdBi(g)BodyIBU at No.Au, Centro Storico, Rome

Birra del Borgo's BdBi(g)BodyIBU at No.Au, Centro Storico, Rome

Back at No.Au again the other night, one of our favourite little places in Rome’s Centro Storico (and in Ponte, rione V, if you read my last postʼs comments about the different Roman neighbourhoods).

One of the beers I was introduced to by the always friendly and helpful girls who work there has perhaps the most impossible name I’ve ever encountered. It’s Birra del Borgoʼs BdBi(g)BodyIBU.

The name, apparently, is a play on Disney-Cinderella’s “Bibbidi-bobbidi-boo” song, but once you get past its strange coding – which is easier to read than say, after a few pints, in a mixture of Italian and English – its implications are clear.

Birra del Borgo's BdBi(g)BodyIBU

This is a Birra del Borgo (BdB) experiment in making a bitter beer with a serious IBU, that is a high International Bittering Units figure. The brewery site says, “Its main feature is the massive use of hop, a mix of different varieties that gives an extraordinary aroma and a remarkable bitter side, with 100 IBU.

If you check out the handy table (below), other 100 IBU beer include Russian Imperial Stout, Imperial IPA and American Barleywine. Most beers clock less than 50 IBU.

And yet, surprisingly perhaps, it is a really balanced beer, not simply defined by its bitterness or its strength (7.1% ABV). It has a nice copper-red colour, middling head, and fruity aromas, with some grape and wine-iness. Taste-wise, it is bitter, yes, but also very malty, with a nice broad cereal flavour.

Very pleasant drinking alongside our vast antipasti platters of cheeses and salumi (cured meats).

IBU International Bittering Units chart

Info
No.Au, Piazza di Montevecchio 16A, 00186, Rome
No.Au blog / noauroma@gmail.com / 06 45 65 27 70

Birra del Borgo brewery (English site)

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Birra del Borgo’s Rubus in Villa Doria Pamphili Park

Rubus beer, Birra del Borgo

Fruit beers. Strange drinks frequently made by simply adding fruit extracts or syrups to a finished brew, resulting in concoctions that are basically just flavoured beer.  Something I’ve never had any inclination to drink. But there are also other, more sophisticated fruit beers, where the fruit – real, unmolested fruit – plays an essential role in the brewing process.

Belgian lambics are the most famous of these beers, utilising wild yeasts and bacteria present on the skins of fruit for spontaneous fermentation. That is, rather than using a domesticated strain of Saccharomyces cerevisiae – mankind’s longtime ally (or slave) in brewing, baking and winemaking – the wild yeasts and bacteria are used for the fermentation and give the brews distinctively different flavours, along with any flavour from the actual fruit used.

Birra del Borgo‘s Rubus may not stricly be a lambic – it doesn’t use the specific yeasts and bacteria of those Belgian beers – but it’s certainly a close relative. It’s made with raspberries (lamponi), which have just come into season here in Lazio. The ratio of fruit to beer in the brew is a about 10 per cent (” 100 grams of fresh fruit are added for every litre of beer”; a litre of liquid basically weighs a kilo) and does involve a controlled spontaneous fermentation.

No one seems quite sure how to define it though. While RateBeer does simply call it a Fruit Beer, on Birra del Borgo’s own site, it’s classified as a Spiced Ale, though spice isn’t the defining factor. BeerAdvocate, meanwhile, categorises it as an American Wild Ale – another related type of beer that’s been influenced by lambics. However it’s best categories, Rubus is a unique brew.

It’s based on Birra del Borgo’s classic Duchessa – a kind of saison that’s already fairly fruity, and is made not with malted barley but with an ancient wheat strain known in Italy as farro. Now, In Italy, the word farro is used to refer to three strains of wheat: Triticum monococcum (einkorn); Triticum dicoccum (emmer); and Triticum spelta (spelt). As Borgo make another brew specifically called Enkir with einkorn, I guesssed Duchessa is made either with emmer or spelt. But guessing’s not as good as hard facts, so I emailed the brewery and Luciana Squadrilli kindly replied and clarified: “Per la Duchessa utilizziamo il Triticum Dicoccum.” So it’s made with emmer. She explained it’s a traditional crop from Rietino, in Rieta, the province where the brewery is local.  Originally they bought from a small supplier near the brewery, but in the past few years as they’ve grown, they’ve started sourcing the grain from just over the border, in Abruzzo. Whether the grain used is from Lazio or Abruzzo, Duchessa is a great summer ale – smooth yet crisp and refreshing. Rubus is possibly even more so.

Birra del Borgo Cortigiana on tap, Rome farmers market

We had a chat with the girl selling Birra del Borgo’s wares at the famers’ market near Circo Massimo (Circus Maximus) in central Rome the other day. I’d been intrigued reading about their latest monthly “bizarre beer” – in this case, Duchessic, a collaboration with Cantillon in Brussels, which blends Duchessa with a lambic – and wondered if it was available. She said no, as it was a small-scale experiment in the brewery, but recommended Rubus as an alternative. As we were planning a picnic, a fresh fruity beer seemed like a good idea. Though I also bought their Hoppy Cat Cascadian Dark Ale / IBA / BIPA,  just for comparison with the B Space Invader I wrote about a few days ago. She also gave us a sample of Cortigiana, their smooth, sweet golden ale.

So yesterday afternoon, we headed up to the park: the grounds of Villa Doria Pamphili in the west of Rome. It’s a great place, Rome’s equivalent of London’s Hampstead Heath. In the summer it’s frequented by sunbathers, families, men in ridiculous lycra on mountain bikes, shirtless runners showing off their physiques in the heat, Rome’s south Asian community having protracted games of cricket, Rome’s Pilipino community having vast get-togethers. Although there’s the occasional slightly dodgy area where the path peters out in undergrowth or a seemingly pleasant walk among the oleander turns into a giant toilet, it’s generally pleasant, especially on a hot day, with fountains, uncrowded fields, shady deciduous woods and stands of pines, and a lake. There’s even a nice café-bistro that uses organic produce and whatnot.

Pine trees in Villa Doria Pamphili park

We headed for our usual spot near the chapel in front of the villa, and got settled in, hoping our crappy busta termica (cooler bag) would do the job in the 35C heat while we waited for our friends. We couldn’t quite wait though, and had to crack open the Rubus while it was still hot. Clearly from the photo (top of post) we weren’t usual the ideal receptacles – plastic beakers don’t exactly offer a refined organoleptic experience – but they did the job nicely, as this did indeed turn out to be a suitable picnic beer.

It’s not a beer that’s all about the subtle interplay of hops and malt. It’s a well-carbonated, crisp drink that has more in common with a sparkling wine than a  beer, as it really is defined by fruit not grain or hop. Indeed, aside from the fact that it’s 5.8% ABV, it’s very easy to drink, it’s almost like a fizzy soda pop. It’s got a gently fruity, berry perfume, a loose, loose head that subsides fast and the taste tart, but not overly so. Any sourness is well balanced with a sweetness.

Looking at people’s reviews on RateBeer and BeerAdvocate, I get the impression that it’s a fairly different experience when it’s on tap, so I will add an addendum if I get to try it alla spina. Previously, I’d rarely have chosen a fruit beer, but my enjoyment of this bottle of Rubus might help me push through any lingering prejudices.

Info:

Circo Massimo farmers market / Il Mercato di Campagna Amica del Circo Massimo
Via di San Teodoro 74, 00186 Rome
mercatocircomassimo.it
Open Saturdays 9am-6pm, Sundays 9am-4pm. July: Saturdays only. August: closed.
Birra del Borgo’s stall is usually at the back.

Birra del Borgo
Birradelborgo.it (English site) | 07 463 1287 | info@birradelborgo.it

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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.

pancarre'

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.

Info:
Birra del Borgo
Birradelborgo.it (English site) | 07 463 1287 | info@birradelborgo.it

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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Turan Neos APA with suppli

suppli and Neos on windowsill 2

Sunday evening, our chum Cameron made a delicious tomato risotto. She made what’s known in the vernacular as a “shit ton” of the stuff, but that’s good. We’re in Rome. And in Rome, when you’ve got leftover risotto you make suppli. So on Monday we did. I’ve mentioned the Roman love of fried goodies before. Suppli have got to be the best though. Deepfried risotto croquettes with a heart of melty mozzarella. What’s not to like?

You can use plain risotto, or a fancy flavoured risotto, depending on what leftovers you have, but generally it’s risotto rice with tomato, at least round these ’ere parts. Said leftover risotto is made into a ball, a piece of mozzarella is stuffed in the middle, then the whole lot is rolled in flour, then dipped in beaten egg, then rolled in breadcrumbs or pangrattato (toasted/dried crumbs). Then deepfried – long enough to melt the mozzarella so that when you eat it, it forms a string. Apparently this recalls the curly telephone cable of yore, before wireless handsets and mobile phones and all that newfangled stuff and the full name is suppli al telefono.

Me and Cameron learned to make them while working in the kitchens of the American Academy in Rome. They can be a bit fiddly, as it can be a bit messy making sticky balls and dipping them in egg. Frankly, I’ve no idea how one keeps one’s hands clean making them, despite how much I was shouted at by Academy chefs. At the Academy, we used an icecream scoop to make the balls, but even then you had to do all that dipping. There was a video (featuring Mr Bonci), but the link’s dead now. There, they made a point of wetting their hands first. They even made a pastella – a batter – to roll the balls in, combing egg, flour and water. Might try that next time, though even they’re getting messy. In this video (Italian, but subtitled in English), he just uses flour then egg, and does manage to keep the whole thing nice and tidy. Practice I guess.

Still, having said all that about messiness, our suppli were the best I’ve had. A delicious risotto, with plenty of garlic and a subtle chili heat, and some lovely breadcrumbs from my own bread, all fried until golden brown in hot sunflower oil and then eaten with Neos American pale ale (APA) from Turan brewery in Lazio (in Montefiascone, north of Viterbo to be exact). Yum. I’d bought the Neos for a ridiculous price at the slightly ridiculous middle-class food emporium that is Eataly and been waiting for a special occasion to crack it open. Cameron had recently revealed she’d OD’d on APAs, coming from their heartlands of California, but I’m still loving them, or at least the Italian take on APA. Over here, one connoisseur writing in English and certainly more knowledgeable than me is quite sniffy about a Neos he had, draft, at Baladin bar, calling it “kind of boring,” but the bottled one we had was delicious.

Fougass, Neos and suppli (unfried)

It’s a dark amber ale, with a medium head that dissipates fairly quickly (thankfully, given that I’m often rushing and pouring badly trying to get the right photo…). Me and Fran enjoy malty beers (indeed, she’s a stout and porter kinda girl generally), so the fact that this is a fairly malted beer with strong flavour of caramellised, or even slightly burnt, sugar is good. Any sweetness is balanced by a subtle hoppiness and a medium-light body, making it a decent ale to accompany food. Fried food. Deepfried, cheesy food. Perhaps the bottled version differs to the version the guy had at Baladin.

Talking of Baladin, and boring beers, we also had a few slightly disappointing beers at Open Baladin bar on Saturday. I’d been looking forward to some golden ale (with fond memories of things like Fuller’s Honey Dew – my gateway beer on the path to enjoying real beer) so was happy to see Baladin had a few listed in their menu. I tried Cortigiana (4.6%) from Birra del Borgo in Lazio, then Gold One (5.2%), from Baladin’s own brewery in Piedmonte and found both slightly weak and watery, more than like a lager or pils than a more full-bodied summer ale. They were fine, just a little underwhelming.

Baladin golden ales

Similarly underwhelming was FluviAle’s Golden Ale, at Porto Fluviale bar in Ostiense a few days previously. Though I don’t think I’ll be returning to Porto Fluvial for a while as the beer they served my friend Rachel, a Terminal, was terrible. It was very flat but worse it just tasted musty. When we complained the waitress said it was because it was hand-pumped. Hand-pumping might explain a lack of effevesence, sure, but not the mustiness. When my wife had another drink that also tasted musty, it put me off the place completely. Guys – there’s something mouldering in your system. Clean your pipes!

So yes, the best beer experience I’ve had the past week-ish, was definitely the one involving a  bottle of Neos and home-made suppli, served with a tasty tomato chutney.

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