Last night, we had tickets to go and see Neneh Cherry and Fat Freddy’s Drop at the Cavea of the Auditorium Parco della Musica, in the Flaminio district of Rome. This is the area to the north of Piazza del Popolo, the popular spot for tourists, shoppers and manifestazioni at the top of Via Del Corso, central Rome’s main consumer strip and sometime location of yacht races *.
We’d never been far into Flaminio, so were keen to check out a spot called the Tree Bar, and the Auditorium itself. The Auditorium was designed by Renzo Piano, who has more recently radically altered London’s skyline with the Shard, and was inaugurated in 2002. The complex consists of three beetle-roofed concert halls with the Cavea in between – a fourth, open air auditorium. This is where we were headed. But first, a beer.
The central Roman section of Via Flaminia (one of the city’s ancient routes, heading north) is canonically long and straight, and plied by trams. It’s lined with handsome mid-20th century apartment blocks and collection of tired looking markets, workshops and older, more historical buildings, along with a couple of stretches of open park. Tree Bar, a former kiosk, nestles in one of these.
Inside, it has has light, Scandinavian style wood fittings, outside there’s a terrace area that spills into the park. Some kids’ football kept escaping from their game – inside a dry fountain – and flying past us while we drank.
With its emphasis on aperitivo drinking, Tree Bar has a long menu of sparkling wines and cocktails, but thankfully there were also a few craft beers tucked in there too, with three bottled beers in a section marked “Birre Artigianale”. I didn’t know any of them, so asked the waiter what one, from a brewery in called B94 in Lecce, Puglia, was. He said it was a birra artigianale. Yes, but what type, I persisted, and he managed to come up with the fact that it was an amber ale. Okay, fine, that’s enough for me. He also said it was enough for two (a 75ml bottle), but Fran wanted a cocktail.
When it arrived, a black bottle with a slightly muddle label design and the apparent name “Specchia White Night”, I told him not to worry, it’s not too much for one person – as I’m British. Nothing like reinforcing stereotypes.
Anyway, he poured and inch of so, and there wasn’t much head, and the liquid was a murky amber-brown. I poured more, a bit more vigorously, and got a better head. Head, or schiuma, is very important in the appreciation of Italian craft beers – all the descriptions mention it. My Guida alle Birre d’Italia 2013 says it’s a beer with colore ambra intenso con schiuma di buona persistenza. Which I’d have to disagree with – the head wasn’t very persistent.
I didn’t get much in the way of strong scents coming off it, bar malt and some melon, or apple. Which made a nice contrast to the more citrusy beers I’ve been drinking a lot lately. Taste-wise, the maltiness (from both malted barley and wheat) was combined with a fairly strong bitter hoppiness and yeastiness, along with some spice (cloves), caramel and even a soapiness. It was a reasonably drinkable beer, with a medium body, low-middling carbonisation and 6% strength, though perhaps slightly heavy for my tastes for a warm summer evening. Plus, well, another aspect of my Britishness – the name and label brought disconcerting flashes of White Lightning, a trashy cider from the early 1990s. An unfortunate association.
Still, it’s always good to try something new, from a brewery I’d not heard of before. Apparently B94 was founded in 1994 by Raffaele Longo to make beers for his friend. It’s that step from home-brewing to commerce that’s the familiar narrative for many micro-breweries.
Having quickly consumed Tree Bar’s stuzzichini (a plate of appetizers/snacks often served at aperitivo time), we had a pizza too. The food wasn’t bad – the stuzzicini included some pieces of particularly nice frittata and they seem to use some wholegrain flours in their doughs. Thus fuelled, we dashed on up the road to get to the venue.
Neneh Cherry had, disappointingly, bailed (with no reason or excuse forthcoming online), and the support act were pretty noodly, but the Cavea is a great location, the overcast weather didn’t give way to rain, and Fat Freddy’s Drop – New Zeeland’s finest reggae-dub-soul-rave combo – were energetic and entertaining, taking us through their new album, Black Bird, and including a few old favourites. Though they didn’t do an encore. What’s up guys? Grumpy? Tired from the world tour?
* “In December 1878 [the Tiber’s] floodwaters in the Via del Corso were so deep that a sailing race was held held there…” (p114, Whispering City, RJB Bosworth)