Tag Archives: golden ale

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.

Info
Birrifugio
Via Federico Rosazza 6, 00153 Roma
(+39) 06 5830 3189 | birrifugio.com | trastevere@birrifugio.com

(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 | birrificiolambrate.com | birra@birrificiolambrate.com

Notes
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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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
enquiries@tynebankbrewery.co.uk | +44 (0)191 265 28 28

Footnote:
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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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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