Exactly two years ago, me and Fran, the missus, moved to Rome. We opted to travel by train, leaving England in a mild-mannered 17C and arriving in Rome to a fierce 40C-ish heat.
So naturally we were thirsty.
Before we moved into what would be our home for the next two years, we spent a few nights in a flat in cutesy old Trastevere. And would you believe it, right at the end of our street was one of Rome’s best beer bars. This was Ma Che Siete Venuti A Fà? The wonderful name means “But what have you come here to do?” It’s apparently a football chant – effectively taunting the rival team with “why bother?”. But in context of walking into this Hobbity hole-in-the-wall boozer, the obvious answer is “drink quality beer, of course”. The bar does have a football thing going on, with two TV screens, I didn’t really register this element initially, as they had such an intriguing selection of beers.
Furthermore, as we’d just moved from Lewes in southern England, it was amusing to discover posters for Harvey’s Brewery, a Lewes institution, in Ma Che’s (generally fairly smelly, now redecorated and still fairly smelly) back room.
As 25 August was our two-years-in-Rome anniversary, I thought we needed to go back to Ma Che and drink some more interesting beer.
Brettanomyces and Saccharomyces
We’d already had three or so fairly boozy days, so I vowed to just have one beer. I wanted something weird and challenging after all the nice easy golden ales I’ve been drinking lately. There was a selection of about 16 beers on tap, with three on hand pump. They rotate their stock, but on this visit the beers were from Italy, Germany, Belgium and Norway.
I try to only drink beer from the nation I’m in at the time, so it had to be Italian, giving me a choice of nine. Ruling out the golden ale, pils and IPA narrowed it down more. Stouts are Fran’s department, so that ruled out another two. In the end, I chose Madamin Oak Amber Ale from Loverbeer brewery, which is in the Turin region of Piedmont, northwest Italy.
adamin is an unusual beer by any standards. It’s very fruity as it’s been conditioned in “tini di rovere” – oak vats, formerly used for wine production. I found it very sour and tart, and the initial fruitiness I got in the smell and taste was more sour cherry, plum and blackcurrant than grape. Maybe this was my memory playing tricks on me though as one of the first ever beers I had in Ma Che two years earlier was a kriek lambic.
Anyway. Some more info. It’s a top fermentation beer, inspired, according to the blurb on Loverbeer’s site, by Belgian beers – meaning lambics, as the fermentation here relies on wild yeasts in the wood of the vats, specifically Brettanomyces (aka Brett, Dekkera), in contrast to the Saccharomyces cerevisiae more commonly associated with controlled bread, beer and wine production.
Beer, wine, scrumpy
The blurb also says that the process heightens the acidity and restrains the bitterness of the beer, making it a versatile drink that’s suitable accompaniment for Mediterranean cuisine. (“L’acidità appena pronunciata e l’amaro molto contenuto, rendono questa birra versatile negli abbinamenti e adatta ai piatti tipici della cucina mediterranea.”) I’m not sure about this: do Italians want their beers to be more sour and fruity? I get the impression from the amount of vile strong import lager (Ceres, Tennent’s) Italians drink, many prefer acrid, metallic lagers.
Either way, I’m not sure it’d be a good meal accompaniment. It was too deciso (“decisive”). And indeed, it’s a beer that simultaneously complex and strangely rustic, like some pungent, low carbonation farmhouse scrumpy from the Southwest of England.
So this 5.7% ABV, handsomely reddish-brown, medium-light bodied beer, named after the Piedmontese dialect for “young lady” (madamin, closer to the French mademoiselle than the Italian signorina), was certainly an interesting choice. A memorable beer to celebrate our two-year anniversary in Rome. But I’m not entirely sure I’ll be rushing to buy it again. Though I’m always happy to try the wares at Ma Che Siete Venuti a Fà?, an essential destination for any beer enthusiasts visiting Rome.
Ma Che Siete Venuti A Fà?
Address: Via di Benedetta 25, Trastevere, 00153 Rome, Italy
Tel (+39) 380 507 4938 | football-pub.com (English site)
Lovebeer di Valter Loverier
Strada Pellinciona 7, 10020 Marentino, Piedmont, Italy
Tel (+39) 3473636680 | loverbeer.com | firstname.lastname@example.org