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Loverbeer’s Madamin oak amber ale at Ma Che Siete Venuti a Fà?

Loverbeer's Madamin at Ma Che Siete a Fa, Trastevere, Rome

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.

Harvey's brewery poster at Ma Che Siete Venuti a Fa', Trastevere, Rome

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.

Ma Che Siete Venuti A Fa' beers, 25 August 2013

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.

Taps, Ma Che Siete Venuti a Fa', Trastevere, Rome

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.

Loverbeer Madamin and Brewfist Fear at Ma Che Siete Venuti a Fa'?

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 | info@loverbeer.it


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Ruddy Darter at The Black Boy, Winchester

Ruddy Darter at The Black Boy, Winchester

My hometown is Winchester, in Hampshire, an hour southwest of London out of Waterloo railway station. Although small, it’s technically a city, the ancient capital of England, boasting a cathedral – with the longest nave of any Gothic cathedral in Europe, apparently. My mother says she often overhears tour guides saying the high street is the oldest in Europe too, but I’m not sure how that’d be qualified. (When it was a Roman city, the main drag was in the same position, if that’s any help.) It’s got an Iron Age hillfort, King Arthur’s Round Table (honest), some bits of medieval city wall, and even a few city gates, despite the Victorians’ best efforts to destroy the historical infrastructure.

It’s also got a lot of pubs, though many of them are pretty mediocre. Among the not-mediocre Winchester pubs is my old local, The Black Boy. (My old old local, The Mash Tun, died the death and now seems to be a tapas bar.)

I’ve been going to The Black Boy for, well, probably decades. It’s a great little pub, in a low-ceilinged old building, replete with plenty of novelty clutter (taxidermied beasts, eviscerated books), fireplaces (that are actually used in the winter), and plenty of nooks and crannies. More importantly, however, there’s also a decent selection of real beers. Not only that, they have a policy to stock local real beers, so expect stuff from breweries and Hampshire (mostly) and other parts of ye olde Kingdom of Wessex, like adjacent Wiltshire. Oh, and it’s friendly too – not something you always experience in British boozers.

The Black Boy, Winchester

The Black Boy always seems to carry Flowerpots Bitter from The Flowerpots Brewery in Cheriton, a few miles away from Winchester. I often choose their 3.8% bitter (so mild-mannered after all the strong Italian beers I’ve been drinking lately!), but for this visit to The Black Boy I sampled some of the other ales they had on and chose Ruddy Darter.

Although it’s classified as an English bitter by Beer Advocate and a Premium Bitter/ESB by Ratebeer, more specifically I’d call Ruddy Darter an amber ale, with its deep coppery-red colour. Andwell, the Hampshire brewery that makes Ruddy Darter, refer to it as a Ruby Ale, in a Premium Ale style. (Andwell, by the way, was founded in 2008; Ruddy Darter is their most recent beer.)

However you define it, Ruddy Darter is delicious. It’s got a fruity smell, which continues into the taste, which is also warmly malty, with a good sweet caramel flavour and mellow hoppiness. My pint was hand-pumped, with low carbonation, though I suspect the bottled version would be bubblier. (Something I experimented on a few days later with some beers from Holsworthy Ales, in Devon. Will write that up shortly.). Oh, and it’s named after a dragonfly, which is pretty cool. All in all, a very pleasant quick visit to an old haunt.

[Usual apology for quality of photos. One of my reasons for visiting Winchester was to get a new phone with a good camera, but I couldn’t quite bring myself to sign up for another 24 month contract or whatever.]

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