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.
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.
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.
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.
Via Federico Rosazza 6, 00153 Roma
(+39) 06 5830 3189 | birrifugio.com | email@example.com
(Also at Via Ferdinando Acton 18, 00122 Ostia)
Brewpub Via Adelchi 5, 20131 Milano
Pub Via Golgi 60, 20133 Milano
Tel (+39) 02 70606746 | birrificiolambrate.com | firstname.lastname@example.org
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.