Tag Archives: rome

Birra del Borgo’s BdBi(g)BodyIBU at No.Au, Centro Storico, Rome

Birra del Borgo's BdBi(g)BodyIBU at No.Au, Centro Storico, Rome

Back at No.Au again the other night, one of our favourite little places in Rome’s Centro Storico (and in Ponte, rione V, if you read my last postʼs comments about the different Roman neighbourhoods).

One of the beers I was introduced to by the always friendly and helpful girls who work there has perhaps the most impossible name I’ve ever encountered. It’s Birra del Borgoʼs BdBi(g)BodyIBU.

The name, apparently, is a play on Disney-Cinderella’s “Bibbidi-bobbidi-boo” song, but once you get past its strange coding – which is easier to read than say, after a few pints, in a mixture of Italian and English – its implications are clear.

Birra del Borgo's BdBi(g)BodyIBU

This is a Birra del Borgo (BdB) experiment in making a bitter beer with a serious IBU, that is a high International Bittering Units figure. The brewery site says, “Its main feature is the massive use of hop, a mix of different varieties that gives an extraordinary aroma and a remarkable bitter side, with 100 IBU.

If you check out the handy table (below), other 100 IBU beer include Russian Imperial Stout, Imperial IPA and American Barleywine. Most beers clock less than 50 IBU.

And yet, surprisingly perhaps, it is a really balanced beer, not simply defined by its bitterness or its strength (7.1% ABV). It has a nice copper-red colour, middling head, and fruity aromas, with some grape and wine-iness. Taste-wise, it is bitter, yes, but also very malty, with a nice broad cereal flavour.

Very pleasant drinking alongside our vast antipasti platters of cheeses and salumi (cured meats).

IBU International Bittering Units chart

Info
No.Au, Piazza di Montevecchio 16A, 00186, Rome
No.Au blog / noauroma@gmail.com / 06 45 65 27 70

Birra del Borgo brewery (English site)

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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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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.

Info
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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Laboratorio Piccolo Birrificio’s Steamer at Tram Depot, Testaccio, Rome

Steamer beer at Tram Depot, Testaccio, Rome

We’ve been hanging out a lot in the hot August evenings at this (relatively) new place in Testaccio. It’s basically a converted kiosk on the pavement, like an old newsstand (edicola), but somehow it manages to be cool, charming and strangely mellow considering it’s right beside the busy crossroads of Via Marmorata and Via L Galvani/ Via M Gelsomini. There’s live DJ action with great tunes (hip hop, rare groove etc) on an evening, and the kiosk looks like a vintage tram coach to boot.

Its main appeal for Fran, Rachel and chums is the grattachecca. Grattare is the verb “to scrape, to scratch, to grate” and is a reference to the way a large block of ice is treated. At Tram Depot, a veteran grattachecca sensei in a bandana skilfully scrapes and grates the ice, fills a beaker, and pours over your choice of cordial. In this case, that means French Sirop de Monin. A few bits of fruit or fresh coconut complete the refreshing concoction.

It’s a relative of granita. Or, basically, a Roman Slush Puppy, given an extra classy twist with French cordials. Which use fewer artificial colours than Slush Puppy, but some of them still look a bit gaudy to be entirely natural. The Monin site says they’re “highly concentrated, natural flavourings” – no mention of natural colours. So I’m guessing there are some coal tar derivatives in some of them….

Piccolo Lab's Steamer, label, at Tram Depot, Testaccio

I can see the appeal of these alcohol-free ice drinks on a hot Roman summer’s day, but personally I’d rather have a beer. Tram Depot have one industrial lager on tap, but thankfully they also have a few bottled real beers. Among them is Steamer, a “hopped amber ale” created by brewer Lorenzo Bottoni that I’ve previously had at Necci. Though at Necci they had it on tap and it was comparatively flat. The bottles are markedly more carbonated.

The first time we had them, it had a massive comedy head. “Bad pour! Bad pour!” scolded my friend Stels, who was consuming a less troublesome grattacheccha. All three of us drinking the Steamer had the same Attack-of-the-Froth!

Steamer beer head

Stels told me about a technique for making the head subside. Rub a finger in the greasy crease alongside your nose and stick it in the foam. I’d never heard of this before, but she’s from New Jersey.

And yet, it works, after a fashion. Like putting soap in your bath foam, it makes the bubbles collapse. In the above pic, the orifice on the right with larger bubbles is where I stuck my finger.

The beer itself was still good. I wrote the other day after drinking Birrificio Math’s La 16 how I wasn’t entirely sold on Italian strong ales, but Steamer is pretty good stuff. It’s a lovely deep, misty amber colour, it’s pretty hoppy (it says 39.7 IBU, but it tastes like more) and it’s fairly darned strong (7.6%) but supped slowly on a summer’s evening is a great alternative to grattacheccha. Until someone invents beer grattachecca.

Info
Tram Depot, via Marmorata (angolo Via Manlio Gelsomini), Testaccio, Rome
Open 8.30am (ish) to 2.00am, seven days a week.

Laboratorio Piccolo Birrificio
piccololab.it / info@piccololab.it

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Maritozzi con la panna recipe

Maritozzi con la panna

A while back, we went on a field trip and scoffed maritozzi con la panna at Regoli. They are reputedly Rome’s best. They are indeed delicious, albeit a bit OTT with the whipped cream (panna montata. Not to be confused with hannah montana).

Seeing as I made splits the other day, and splits and maritozzi con la panna are basically both variations on the enriched dough cream bun, it seemed fitting that I try and make maritozzi too. Me living in Rome, and them being a local speciality and all. My version isn’t quite so generous with the cream as Regoli’s, though how much you use is really up to you.

Maritozzi ingredientsLemon zest

My research took me to numerous recipes on Italian websites1. The basic gist really is an enriched dough, some with milk instead of water, some with oil or butter, all with egg and/or egg yolks.

My recipe is a kind of hybrid, though relatively authentic in that it contains the key flavourings of candied peel, citrus zest, raisins (or sultanas) and pine nuts. Some of the recipes I found use a biga, but I decided to use the sponge-and-dough technique. Here’s the nice active sponge:

Nice active sponge for maritozzi

For this recipe I agonised with professional-style recipe calculation 2, bakers’ percentages and scaling weights. Then I made a schoolboy error and left a key ingredient out of the dough. Then I burnt the buns.

So I made a second batch too – and tried to remember all the ingredients and tried to not burn them. (In my defence, my oven has fierce bottom heat, even when I use multiple sheets for some shielding, so it’s hard to get nice colour on top without the bottoms getting a little bruciato…)

This recipe makes 10.

Ingredient Bakers’ percentage Quantity (g) Notes
Sponge:
Strong white flour 10 43 Aka manitoba
Milk 47 224 Warmed
Yeast 5 22 Fresh. If using ADY, use 11g, instant, easyblend use 9g
Caster sugar 5 22
Dough:
Strong white flour 60 258 Aka manitoba
Plain flour 30 129 Aka all-purpose, or Grano tenero 00
Salt 1 4
Caster sugar 7 30
Butter 12 52 Melted and cooled. Or oil. See ‘Options and decisons’, below
Egg yolk 8 34 Separate a few eggs, beat the yolks then weigh off on electronic scales
Zest 1 4 Lemon, orange or mix
Pine nuts 8 34 Aka pinoli
Raisins or sultanas 8 34 Soaked in hot water for 10 minutes or so, squeezed out
Candied peel, chopped 8 34 Orange or citron or both

Method

1. Make up the sponge by combining the first four ingredients: the milk (warmed to about blood temp), yeast, sugar, flour. Whisk together.
2. Leave the sponge, covered, to ferment. You want it nice and bubbly. Time will depend on the warmth of your kitchen or chosen location. With all that yeast and sugar it won’t take too long – around 20 minutes.
3. When it’s nice and active, add the rest of the ingredients (except the pine nuts and fruit) and bring to a dough. Do by hand or with a mixer with dough hook. If the dough feels a bit dry and tight, add a little more tepid liquid – either water or milk.

Adding the fruit and pine nuts to maritozzi dough
4. When you’ve achieved a nice smooth dough, stretch out, then add the fruit and pine nuts. Fold it over and knead again.
5. Put the dough in a clean bowl and leave to prove again. Prove until doubled in size. Again, time will vary.

Dough, before 1st proveDough, after 1st prove
6. Gently deflate the dough, to regulate the structure. (This is called “knocking back” in Britain, but all that business with thumping it with your fist is far too violent – you don’t want to lose all the inflation.)
8. Form a ball and rest for 10 minutes.
9. Divide the dough into 10 pieces, each weighing 85g or thereabouts.
10. Form the pieces into balls, then allow them to rest again for 10 minutes.
11. Form the balls into cylinders by turning over (so the rougher base is upwards), flattening and rolling up. You can roll the ends to a tighter point if you want. You might want to also pinch the seam (on the underside) closed so it doesn’t open up again.

Shaping a finger roll 1: ballShaping a finger roll 2: ball, undersideShaping a finger roll 3: ball, squashed/rolled outShaping a finger roll 4: ball, squashed/rolled out and rolled upShaping a finger roll 5: cylinder, rounded endsShaping a finger roll 6: cylinder, pointed ends
12. Place on a lined baking sheet, and leave to prove again, until doubled in size and soft to the touch.
13. Preheat oven to 200C.
14. Bake until nicely browned on top, around 15 minutes. (Again, depends on your oven.)

Final prove, beforeFinal prove, after
15. While they’re baking, make a stock syrup with 50g sugar and 50g water, brought to the boil together. This is optional (see Options and decisions, below).
16. When the rolls are baked and still warm, brush with the syrup.

Fresh from ovenGlazed
17. Leave to cool entirely on a wire rack.
18. Whisk 500g whipping cream to stiff peaks. (You might need more, but healthy types might get upset if I put “whisk 1 litre” of cream…)
19. Split each roll long-ways and fill with cream, with piping bag.
20. You can also serve with a sprinkling of sieved icing sugar (see bel0w).

Maritozzo crumb - plenty of fruit and pine nuts

Options and decisions

The last two steps are involve some decisions, depending on you how you want to present your calorie bombs. Although some of the photos you’ll find online have the creamed piped with a star nozzle, many of the maritozzi I see in Rome have the cream smoothed off (with a palette knife presumably). I think I prefer the latter.

As for the icing sugar, this is why I said the stock syrup glaze was optional. If you’re going to sieve icing sugar all over (again, this is very popular for the presentation of cakes and pastries in Rome), the glaze could arguably be seen as useless. So you could either not bother with the glaze, or you could even brush the rolls with beaten egg, egg yolk or even milk (full-fat) before baking, to give them varying degrees of golden crust as they bake.

Maritozzo con la panna - and with icing sugar

As for the butter – if you want to be more wholeheartedly (southern) Italian with this recipe, replace the butter with good quality olive oil , which some of the recipes I’ve looked at use. Some also use sunflower oil, or similar.

One final option – you can also add some vanilla essence when making up the dough. Maybe a teaspoonful, around 6g.

Enjoy!

Footnotes

1. Here are some of the recipes I looked at online, all in Italian: Giallo Zafferano (Italy’s biggest online recipe resource); Alice (a cookery channel; this one uses a biga and some “qb”); Arturo (another cookery channel, related to Alice); Cookaround (a forum); PaperBlog (an online magazine); La Cuochina Sopraffina (a blog, though this one seems to be missing some vital info); Paciulina (another blog); also the book La Cucina di Roma e del Lazio by Maria Teresa di Marco and Marie Cécile Ferré.

2. This style of recipe calculation is very handy if you’re trying to accurately scale up quantities, and for doing costings. You start by adding up all the bakers’ percentages (ie, all the ingredients given as a percentage of the total flour used. Comprehensively explained here). In this case, that gives me 215. You then divide the total dough required by that figure to give you a “recipe factor”.

Here, the total dough I want for 10 buns each made with 90g of dough is 900g. Add a little extra (2%) for loss/wiggle room, giving a total desired dough weight of 918g. 918 divided by 215 gives a recipe factor of 4.3 (rounded).

Then, multiply the bakers’ percentage by the recipe factor to give the ingredient weight (which you can also round, obviously).  The total of these ingredient weights should be the total dough. As I rounded a few figures up, the total weight of ingredients here is 924g.

So If you wanted to do 30 buns instead, simply work out a new total dough weight, ie 90g x 30 = 2700g. Add 2% for loss, giving g. 2754 divided by 215 gives a recipe factor of 12.8 (rounded), etc.

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Birradamare’s Birra Roma at Zoc, Rome

Birradamare's Birra Roma and 'Na Biretta Rossa

Saturday lunchtime we stopped by Zoc trattoria (aka Zoc 22) for some food and ale. Zoc is owned by the same people as the more established Urbana 47 in the Monti neighbourhood of Rome. Urbana 47 is stylish place where the food is produced along sound principles, with an emphasis on season and local (“KM0”), the provenance of ingredients front and centre on the menu.

As it should be.

We eat far too much food where we have no idea of the origins of the ingredients. This is important for all ingredients, but especially so for meat and dairy, where barbaric industrial techniques have cheapened the human relationship with animals, resulting in a form of de-humanised husbandry that emphasises quantity at any cost. Sadly, many people have been duped by the persuasiveness of the meat industry and supermarkets. Your intensively reared beef, pig unit pork, or industrial broiler chickens really aren’t that cheap if you factor in the subsidies and the cost we’ll all have to pay in the long run for the accompanying pollution and disease.

The bar at Zoc, Rome

So yes, bravo Urbana for its principles. These principles are similarly followed at Zoc, where the menu lists not just the ingredients, but the azienda that’s provided them. The trattoria even has photos on the wall of some of their suppliers, including one chap Fran recognised as the guy we’ve bought salumi from at the market in the Testaccio Ex-Mattatoio (currently closed for the summer – go figure).

I was also encouraged by the drinks list, which mostly consists of local wines, but also includes four bottled beers from Birradamare. Birradamare has pretty much established itself as the craft brewery for Rome. Although it’s not in the city, but instead is located at Fiumicino, the town at the mouth of the Tiber near the airport of the same name, its products are fairly ubiquitous here. If a Rome venue has just one craft beer brand on offer, chances are it’ll be Birradamare (eg here).

I ordered a Birra Roma, Fran a ʼNa Biretta Rossa. I’ve had the latter before – it’s a decent malty beer, inspired by German bocks, sweet and medium bodied, with 6.4% ABV. Its colour is amber or copper. Surprisingly, the Birra Roma was a similar colour (see pic, above), despite being called a birra oro (golden ale) on Birradamare’s site or even bionda (blonde) on the label. Birradamare’s own site says the Roma is 35EBC, which is about right, but there’s no way the Rossa is 74EBC (a serious porter tone). Surely that’s an error?

Anyway, the Birra Roma (5.5% ABV). Like Baladin’s Nazionale, which I tried a few days ago, the Roma seems to be one of the many experiments going on to create specifically, uniquely Italian style beers. In this case, even a specifically Roman beer. It’s a beer that clearly takes into consideration Italians’ love for fairly straightforward but strong lagers, as it was inspired by Bavarian Märzen lagers. I found it had a slight orange aroma, slightly hoppy. Taste-wise, it’s hoppy but not bitter (35 IBU apparently), crisp, fresh, with very faint smokiness and more body than a lager. Interestingly, Fran said it reminded her of the sea, of seaweed and salt and Breton Atlantic  beaches, the Côte Sauvage, which is far more poetic than I can be about it.

Birra Roma at Zoc Rome

So anyway, we were enjoying the beers, and the ambiance of the place, which is located in a 1950s block on the Centro Storico side of the river near the Ponte Sisto. The dining area is spacious, with high ceilings and some great design features, like an enlarged detail of a nautical map (I love maps). Much of the furniture is for sale, with price tags, so there’s a slightly distracting feeling of eating in a hip secondhand furniture showroom. There’s also a decent sized courtyard at the back, though it was a pretty hot day when we visited, and they seemed to be trying to cool it off with misters – which only succeeded in making everything soggy.

When the food finally arrived, it was pretty tasty. Fran had three chicken legs and a fig, the flavour profile a nice change to much Roman food, with some turmeric, cumin, rosemary. But it really was just three drumsticks and a fig, for €16. Mine, meanwhile, was half an aubergine (/ melanzana / eggplant) and one piece of cheese toast. Like Fran’s, the flavours were a nice change, more north African say, though it was underseasoned. And just plain meagre (for €9). I’m more than happy to pay for quality and provenance, for more ethical food, but there’s got to be some balance – the portions were so small we left feeling hungry, which isn’t what you want when your bill comes to €44. We even had to ask for bread (a dense, white sourdough, somewhat stale), and there we no other contorni (side dishes). Essentially we paid meal prices for a snack.

Blown up nautical charts on the wall of Zoc

This is all something they need to work on, to make for a more satisfying experience. They could also do with working on the service. The staff were amiable enough but just seemed a bit apathetic. When, for example, a fuse tripped, cutting out the fans and lights, the waiter wandered around for a while first before going to click it back on. He wasn’t busy either, there were just a few covers there for Saturday lunch. Perhaps it’s busier in the evening. Although it’s right near two very popular areas – Trastevere and the Centro Storico around Campo de’ Fiori – it’s just off the main drag. Although Urbana 47 suffers from the same small portions/ high-ish prices issue at least it’s got a bit more atmosphere from being busier, as Via Urbana is a more lively street.

So, Zoc: nice spot, good beer, sound principles, iffy value for money. Must try harder (er, as I may have had on my school reports a few times in days of yore).

Info:
Via delle Zoccolette 22, 00186 Rome, Italy
zoc22.it (English site, sort of) / 06 6819 2515 / info@zoc22.it

Birradamare
Birradamare.it (English homepage) / 06 658 2021 / info@birradamare.it

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Pizza al taglio di Eligio Fattori, Monteverde, Rome

Fine selection of pizzas at Eligio Fattori, Monteverde, Rome

Although it’s Gabriele Bonci that gets much of the acclaim in the Roman (and wider Italian) pizza scene for his Pizzarium outlet, in every neighbourhood in the city there are a gazillion other pizza al taglio (“pizza by the slice”) places quietly going about their business. Many of these are mediocre – though even then, they’re better than the majority of pizza to be found internationally. And some of them are even pretty good. Pizza al taglio di Eligio Fattori is one of them.

It’s found in the hinterlands between Monteverde Vecchio and Monteverde Nuovo, not that far from the Gianicolo (Janiculum) and the splendid open space that Villa Doria Pamphili park. For a long time, we’ve been giving our patronage to a pizza a taglio place closer to home (Da Simone on Via G Carini), but when a friend and fellow baker mentioned Eligio Fattori, and its famed long fermentation dough, we had to check it out. And we’re very glad we did too.

Pizza a taglio di Eligio Fattori, Viale di Villa Pamphili, Rome

Sometimes, I meet Fran after work, and walk up from Trastevere railway station, up Viale dei Quattro Venti, paying a visit to the beer shop that’s recently opened up there (number 265; it’s a branch of Gradi Plato), before turning off the main drag and up onto Viale di Villa Pamphili.

Pizza a taglio on Viale di Villa Pamphil Rome, Irish pub beyond

Located just past an unexpected “Irish pub” called Finn MacCumhal, Pizza al taglio di Eligio Fattori looks very ordinary. It doesn’t even have a name, just a little symbol with two illegible letters in the style of the General Electric logo (are they “E” & “F”? Dunno) and “Pizza a taglio” in large green letters. In the summer and fair weather, there are some plastic benches outside. When we were arrived an old couple and some mums and kids were there, finishing feasting on boards of pizza slices.

If you want pizza, ring the bell

Inside, it’s pretty small (Siamo un piccolo negozio con un grande prodotto – “We’re a small shop with a grand product”), but has some character. There’s a bell on the wall with a sign saying “If you want pizza, ring the bell” and there’s a framed quote by John Ruskin (in Italian). This is a nice touch for us, as we lived just off Herne Hill in south London for several years – and Ruskin used to live just up the road (before our time of course….). Here’s an English translation of the quote. Whether this Common law of business balance was even authored by Ruskin is debated, but clearly they’re saying if you feel you’re paying a little more for the Eligio Fattori pizza, it’s because you’re paying for better quality, though prize-wise it seems pretty on a par to other a taglio places.

Ruskin

I’ve got their business card here and it says they have “200 types of pizza” – though not all at the same time. They change seasonally. It also lists their accomplishments, including Pizza campione nel mondo – pizza world champion – 1991 and 2011. I’m not sure it’s the best pizza I’ve ever had, but for a neighbourhood a taglio place it’s great. This is in part because, where many places apparently use factory made frozen dough (Marco Farchioni, of Farchioni olive oil, recently told me), Eligio Fattori make their own – and even boast on their card that they make: L’unico impasto al mondo realizzato metà acqua metà farina, 1 gr di lievito ogni chilo di farina. Senza aggiunto di grassi animali con olio extravergine e soia. 72 ore di lievitazione naturale. That is, “The only dough in the world made with half water, half flour, 1g of yeast for every kilo of flour. Without added animal fats, with extravirgin olive oil and soya oil. 72 hours of natural  leavening.” This isn’t exactly a recipe, and 72 hours seems a little long – surely the yeast would exhaust itself? – but the results are very good.

Pizza a taglio di Eligio Fattori, Viale di Villa Pamphili, Rome

On our visit a few days ago, we had suppli (which were tasty, but not a patch on home-made), and a couple of different pizzas from their extensive choice, which includes many  stuffed styles. I had a one with cherry tomatoes and some chili – and it was delicious. Basic, without too many toppings, is often best as there’s no conflict among the flavours. Fran had speck with a gorgonzola sauce. I didn’t try it, but she said it was “creamy, lovely, with wood-smoky speck, and the sauce over the top, so the dough didn’t get soggy.”

Our platter

I kinda wish we’d got more. I’m making myself hungry just writing about it.

Info:
Pizza a taglio di Eligio Fattori, Viale di Villa Pamphili 46A, Monteverde, Rome
Tel 06 581 2208

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Baladin and del Borgo beers at No.Au bistrot, Rome

Baladin Nazionale, Bira del Borgo Keto Reporter at no.au

Just to the northwest of the faintly grotesque tourist nexus that is Piazza Navona, Rome’s Centro Storico (“historic centre”) offers a maze of streets, alleyways and piazzette. There, it’s possible to wander, get lost, find yourself again, elude the tourists mobs, bump into them again, and even find filming locations from Eat Pray Love (ugh). Among the cobbles and crumbling apartment blocks are numerous bars, restaurants and gelaterie. Our destination last night was No.Au, a bar/restaurant located between the handsome Chiostro del Bramante and the somewhat chichi Via dei Coronari (which even boasts one of Rome’s few cupcake shops these days. Bloody cupcakes).

No.Au, which opened in summer 2012, is a collaboration between several big names in Italy’s craft brewing and food scene who wanted to “recreate the atmosphere of a Parisian bistro, with quality products and good company, in the centre of Rome.” You’ll find the whole spiel (in English), and an explanation of the name of the place, here on the Baladin site. Why is it on the Baladin site? Because one of those (five) big names is Teo Musso, the founder and master brewer of Baladin, Italy’s biggest craft brewer.The bar and taps at No.Au Rome

So key is Musso in the Italian craft brewery scene, a biography has even recently been published. It’s called ‘La birra artigianale è tutta colpa di Teo’ (“Baladin. Craft beer is Teo’s fault” – ie Musso is to blame, ie responsible, for the whole craft beer scene in Italy.) Presumably the title is slightly tongue-in-cheek, but certainly Musso is among the most influential of Italy’s craft brewers. His collaborators here are Luca Tosato (also of Baladin), Leonardo di Vincenzo (master brewer of Birra del Borgo), Paolo Bertani (also of Borgo, and previously Baladin) and Gabriele Bonci (renowned pizzaiolo and TV regular whose company produces the breads for Open Baladin bar. We did a pizza course with him last year).

It’s no surprise, then, that at No.Au, the main beers you’ll find on tap are from Baladin and del Borgo, but they also have others, in bottles, both Italian and international. Beside where we sat was an old box of US brewer Dogfish Head’s intriguing/strange Midas Touch. I stayed with Baladin for my first choice. As I’d tried a lot of the offerings on tap, I went for a Nazionale (6.5% ABV), which the friendly, helpful waitress described as a “simple” beer. It’s described as an Italian Ale – as it’s top fermented and also because it’s made with entirely Italian ingredients. This includes the hops – which was a pleasant surprise, as so many Italian craft beers seem to depend on international hops.

No.Au Rome snacks

This really was a pleasing beer, perfect to accompany the antipasti we’d ordered:  a plate of bufala e prosciutto and some very fine freshly cooked potato crisps/chips accompanied by three flavours of mayo. As the waitress said, it was simple – a golden yellow, with a quickly subsiding soft head, very subtle aroma of ginger and lemon, and a fairly sweet, mildly hoppy smooth taste (27 IBU). Molto beverina.

Fran’s first beer was Keto RePorter (5.2% ABV) from Birra del Borgo. This porter is made with the addition of Kentucky tobacco leaves, but it was also very mild from the few sips I had.

As the beers were served in half-pints, and we’d finished the antipasti, I fancied trying something a little more interesting, so the waitress recommended Baladin’s Open Rolling Stone, which they described as an Italian APA on their blackboard, but as an IPA on Ratebeer. Either way, this beer, branded for the magazine of the same name, is very tasty. It’s relatively strong, at 7.5%, and had a slight perfume of camomile and a reasonable head. At first taste it was soft and sweet, but this gave way to a drier, slightly hoppy flavour (it’s still only a fairly moderate 36 IBU though, according to Baladin’s site). I was enjoying this one, but about half-way through my half-pint it started getting a bit detergenty, losing its crispness.

Wine, food, beer at No.Au Rome

Fran’s second one was a Genziana from del Borgo. I’ve had this before, though didn’t try it last night. It’s a really interesting beer made with bitter gentian flowers.

When some friends arrived, we ordered some more food. The emphasis here is on snacks and food that’s either stirato (“ironed” ) or crudo (“raw”). The ironing takes place on a piastra (flat top grill).  I was slightly surprised to see a lot meat available (such as sandwiches made with burger buns and sliced roast beef), as over at Katie Parla’s site she reports how Bonci’s places are going vegetarian for a month to protest Rome’s lack of appreciation of Lazio’s farmers and producers. I asked the waitress, and she said the menu was in transition. So if you visit any time in late July, there may be more vegetarian food.  I had seppia (cuttlefish), which had been ironed in a folded sheet of parchment, with zucchini. Served with an ink mayo, it wasn’t bad, but I would say this place is more about the drinks and antipasti, more a place for aperitivi or after-dinner drinks.

Talking of after-dinner drinks, when we’d eaten, I ordered one more (hey, that still makes just one and a half pints).  I got Baladin’s Isaac, a 5% blanche made with orange zest and coriander and it was a perfect palette cleanser.

No.Au exterior, note like of sign

All in all, a very pleasant evening. Although the place only started to fill up, and the lights went down, around 8.30-9.00pm, it’s definitely a good place to visit for quality Italian craft beers. And plates of cheese. And maybe even some wine. Oh, and the music was pretty good too. All this within a stone’s throw of Piazza Navona and its thoroughly-worth-avoiding eating and drinking options.

Info
No.Au, Piazza di Montevecchio 16A, 00186, Rome
No.Au blog / noauroma@gmail.com / 06 45 65 27 70

Baladin brewery (English site)

Birra del Borgo brewery (English site)

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Maritozzi at Regoli Pasticceria, Rome

Pasticceria Regoli, Rome

We – me, Rachel, and Luca, 22 months – went on a field trip this morning. To do research. Honest. Serious research. Which involved eating serious cream cakes. Specifically maritozzi con la panna (maritozzi “with cream”). Specfically at Pasticceria Regoli.

This is what I wrote about maritozzi some time in 2012:

“Typical to Lazio, or even more specifically, Rome, this is a vaguely more exotic cousin to a British cream bun, in that it’s a bun made with a sweet yeasted dough, which it split after its baked and cooled and filled with cream. Go on, Google both and the pics will look remarkably similar. The only major difference is that the maritozzo dough may contain raisins or sultanas, candied peel and pine nuts.

Pasticceria Regoli, Rome

According to Italian Wikipedia they (or an older sweet bun) were given to people getting married and the name relates to that – possibly in Romanesco. (In standard Italian marito means husband.)”

I can clarify that a little more now, after a visit to Regoli, and a few hours to come down off the semi-delirium induced by consuming about a litre of whipped cream slathered on a sweet bun and a hot journey across Rome. Regoli is a renowned pasticceria and came highly recommended by Rachel and her knowledgeable foodie contacts.

We headed across town on the number 8 tram. It’s too hot to walk in Rome now without getting horrendously sweaty, and the tram is a far more civilised way to travel than the bus. Regoli is in Esquilino neighbourhood, roughly between the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore and Piazza Vittorio Emmanuele II, location of the intriguing but easy-to-miss-among-the-snoozing-drunks Porta Alchemical. Oh, and MAS, the most bonkers shop in Rome. But that’s another story.

Panella window display

It’s just around the corner from Panella bakery, which has some impressive bread sculptures in the window, but that’s another story too. (Panella’s website – beware un-turn-offable audio spam.)

Regoli (“dal 1916”) itself is a modest-looking establishment, its window display its wares. And those wares – including the baked goods inside – consist entirely of pastries and biscuits, with a choice of perhaps a few dozen. Now, I find this reassuring for any establishment – a degree of focus. Do just a few things, and do them well.

Serious maritozzi at Regoli, Rome

I must admit I found Regoli’s maritozzi con la panna slightly intimidating. Whereas many of the maritozzi seen in Rome are a finger bun with a modest split along the top filled with smoothed-off whipped cream, Regoli’s version were split in two, folded outwards and totally covered in a thick layer of whipped cream. By weight, I’d imagine each bun was equal parts dough and cream. I like cream, but, well, I couldn’t even imagine how to eat it, at least not in a civilised manner.

Rachel didn’t seem to have any reservations though, and leapt in to make the purchase. Luca didn’t have any reservations either and dived into all the creamy goodness face-first.

Luca dives in

I struggled with my wife’s DSLR in one hand and the massive treat in the other. Cream escaped. It wasn’t pretty. But boy was it tasty. Sure, it was very like a British cream bun, but it just felt like such a treat, such an epic indulgence, guzzling all that cream.

We chatted a bit with the staff, and it does sound their maritozzi are made with a fairly standard enriched bread dough. They also sold maritozzi quaresimali – Lenten buns. Even though it’s July. These differ in that they don’t involve whipped cream, but instead the dough contains dried fruit (sultanas or raisins), candied peel (probably cedroCitrus medica), zest and even pine nuts. As such, they’re not dissimilar to something like a hot cross bun, but in a finger roll form. Regoli’s combination of dried fruit and citrus flavours give them a delicious tang.

maritozzi quaresimali, Regoli, Rome

So all in all, a good field trip. Hard work though. Despite how much of a glutton I am, I don’t think I could handle a Regoli maritozzo con la panna more than a few times a year, given the truly epic amount of whipped cream involved!

My maritozzi con la panna recipe can be found here.

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Filed under Bakeries, Cakes, Cakes (yeasted)

Revelation Cat beers at Brasserie 4:20, Rome

Brasserie 4:20 Rome, the bar

Brasserie 4:20 is not in a prepossessing location. Sure it’s located not far from Porta Portese, a 17th century gate in Rome’s 3rd century Aurelian Wall. And sure the actual street, Via Potuense, is historical, constructed in the 1st century AD to connect the city to Portus at the mouth of the Tiber. And sure the section where Brasserie 4:20 is located comes alive on Sundays for the Porta Portese market, a kilometre-plus of stalls selling tat clothes, cheap electricals and bric-a-brac. It’s even the place to go in Rome to buy bikes or scooters of occasionally dubious provenance. (Porta Portese is one of the locations of Antonio’s desperate search in Vittorio De Sica’s unbearably heartwrenching neorealist classic Bicycle Thieves [Ladri di biciclette, 1948]: go to 9:52 here.)

But, frankly, this stretch of Via Portuense is a scruffy rat-run.

At rush hour, it’s an untrammelled racetrack for Rome’s horrendous car population, and not a great place to tackle on foot – there are no pavements, just potholed gutters. One side of the road is given over to semi-derelict buildings, wasteland and one restaurant overlooking the Tiber. The other side, where 4:20 is located, consists of a large, graffitied wall punctuated with arches. Even when 4:20 is open, it doesn’t exactly look inviting – a dark entrance in the wall, a few smokers outside.

So I’ve walked past dozens of times, without even quite making it inside. Shame on me really, as it’s a) not that far from where I live and b) one of Rome’s most significant birrerie (beer bars).

We resolved to finally visit on Saturday, meeting several Italian friends, many of them counfounding stereotypes by enjoying good beer as much as wine.

Fortunately, at 5.45pm on a Saturday the stretch of Via Portuense was quiet, Brasserie 4:20 safe to approach on foot. The bar was quiet too as although the sun is well and truly over the yardarm as far as we (and other Brits) are concerned, 6-ish is a freaky time to have a drink for Italians, as one of our friends commented straight away on their arrival. Still, at least it meant we had our choice of seating.

Some of the beers available at Brasserie 4:20 Rome

Downstairs is an atmospherically gloomy cavern of bare brick walls, a long bar featuring a barricade of taps, and seating that includes a couple of inviting (though tight) horseshoe-shaped booths. We settled into one of these, not realising there was also an upstairs terrace, with awnings. This was handy as we’d just had a massive thunderstorm, which had given way to blazing sunshine. After ordering our first beers, we relocated upstairs to enjoy the space and partake of an aperitivo buffet. It was basic – some couscous, some pasta salad, bread, a few dips – but included in the price of the drinks at that time of the evening.

As for the drinks, 4:20 only has beer, whiskey and water. Downstairs, there are apparently 47 taps, including 12 hand pumps, though I didn’t count them. Upstairs, there’s a more limited selection, with six taps, but hey, it’s hardly a long schlep back, down some stairs and past a mound of containers of fry oil. Yes, there’s also food. In this case, that means burgers (mostly), the smell of which was filling the air on the terrace. They use beer a lot in the preparation of the food, though we didn’t sample anything beyond the buffet.

Some more of the beers available at Brasserie 4:20 Rome

Beer-wise, there are menus on blackboards on the wall. We weren’t offered an actual menu, though they may exist, especially as they have a selection of bottled beers. These are the only refrigerated beers, as the tap beers are kept in a cellar and served at ambient temperature – important for the “organoleptic quality” according to their site. What this means is that the precise qualities of a bar are better experienced – by smell, taste etc – at ambient temperature. (Ice cold beer is of course nice on a hot day but that’s another argument.)

The beer comes from a variety of craft breweries, some Italian, but also a lot of Belgian, British etc. Among the Italian breweries, a major presence here is Revelation Cat (English site) – a Rome-based outfit whose products are distributed by Impex, which owns 4:20 as far as I can tell. So Revelation Cat is effectively the house brewery.

When we visited, there were 13 Revelation Cat beers available. Fran chose their Little Lover, a 4.5% ABV stout so chocolaty it could almost have been mistaken for a milkshake in a blind tasting. Okay, not really, but it was very pleasant, in a sweet, mild, creamy kind of way.

I’m still on a quest to find a perfect golden summer ale, so I was torn between Salada from Lariano brewery, in Lombardy – a golden ale al sale, “with salt” – and Magical Mystery Gold from Free Lions, a brewery I talked about over here. I got the latter as it was from a little closer to home, Tuscania, northwest of Rome. I’ve still not found my ultimate golden ale, but Magical Mystery Gold wasn’t bad. I seem to be drinking a lot of citrussy beers at the moment, and this was no exception with an aroma of grapefruit. Taste-wise, it was strongly hopped, dry and crisp.

Brasserie 4:20 Rome, the roof terrace, July 2013

We managed to get in a couple more after this, from the small selection on the terrace. These were California Moonset and Take My Adweisse. We had to order the latter on the strength of the terrible pun alone. Both are from Revelation Cat. These were served in jars. This seems like a strange affectation; I’d rather drink from something that doesn’t have a thread on the lip. The beers were both interesting though.

Take My Adweisse is a 4.5% hoppy American wheat ale. It’s not terribly bitter, but instead is crisp, fairly floral (elder, etc), and refreshing. California Moonset, on the other hand, was fairly odd. It’s nominally a 7% IPA, but I found it pretty challenging, with a pungent odour of, well…. rot? Cat pee? I’d need to drink it again to really nail the description, but I found the smell almost off-putting. Taste-wise it was pretty hoppy, with some serious clashing flavours – resin, citrus, malt. I’m not sure whether it was interesting or unrefined.

Take My Adweisse (left) and California Moonset (right) from Revelation Cat. In jars.

Anyway, after all that we had to go – as we had a birthday to attend at Open Baladin, perhaps Rome’s best known beer bar. This experience of two key beer Roman birrerie in one day was telling. Although we had a good time at 4:20, and I’ll definitely go again, I found our welcome a bit unfriendly there, with three staff just giving us a cool stare when we first arrived. Baladin, on the other hand, I’ve always found more friendly, and the staff ready with advice.

Also, I had my most interesting beer of the evening at Baladin. I asked a friend who works there what she thought was their best beer at the moment, and she recommended a Wallonie saison beer, from Extraomnes, another Lombardy brewery. I’m increasingly getting into saisons as they seem to be challenging without the confusion of a beer like California Moonset. This 6.7% beer was golden-orange in colour, with a serious head and an inviting perfume of herbs and spice. Flavour-wise it balanced a slight peppery piquancy with notable, but not overly bitter, hoppiness and a broad fruitiness, tending finally to crisp and dry. In my notes I wrote “fermenting fruit, bubblegum”. Hm.

All in all, a great evening of socialising and beer sampling. And I’m definitely keen to get back to 4:20, see if I can warm them up a bit asking for recommendations, as it’s certainly a serious beer joint, for fans of real beer.

Infodump:
Brasserie 4:20, Via Portuense 82, 00153 Rome
Impexbeer.com 4:20 site (English)
Open Mon-Sat from 5pm, Sun from 7pm.

Revelation Cat brewery

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