Tag Archives: Steamer

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.

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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Laboratorio Piccolo Birrificio’s Steamer amber ale at Necci, Rome

steamer at Necci

Last night we made it back to Necci, in Pigneto – the neighbourhood that was once on the wrong side of the railway tracks, but has now become something of a haven for (young, and young-ish, black-clad) people wanting to do a bit of boozing and yakking away from any crazy Roman traffic. Via del Pigneto itself has a great traffic-free section that’s packed with bars, but cross over another set of tracks, turn a few corners among the unique low-rise buildings – very different to the apartment blocks of other Roman neighbourhoods – and you’ll get to Necci. Or !Necci dal 1924″.

Now, as I wrote here, the whole “open since 1498” thing gets my goat. Innumerable osterie/trattorie/ristoranti proclaim their year of founding as if it’s somehow important even when they churn out mediocre food. Not so Necci. This is a place that’s doing so much right. Although it’s nearly a century old, and a neighbourhood landmark, and was the filmmaker Pier Paolo Passolini‘s main hangout when he made his breakthrough film Accattone (1961), it’s not stuck in aspic. The heritage is just part of the fabric of a lively, diverse venue that offers pretty much everything to all comers, any day of the week. Except, that is, a decent beer menu. More on which later.


Although Necci has all this history, and is a great place physically, with a funky interior and shady terraces, its success is also down to a unique scenario whereby it’s run by business partners Massimo Innocenti (manager) and Ben­jamin Hirst (chef), who took over the venue in 2006. Hirst? That doesn’t sound very Italian, and indeed it’s not – he’s a British chef. A British chef running the kitchens of an  Italian eatery? Yes. Shocking.

This partnership is something that’s potentially unique in the Roman restaurant scene. After all, Italians in general are bloomin’ sniffy about the idea of foreigners being able to cook, and yet here’s a Brit proving them wrong, and overseeing a far more interesting menu than many places in Rome. I say that in part because the inventive dinner menu features not just the usual Roman offal, but a lot of fish dishes too – which can be a rarity in osterie/trattorie/ristoranti here, despite the city only being 20km or so from the sea.

It’s not just all about dinner at Necci though. It’s a café with a pasticceria on the opposite corner, a shop, a lunch venue and a great spot for an aperitivo. Indeed, it’s there I had my first (excellent) sbagliato: a “wrong” Negroni, made with vermouth, campari and prosescco instead of gin. They even have an decent wine list. The only disappointment for me was the selection of beers.

The whole ethos for Necci, according to the Projetto Gastronomico section of their site, is an emphasis on organic produce from Lazio and central Italy, and everything made on the premises – “from the cornetti (Italian croissants) to the bread, from the gelato to the tagliatelle, from the cakes to the gnocchi”.

The site uses the word autarchico, which translates into English as autarkic… Yes, I didn’t know that one either, but it means self-sufficient, independent. (They’re exactly the sort of principles I’d like to apply if I ever run a food business.) The site also says Hirst, who initially studied art history before getting into cuisine (working in France, the US and Italy, with experience in patisserie and vegeterian food, though there was little of the latter available last night) works to recreate traditional osteria dishes – but the ones that people may have forgotten. It’s slow food without the rhetoric, apparently. So, in amongst all this, why don’t they have a few more Italian craft beers? Although Massimo flagged up one Italian craft beer on their menu, Steamer, when we came to order, the waiter seemed to determined to sell me a Stella Artois. Which isn’t just industrial muck, it’s decidedly not from Lazio or central Italy or Italy at all. And yet Lazio alone boasts several microbreweries producing interesting, quality beers: Birra del Borgo, Turan and Itineris, to name but a few.

steamer label

Still, we had a great night, and the Steamer was delicious. It’s brewed by Lorenzo Bottoni under the label of Laboratorio Experimental Brews / Laboratorio Piccolo Birrificio (“little brewery lab/workshop”). The site has a section called Manifesto, where Bottoni talks about how his brewing is always a collaborative experience. Which is nice. Clearly Bottoni and his chums between them have a lot of knowledge and are deploying it to produce interesting beers. They don’t seem to have a fixed brewery location, but seem to be a kind of brewing flying squad. Well, not flying – cycling. I like them even more as, from a quick jaunt round their Facebook page, they seem to be pretty big on bikes. Bravi!

Anyway, Steamer. It’s a hoppy amber ale. But not that hoppy. Middlingly hoppy. On the nicely designed, informative site, the Laboratorio gives the IBU (International Bitterness Units) as 39.7, which puts it on the cusp between mellower pale ales (usually 20-40 IBU) and hoppier, more bittererer IPAs (usually 40-60 IBU, depending on your sources and on type). The hops in question here are a mixture of Cascade and Amarillo from the US, and Nelson Sauvin from New Zealand. Which makes me happy and strangely emotional, as I’ve spent a lot of time in and around Nelson, a marvellous little town that’s played a key role in NZ’s craft brewery scene.

Steamer’s fairly strong, at 7.6%, but goes down smooth, with a body that’s almost verging on the milkiness of a thick stout or porter. A fruity aroma is accompanied by a caramel and biscuitty taste, the latter possibly arising from the interesting use of malted rye, instead of barley. All in all, a highly notable beer. As the site itself says, it’s something that was developed In risposta allo strapotere delle IPA-DIPA-APA, una birra luppolata il cui amaro si accompagna alla setosa ruvidita’ conferitale dalla segale, that is “In response to the excessive power of the IPA-Double IPA-APAs, a hoppy beer in which bitterness is accompanied by the silky coarseness of the rye.” Okay.

So yes. I’m really enjoying Necci. Although I’m disappointed by the presence of generic and or non-Italian beers on the menu, I’m encouraged by the fact that the one Italian artisan beer included has clearly been chosen with care. I just wish this place was nearer where I live…

Necci, Via Fanfulla da Lodi 68, Pigneto, Roma
+39 6 9760 1552 / necci1942.com / info@necci1924.com
Open 8am-1am, seven days a week.

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


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