Around the Colosseum: Drinking Beer in Rome
Rome, with its dazzling monuments to admire in awe, delectable cuisine, sunshine and cobbled alleyways, has enough to offer for the holiday of a lifetime, and you’d be forgiven for thinking that forgoing a search for the flavors and aromas of the beers you regularly yearn for at home is worth its while.
However, few people know that Rome itself is a treasure trove of locally-brewed craft beers with exotically mesmerizing tastes, served in pubs located in secluded corners of the city centre, not far off the beaten track, but which hardly reveal what they have on offer for passersby.
In keeping with a trend that is gathering pace across the world, micro-breweries are blossoming in and around Rome, as in the rest of Italy. Intriguingly, with no springs nearby that they can tap into, all local craft beers are brewed from the mains’ drinking water, which was recently awarded mineral water status by quality certification authorities.
Notwithstanding that, water in Rome is rich in carbonates and some beers must be brewed from water without any minerals dissolved in it; therefore, breweries must run the mains’ water through an ion exchange resin that, by retaining the carbonates, softens it, before being regenerated by rock salt.
Here’s an idea of what awaits beer lovers in the Eternal City and its environs.
Birradamare is a micro-brewery located in the village of Fiumicino, on the outskirts of Rome and not far from the city’s international airport. It was founded by Massimo Salvatori and Elio Miceli in 2004, when they set out to meet the growing demand for freshly brewed beers of the patrons crowding their BOI pub by the pier in Ostia, the coastal suburb built next to the ruins of the ancient Roman harbor, which are now an extraordinary archaeological site.
In 2009, the brewery was moved and scaled up, to brew 13 craft beers served locally and shipped all over Italy, the US and Japan, with special dispatches of their Nabio organic beer as far away as Australia.
In 2011, Joan Bratuleanu, a master brewer who learnt the ropes in Germany, Austria and the Czech Republic, joined the team and his creativity and passion were felt immediately. Most of Birradamare’s craft beers are dry to the tongue in true German style, as they are brewed using bottom-fermenting yeasts.
Their flagship beers are NaBiretta Chiara, a pilsner-like beer brewed with pilsner base malt, and hopped with Perle and Tradition hops; NaBiretta Rossa, a Bock Beer brewed with pilsner base malt and Vienna, Munich and CaraMunich 2 malts, and hopped with Perle and Tradition hops.
Birra Roma is a marzen beer suitable for accompanying the hearty Roman cuisine. It is brewed with pilsner base malt, and Vienna, Munich, CaraMunich 2, Rauchmalz, caramel and biscuit malts, and hopped with Perle and Tradition hops for flavor and with Saaz and Challenger hops for aroma.
NaBiretta Schwarz is a black ale brewed with Munich, caramel, chocolate, Carafa Special II, biscuit, rauch malts, and hopped with Perle and Tradition hops for flavor and with Saaz and East Kent Golding hops for aroma.
Birrificio Turbacci is poised next to the ice rink in the village of Mentana, not far from the city, which, at the time of the Roman Empire, was known as Nomentum and renowned for its wine and baths and has a castle built in the year 1000 AD. It brews some 675 barrels of 10 beers and 6 seasonals a year, ranging from a pilsner like the Turbacci Ale, to wheat beers, stouts and, particularly one, the Zia Ale, made by using local barley, special malts, black oats, star anise, and fennel that imparts a distinctive tang to it. It also brews an Indian pale ale and taps into the river Peschiera for water, which is then processed for softening.
Birra del Borgo is located in the village of Borgorose, nestled in a valley at the foot of the Apennine mountains some 45 miles to the North-East of Rome, and notches a respectable yearly production of 8400 barrels of some 40 different craft seasonals and beers.
Their flagship beers are the leek-flavored seasonal lager Duchessa, and ReAle, a pale ale amber in color and hopped with American hops, much appreciated by IPA lovers. Aside from manufacturing, at Birra del Borgo they like to indulge in experimenting with new recipes. Among them is Perle ai Porci, an oyster stout brewed with oysters and clams from the Roman coast, and Equilibrista, obtained by fermenting wine must and wort together.
Mister Malto in Ferentino, which, legend has it, was founded by Saturn after being banished from Mount Olympus and has still its cyclopic walls pre-dating the Roman Empire, gradually took over the business of a previously operating brewery and now mainly produces two beers. They are the Premium Pils Blonde, a pilsner beer brewed with Pilsner base malt, carapils and caramel malts on it, and hopped with Saaz hops; and the Premium Red Beer, a Vienna lager brewed with pilsner base malt and carapils, caramel and Munich malt and hopped with Tradition hops.
With an 80 barrel yearly production, they cherish being categorized as a small brewery.
The Free Lions Brewery is located in the old town of Tuscania, about 50 miles to the North-West of Rome, that was built by the Etruscans in the VII century b.C. and peacefully taken over by the Romans around 225 b.C. for it to be linked to Rome by the Clodian road that went all the way to Tuscany. In the Middle Ages, its citadel was enclosed by sturdy walls that made it all but impregnable. They are standing to this day. At Free Lions, where they are passionate about British and North American ales, they produce 12 beers and 2 seasonals. Their flagship beers are Rivale, a golden ale brewed with pale malt and barley flakes as an adjunct, and hopped with Kent Golding and Cascade hops; Madonna Pils, a pilsner beer brewed with pale malt base, all from locally-grown and malted barley, and hopped with Saaz hops; Neverending, a stout brewed with pale base malt, and chocolate, roasted, black and crystal malts, and hopped with Magnum and Target hops; and MADdeké, an Indian Pale Ale brewed with pale base malt and crystal malt, with added barley flakes, and hopped with Cascade and Columbus hops.
Birrificio Itineris is in Civita Castellana, a village perched on a spur at the junction of two steep valleys to the backdrop of red tufa mountains 30 miles to the North of the city, where they have been passionately brewing beers for the past 3 years. Last year, they produced in excess of 500 barrels of 10 beers that were named after historic roads. Nothing more appropriate from a brewery in a village that is more than 3,000 years old. They range from a wheat beer like Cimina to the Flaminia stout, made from 5 different barleys, one of them toasted for a long time, and strong in hops, to the Cassia, an American pale ale bitter in taste, and the Francigena, a triple malt lager beer with a fruity bouquet and 8.5° alcohol; the Merina, styled after a Belgian ale, made from 4 types of hops with added orange zest and coriander at the end of the boil.
And the industry is thriving, with 460 micro-breweries and counting, in Italy, work is currently underway to isolate hops varieties, most of them currently imported, that are tolerant to Italian climes, but it will be a matter of at least a decade before these can be used consistently. Meanwhile, all micro-breweries in and around Rome are part of a pilot project, whereby they brew the same beer with locally-grown barley and hops, but brewers are each given leeway to concoct the recipes they find most appealing. Despite these efforts, the overall impact of the brewing industry is still negligible in Italy, compared with wine and food, therefore tax on sales is still very high, which small enterprises find unacceptable, but “it is just a matter of waiting for the industry to weigh in as much as it worth”, they say at Mister Malto.
And for that touch of genius, brewers in Rome rely on nobody other than Mike Murphy, a master brewer from Philadelphia, who works at Lervig Aktiebryggeri in Stavanger, Norway. Now and again, he devises new captivating beers for the discerning taster visiting Rome in search for a truly unforgettable experience.
A wide selection of craft beers are available in Rome at the following watering holes:
Open Baladin, Via degli Specchi, 6; Bir & Fud, Via Benedetta, 23; Machesietevenutiafa, Via Benedetta, 25; Birra Più, Via del Pigneto, 105, and Brasserie 4:20, Via Portuense, 82; Draft Pub, Viale Ippocrate 64.