When in Rome
The Roman Open Baladin will be just across the river from two other fabulous Italian craft beer establishments in the Trastevere neighborhood of Rome. One of these beer locals, Ma Che Siete Venuti a Fa’ football pub, is often listed among the top beer destinations in the world. The Ma Che Siete serves beers from all over Europe. Its owners seek out new products, driving to various European breweries and establishing personal rapport with the brewers in order to get their hands on rare and interesting brews.
Right across the street is Bir & Fud, a restaurant that features over fifty Italian breweries. The carefully crafted menu promotes fresh local ingredients as well as beer cuisine. The owners of Bir & Fud, brewer Leonardo diVincenzo and Manuele Colonna (who also co-owns the Ma Che Siete), will be collaborating with Musso on the Roman Open Baladin pub, which will have fifty draught lines, featuring Open, a wide selection of Italian craft beer and imports.
The Italian craft beers featured at Open Baladin, will include a range of co-owner Leonardo DiVincenzo’s brews. His brewery, Birrificio del Borgo, is located just an hour outside Rome in the town Borgorose. (Rome currently has no breweries within city limits, but has at least one on the way.) Del Borgo’s ReAle pale ales have garnered many awards since the brewery opened in 2005. DiVincenzo is a fan of the English beer tradition and all of his beers are very aromatic and balanced.
DiVincenzo’s more unusual beers include a tobacco-flavored beer called Ke To Re Porter and Genziana, flavored with gentian root, which is commonly used locally in digestive liquors. What is interesting to note about this beer is the way the bitterness of the gentian replaces hops in the finish. Another of the local ingredients that Di Vincenzo incorporates in his brewing is chestnut. The local tradition is to roast chestnuts over an open fire. DiVincenzo uses these fire-roasted chestnuts to impart an earthy, slightly smokey character to Birra del Borgo’s otherwise hoppy and lively CastagnAle.
Although there are more than thirty chestnut beers in Italy, each one reflects the specific area in which it was made. Scarampola brewery, in Liguria, for example, has a beer called Nivura, which uses chestnuts that are smoked by a local co-op. Scarampola brewer, Maurizio Ghidetti Flibus also makes Nº8, a witbier brewed with the local chinotto citrus fruit (instead of the usual orange peel). His flagship brew is IPA (Italian pale ale) in which he uses grapefruit peels and juice to accent the flavor of Cascade hops. The result is a lively full-bodied IPA with a distinct grapefruit note.
Housed in a beautiful twelfth century monastery, Scarampola only produces three beers on a large scale for the time being. Ghidetti Flibus spends a long time fine-tuning his recipes and is known for the quality and craftsmanship of his beer. There is also a new line of “Birra dell’ Abazia” beers in the works, which Ghidetti Flibus is dedicating to the Abbey in which he brews.
Marrying Wine and Beer
Brewer Riccardo Franzoni of Montegioco brewery, situated an hour north of Genoa, has found two distinct ways to celebrate his region. He believes in using local ingredients in his beers because he feels that there are no malts or hops that can impart a typically Italian character. His witbier is made using the coriander that is cultivated by his next-door neighbor and he has a golden-colored, subtly flavored peach beer called Quarta Runa, made with local peaches. Franzoni’s strength lies in staying true to the original flavor of the ingredient he wants to feature and building an appropriate beer profile around it.
Franzoni also celebrates regional character by aging his beers in wine barrels in order to capture the essence of locally produced wines. Dolii Raptor (meaning barrel thief), for example, spends six months in Barbera wine barrels, imparting a cherry-like note that melds with Brettanomyces, pineapple, pepper, caramel and vinous notes in this extremely complex beer. Another Montegioco beer that has spent time in Barbera wine barrels is La Mummia. After eighteen months in the barrel, this light-bodied beer has a crisp acidity with lemon and wood notes. Franzoni has produced two versions of the award-winning Mummia, one bottled as-is and the other re-fermented in the bottle.
Barrel-aging is now a growing trend in Italy but the one Italian craft brewery that has always been closely associated with wine barrels is Birrificio Torrechiara, better known by its brand name Panil. The Torrechiara brewery is located right next door to the family winery. Although brewer Renzo Losi originally started brewing in 2000 to break with the family’s winemaking tradition, he soon started integrating wine barrels and yeasts into some of his beers with great results.
Losi is also inspired by Belgian beer: his most recent project was a spontaneously fermented beer called Divina for which he literally left vats of wort outside overnight before transferring them into stainless steel fermenters. The result is an effervescent beer with complex pineapple, lychee, pepper and musty notes and a crisp hoppy finish. All the Torrechiara beers are complex and flavorful and, although it may be the power of suggestion, it does seem that each Panil beer has its own unique vinous note.
Also starting to experiment with barrel aging is Giovanni Campari, of Birrificio del Ducato, in the Emiglia Romagna region of Italy. Run by an enthusiastic team of three friends, Del Ducato brewery has garnered international attention since opening in 2007. Campari likes to play with ingredients, styles and techniques and he approaches each new beer as a journey of discovery. The very tasty Sally Brown, for example, is an exploration of malts in which Campari strategically uses 11 different malts and grains. It lies somewhere between a stout and a porter, with a sumptuous mouthfeel and rich chocolate flavor that leads into a roasted finish.
The hops counterpart is A.F.O. (Ale For Obsessed), which makes calculated use of ten different hop varieties. Del Ducato also make a fabulous pilsner-style beer and a very tasty spiced saison called New Morning. The Del Ducato team takes pride in being the first Italian brewery to win a medal at the European Beer Star, for their Verdi Imperial stout, brewed with hot chilis.