Back in 2007, Steve Rogerson had an unusual pub crawl in Rome, a journey that included a ride on the back of a scooter and an unexpected meeting with a brewer. Here, he relates the adventure that first showed him that there is a lot more to alcohol in Italy that just the wines for which the country is famous.
An Unusual Pub Crawl in Rome
How a trip to Rome showed that beer is beginning to win Italian hearts
The handpump in Brasserie 4:20
Photo by Steve Rogerson
My first ever visit to Rome back in 2007 started as a work trip and ended with a most unusual pub crawl. On the first evening we were taken to a posh restaurant with a gorgeous view over the city. The food was beautiful – an incredibly tasty pasta dish followed by rolled beef – don't know what either were really called. It was amusing convincing the waiters that I really wanted beer not wine with my meal, but once done they came up with the 150 year anniversary blonde beer from Birra Menabrea, a brewery founded in 1846 in Sardinia.
After a bite to eat the following day (yes, I did have pizza), I set out in search of beer, starting off at a bar recommended in the Lonely Planet City Guide. This was on Piazza Testaccio opposite the market, and called L'Oasi Della Birra, and claims to have over 500 beers from around the world. It was like an alcohol museum, with bottles of wines and spirits lining the walls. I sat down and asked for the beer menu. This was a big leather bound book; the Belgium section alone ran for pages, but I was after Italian beer so ordered a Del Borgo Re Porter.
This dark porter was bottle conditioned, but it wasn't cheap at twelve euros for a 75cl bottle. Nice beer, but the place was too expensive to hang around in, so I left after one drink to start a beer adventure that would include me meeting the brewer from Del Borgo.
First, I headed for Brasserie 4:20 at Via Portuense 82, (Portaportese). This bar had only been going three months, and had a very rare sight in Italy – a hand pump.
The owner – Alex – whom I met, is very into beer. He has a range of keg dispensers as well, and these hang from the roof of the bar. The beer is from various European countries including two from Italian brewery White Dog.
The two White Dog beers are Best and Stout (made with a mix of fuggles and golding hops) and he alternates between which has the hand pump and which is gas pumped through the hanging dispensers.
I started with the White Dog Best (4.8%), which was gas dispensed, and cloudy. I asked Alex about this. Apparently the brewer doesn't use finings (good news for vegetarians) so the sediment is permanently mixed with the beer to give a yeasty flavour. The beer had a slightly reddish colour and tasted like a good bottled English IPA.
Next I tried the stout (5.5%). Again no finings, which means you don't have to let it settle. In fact, while I was drinking the Best I watched them bring the stout barrel in and attach it.
I asked Alex for directions to the next bar on my list, and he asked if I'd ever been on a moped. It turned out to be a scooter, but I donned a helmet and got on the back and Alex drove me through the streets of Rome to Che Siete Venuti a Fa (Via Benedetta), also know as the Football Pub, more of which later.
Bir & Fud
Alex grabbed a beer and took me almost opposite to a bar called Bir & Fud, owned by the same people who owned the Football Pub. This bar literally opened the day before I arrived and had eight beers on, including three from Birra del Borgo (the bottled beer I has in L'Oasi), and it was being served by Leornado, the brewer.
The first I tried was Del Borgo Cortianga, a 4.1% golden ale brewed with warrior hops, very citrus tasting and very refreshing.
Second was Fleurette (4.6%) from Birrificio Italiano, a rose flavoured beer, followed by the other two from Del Borgo – Re Ale, a 6.5% cask conditioned IPA using cascade hops and the previously mentioned Re Porter at 5.2%. This uses golding hops and Leornado told me that Kentucky tobacco is added during the last two minutes of boiling to give it its unique flavour.
Beer number five was Shangri La from Birrificio Toll. This is an 8.5% Belgian style beer but made with a mix of Indian spices.
Beers six and seven were both from Birrificio Le Baladin. The Nora is a 5.5% slightly sour beer and the Isaac a 5.2% beer flavoured with coriander.
Finally, beer number eight was again from Birrificio Troll. This is a 10% dark beer that the bar describes as amber (they may have been right, I was quite drunk by then), and is made using chestnuts.
There was also a traditional English handpump, which sadly was not in use during my visit.
Che Siete Venuti a Fa (Football Pub)
As the name suggests, the Football Pub is into football with the bar covered in football propaganda. The bar had ten keg dispensers and one British style hand pump ready to serve Birra del Borgo Re Ale, but this wasn't ready yet.
My first drink was Tipopils from Birrificio Italiano. This is a 5.2% unfiltered pils with a back-of-the-throat bitter taste and a slight metallic aftertaste.
Next was a Belgian beer – Birra Belga Artigiunale at 6.2%, very hoppy, very bitter. I followed this with another Belgian beer – La Rulles Estivale at 5.2%. They describe this as a summer beer. The bitterness is not as noticeable as the previous beer, but is still there. It is a light brew made with American hops.
The next two beers both came from Germany. First was Tegernsee Hell from the Herzogliches Brauhaus and described as a Chiara Speciale Ale. It was 4.8% and was a basic pilsner, not very inspiring. Much better was Wolferstetter Hefe Weizen at 5.5%. This was a classic German wheat beer. The barman said it was meant to have slight banana taste, but I couldn't detect it.
A nice touch before I left, the barman gave me one of the bar's T-shirts. It has the name of the pub on the back and on the front "quanno moro vojo esse fermentato", which I was told means: "When I die, I would like to be fermented."
The following evening I spent alternating between Bir & Fud and the Football Pub opposite, and they let me run one tab between the two bars – magic. The drinks included a bottled beer called La Petrognola at 5.5% brewed using spelt (farro). This comes from a small brewery that only does bottled beers. I brought a bottle back with me.
Other Pubs in Rome
I did try some other pubs on my visit, notably Tree Folk’s on Via Capo D'Africa, near the Colosseum. It is a small dark bar with ten draught keg beers, mostly from Germany. To the left of the bar was an English style handpump and the barman told me that they did serve English real ales during winter, from October onwards.
Senza Fondo on Via Germanico has an inconspicuous entrance, easy to miss, which leads down some steps to a basement bar. This bar specialised in Belgian beer and had seven on draught.
I must also mention Johnny's Off-Licence on Via Veio. Johnny is an Irish guy and the off licence has beers from all over the world including a selection of Italian beers. On Johnny's advice I picked a few to take back to the UK with me.