I’m sure the headline has you thinking I was drinking way too much beer when I wrote this, but rest assured my beer-loving friends, this blog post was written with 100% sobriety. I take beer very seriously.
When you think Italy, you think wine. And lots of it. Glasses of the finest wine from the brilliant regions of Chianti, Piedmont, Umbria and beyond. But perhaps this story will have you second guessing whether to order birra or vino next time you’re in Italy.
By the time I set foot in the crazy metropolis of Rome after touring Italy last October with Eric, I had probably consumed my weight in wine. The only time when I wasn’t drinking wine was colazione and that was quite alright because I was in heaven sipping Italian espresso-infused lattes.
We were only in Rome one full day before heading home so we had to cram the oodles of touristy stuff into a really tight timeframe. Early Saturday morning we set off to check the Colosseum and the other big to-dos off our list. On the way there we decided to take the path less traveled as to avoid the crowds, and besides I’ve always found that off-the-beaten-path journeys usually result in unexpected discoveries.
We approached a building that had a bunch of people filtering in and out with the sign out front that said Campagna Amica. When we looked inside we knew we hit a foodie jackpot – an Italian farmer’s market.
Italian oils, jams, fruits, veggies, meats, cheeses…it was simply divine and Eric and I were sure to partake in sampling. When in Rome, right?
After checking out all of the food vendors we strolled over to the back of the building. There appeared to be a beverage cart of some sort set up…after further evaluation, it was a beer cart.
Now I love wine, but it had been a while since I enjoyed a craft beer so the fact that I was standing in front of a beer cart in Rome was like I was in the desert with an oasis in front of me.
Sample beer at 10 am? Yes, please. Using my best lackluster Italian I learned that it was a local Italian brewery, Birra del Borgo. Craft brewers in Italy seemed counter intuitive given the wine culture but after one sip of the Reale, their American Pale Ale, I wanted more. This Italian craft beer was good. Not just good, but I believe in a taste test against some of the popular American craft beers, it could really stand a chance.
Not only was the beer’s aroma and taste delightful, but the bottle labels were stunning. Beautiful artwork, full of color and life…the graphics precisely convey the brewery’s tagline – Beers made with Passion. Ah yes, that’s what I was tasting in my beer…Passion!
A few more sips and we decided we wanted to bag up several of these bottles, but the kicker was we really didn’t want to lug them around all day. Thankfully, through my piecemeal Italian I learned that there was a local bar and restaurant that sold the beer near the lively night outing spot Campo Dei Fiori (which is in fact where I spent one very fun Halloween in 2003…a story for another day).
After a day of hitting the Roman streets we navigated our way to Via degli Specchi 6 to retrieve our beer. As we were walking down the dark street we noticed a particularly large gathering of people concentrated in front of one area. We walked closer and it was clear this was the spot. Baladin Open – a pub with an artful Italian flare where locals can imbibe on local artisanal beers and eat American-inspired food like hamburgers, buffalo wings and house-made potato chips.
When we walked in the sight was a visual undertaking. The back wall lined with backlighted beer bottles was beautiful. The lighting was dim and there wasn’t a seat to spare in the bar area. It was clear this was a happening spot. I would definitely frequent this locale on a regular basis if I called Rome home.
Unfortunately we didn’t stay for dinner – figured it was best to spend our last night at an Italian restaurant – but we did purchase several bottles of Birra del Borgo to take home with us.
If you visit their website they have quite the extensive lineup of beers. They also have a list of “bizarre” beers and they have a special weird flavor for each month of the year. There’s one made with a fresh oyster and another made with tobacco. All of their experimental beers are as masterfully crafted like their originals, and I must say being the word person that I am, the beer description copy is compelling and clever.
While I know I won’t be venturing back to Rome anytime soon, the good news is that the beer aficionados from Birra del Borgo and Baladin have influenced the beer selection at the Manhattan-based Birreria, the brewpub on the rooftop of the Eataly building. It appears the Italian craft beer invasion is already happening, and I’m loving every second of it.
I predict that in the near future I’ll be taking a quick trip down to New York so I can experience yet again some Italian beer greatness. I cannot wait.
Photos :: Exterior Baladin Open by Ilbirraiodellavaldorcia; all others taken by me