Craft Beer in Rome


Photo: Parla Food, which offers awesome craft beer tours in Rome

Last time I was in Italy, I was a pimply collegiate backpacker subsisting on cheap pizza, even cheaper wine and the desperate desire to find a lass to lay me in a hostel. I failed miserably on that front, leading me to drink even more rotgut wine to drown my perceived sorrows. I left Venice and Florence with vile hangovers and an unhealthy dose of regret.

Was it the lack of love? Hardly. Celibacy was the unfortunate status quo on that trip. The bigger regret was that I never made it to Rome, a city I foolishly skipped because…I don’t remember. I was drunk a lot during that European backpacking sojourn. I made many terrible, irrational decisions with my travel itinerary, most notably sleeping in an Amsterdam park after ingesting hallucinatory mushrooms. Let me tell you: Being awoken at dawn by drug-peddling bicycle riders is, quite possibly, the world’s worst alarm clock.

Now that I’m older and (somewhat) wiser, I wish to correct a few of my youthful missteps. Crowning my list is a long-delayed trip to Rome. The journey is not for the museums or restaurants, but rather the beer. Stick with me here. In the mid-1990s, there was virtually no craft beer commercially produced in Italy. Today, there are around 400 breweries, 140 of which were established between 2008 and 2010. Italian breweries are using indigenous ingredients such as basil, chestnuts, grapes and roses to create beers every bit as complex as wine.

The headquarters of this brewing revival is in Rome, where I’d take a taxi from the airport toBrasserie 4:20 (Via Portuense 82, +39 06 5831 0737). It’s one of Rome’s top spots to sample craft beer, dispensing selections from Italy and around the globe — and not a single drop of wine. (The collection of lambics and vintage bottles is particularly jaw dropping.) Even better, though, is the restaurant’s house line of experimental and barrel-aged beers, Revelation Cat, which are crafted at breweries across Europe.

Next, I’d keep the bar crawl rolling at the divey Ma Che Siete Venuti a Fa’? (Via Benedetta 25, +39 06 9727 5218), a.k.a. What the Hell Are You Doing Here? The bar, which is located in the trendy, cobblestone-lined Trastevere neighborhood, was born in 2001 with a focus on football — jerseys, scarves and posters cover the walls. As the years disappeared, sports took a backseat to craft beer. Today, the bar has one of the most enviable selections of brews in Rome, counting selections from all-stars including Denmark’s Beer Here, Germany’s Mahrs and Italy’s LoverBeer.

Since man can’t live on beer along (oh, how I’ve tried!), I’d take a slight breather down the block at Bir & Fud (Via Benedetta 23, +39 06 589 4016). While the chewy, Neapolitan-style pizza and carefully constructed crostini would be enough to get me through the doors — provided I can get a reservation — it’s the beer list that makes this restaurant a must-visit. In the vaulted bar I’d dive into the list of all-Italian beers, including offerings from Birra del Borgo, Birrificio di Montegioco and Birrificio del Ducato, which makes the spicy Verdi imperial stout.

With food serving as ballast in my belly, I’ll pop over to Open Baladin (Via Degli Specchi 6, +39 06 683 8989). The pub comes courtesy of Matterino “Teo” Musso, the Renaissance man behind Le Baladin — quite possibly Italy’s most revolutionary brewery. In a small village outside Torino, Musseo makes peculiar ales such as Egyptian-style Nora, made with ginger, myrrh and orange peel and Al-Iskir, which is fermented with Scottish whisky yeasts. At Open, which is named after Baladin’s IPA, bottles serve as the backdrop to the bar where I can order more than 100 choice selections from Italy and around the globe. I’ve also heard rumors that Open serves the freshly fried potato chips and one of the best burgers in Rome.

By now, I’ll probably be pretty pie-eyed and in no need for another beer — that night. However, I’ll want to load my suitcase up with plenty of bottled goodies to bring home. To accomplish that, I’ll beeline to Domus Birrae (Via Cavour 88, +39 06 9799 7570), where homebrewers can stock up on grains and an educated staff guides customers through hundreds of different beers culled from Belgium, the Netherlands, the U.K. and, most importantly, every corner of Italy.

I will buy every last beer suggested by the staff. I do not plan to end this fanasty beer vacation with any regrets.

UPDATE: After publishing our dream list, some Rome-based readers alerted us of a couple omissions. Birra Piu' (Via del Pigneto 105, +39 06 70613106) is a beer shop and bar that sells some of the world’s top craft beers by the bottle (Lost Abbey,  Mikkeller, Hitachino), and has as rotating tap listBlind Pig (Via Gino Capponi 45, +39 06 7834 5642) is another recommended spot.

This story was originally published on Food Republic.

Whiskey, It's Time You Met Beer

It starts life as beer! Sort of. Credit: A Decadent Existence

Whiskey and beer have long embraced a special kinship. At bars, a bolt of the brown stuff is often served with a cool can of beer, a one-two punch that leads to long nights and achy mornings after.

Yet there’s more to this coupling than the promise of pleasure and, occasionally, pain. Whiskey begins life as a distiller’s beer, or wash, that’s made with malted barley, water and yeast. The difference is that beer is given a dose of hops, which contributes bitterness. Wash traditionally lacks hops, meaning it’s a raw ingredient. Translation: You do not want to drink un-hopped wash.

Another crucial distinction is that distilleries are concerned about starch conversion — unlocking the sugar in grains to create the most alcohol possible. Contrasting that, craft brewers use the available grain palette, not caring that darker-roasted grains offer fewer fermentable sugars. It’s all a tradeoff for flavor. This means that whiskey and bourbon require a slumber in charred oak barrels to transform the rough-edged white dog into a smooth sipping spirit.

But in recent years, brewers have begun pulling double duty as distillers, and distillers have begun relying on brewers’ tricks of the trade. For example, New Holland Brewing (Holland, MI) offers a line of beer-inspired brewers whiskeys, and Kentucky’s Corsair brews imperial stouts that are distilled and run through a hop-stuffed distillation column. On the other hand, California’s Charbay Winery & Distillery distills Bear Republic’s bottle-ready Racer 5 IPA, while Japan’s Kiuchi Brewery turns its aromatic Hitachino Nest White Ale into Kiuchi No Shizuku. Here are five of my favorite spirits blurring the line between beer and booze.

St. George Spirits Single Malt Whiskey Sierra Nevada supplies the Bay Area’s St. George with a smoky, caramel-licked ale, which is distilled down and aged in a mixture of bourbon, port, French oak and sherry casks. The blended result is beautifully smooth and fruity, featuring notes of nuts, vanilla and chocolate.

Ranger Creek Brewing & Distilling .36 Texas Bourbon Whiskey Situated in San Antonio, the self-proclaimed “brewstillery” has devised a nontraditional Texas-style bourbon made with a measure of rye. While the big-barrel release is still aging, Ranger Creek has released this bold, small-barrel version with a spicy bite and sweet flavors of caramel and maple syrup.

New Holland Artisan Spirits Brewers’ Whiskey Double Down Barley The Michigan spirits makers use 100 percent two-row barley (the preferred brewing grain) to concoct this small-batch delight that’s double distilled, then sent into heavily charred American oak. There’s a nose of fresh, woody oak and rich flavors that dart from toffee to dark fruits.

Charbay Winery & Distillery Doubled & Twisted Light Whiskey One of our favorite bitter beers is Bear Republic’s Racer 5 IPA, a citrusy, pine-laced pleasure usually at home in our fridge. So imagine our excitement when Charbay used its as the base for this unaged whiskey chockfull of green, herbal notes and a sweetly floral complexity.

Kiuchi Brewery Kiuchi No Shizuku Kiuchi’s Hitachino Nest White Ale is a killer witbier spiced with coriander, orange peel, nutmeg and even orange juice. Distilled and aged in oak, Kiuchi No Shizuku (its name means first drip from the distillation kettle) calls to mind coriander and citrus, with a sweet, slightly woody finish.

This story was originally published on Food Republic.

A Long Time Coming

In the latest issue of Imbibe, I tackled the tale of Long Island beer. In recent years, the biggest island in the contiguous United States—it 118 miles, from New York Harbor to the eastern edge, encompassing Queens and Brooklyn—has become a brewing hotbed. More than a half dozen breweries and counting have sprouted to serve a massive underserved market: around 4 million people live on Long Island, with another 8 million in New York (counting Queens and Brooklyn). “Long Island is set up to be a great region for craft beer,” says Rick Sobotka, the founder and brewmaster of Great South Bay Brewery.

Long Island beers defy simple categorization. Blind Bat Brewing incorporates homegrown herbs and smoked malts in its rustic ales, while Great South Bay’s lineup includes the juniper berry–dosed Sleigh Ryed red ale and silky Snaggletooth Stout made with local apples, licorice and cinnamon. Paying homage to its aquatic location, Port Jeff Brewing Company turns out the Runaway Ferry Imperial IPA and lightly citrusy Schooner Ale. Long Ireland specializes in stouts and traditional Irish ales, while nanobrewery Barrier Brewing’s distinctive brews count the salty and sour Gosilla and the ruby-toned Vermillion Saison Rouge.

Care to read the rest of my story? Here's the PDF: IB36_Cover+Beer62-69

Hello, London. It's Craft Beer Calling

British beer gets a bad rap as being boring. The brews are best known for milds and bitters—beer styles whose nuanced pleasures and restrained ABVs seem quaint to American craft-beer drinkers conditioned by hoppy, boozy beers that are about as subtle as a Will Ferrell film.

Thankfully, this is no longer the case. Over the last decade the British beer scene has begun blossoming, shaking off the shackles of cask ale and creating brews every bit as inventive as those crafted across the Atlantic Ocean. On your next visit to London, seek out these first-rate British beers. What are your favorites? 1. The Kernel Brewery Export Stout The London brewery has made big waves with its bold, citrusy American-inspired pale ales and IPAs. But instead of modern times, our favorite Kernel release takes its cues from the 19th century. Based on a circa-1890 recipe, the roasty Export Stout is as black as a tar pit, presenting a lusciously oily mouthfeel and flavors that flutter from dark fruits to a freshly pulled espresso shot.

2. Magic Rock High Wire Brewed in homage to America’s unabashedly hoppy West Coast ales, High Wire tastes profoundly of grapefruits, mangos and pears. Smooth, lightly sweet malts and a mouthfeel as silky as Victoria Secret’s finest undergarments help balance High Wire’s full-throttle bitterness.

3. Thornbridge Saint Petersburg Imperial Russian Stout Whereas many imperial stouts knock your socks off with booze, Saint Pete registers a relatively restrained 7.7 percent ABV. The stout is milkshake-creamy, with a pronounced bitterness and a subtle current of smoked peat that goes grandly with the flavor of bittersweet chocolate.

4. Lovibonds 69 IPA The saucily named IPA hails from Lovibonds, which is located about 45 minutes from London in Henly-on-Thames. The IPA’s moniker references its ABV (6.9 percent), a rebuttal to the standard low-alcohol, low-hop British IPA. U.S.-bred Centennial and Simcoe hops give the golden brew a citrusy nose and a clean bitterness.

5. Camden Town Brewery Ink Forget Guinness: Served on nitro, this hop-forward stout is every bit as creamy as Ireland’s favorite quaff. It’s got all the expected flavors of coffee and dark chocolate, but the beguiling hop aroma helps set Ink apart. It also drinks deceptively light.

6. Otley O-Garden This Wales brewery focuses on modern cask ales and bottle-conditioned brews, such as the hoppy O4 Columbo, robust O6 Porter and the O-Garden, a whimsical riff on the classic Belgian witbier Hoegaarden. Otley’s hazy take on the wheat-beer style is dosed with coriander, cloves and orange peel, resulting in a dry, citrusy delight.

7. Summer Wine Diablo The Yorkshire brewery sets itself apart by focusing on unfiltered, unpasteurized and, above all, flavor-forward ales like the devilish Diablo. The IPA is heavily dosed with American hop varieties such as tropical Citra, which lend notes of lychee, mango and plenty of sticky pine.

8. Dark Star Hophead Since 1994, the West Sussex outfit has won over legions of drinkers with its uncommonly balanced, always inventive ales like the Black Coffee Pilsner, Milk Chocolate Stout, Summer Meltdown (made with Chinese stem ginger) and the Hophead. Instead of socking drinkers, well, over the head with bitterness, the 3.8 percent golden ale is an easy sipper, with a fantastic floral aroma courtesy of Cascade hops.

This story originally appeared on Food Republic.

On Garde!

En garde!

In one of those weird twists of writing fate, I've found myself penning stories on cheese and beer for Culture, a magazine dedicated to the wide, sometimes stinky world of fromage. In the latest issue, I trained my liver on the border-straddling land known as French Flanders, where local brewers specialize in strong, rustic farmhouse ales dubbed bières de garde, meaning “beers for keeping.” Curious? Check out the full story at Culture's website. En garde!

Craft Beers Worth Traveling For

As a die-hard beer drinker, I suffer from an affliction dubbed “the pint is always better on the other side of the country.” Though my Brooklyn hometown is lousy with lovely craft beers such as Cigar City’s mango-hinted Jai Alai IPA, Sixpoint’s bracing Crisp lager and Firestone Walker’s balanced, citrusy Union Jack IPA, there are hundreds of brews I’d sacrifice a pinkie to sip every day. To ensure a steady supply of Bell’s Two Hearted Ale, I’d even up the ante to two fingers. Yet amputation is not enough to sway brewers’ allocation plans. While some breweries such as Sierra Nevada, Rogue and Stone distribute their suds from coast to coast, they’re the exception to the rule. In recent months, well-regarded breweries counting Dogfish Head and Flying Dog have reined in their distribution and pulled out of states, leaving drinkers high and dry. This is not a comment on quality; instead, breweries are experiencing skyrocketing local demand. Instead of sending beer to far-flung lands, they’re focusing on slaking local thirst. I understand that you must take care of your own first, but that doesn’t make the reality any easier to stomach. Some breweries, such as Vermont's Alchemist and Wisconsin's New Glarus, require that you visit them tor their home state get a taste of their delicious nectar.

Which ones are worthy of your travel time? Check out my full story at Food Republic to weigh in.