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 list. Blind Pig (Via Gino Capponi 45, +39 06 7834 5642) is another recommended spot.