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Posts Tagged ‘birra’

Before I leave, John hands me his card and tells me to visit his other shop if I have the time. It is up near the Vatican.

The next afternoon is warm and wonderful. I have a few beer bars mapped out, but I decide to wait a bit. The metro takes me across the river and up to the Northwestern part of the city. The walk from the tube is exactly the time it takes to eat two scoops of Italian ice cream, one coconut, one coffee flavoured. Sure, there is the other shop, with the inventory even more stunning. The Italian range here is even better than in the first one, and the shelves and coolers are filled up.

I really have enough for my suitcase already, but the man in charge helps me pick a few more Italian craft beers. A few which are just out of their boxes, brewed by Birra Amiata. A chestnut beer, a multi-grain beer. Some chilled German Weizenbocks to enjoy later, perhaps. The bright and airy shop is filled with temptations. The Montegioco range. Rare beers from Maltus Faberin Genova.

Not cheap, but decently priced for craft beers.

I tear myself loose. Five bottles is enough, there will be others available later tonight as well. I pay and walk south.

My ultimate destination is a few kilometers away, and St. Peter’s Square is not really a detour. The opportunity of vising a new country is not to be missed, even if it is for a few minutes.

But it is a hot day. A pub sign in a side street beacons to me, and I walk over to have a look. From a fair range of beers on tap and in bottles I choose a German wheat beer, a Kapuziner Weisse. The Pope does probably as for a Weienstephaner like the one he drank during his student days, but this will do nicely for me right now.

Note that the address of the second shop is not on their web site. It is Via Trrionfale 11.

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Johnny’s Off Licence

Everything is normal in Italy. European elections are coming up, Berlusconi is accused of an affair with a teenager, visitors wonder how it is possible to run a county like this. But it is. Obviously. Or maybe it runs itself. 

My first impression after landing at Leonardo da Vinci airport is not that impressive. I just miss one airport express train, the next one is in 30 minutes, and the railway station is not up to much. I switch on my ipod and open a book. The rattling and smelly trains should really not be labelled express, either, not in a country that takes pride in its new network of high speed rail travel.

Anyway. At noon I am at Roma Termini and follow the signs for the Metro. I travel light , so it does not bother me that the corridors are long. The Metro train is new, fast and air conditioned. I arrive in a few minutes at San Giovanni station and find the right exit without any fuss.

Johnnys shelves

Johnny's shelves

My destination at this lunch hour is not a pub or a brewery, but a beer shop. Johnny’s Off Licence offers an amazing selection of beers – and the focus here is solely on craft beers. A good selection from the UK, Germany and Belgium, but, most important, Italian craft beers from every corner of the country.

The owner, John, apologizes for the depleted stock. He had a musical event in the shop a few days earlier, which means he has sold out of many beers. He will get new stock over the following days.

 

I have no need to worry. This is the biggest selection of Italian craft beers I’ve seen anywhere, and John helps me to pick a nice bouquet of these. Among the gems are two beers brewed especially for the shop, An American IPA and an Imperial Porter. It is hard to choose. There is a seasonal beer from Panil I’ve never seen before, a raspberry beer from De Borgo…

The shop seems to be doing very well, and I ask if the Belgian beers are the most popular, as I’ve noticed in other cities in Italy. Yes, among the younger crowd it’s the strong Belgians, but for those above 22 or so, it is hoppy beers which are in demand. British golden ales with relatively low alcohol content are very popular, on some evenings the street outside the shop is cowed with people enjoying their refreshments. The turnover is good, he sells many cases a week of some of the Italian beers. Beers from breweries like Almond and du Borgo are flying off the shelves.

John generously opens a bottle of his favourite Italian beer, the BB10 from the Barley brewery in Sardinia.  brewed with grape juice that has been boiled into a syrupy concentrate.  Lovely complex fruitiness. Bittersweet. Grapes, spices, a long lovely finish.

I have a meeting in the afternoon. A delivery man arrives with new beers to fill up the shelves. Time to say goodbye, though this is a place I’d like to linger. Until next time!

John and his stock

John and his stock

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I don’t have my name engraved in a brass plaque at a bar stool, and if we Norwegians followed the German custom of reserving a Stammtisch for the regulars, I would not qualify. I don’t really get out that much. Sure, there are a few places in Oslo, and one in London, where the landlord knows who I am, but that’s about it. It’s not like in Cheers where everybody knows your name.

The Chelsea crowd

The Chelsea crowd

 

-Excuse me, are you Knut Albert? The beer blogger?

 It is early on a Friday evening at the Chelsea Pub in Parma, Italy. The man politely approaching my table is Marco, the manager of the Chelsea Pub. Sure, I’ve been here once before and I made a very enthusiastic report about it, but I did not think I had made a lasting impression. I did, possibly, introduce myself, and they were obviously pleased with my review.

Marco apologizes for the limited range of beers at the moment. He is just selling out the last of the Christmas beers, where he had a broad selection of imports. He offers me a bottle of Caspar, a seasonal from the Belgian Alvinne micro. The bottle is a bit of a gusher, but it is a fine, spicy beer with a fine balance between the sweet and the dry.

They are out of stock of most of the Italian micros. It seems like my timing is a bit off, as the big beer event of the year in Italy is the beer fair in Rimini a few weeks later. This is the place to make orders for most of the year, both imports and foreign beers.

They have a few beers on tap, too, I try a Kellerbier from the German Einbecker Brauhaus. This is served too cold for my liking, but as it warms up, it develops into a very decent lager, much preferable to the fizz from the global brewers. I am not too fond of drinking beer from frosted glasses, but with the local climate, I can see the point of doing this for some summer months.

I also enjoy a Meantime Winter Time, brewed in London. This is more sophisticated than most winter warmers. It has a full malt character, but also a fine hoppiness and a hint of smoke. Very pleasant stuff.

The place is filling up. The customers are mostly around thirty, in small and large groups of friends. Some are drinking wheat beers and lagers, many are sharing big bottles of Belgian beers. And everyone seem to order the glilled sandwiches, where you can choose form a broad range of bread and fillings. Two men, who seem to be around sixty, are working hard to fill the orders. Ham and gorgonzola for me, please.

During a quiet moment, Marco shows me the shelves. While he is waiting for new stock, there is one brewery that is well represented – BrewDog. He apologizes for them being quite expensive. But they are so good, he has to have them!

This place has a steadily rotating stock of beers, both for drinking there and to take away. Marco estimates about 300 different beers last year. A few of them are displayed behind the bar, but it seems like the system is based on personal advice.

Friendly buzz of people. Good food, hand picked beers. Attentive service. The passion for the beer is as strong here as at Birrificio Lambrate, but  the atmosphere is more laid back. This is on the outskirts of a provincial town, not in a inner city area of a metropolis.

Anything missing? Better bus connections back to town. And, maybe, a blackboard showing special beers which are in the fridge but not on display. Apart from that, this is close to perfect.

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Marco is busy

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I check out of my Milan hotel, drag my suitcase to the nearest Metro station and emerge at Lambrate, slightly to the east of the centre. My research has shown a direct train from here to Parma. A slow train, for sure, but changing to other means of transport in big cities will always take longer than intended, so it will be more efficient after all.

I buy my ticket, and, as I am early for my next scheduled stop, find a bakery where I buy an espresso and something to munch on while I find a park bench to enjoy the spring-like sun.

I wait across the street from the Birrificio Lambrate when they open the shutters for the day, as I have an hour and a half before my train, I intend to get the most of it. I find a stool at the end of the bar, and order a pint of the newest addition to their range, a cask American Pale Ale named Ligéra.  The beer is cloudy brown, and is packed with flowery and bitter hops with a fine malty body underneath. Too bitter for some, perhaps, but I order another when I’ve finished the first. The   is not working properly, so it’s hard work to fill my glass.

The pub is filling up fast, most of them seem to be regular customers, greeting the staff and the other patrons. A large group of students have to find somewhere else to have lunch, there is no room for them.

The menu lists about ten dishes, pasta starters at 4 Euros, main dishes cost 6. The orders come in swiftly for both food and beer, and it is a show in itself to watch the glasses being filled, there are separate glasses for each of the six beer types.

I have a small glass of their smoked beer, the Ghisa, which was my favourite on my last visit. I have some pasta, too, tasty food without any gimmicks.

The atmosphere is jovial and friendly, but I must be on my way. I am invited to have a look at the brewery, and I just have time for that.

Birrificio Lambrate brews 2600 hl annually in 20 hl batches. Half of the beer is sold in-house, the rest by other restaurants and pubs.

There is a lot of red tape for breweries in Italy, and local regulations vary a lot. There are separate applications for brewpubs, for selling beer to other pubs, for bottling etc.

The aim is to establish a bottling line and aim for the American market, hopefully doubling the output.

I am offered a sample of their new beer, a pils that will be launched at the Rimini beer fair later in the month. It is brewed with German malt and hops, and it has a strong, dry hoppiness that can compete with my favourite German lagers like Jever.

This pub concept could not work in Norway, where lunchtime drinking is frowned upon. But here it is a great success, with fresh beer, homemade food and a warm atmosphere. It is not a fake English or American bar, but it is meeting the locals’ need for high quality food and drink. 

The next time I’m in town I’ll go for their evening buffet, I’m not doing justice to this establishment by popping in for an hour or so. A perfect pub? For Milan it probably is. But there is a nice place waiting in Parma as well…

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More cheese

Here you can even read their name tags. Drool on….

 

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Just a few minutes’ walk from BQ is an older establishment, but run by the same people. The Enoteca Decanter is, as the name says, a wine bar, but they have a very impressive beer list as well. They even have a cheese plate made for beer tastings, so I had to order one.

Their beer list was not updated, but they had a number of beers on display. The Almond 22 Blanche de Valerie is listed as a wit on ratebeer, I don’t know about that. I found it more similar to a lager, but with extra bitterness and nuts, perhaps brewed with almonds. The cheese plate came with crusty bread, and the ripe gorgonzola was my favourite.

This was a very relaxing place, with jazz over the loudspeakers and small tables with friends conversing. As the quiet atmosphere made me sit back and relax, I felt that a long day was taking its toll, and there were beers to be had next day as well. I decided to buy a few takeout bottles and make my way back to the hotel.

Definitely a place to come back to – and a place where you could bring wine drinking friends as well…

The Enoteca Decanter cheese plate

The Enoteca Decanter cheese plate

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Pump clips, BQ

Pump clips, BQ

I cannot claim that I know Milan at all. It is a city that I’ve been passing through a few times over the years, more recently I have travelled through its airports quite often.

My 16 hours or so in Milan last year were focused on the beer scene, so when my schedule allowed it last week, I decided to spend the night there before going on to Parma.

I had done my homework as usual, and the hotel I had booked on hotels.com was excellent value at 60 Euro or so for four star lodging including breakfast. Five minutes’ walk from the central station and tne minutes from a tutta Birra, the only thing lacking was a good beer bar in the basement. You’d have to go to Belgium for that, I assume.

There have been positive reports about two related beer bars in the Northwestern part of the city, both by Evan and, more comprehensively, by legendary scooper Gazza. I even managed to find the schedule for a combination of Metro and tram for the BQ bar, but the airport bus in from Malpensa took forever, so I walked up to the station and found a taxi instead.

I arrived at BQ shortly after 9 in the evening, and it was empty. Two smiling young people behind the bar, happy that a foreigner has found his way to their place.

A modern pace in an old area, white walls, high ceiling. The music and choir from the mass in the church next door is competing with David Bowie and other 70’s music. But the main attraction: 20 beer on tap. Half of them Italian craft beers, the rest imports from Belgium, the US, Germany and Ireland. Note that even the Irish beer is a Carlow’s stout, not the usual black stuff.

The Italian beers come from a range of breweries – Birrificio  Italiano, Del Ducato, Baüscia (with the same owner as the bar), Bi-Du, White Dog, Freccia Fenicia, del Borgo…

My mouth waters. I start with the softer pilseners and wheat beers and move through the list. There is always a danger when it comes to places like this – you end up being too full, intoxicated or a combination of the two that you miss out on the last ones. This place offers an alternative. You can order 3 degustazioni glasses of 10cl at the modest sum of  4 Euros. A tickers dream.

I won’t give you notes of everything, but a few of the highlights:

Tipopils, one of the most famous of the Italian craft brews. Lots of hoppy dryness, almost oaky. Complex, yet very drinkable beer. A benchmark pilsener.

ReAle Extra had a fantastic aroma sowing off its liberal use of hops. Round and full mouth fee, piney dry finish. Lovely.

Birrificio Baüscha is owned by the same guy that runs the bar, but he does not promote his own beers on the expense of others. The Mattia Speciale at 7%ABV is clearly inspired by Belgian Abbey ales. Cloudy brown. Rich, malty, yet well balanced. Some spice, including nutmeg and pepper.

I have had a few beers from White Dog before, a brewery set up by an English expat in Northern Italy. I have not been too impress by all of them, though there is a very decent porter.  On offer tonight was the Boot Hill APA at 5.8%. Pronounced hoppy aroma, but not overwhelming. A bit yeasty, fine resin bitterness, full body. This beer grows on you, but this is a style with too many competitiors for me to call it outstanding. It well deserves its place on tap here, though.

Some snack food on the menu, ham, cheese, paté etc.  I order a slice of bread with a mixture of Stilton and Baladin’s vintage Xyaiu beer. Everything is freshly made, and this is truly a good match for fine beers. I’ve had enough of the samplers, and order a full glass of the ReAle Extra.

Customers drift in, a number seem to be regulars, and while it is not full on this Wednesday evening, business seems to be all right. The staff tells me that many Italians are wary about brying craft beer, and it is easier to sell the imports than the domestic beer. The mixed clientele order food and beer, there is quiet conversation, attentive service and polite customers.

I bid farewell and walk into the relatively mild Italian night. The perfect pub? Perhaps . I’ll come back to that in a few days. For a ticker, it is close to heaven, though! But then, there is a bar around the corner, too!

BQ interior and guests

BQ interior and guests

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