I remember the moment I became interested in beer. Standing amid the ruins of the Roman Forum, the Coliseum looming ahead of me, lit up and devoid of tourists at three in the morning, I was struck with awe. For most, awe in these circumstances might be derived form the historical perspective offered by these surroundings; it's impossible not to feel insignificant in the context of the generations of lives passed through these streets, and yet, this was not what drove my wonderment.
I looked down, jaw slack, at the plastic cup in my hand and thought, "what the heck is this beer, and why does it taste so good?"
I had stumbled into Ma Che Siete Venuti A Fa, possibly Italy's finest beer bar, and left with a Keto Reporter from Birra del Borgo. A dark, flavorful beer infused with tobacco, it was like nothing I'd ever tasted before. I went back the next night. And the next. As a young student who couldn't even legally drink in his own country, I found myself suddenly involved in the Italian beer scene.
Faced with the dominance of Italian wine culture, the Italian beer scene is necessarily driven by passion, and that was infectious to me. At pizzeria Bir e Fud, brewers from nearby Birra del Borgo patiently pulled at cask engines for customers looking for Chianti, not Kolsch, to accompany their pizzas. At Brasserie 4:20, they refused to even offer wine, with only beer, whiskey, and water to quench your thirst. The craft beer presence in Rome 5 years ago was reserved to little pockets like these, but it was clear that those involved couldn't help but be heard.
I returned last month to see how things had changed.
An early stop at a favorite wine bar, Mimi e Coco, showed promise. While the food had gone from great to gross, they actually carried some exciting beer; we sipped Baladin's Super before heading out to find the brewery's new-ish pub, Open Baladin.
A lengthy search led to the painful realization of what would become a theme on our visit: lots of Italian businesses close in August.
All we found were shutters at Bir e Fud and Brasserie 4:20, but Ma Che Siete Venuti A Fa and nearby Beerland welcomed us with open taps. In the face of disappointment, however, was the exciting revelation that craft beer really is starting to permeate Roman culture. Bars everywhere offer "birre artigianale," with Belgian and German beers filling coolers alongside Italian specialties from Del Ducato, Montegioco and the aforementioned Baladin and Del Borgo.
While craft beer still represents mere drops in the giant barrels of wine and spirits sold in Rome, the direction is clear: brewers are making better and better beer, and the people are drinking it.