Monday, July 2, 2012

La viva Italia

The Carbinirie in Rome were definitely in for a rough night last night. Italy was playing Spain in the European Soccer final and the Carbinirie knew that if Italy wins the streets of Rome would be flooded with drunk and jubilant soccer fans. Of course, though no one would say it out loud, there was the chance that Italy would loose. In which event the streets of Rome would be flooded with drunk and disappointed soccer fans. Either way, the Carbinirie were going to be busy.

I had left Rome the morning of the game, so I did not get to be there during the final. But I did get to be there when Italy first beat England in penalty shots, and then took out Germany with a couple of goals early in the game. We went for a walk through the streets during that game: You could follow the action play-by-play by the sorts of cheers and cries from the bars that line the streets and the Piazzas. Piazza Navona has no bars, so it was a barren wasteland of tourists and a couple of board peddlers. Campo de Fiore, on the other hand, had turned from a quint, touristy farmer's market into a living throng of soccer mania that spilled from the numerous bars all around the square. You got a feeling that the best way to get yourself ran out of town was to run across the square waving a Germany flag. I don't think you'd have made it all the way through.

To me, being much more of a beer fan than a soccer one, the striking thing about the drunk throngs was that, in the land of fine wine, they were drinking beer. And not just any beer: Italian beer. GOOD Italian beer.

Now granted, the vast majority of the beer Italians drink is crap, just like in Israel, in the States, or really anywhere else. I think it's a law of beer countries that before you can have good beer you must have bad one. In Israel we have Maccabi, in the States they have Bud Light, in Italy they have Peroni. As they say "shit(y beer) happens". Like its counterparts in other countries, Peroni is cheap, you can drink a lot of it, and it will get you drunk. A lot of Italians don't ask for more than that in a beer.

But some do. And for those who demand more of their brew, there are some really good Italian beers that fit the bill. In the middle of a country that lives and breaths wine, new(ish) Micro-brews are springing up. "This is a new thing" told me Manuel, the Owner of "Ma Che Siete Venuti A Fa" - voted "the best beer bar in the world" in 2010 by "When I opened up eleven years ago no one was making good beer in Italy. The oldest brewery, BrewFist, opened about six years ago. Now we have a lot more breweries, and many of them are not very good, but some are." He went on to add an interesting observation "This is happening in France now, too. The countries that make wine are now starting to make beer". Having tasted both Italian and French microbrew, I have to agree with him.

My first introduction to Italian micro brew was "2Late". A Double IPA from BrewFist. At 9.5% ABV it is an evil, evil drink, and no less than an amazing beer. Take a sip of this hop cocktail and then just sit there with a stupid smile on your face as the different hops parade one at a time across your tongue. I have no idea how they manage to do that, but I've never tasted a beer that managed to highlight each hop separately, and then have them join into an amazingly balanced celebration of flavor. I've had DIPAs before that didn't taste like they had much alcohol. This is not one of them. You taste the alcohol in this beer, and it is there to enhance the flavor of the hops (and also to remind you that you are, in fact, drinking a double IPA). In my time in Italy I drank several beers by Brewfist, and every one of them was impressive. (Maybe it's just that Ma Che Siete knows how to serve it's beers: When I was there one night, Manuel refused to serve me a certain beer because it was too cold and carbonated. He insisted that I come back the next day, after they've had a chance to move the beer to a pump and bring it up to 12 degrees. I had him give me a taste anyway, just to compare, and he was right. On tap and cold it tasted like nothing. On pump and a bit warmer it was a different beer. )

Another Italian Brewer of note is Baladin, the wine maker, and the company behind "Open Baladin" the bar that is a serious contender for the title of "most impressive beer bar in the world". The idea of wine makers turning into brewers sound a little odd at first (wine and beer seem to be sort of natural enemies, though friendly ones), but it works. Baladin started making beer only a few years ago, but they're already a major player in the local market. Partially due to their distribution network, and partially because they just make really good beer.

There are many reasons to go visit Italy. The sights, the food, the atmosphere, the people are all part of it. But for a beer lover, Italy is slowly but surly becoming a heaven of tastes, and a must-visit destination. Salude!

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