After we left his own Brasserie 4:20, Alex took me north to the heart of Trastevere. It's a district of Rome on the left bank of the Tiber noted for its narrow streets and its down-to-earth bars and restaurants. It's relative lack of tourist attractions compared to other parts of the city centre is a major attraction when the dizzying array of monuments, churches and galleries becomes a little too much.
"Ma Che Siete Venuti A Fa'" is a Roman saying which, Alex assures me, is best translated as "what the hell are you doing here?" It's also the name of one of Rome's best beer venues. I'll just call it by it's other title, "The Football Pub". The interior is rough and ready, with scarves and other footy memorabilia from across Europe lining the walls. When we arrived a little before midnight it was packed out, a mixed crowd spilling onto the lane. The vibe was relaxed but gently raucous - just how it should be. You can raise a glass and a song in here without getting any funny looks. Landlord Manuele is a great host.
The bottled selection encompasses an impressive range of Belgian beers as well as a few of UK brewers Young's and O'Hanlon's better beers. On tap, there's some real stars from Germany, Belgium and Italy. A tap handle for Aecht Schlenkerla Rauchbier caught my eye - it's a dark, very smoky classic from Bamberg, a beautiful German city famous for the style. Most people are startled when they first taste it, gibbering about smoked cheese and ham in a glass. That's true, though be careful, because very quickly you'll become hooked on this delicious brew. Incidentally, Bamberg is sometimes called the "Franconian Rome" due it being built on seven hills, just like Italy's capital.
Once more, I was amazed to see real ale on offer. The sight of another traditional hand pump really tugged this British beer lover's heartstrings. This time, the ale on offer was Lazio's own Birra del Borgo Re Ale, a rich and flavoursome 6% abv IPA, brewed using East Kent Goldings hops. By this stage of the night, the beers which had poured thick and fast back at 4:20 were having their effect, but there was no mistaking the powerful hop presence and sweet malt. The full body and complexity reminded me of a Belgian ale as much as anything else. By chance, the brewer Leonardo was in the pub that night (he's the guy with the glass on his head in the picture), so I could praise his handiwork in person.
Conversation flows as easy as the pints at the Football pub. I was tickled to hear a story about Britain's own Prince Charles, pulling a pint of real ale at the 2004 Slow Food Movement conference in Turin. Good lad, all is forgiven. One of the students I spoke to told me he was life member of CAMRA, and worked at the GBBF in Earl's Court last year.
After finishing our pints and letting Maurizio lock up for the night, we headed back to Alex's own Brasserie 4:20 to finish off. After all, the place is open until 4am, so it'd be rude not to. The beer research continued apace, as I went back on to the White Dog beers. When I left at dawn, there were a few folks - including Alex - still going. Frustratingly, when I got back the ropey breakfast buffet in my doss house of a hotel wasn't due to open for another hour. In the absence of caffeine, it was finally time to hit the sack. The deadline for check out had long since past when the staff finally managed to turf me out.
It was a great night I won't forget in a hurry (I'm still having tequila flashbacks), and I'll be back soon. When you're next in Rome, visit 4:20, the Football Pub and the D&D, and be sure to tell them that Stonch sent you.
- Ma Che Siete Venuti A Fa' is at Via Benedetta 25, Trastevere, Roma (Tel: +39 06 972 75218, website). It's open every day from 5.30pm. It's on the left bank of the Tiber, just across the bridge from the main tourist areas, but thankfully a world apart in terms of atmosphere. The full beer list is on the website. Click "birre" then "prossima" to scroll through the tap handles and see what's on offer. The bottled selection can be viewed by clicking "bottiglie".
- The Dog and Duck is at Via della Luce 70, Trastevere, Roma (Tel: +39 06 454 74798, website).
- Birre del Borgo of Lazio, brewers of Re Ale, have a website here. I've brought home a 75cl bottle of their Re Porter, which I'll be reviewing soon.