Haven’t been to Oasi della Birra in Testaccio for what seems like an age. It had become something of a regular haunt, but then something in the aperitivo buffet wasn’t quite right, then other life-things got busy, and well, months went by. But last night I found myself back there, enjoying the evening sun – after a faltering spring, the Roman summer has arrived – and wondering what had become of my chum Cameron. (Never did get those texts.)
On a previous visit, we’d tried a called Molo, a stout made with port from a confusingly named brewery that’s either called Casa Veccia or Ivan Borsato Casa Veccia or Casa Veccia Ivan Borsato Birraio. I’m afraid I hadn’t heard of Ivan Borsato before, but I like your beers, Ivan, and I like their branding… even if the bottles neglect to actually include such salient information as what type of beer is contained therein.
So this time round, I asked one of the guys from the Oasi what Formenton was, clearly having forgotten what I wrote on my own blog in March. He said it was made with farro (I didn’t get into the issue of what specific farro). As I like my ancient wheat varieties, and it was a warm evening, that seemed like a good place to start. Like many wheat beers, it’s a beautiful bright golden yellow, especially when suffused with the Roman evening sun. I should probably mention the head, as Italian beer reviews always talk about the quality of the schiuma, but what can I say? It’s frothy. But not as frothy as the second beer (see below).
The taste is typically fruity. Cameron and my wife Fran thankfully arrived before I got too sozzled drinking alone. They both talked about the banana notes (typical to weissbier), but I reckon it had a whole macedonia – that’s Italian for fruit salad – in there, with melon, grapefruit, orange zest, and apple flavours, and even a bit of ginger. At 5.5% it’s not exactly weak, but it’s refreshing and very drinkable, with negligible hoppiness.
Oh, and if you’re really serious about your wheat and white beers, and understand the difference, and can read Italian, there’s a spiel on the brewery’s site about how Formenton “was created from the union of two beers that marked the history of beer: weissbier [wheat beer] and blanchebier [white beer].” Now, I never really had a strong sense of the difference between these beers, as both exist under the wheat beer aegis. But according to the Borsato spiel, and a quick spin around online, the former are more German in origin, cleaner, simpler, with minimal hoppiness and, most of all, are defined by the proportion of wheat in place of some of the (malted) barley. The latter are more Belgian (and Dutch), and may have been made without hops – using herbs instead in something called a gruit. Modern gruit may involve herbs, but also citrus and hops. Both are top-fermented. And, frankly, in this era of innovative craft beers, the dividing line between them is blurred. Formenton, for example, made a point of it. That’s something that’s so good about Italian craft brewing; as the country doesn’t have laboriously rigid brewing heritage and tradition, it’s unafraid to mix things up. Yay. I imagine the two Matt Groening style cartoon chaps on the bottle saying an Italian “yay” at their success with Formenton.
The second Casa Veccia we tried, and is here featured in a terrible out of focus photo (crappy new phone), showing how I’d rushed to pour it and creating and ridiculous head, was the 6.2% ABV Dazio. The guy in Oasi said it was an ambrata (amber) ale but the Casa Veccia site specifies it’s an APA. As I was talking about yesterday, APA seem to be a very popular style in the Italian birra artigianale scene. And very nice they can be too. And again, unlike in other brewing traditions where beardy specialists might dogmatically insist there’s a distinction between an APA and an amber ale, in Italy it seems an APA can be ambrata.
Dazio was also delicious but very different. Arguably, it’s not as obvious a summer drink, with hints of toffee apple and such autumnal things , along with cinnamon and ginger, but it did the job very nicely thanks last night. Oh, and flavour-wise, Fran said “Turkish delight”, while the Casa Veccia site itself talks about this beer – “in an English style with American hops” – having Profumi terziari come pepe, cuoio, chiodi di garofano, liquirizia: “Tertiary aromas of black pepper, leather, cloves, liquorice.” I didn’t get all that myself, but fair enough. I like the idea of a leather-scented ale. The site also talks about its hoppiness and bitter flavour, but I felt it was pretty mild and mellow. The site also provides a nice bit of history about how the APA evolved from the IPA and the IPA evolved out necessity, with British soldiers in India craving beer, but the long voyage souring the milder ales of home. The solution was more hops, to better preserve the ale. Thanks Ivan and everyone in the Vetch House. Quite why the Dazio label features a cartoon astronaut I don’t know.