Le Café Vert is a small place that opened near us in our Rome neighbourhood of Monteverde Vecchio a year or so ago. It’s something of a gem actually, as it manages to be cool for breakfast, a reasonably priced snacky lunch, and for an aperitivo in the evening. They’re into KM0 too – that is, food that’s not travelled too far – and they stock a decent selection of real bottled beers.
The latter is important to me, of course, but it also indicates they’re taking their principles seriously, and extending them to not just the coffee, or the milk they use (organic), or the food, or the wine, but also to the beer. This morning we went for a coffee at the café in Villa Doria Pamphili Park, Vivi Bistrot, and while it also seems to be into natural and organic foods, it frustrates me that they don’t extend their principles as far as the beer. Their fridges are still stocked with all the generic industrial lagers favoured by Italian beer drinkers in less enlightened places (Ceres, Becks, Peroni, Tenants and whathaveyou).
I did an excellent wine-tasting last night, and talked with the sommelier, Hande Leimer, about why Italians drink so much of these acrid, metallic lagers. Sure, it’s partly marketing and mindwashing, as it was in the UK when industrial lager took over in the 70s and 80s, but here, Hande suggests, it’s also because these tastes are preferred when having a drink without eating. Italians always drink wine, on the other hand, to accompany and complement food, where the relationship calls on differing qualities of drink depending on what is being eaten. Something that tempts me to write “of course”, but many Brits just aren’t aware of this, as we don’t have a strong, traditional viniculture, and beer, on the other hand, was traditionally “liquid bread” and safer to drink than water. A practical drink.
Okay, chiaro, but there are also now Italian craft beers that can fill this niche, of something to be drunk without food: there are plenty of crisp, light options, particularly the summer golden ales (eg Baladin’s Gold One, or Birra del Borgo’s Cortigiana, or Lambrata’s Ortiga). These are in some ways akin to lagers. Except they’re generally better: they taste better and more interesting, they’re more naturally produced, not pasteurised, not filtered and, most importantly, they’re not rushed. They’re real beers.
So come on Vivi Bistrot – make that leap, be more holistic with your principles, and support your local craft brewers! (Such as Birra del Borgo, or Birradamare/ʼNa Birretta, or Turan, or Free Lions, all in Lazio.)
Anyway, we stopped by Le Café Vert again the other night for an aperitivo. It’s just two blocks from our place, and not only that, their tabletops are decorated with a map of the neighbourhood. And not only that, when we sat down, I noticed that our very street was located just under my elbow. We’re leaving Rome in about three weeks, so this was a slightly emotive bit of synchronicity.
Le Café Vert seems to rotate its beers, after a fashion, and this time they had a whole shelf filled with bottles from Croce di Malto. I’d had one Croce di Malto beer, the English bitter-like Acerbus, at Fermentazioni 2013 the other day and was keen to try more. They’re not a local, Lazio brewery though – they’re in Piemonte*, west of Milan. Indeed, Piemonte is the Italian region with the highest proportion of craft breweries, all radiating out from Baladin, the mothership of the Italian craft beer scene.
I chose a Croce di Malto Temporalis, 6% ABV. It was straight from the fridge, so a little bit cold, but I was too impatient to leave it in my armpit warming. (Hande scolded me at the wine-tasting for holding my glass by the bowl, but I’m constantly trying to warm up beers to the right temperature, in this case 8-10C, which has resulted in bad wine-tasting habits.)
Considering it’s the end of summer at the moment, it was perhaps not the best choice as apparently this is a beer “dedicata per la primavera” – dedicated to spring. It’s certainly a fresh, lively beer – even when drunk a little too cold. The scent is floral and orangey, while the taste is crisp and citrussy, sweetly malty, slightly herby. It’s got a medium body. It’s a bright, orange-straw colour, with some mistiness and a nicely foaming head.
Although it’s a saison, it’s at the more drinkable, accessible end of that spectrum – complex, but subtly so. As one critic says on Beeradvocate, it’s “lacking in saisony funk” – but that’s fine by me; there are plenty of other more challenging saisons, and this was a perfect accompaniment to Le Café Vert’s delicious aperitivo snacks. Blimey, their panelle (Sicilian fried chickpea pancake) is good. One of the many things I’m going to miss about Rome. Fried chickpea goodness and a crisp saison two blocks from home.
Went back again the other night and tried another Croce di Malto beer. This was Triplexxx (7.8% ABV), a slightly unfortunate name with connotations of dodgy Australian lager and, well, porn.
It was a slightly strange beer too.
I was intrigued as the three Xs refer to its use of barley, oats and wheat, as well as “spices” and zucchero candito (“candied sugar”, presumably candi sugar) but overall the abiding smell and taste is banana. Isn’t chemistry bonkers? How can those incredients, when combined and brewed, produce molecules that give such a strong flavour of a totally unconnected fruit? Though I’d say the smell also had some bubble gum too, and the taste some toffee: so maybe it’s bubble-gum-banoffee-pie beer. Strange.
Croce di Malto brewery
Coros di Roma 51A, Trecate, Piemonte
+39 0321 185 6101 | crocedimalto.iti | email@example.com
* Why do we anglicise this as Piedmont? Are anglophones so lazy we can’t say “pee-ah-mon-tay”? Is saying “pee-ed-mont” really any easier?