Where to Drink in Rome, Italy

Destinations by | Nov 2014 | Issue #94

Illustration by Sam Brewster

In the land of grapes comes an avalanche of hops. Italy, one of the world’s top wine producers, is experiencing a beer explosion. And after nearly 3,000 years, Rome has finally become a town for beer drinkers, too. Italy has an estimated 650 craft breweries. Seven years ago it had just 70. In Rome, enotecas are reluctantly yielding room to nearly three dozen beer bars and almost twice as many bottle shops.

“Nowadays, after the US, I think the most interesting, exciting craft beer scene is Italy,” says Agostino Arioli, founder of Birrificio Italiano brewery and a pioneer of Italy’s craft beer scene.

This is major culture shock to a country that had Europe’s lowest beer consumption per capita at 29 liters per year in 2011, according to the Breweries of Europe. Things began to change in 1992 when Italians with German roots opened two breweries in the Northern Italian regions of Liguria and Trento. While they were short lived, craft brewing was not. Three years later Turbacci opened outside Rome. The next year Arioli’s Birrificio Italiano was one of three breweries to open in the North.

They are still around, along with hundreds of others who have helped develop a distinct Italian style of brewing. Although legal restrictions discourage brewpubs in the city center, the number of converts grew enough to attract two huge craft beer festivals to Rome: Fermentazione and Eurohop, both held in the fall.

But in fashion conscious Italy, is birra artigianale just another fad? Many feel it’s here to stay. “People in this country love to taste,” says Alex Liberati, owner of two beer bars and a board member of Italy’s brewers association, Unionbirrai. “They fall in love with tasteful and characterized food, wines and also, of course, beers. They can recognize the difference. That’s why it’s going to stay.”

Johnny’s Off License
Dubliner John Nolan opened one of the city’s first bottle shops in 2004. Located in the shadow of the Archbasilica of St. John Lateran, Johnny’s carries 700 beers from around the world including about 70 from Italy. Try Birra del Borgo’s Perle ai Porci, a Stout brewed with oysters and clams or the BeerBera by LoverBeer, made with Barbera wine grapes. Between 6 and 7 p.m., join the crowd drinking on the quiet side street.

Open Baladin
Explore more than 100 beers at this hybrid bar and bottle shop co-owned by Birrificio le Baladin’s Teo Musso and Birra del Borgo’s Leonardo Di Vincenzo, including 90 from Italy and no less than 40 on tap. Backlit Italian beer bottles line shelves behind the bar. Don’t miss Isaac, Baladin’s popular spiced Witbier. From the kitchen, Gabriele Bonci dishes out hamburgers some American tourists call the best they’ve ever had.

Ma Che Siete Venuti A Fà
The bar’s name, taken from a football chant aimed at the losing team, translates loosely to “What the hell are you doing here?” Since 2001, this 500-square-foot, hole-in-the-wall pub in trendy Trastevere has become a beer landmark. Owner Manuele Colonna is considered the father of Rome’s craft beer explosion and serves a variety of Italian IPAs listed on a chalkboard. Try Tipopils, a Pilsner from Birrificio Italiano.

Bir & Fud
Across the cobblestone path from Ma Che is Colonna’s other pub, a pizzeria opened in 2007 with Leonardo Di Vincenzo. Recently redesigned, the narrow bar is lined with 30 taps and six casks—from Dogfish Head to Ducato—for €5 apiece. The majority of its 200 different bottles hail from Italy. Try LoverBeer’s Madamin, a Flemish-style beer aged in oak, or pair Del Borgo’s Duchessa, a Saison made from spelt traditionally grown in the Duchess Mountains of Lazio with a potato and sausage pizza.

Birra Più
Via del Pigneto, 105
Birra Più (More Beer) was one of the first five bottle shops in Rome when it opened five years ago. It’s located in Pigneto, a scruffy, artist’s enclave southeast of the train station. Today it has expanded to 10 taps and over 1,500 different brands, half of them Italian. About 200 are available in the pub at one time. Look for Zona Cesarini, a silky-smooth IPA from Birra Toccalmatto, a brewery near Parma.

Brasserie 4:20
In 2007, Alex Liberati opened Brasserie 4:20, the first bar in Rome to exclusively sell craft beers. Today about half of his 73 tap lines are Italian. The building, which was Rome’s first commercial train station in the 1800s, is in Trastevere’s grittier south end, where tourists rarely venture. Inside, modern fixtures contrast with the stone and brick structure. Build your own burger to enjoy with a beer—like Dry Hop Thriller by Revelation Cat, a brewery also owned by Liberati.

Via Francesco Negri, 39
Opened in late 2013, Hopside is in Ostiense, far from the tourist zone but close to Roma Tre University. Subway tiles, concrete and wood panels give the bar an industrial feel. The 12 beers on tap are nearly all Italian, while bottled brews hail from abroad. Vùdù, a Dunkelweizen by Birrificio Italiano, is a regular on tap. Locals can even brew their own beer in the basement lab.

Piazza Cesare Baronio, 2
Built in a former auto parts store, this 1-year-old bar is in the upper-middle-class Alberone neighborhood. Hopificio is one of a handful of spots in the city serving Birrone, an Italian brewery specializing in lagers. Its Punto G, an Amber Bock, is a best seller. The pub rotates nine beers on tap and 25 bottles, with a majority from Italy. During happy hour, enjoy a beer on the patio for €3.

L’Oasi della Birra
Opened in the working-class neighborhood of Testaccio in 1990, L’Oasi is a one-stop shop for beer, wine and other goods such as chocolates, spreads and olive oil. Both bottle shop and bar, you’ll find 400 beers to go and six on tap. Locals gather at shaded picnic tables to enjoy some of the best aperitivos anywhere in Rome—try the cheese and charcuterie plate with a bottle of Techno, a Double IPA from Birrificio Indipendente Elav.

Luppolo 12
Luppolo’s proximity to the largest university in Europe, Sapienza Università di Roma, makes it popular with students. Luppolo (Italian for “hop”) stands out in the campus bar scene with its 150 bottles, nearly half of which are Italian, and 16 taps. On a given day, taps can include Italian beers such as Caterpillar, an American-style Pale Ale by Brewfist, and Toccalmatto’s Saison Wild Lady, plus American imports like Rogue Chocolate Stout. Don’t miss focacce, a gooey, cheesy snack on thick focaccia bread. Happy hour specials include a tap beer and a platter of Tuscan cold cuts and cheeses for €5.