A guide to Rome’s flourishing microbrewery scene

This article is part of a guide to Rome from FT Globetrotter

The ancient Romans were not terribly taken with beer. Nearly two thousand years ago, Pliny the Elder dismissed the drink as something that was only consumed by Gauls, Hispanians and Egyptians — something, in short, for barbarians. “As for what concerns the drink itself,” he wrote, “it is preferable to pass on to a discussion of wine.”

Today’s visitor will find Romans far keener to consume the stuff, and, thanks to the arrival of craft breweries in the past decade, need no longer reach for the average bar’s inexplicably perennial Tennent’s Super, nor for the Belgian bottles beside it.

What changed? The mid 19th century saw the arrival of Italy’s big breweries — Peroni, Moretti, Poretti, Menabrea et al — as well as the grape phylloxera blight that drove demand for alternatives to wine. But it wasn’t until 1995 that homebrewing became legal across the country; the years that followed are frequently cited as the beginning of the craft beer movement in the country, as a slew of breweries including Baladin, Birra Turbacci, Birrificio Italiano and Birrificio Lambrate first turned on their taps.

Compared to cities further north — more industrial, closer to the beer-swilling barbarians of yore — the capital has lagged behind when it comes to the craft scene. “Rome and the Lazio region as a whole have been slower to start than the north from a production point of view,” says Nicola Utzeri, founder of the Italian beer publication Fermento Birra. But this is changing, and the rapid expansion of the craft beer scene across the country (Uterzi estimates that from 300 breweries in 2010, the figure is now around 1,100) has been accompanied by producers looking to stake their claim on the capital.

So while you should stick to the old-school counters for your morning caffè and cornetto, as evening approaches, seek out one of the city’s more intrepid establishments. Ma Che Siete Venuti a Fà (named after a Roman football chant meaning “what did you come here to do?”), in Trastevere, carries beers from near and far; I loved the Macclesfield (a tribute to Joy Division’s Ian Curtis, who grew up there) from Lazio’s Shire Brewing, a 3.5 per cent dark mild. Pork’n’Roll, meanwhile, showcases the talents of the three Roccia brothers: one of them rears pigs at his farm, one produces the salami and sausages, and another serves them up — along with his own Old Copper beers — at this Tiburtina pub.

Or go straight to the source — all the breweries featured here produce their beers in and around Rome, with city-centre taprooms, kiosks or bars where you can try them and see for yourself the hard but happy work that goes into making a beer worth drinking. Oh, and be sure to look for the “Indipendente/Artigianale” stamp on the side of cans and bottles, a guarantee from Unionbirrai, the association of craft brewers, that the producer is independently owned and low intervention in its production methods.

Jungle Juice Brewing

Via del Mandrione 109, 00181 Rome

  • USP: A true urban brewery with a great taproom attached

  • One to try: Senhor Porteiro (5.5 per cent) is a rousing espresso martini of a porter, made in collaboration with the city’s Aliena Coffee Roasters

  • Website; Directions

 Cans of two of Jungle Juice Brewing’s beers, Jesöø and Ute, sitting on top of a bottling machine
Two of Jungle Juice Brewing’s beers – Jesöø and Ute – atop a bottling machine

Jungle Juice Brewing co-founder Emanuele Grimaldi in his brewery
‘Our main objective was to widen the appeal of craft beer and make it accessible to everyone’: Jungle Juice Brewing co-founder Emanuele Grimaldi

When you’ve finished gawping at the ruins in the centre of town, take Metro A down to Furio Camillo and head east. Just as your surroundings start to look improbably industrial, you’ll stumble upon what remains of the 16th-century Felice Aqueduct and, beyond its arches, the brewery and taproom of Jungle Juice Brewing.

For its Rome-born founders, a (comparatively) city-centre location was never in doubt. “Our main objective was to widen the appeal of craft beer, which in Italy is still a bit of a niche product, and make it accessible to everyone,” says co-founder and brand manager Emanuele Grimaldi. The brewery is the epitome of the fast-growing scene in the city: having started with four employees in 2016, there are now 16; four stainless-steel fermenters, meanwhile, have become 11.

A can of Jungle Juice Brewing’s Dirty Things beer in front of retro B-movie posters
Jungle Juice Brewing’s Dirty Things — a 6.5 per cent IPA

Jungle Juice Brewing’s Valerio Pavone hosing the floor into front of two stainless-steel fermenters
Jungle Juice Brewing’s Valerio Pavone. Behind him are two of the brewery’s 16 stainless-steel fermenters – a number that has grown from four since 2016

Inside them are beers that are wide both in range and in name. Choose A Fucking Big Television (8 per cent) is a punchy double IPA with citrus notes; Extra Life (5.5 per cent) is a summery and gluten-free pale ale that is best (and rather too easily) drunk cold; while Hammersmith Calling (4 per cent) is a smooth bitter that wouldn’t be out of place in one of its namesake’s riverside pubs — but Jungle Juice’s well-provisioned adjoining taproom works too.


Via Valle di Perna 315, 00128 Rome

  • USP: As local a beer as you’ll find, made exclusively from Italian ingredients

  • One to try: The three-grain, Belgian-inspired Triplo Mosto (9 per cent)

  • Website; Directions

Mostoitaliano grows its own grains and hops in the nature reserve around the brewery

 Mostoitaliano founder Francesco Casellato sitting on bales of straw in a barn
Mostoitaliano founder Francesco Casellato

For Francesco Casellato, brewing began as a hobby. He would bring kegs to parties, and eventually the compliments came in consistently enough to persuade him to complete a brewing course in Padua and start his own brewery. He called it Mostoitaliano, so named for its insistence on 100 per cent Italian ingredients: grains and hops are grown in the surrounding nature reserve, water is sourced from Lazio’s Peschiera and Capore springs — even the yeast comes from the Veneto.

And it shows: Mostoitaliano’s beers possess the kind of freshness that only comes about from such a holistically local process. Primo Mosto (5.3 per cent) is a current bestseller, its light, delicate flavour best exemplifying the benefits of a minimal travel time. For a more full-bodied, winter-friendly drink, the popular Mosto Amaro (6.8 per cent) is an American-style pale ale in which the brewery’s own half-hectare of hops really shines.

Mostoitaliano’s Mosto Amaro — an American-style pale ale About 30 bottles of Mostoitaliano’s Mosto Amaro – an American-style pale ale – on a lime-green floor
Mostoitaliano’s Mosto Amaro — an American-style pale ale

Brewer Francesco Casellato at work
Casellato began brewing as a hobby

If, like every Roman old enough to see above the steering wheel, you have access to a car, the brewery itself is located in Casale di Perna, beyond the ring road. If you’re bound by the limits of the city’s public transport, though, worry not: among other locations, you’ll find Mosto’s beers at Dal Papa, a quirky bar in the shadow of the high Vatican walls, along with a soundtrack of punk and Italian hip-hop and patate cacio e pepe that are as good a Roman bar snack as you could hope for.

Ritual Lab

Via del Praticello Alto 5/7, 00060 Formello

  • USP: Unfiltered, unpasteurised and unconventional beers

  • One to try: Mango Split (8 per cent), a bright-orange double IPA with a decidedly sunny demeanour

  • Website; Directions

 A bottle of Ritual Lab’s Papanero – a 12.5 per cent Russian imperial stout
Ritual Lab’s Papanero — a 12.5 per cent Russian imperial stout

Ritual Lab owners Roberto and Giovanni Faenza in 2012, holding two bottles of their beers
The brewery was established by father-and-son team Roberto (left) and Giovanni Faenza in 2012

Father-and-son team Roberto and Giovanni Faenza founded Ritual Lab in 2012 as a home for the eccentric and experimental. “Before creating a recipe, a brewer must have a clear objective in mind,” says Giovanni, whose previous experience as a sommelier continues to inform the brewery’s use of complex flavours and cask ageing. The bottles themselves are given no less attention, featuring original designs by painter Pierluigi Bellacci and tattoo artist Robert Figlia, among others.

The labels on Ritual Lab’s bottles feature Two of Ritual Lab’s beers, with labels featuring artwork by painter Pierluigi Bellacci and tattoo artist Robert Figli
The labels on Ritual Lab’s bottles feature designs by painter Pierluigi Bellacci (left) and tattoo artist Robert Figli (right)

Steel fermenting vats at Ritual Lab
The brewery has created more than 60 beers – all of them unconventional

More than 60 recipes have already emerged from the laboratory: in a field often crowded with higher-ABV options, Nerd Choice (3.9 per cent) is a pleasingly easy-going session IPA with just a hint of citrus. At the other end of the strength spectrum is Papanero (12.5 per cent), a velvety Russian imperial stout made in collaboration with Pennsylvania’s Voodoo Brewing Co.

The brewery itself can be found in Formello, 13 miles to the north of the city, but a more convenient kiosk in the unpretentious Ponte Milvio district opened last year. And if you happen to arrive before it opens at 6pm, directly opposite the kiosk is Roma Beer Company, which has bottles from, among others, Birra del Borgo, located 60 miles east of Rome (though no longer independently owned). Its ReAle Extra (6.4 per cent) is a sweet and hoppy American pale ale that stands up to the rainiest of Roman afternoons.

Hilltop Brewery

Via Roma 315a, 01030 Bassano Romano

  • USP: Beers you’ll want to drink two of

  • One to try: Zenzero (8.5 per cent), a zingy Belgian-style golden ale spiced with ginger

  • Website; Directions

 Conor Gallagher-Deeks and his father Barry of Hilltop Brewery in their warehouse
Hilltop Brewery’s Conor Gallagher Deeks and his father Barry in their warehouse

Wot Hop? — a five per cent Hilltop Brewery pale ale

“Rome has become a beer capital of Europe,” says Conor Gallagher Deeks, co-founder of the family-run Hilltop Brewery in Bassano Romano. But it wasn’t in Italy that the idea for his business was born — in fact it was while studying (and pub-hopping, clearly) in the UK: “I realised that I didn’t know how to drink beer,” he says. With the aim of producing something that could be more than just an accompaniment to pizza, he and his father Barry started Hilltop Brewery not far from their family home in 2014; they’re now producing five regular beers and several more seasonally, as well as various collaboration brews.

Gallagher Deeks, who scooped Birraio dell’Anno’s Emerging Brewer award in 2016), prides himself on Hilltop’s range of styles: the Gallagher Stout (5.5 per cent) is a nod to his family’s Anglo-Irish heritage, and incorporates seaweed towards the end of the boil; La Calandrina (4.8 per cent), made with juniper and lime, is a saison inspired by gin and tonic.

Hilltop Brewery’s tap room

Conor Gallagher Deeks on a small ladder, stirring hops into one of two wood and steel brewing kettles
Gallagher Deeks stirring hops into a brewing kettle

The brewery and its taproom are located about 40 miles outside the capital, but its beers are available on draught across the city. Dodging the winter drizzle, we perch on a couple of stools at the narrow bar of L’Elementare in Trastevere (Gallagher-Deeks also recommends Luppolo Station further down towards Monteverde), where his Barry’s Bitter (4.2 per cent) is on tap. An amber ale inspired by his time in the UK, all it’s lacking for the authentic British experience is an accompanying packet of pork scratchings. Still, pizza fritta isn’t a bad substitute.

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