I rushed to find the exit of the Coliseum. Getting oriented when leaving a circular building, especially when all the signs are in another language is easier said than done. Eventually, I found a taxi and managed to communicate in very bad Italian where it was I wanted to go.
Traffic was awful and I could feel my anxiety rising as the minutes ticked on and as I watched the fare tick up. Embroiled in grid lock I saw the cross street of my destination just ahead. I paid my fare and weaved my way to the sidewalk. As I walked around the corner onto Via Veio, the printed awning greeted me “Johnny’s Offlicense. Enoteca.”
Although I had been in Rome for five days already, I had been looking forward to making my way here for months. I had even been in touch with the owner, John, and arrived bearing gifts of some American beer (thanks to Mike for the introduction). John greeted me with a firm handshake. Soon afterwards I presented him with cans of Two Brothers Sidekick and Sly Fox Grisette (much easier to fly with cans than bottles) as well as copies of Philly Beer Scene magazine. In between serving customers we got to know one another.
John himself is actually an Irish ex-pat who moved to Rome 12 years before. In fact his parents and sister were visiting him at the time and I got to know them as well. Not surprising really because combining Irish and Italian cultures creates one very warm and gregarious mix.
Anyway, being a good host John quickly opened a bottle and poured out two glasses for us to enjoy as we talked. Over time that lead to a second then a third, all different and all notable. From what I can recall the highlights of the tasting included Zona Cesari, Rex Grue and 2007 vintage Barley BB 10 (a strong ale brewed with “sappa” of Cannonau wine from the only craft brewer on Sardina). Both beers were so incredible that I bought bottles to bring back to the states. (And if you are very nice to me widely praise and share this blog you might even get a taste)
The shop itself was amazing. It combined a great bottle shop with a top end liquor store. Although Italians have been producing some of the world’s great beer for a while now, it is only in the past few years that an actual beer scene has begun to develop and, according to John the heart and soul of that scene is in Rome.
While the shop had plenty of Italian beer on hand, there was also a great range of Belgian, German and other European beers. I was lucky enough to grab a brick of Westy 12 to take home. As I explained the craze the stuff caused here in the States John showed off a Westy crate and offered his opinions on the beer itself.
There was also beer from Asian and of course the USA. Indeed, some of beers we take for granted here are highly prized and sought after, hence my gift.
Sadly, the more we conversed and drank the faster time seemed to fly. I knew I had to leave to make the rendezvous with my family near the Pantheon. John called me a cab and I crawled in with my satchel full of bottles and the brick of Westy clutched in my hands. I believe I sang Italian folk songs on the way back, though if the cabbie actually recognized them as being Italian he didn’t show it. I found the family by the elephant statue as arranged. They took my high spirits and huge hoppy haul in stride.
I got to make one more trip to see John before departing Rome and had an equally wonderful time. If even in Rome, do what all Roman beer geeks do and go see John. You can check out their website (which is in Italian) here.