Craft Brew in Italy – Part 2

We recently took a 12 day trip to Italy.  Looking back, we should have done longer, but the amount we accomplished in the time we were there was staggering.  Although finding craft brew in Italy was tough, it was not impossible.

Our visit included 3 nights in Venice, 3 nights in Florence, 2 nights in Cinque Terra, and 2 nights in Rome (travel time knocked off essentially 2 days).  We also had a 7 hour layover, which allowed some time to hop into London and get a brew.

In short, Rome had the best beer scene, Florence seemed to have a growing one, Cinque Terre had one good beer bar, and Venice was…tough. I will go through each city in the order we visited.

Cinque Terre/Vernazza

The second half of our trip began in Cinque Terre, and specifically Vernazza.  I did not have high hopes for finding any craft beer in Cinque Terre but was pleasantly surprised.

Rick Steves has apparently hyped Cinque Terre so much that it has been ruined and overrun by tourists, but fortunately we were not there in the peak of the high season so it did not seem to bad to us.

Cinque Terre is remarkably beautiful.  The 5 tiny towns all have their own individual charm and unique attributes, but Vernazza (where my wife made sure we stayed as it was her favorite town when she visited years ago) was the best.  Vernazza was not the largest city, but the most charming.  The food was fantastic, and it was fun to see the same locals every night when most of the tourists were gone.

We stayed in the La Marina Rooms, and specifically the Apartment Piazza Marconi.  We really wanted a balcony here, but even when booking 4 months in advance all the good balcony rooms were booked up.  However, in the end I think we lucked out, as our apartment was ideally located (very close to town, only a few flights of stairs) and had an incredible view of the piazza and harbor/bay.  It was a good sized room as well, comfy bed, and Cristian (the host) was great.

We only had 2 nights in CT, so we immediately got to work on hiking.  For those that do not know, CT is a series of 5 towns with hikes between each town (many of which skirt the ocean).  The first afternoon we did a hike from Vernazza to Monterossa, which was incredible.  The view looking back at Vernazza is one of the more famous sights in CT for good reason.

IMG_1604.JPG

The hike was a decent one, apparently the longest distance of all the hikes between towns IF the main trails are open.  Incredible views all along and some decent climbs, especially at the beginning.  The two unique parts of this hike were the random cat “homes,” where several cat houses with pictures and names of the cats posted, and the gregarious Italian man selling homemade limoncello and wine out of a tiny, basically fenced in cage right off of his property along the trail.  The wine and limoncello were actually very good, and after traveling in the morning and hiking a few miles, gave a little buzz.

IMG_1588

The hike ended in Monterossa, the largest town, and considered the “resorty” one.  As it was early evening, the crowds had died down.  However, we were getting hungry so did not stay long, only grabbing a beer right by the train station while we waiting for a 3 minute train tide back to Vernazza.  The view was not bad!

Evening in Vernazza was our favorite time.  The cruise/day trippers were gone, and the town was quiet but had enough restaurants and bars open to have some variety.  Cinque Terre/Liguria is apparently known for their pesto and trofie, which is a sort of pasta/gnocchi hybrid.  We ate at Trattoria de Sandro the first night, on the main drag, seemingly built into the hills.  The food was phenomenal.  We got the trofie with pesto and a ravioli in walnut sauce that was unreal.  https://www.yelp.com/biz/trattoria-da-sandro-vernazza

We followed dinner with a few drinks at the Marlin Bar, which has a younger crowd, lively and entertaining bartenders, and locals.  Nothing special on the beers, so I went with the local grappa (well, I had one then went to beer, it was not my jam).

The next day had our serious hiking.  We intended to hike from Vernazza to Riomaggiore and back.  In normal conditions, this is apparently doable, however the main trails were closed between all Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore, meaning we had to hike a much tougher path.  We are regular hikers and in pretty decent shape, but the hills between some of the towns were intense!  It was a great day of hiking, but going there and back was not going to happen, so we ended up training back to Vernazza from Riomaggiore.

IMG_9503

(the distance was not the bad part, the floors were!  This only counts floors up, and at times going downhill was just as tough)

Some of the highlights were a sour lemon granita in Corniglia at Alberrtos (https://www.yelp.com/biz/alberto-gelateria-corniglia?osq=granita), a pesto foccaccia in a little shop in Manarola (which was my second favorite town), and just the incredible views while hiking through vineyards.  It was a fantastic day, despite the overcast weather (doing this hike in the heart of summer would be brutal though).

That night we wanted to go to Belforte, the restaurant on the rocks above the bay in Vernazza, but weather forced it to close.  Again, Vernazza had plenty of options, so we were quite alright eating elsewhere.

However, before dinner, we had the  biggest surprise of our time in Vernazza, finding a bar with a big selection of craft beer!  Right on the main square was Burgus, a small bar with just a few seats inside and a few more outside.  However, they had at least 10 different Italian craft beers in bottles, which was a rare find.  I enjoyed a few that night and could not have been happier with our pre-dinner drinks (https://www.yelp.com/biz/burgus-vernazza).

The Canediguerra American IPA was possibly the best beer I had in Italy, and the view was not bad either.  The other beers were ok, but at least I was able to try some new stuff!

IMG_9626

Beer selection!

We finished our last night in Vernazza with dinner at Gambero Rosso, which was apparently the “expensive” restaurant.  Well, we polished of two carafes of excellent wine, I went with the lobster pasta which was out of this world, and the wife got the trofie again, which was excellent, again.  Throw in a salad and appetizer and our bill was still right at $100.  This would have cost twice as much in SF.  The atmosphere was great, and all in all a fantastic meal.

IMG_9628

mmmmm, lobster

Two nights in Vernazza ended up being the perfect amount of time.  Some relaxation, beautiful hiking, and excellent food.  One night would not have been enough, 3 may have been a bit too many (especially given the weather was a bit hit and miss while we were there).  We set off early for our 5 hour train ride to anticipating 2 hectic days.

A few (of our countless) pics from the hikes:

IMG_9443IMG_9516IMG_9457IMG_9415

Advertisements

Craft Brew in Italy – Part 1

 

We recently took a 12 day trip to Italy.  Looking back, we should have done longer, but the amount we accomplished in the time we were there was staggering.  Although finding craft brew in Italy was tough, it was not impossible.

Our visit included 3 nights in Venice, 3 nights in Florence, 2 nights in Cinque Terra, and 2 nights in Rome (travel time knocked off essentially 2 days).  We also had a 7 hour layover, which allowed some time to hop into London and get a brew.

In short, Rome had the best beer scene, Florence seemed to have a growing one, Cinque Terre had one good beer bar, and Venice was…tough. I will go through each city in the order we visited.

Venice

Venice is kind of insane.  We arrived late night out first night, so in reality had 2.5 days to explore.  For me, that was enough.

Venice is strikingly beautiful.  Literally around every corner you have a completely unique, beautiful setting.  I found this to be especially true the further out you got from the main touristy areas (ie St. Mark’s square).  Maybe this was because there were way less people.

Each day we were there we walked about 16 miles.  To us, that was the way to actually see and experience Venice, as many of the more tourisy things here did not hold much appeal. Part of the reason we put in so many miles simply had to do with the fact that you are constantly lost.  I tend to have a pretty good sense of direction, and can get around most cities within a few hours (I am a bit of a planning nut and so spend many hours looking at maps of where we go), but this was far from true in Venice.  At first, I struggled with the lack of control, but by the second day, this became part of the fun.

We stayed at an incredible AirBnb.  The hosts were unlike any AirBnb host you will find.  They gave us detailed instructions before we arrived, met us at the boat station and walked us to the apartment, gave us a quick tour of the area and detailed instructions on a map of where to go and what to see.  I would highly recommend staying in any of Maurizio’s apartments.  Here was ours:  https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/1005660

As mentioned above, Venice was tough for beer.  The  bar scene is fun, just not for beer, especially craft brew.  This is made more difficult by the aforementioned propensity to get lost.  Meaning, even if I could find a place that looked good for beer online, actually physically finding the place was easier said than done.  Given this, we simply walked around and if we saw a place that looked good, went for it.

Fortunately, on day 1, we found Birraria La Corte in the Campo San Polo.  We had not researched this place, but I saw “Birraria” and had to go.  Apparently, this was the first local brewery in Italy!  The building also at one point housed the bulls for the bullfights in the Campo.  There is a huge patio that overlooks the Campo, and the best beer selection we found in Italy.  I had a few Brad IPAs (from Bradipongo brewery, a little north west of Venice) to go with my pizza, which were not bad.  I would absolutely return here if in Venice again (https://www.tripadvisor.com/Restaurant_Review-g187870-d793024-Reviews-Birraria_La_Corte-Venice_Veneto.html)

The only other bar we found that had more than the usual Forst, Peroni ot Birra Moretti was the Corner Pub.  We stumbled across the Corner Pub as part of one of our 16 mile death marches.  The Corner Pub was just as it sounds.  We actually sat outside at a little to-go counter and enjoyed a beer just before noon (do not judge, we were on vacation), overlooking some solid scenery.  I cheated, and had an Irish IPA (McGargles Knock Knock Neds IPA) which was OK.  They had a few other beers on tap, as well as wine and a full bar.  Basic food that looked good as well.  https://www.tripadvisor.com/Restaurant_Review-g187870-d1953035-Reviews-Corner_Pub-Venice_Veneto.html

View this post on Instagram

Birra Italiano #drinklocal #ipa #italianIPA

A post shared by Simon (@californiaipa) on

Other than these two spots, nothing else really stood out for beer.  I drank a good deal of wine, and bought an IPA in the grocery store to enjoy at our apartment as the gondoliers floated by, many times singing.

One of the more enjoyable things to do in Venice definitely was to enjoy the Cicchetti. Each night we bar hopped, had a few small plates (cicchetti is essentially Venizia tapas)  and tried some interesting dishes (lots of fried seafoody dishes).  You could typically score a glass of wine for 1-3 euros (yep!) and go to a few different spots.  This made for a smaller dinner, which was fine by me.

The one touristy thing we did do that I recommend is a sunset cruise along the Grand Canal on the vaporetti (Water bus).  Cheap but beautiful, and by this time the city has quieted down so we were able to score outside seats and just enjoy the views.

I am not sure if I would have Venice high on my list of places to go back to.  I cannot imagine it in the high season, as even when we went it felt overrun by tourists.  By far, I enjoyed Venice the most after 8 PM and before 11 AM.  The middle of the day is crowded and the charm is gone.  That said, it truly is a remarkably beautiful and unique city.

Florence

We had 3 full days and nights and Florence, but I could have spent way more time here.  Florence was a city I would live in in a heartbeat.  I am a water person.  Since I was about 10, I have not lived more than 15 miles from the ocean.  Florence has no ocean, just the Arno River.  Still, I loved it.

Florence is rich with history and beautiful.  The duomo and cathedral, the Palazzo Vecchio,  Ponte Vecchio, Piazelle Michelangelo, Piazza della Signoria and it goes on.  Yet, at the same time, it is a modern city with great, diverse food, beautiful people and BEER!

We scored again with Airbnb in Florence.  We stayed in the Oltrano (the “other” side of the Arno) about a block away from the Ponte Vecchio.  Our apartment was certainly older, and up a step set up stairs 6 floors up, but my goodness, the rooftop deckS (yes, two rooftop decks) were unreal.  Literally 360 degree views of all of Florence.  All the sites visible, cool breezes, and a brew or glass of wine?  Unreal.  https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/1482355

(the pics do not do the view justice)

IMG_9083IMG_9081

Our first stop when we arrived in Florence was Il Mercato Centrale.  This is somewhat akin to the Chelsea Market in NYC or the Ferry Building Building in SF.  The first floor is an assortment of butcher, cheese, olive oil, and pasta shops, with a few coffee shops and a solid amount of produce.  You can walk around and have cheese samples for free, or pay for an olive or balsamic tastings.

The second floor is full of essentially to-go restaurants that you order at the counter and find a seat.  There are a bunch of awesome options.  A place with fresh made cheese and sandwiches, butcheries, a place with all truffle dishes, a vegetarian spot, pasta and it goes on and on.  There is also a bar in the middle with a birreria, and a wine shop.  The bar had a somewhat disappointing selection of beers.  Most of the beers were Birra Moretti, and I ws hoping for more smaller craft brews.  That said, the food made up for it.

The third floor has a sit down restaurant, but the second floor to me was the place to be.

Outside was a large leather and trinket gift area.  Fun to walk around and buy a few gifts.

Close by is the BrewDog Firenze location.  I have had a few of their beers before, but wanted to pop in to see if they had the Born to Die IPA.  Unfortunately, they did not have it on tap, but rest assured, they had a (large) bottle.  It was an astounding $15 euros, but I had to pull the trigger.  It was worth it.  Fantastic, hop bomb with a smooth crisp finish.

Florence has two other breweries, Archea and Mostoldoce.  Give the slew of things we wanted to do and see, we only had time for one, Archea.

Archea actually did not brew the beer on site, and actually brewed it several hours away.  The tasting room was a great little pub, with several of their own beers and a few guest taps.  I actually really enjoyed their Hydra IPA.  The bartender was great, good people inside, and overall a great stop.  Highly recommend dropping in.

King Grizzly was a solid beer bar. Probably around 15 beers on tap, seemingly all or mostly from Italy.  Good scene, good beer options, the kind of place I would go to on the regular.

On our last day in Florence, we hired a private driver to take us down to Siena and then through the Chianti wine district.  No beer, but an absolutely fantastic time.  Lot of wine, great food, olive oil and sites beyond belief.  You can read more about our day on my Tripadvisor review of our driver, who was fantastic.  https://www.tripadvisor.com/ShowUserReviews-g187895-d4331380-r375836127-Alessandro_Cammilli_Private_Tours-Florence_Tuscany.html#REVIEWS

Overall, Firenze was incredible.  I could write 20 more pages about our time there.  We had a few fantastic meals (our lunch at Liberia Brac was one of the best meals I have ever had – https://www.yelp.com/biz/libreria-brac-firenze).  The David was amazing, the duomo and surrounding area was overwhelming, the Oltrarno neighborhood was lively and welcoming.  If I could only go back to one place in Italy, Firenze was it.

Stay tuned for Part 2, which will recap Cinque Terre and Rome.

 

 

Dog Friendly Brewery Series – Tahoe Part 2

I love good beer. I also love enjoying good beer with my wife and dog. I therefore really love doing both together. Unfortunately, that is not always possible (unless done at home). Hence, the following series.

I cannot profess to know every single dog friendly brewery in the state, but I do believe I have a pretty good grip of the best ones in a few different areas, namely SF, the Bay Area and north, and the Central Coast. This series will pass along my knowledge on this ever so important topic.

Some of the prior articles in these series are here:

Dog Friendly Brewery Series – San Francisco Part 2

Dog Friendly Brewery Series – North SF Bay Area

Dog Friendly Brewery Series – San Francisco

This post is a continuation of a prior post, linked here: Dog Friendly Brewery Series – Tahoe and Auburn

The first blog dealt with North Lake Tahoe.  This post touches on the breweries in the South Lake Tahoe area.

Stateline Brewery

Stateline Brewery, is, as expected, right near Stateline.  Technically it is in California in Heavenly Village.  The brewery itself is basically in a huge basement.  It is a large space that can get pretty busy for dinner.  However, the best part of the brewery is probably the outside seating right on Highway 50.

The outdoor sitting was plentiful when we were there (Memorial Day Weekend at about 4 in the afternoon).  There were good happy hour deals, even on Saturday, for drink and apps.  Unfortunately, there is no lake view, but there is solid people watching.

IMG_0041

I had an Acclimator IPA, which was better than I remembered their beers being.  They also had a variety of beers from other breweries, which was nice to have as they only had a few of their own beers on tap when we were there.

The service when we sat outside was solid (when we went for dinner it was pretty slammed and the service was not as great).

IMG_0042

http://www.statelinebrewery.com/

Brewery at Lake Tahoe

The Brewery at Lake Tahoe is not as conveniently located as Stateline Brewery if you are staying in the more touristy area.  The Brewery is a little over a mile away from Stateline on Lake Tahoe Blvd on the California side.

The Brewery has a decent sized dog friendly area, albeit with no real views and not as great of people watching as you get at Stateline.

Beers are good, nothing too exciting but drinkable.

I have not eaten here yet, but plan to do so next trip up and will give an update.

http://www.brewerylaketahoe.com/

MacDuff’s Pub

Although clearly not a brewery, MacDuffs has one of the better beer selections in Tahoe and a large, comfortable dog friendly patio with a peak of a lake view.  The food is also better than average pub food, with great (and huge) burgers and fish and chips.

IMG_0073.JPG

It is a must hit when in Tahoe, and the owner, as evidenced by their glasses, is a dog lover (that is actually his dog on the glass).

http://macduffspub.com/