Craft Brew in Italy – Part 3

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.

Rome

Rome was our last stop of beercation 2016. We had somewhat tempered expectations and feared Rome would be too touristy and hectic, and so only had 2 nights in town. However, we were pleasantly surprised.

Rome is an incredible city. The tourist sights are obviously a must-do, but we had what was probably my favorite night of the trip once we got outside the sights.

The first thing we did after our five hour train ride from the coast and checking in the hotel was eat and grab a drink. Options were abound, and Rome clearly had some of the more diverse food options available. We were pleasantly surprised to find many food options we would expect to find in San Francisco. After traveling for two weeks and eating rich and heavy food constantly, we were craving something on the healthier side, and Rome had plenty of options.  We strolled through the Monti neighborhood along Via Urbana and were able to get a decent beer and healthy lunch at a place I now cannot remember the name of or find, doh!

We then proceeding to try and squeeze in all the main attractions we could. Over the next 36 hours, we visited The Roman Forum and surrounding sights, did a guided nighttime tour of the Colosseum, visited the Vatican City and toured St. Peter’s Basilica and up to the top of the duomo (unfortunately the Vatican museums and Sistine Chapel were closed), saw the Spanish steps and Trevi Fountain, went inside the Pantheon, and popped our heads in countless other churches (many of which would have been incredible on their own if you were not comparing to the basilica or duomos we had already seen)

In order of preference, of the “major sights,” my favorites were as follow:

1. Night tour of the Colosseum.  It felt like we had the whole place to ourselves.  We started with a guided tour around the outside of Palantine and Capitole Hills and the Forum, then around and inside the  Colosseum.  We were in a group of about 20, and there were only a few groups allowed in. The night tour was more expensive, and did not include a tour of the Forum, but you can do that separately. The night tour was relaxed and had so many less people. Moreover, you got to see the “underworld” of the Colosseum where the gladiators and animals stayed until they fought. This was only available in the night tour and very cool.

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2. St. Peter’s Basilica. We went to Vatican City on a Sunday so the museum and Sistine Chapel were closed. However, still worth heading over just for the basilica. It is insanely huge and stunning. The artwork and sculptures inside are amazing, but the sheer size of the place is the star of the show. We also went up to the top of the duomo, which was…an experience. We chose to walk (elevator was an extra few Euros but I was ok working off the beers and pasta) but in either event, you had to walk up the stairs of the dome itself. This was intense. The stairs are steep and circle around he dome. For a 6’5″ guy this was brutal. I was hunched over the whole way. Worse, it was hot and claustrophobic. People were freaking out, and the would try to walk against traffic to leave. It was a disaster, as turning around made it ten times worse for everyone. However, when (if) you made it up top, wow.

3. Pantheon. Most people think of the Pantheon and see the exterior.  I imagined it to be out on its own somewhere and you looked at the outside and moved on. I was way off. The Pantheon is in the middle of a walkable and vibrant neighborhood and piazza.  The interior is amazing, with an open ceiling.  Totally surprised by how much I liked it (and it is free!).

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4.  Other worthwhile stops:  Trevi Fountain and the Roman Forum were my other two favorite spots.  The Forum is fascinating.  We did not have a tour guide for this (since we did the night tour of the Colosseum, it did not include the guided tour of the Forum).  Trevi Fountain was beautiful and the highlight of a great walk we took between several sights. (note, the Spanish Steps were being worked on when we were there, so it was underwhelming).

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Nightlife

Somehow, even after walking and sightseeing all day, we made it out both nights in Rome.  Our second night was much more memorable.

The first night saw us cruise around the Via Urbana area.  There were a ton of people partying in the streets and full bars and restaurants.  It was fun, but nothing special.

The next night, we went out in the Trastevere.  Trastevere was about a 15 minute ride from our hotel, away from the typical tourist sights (this was the first time we had taken a cab all trip, mostly because it was raining!).  As soon as we got out of the car, we knew it was our kind of area.

Trastevere contained many small, winding streets filled with bars and restaurants.  We wanted to stop at Ma Cha Siete Venuti a Fà, a well regarded craft beer bar.  Unfortunately, it was packed and as it was pouring, drinking a beer was not a desirable option.  So, we proceeded to Bir & Fud, which was the best beer bar we visited in Italy.

Bir & Fud had pizzas and great homemade chips.  More importantly, they had at least 30 beers on tap, including several IPAs.  It was pretty slammed, but we scored a couple seats at the bar.  Bartenders were attentive and friendly, and the beers were the best beers I had on our trip.  It was a fantastic find on our last night.

After Bir y Fud, we headed to dinner at Grazia & Graziella. Despite the pouring rain, it was packed.  We sat outside under cover and stayed dry.  The servers were having a great time, singing and clearly ready to party.  We loved it.  The food was also phenomenal.  We had a killer salad with buffalo mozzarella, delicious pasta, and this crispy artichoke which was unlike any other fried artichoke I have ever had.  I can’t really describe it, you will just need to go taste it.

Overall, the Trastevere neighborhood was my favorite neighborhood of all the places we visited.  This came as a surprise, as I had heard very mixed reviews for Rome.

Conclusion

Overall, our trip to Italy was the best trip we have ever been on.  The sights were incredible, the food was amazing, the wine was great (and SO CHEAP), and the people were amazingly hospitable.  It is evident beer is becoming more popular, and I would guess by my next trip, there will be even more options.  I am looking forward to that!

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Where To Drink – Drake’s Dealership

Had a chance to check out the new Drake’s Dealership in Oakland last week, and it was awesome.

Drake’s Dealership is in the new “Hive” gathering place in Uptown Oakland.  The Hive has potential to be a pretty awesome place, with Drake’s and what looks like a few new restaurants, People’s Barbershop etc.  http://hiveoakland.com/

Drake’s is in an old parts and service department for Dodge.  The building is very cool, all brink and timber.  The best part is the huge outdoor beer garden, that is importantly dog-friendly.

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Good ol’ Denogginizer

I did not get a good pic of the space, as I was focused on the beer.  However, above, you can see some of the outdoor area in the background.  There is self-seating or tables, and plenty of it.  They also have a stage area for live bands.

The indoor area is also pretty large, with a large bar area, big open kitchen, and a room that was empty when we went, seems like a good place to have a private party or for overflow.

They had what seemed like all the Drake’s beers on tap, plus about 15 guest beers.  I went with Drake’s IPA, Denogginizer, and the 8×80.  I have had the IPA and Denog many times before, but never seen the 8×80.  Well, the 8×80 was great.  It was bigger than the 7×70, but not overpowering.  A real nice, balanced brew.  Hops were present but not overpowering.  Liked it more than the 7×70.  Hope to see this one around more often.

The food was also great.  We started with some spicy fries, which were bomb (they also have salt and vinegar fries, regular fires, and poutine).  They also have several New Haven style pizzas, which is pretty cool.  My brother lives just outside New Haven, and so I have had Pepe’s pizza several times, and this was a pretty good knock off.  Nice blistered crust, served on a cookie sheet.  Pretty authentic.

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Overall, I loved Drake’s Dealership.  Drakes brews great beer, but the brewery is a little off the beaten path, so the new spot is pretty great, and worth a trip to Oakland on its own.  Look forward to heading back.

Dog Friendly Brewery Series – North SF Bay Area

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.

The third in this series will focus on dog-friendly breweries north of the San Francisco Bay Area.

Lagunitas Brewery

Let’s start with one of the better known craft breweries, Lagunitas.

The Lagunitas brewery is a great stop.  Although it is in an industrial area, once you walk through the gates, it is all brewery and good times.

Lagunitas has a huge outdoor patio filled with picnic type tables.  It is never easy to find a seat, despite the fact that it is pretty huge.  Dogs are allowed anywhere outside.

Weekend afternoons will oftentimes have live music.

Food is good, not great.  Fairly standard fare, essentially nachos, wings and sandwiches.

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Mound of nachos at Lagunitas.

Beers are most of your favorite Lagunitas classics.  IPA, Hoop Stooid, Pils etc.  They typically do not seem to have many “special” releases or harder to find options, but the environment and other classics make up for it.

https://lagunitas.com/taprooms/petaluma

Bear Republic Brewing

Lagunitas and Bear Republic in one day is a good day in my book.

Bear Republic is a short drive up the 101, about 30 miles.

Bear Republic has a decent sized outside patio where dogs are allowed.  Bear Republic is more of a brewpup that Lagunitas, feel more like a restaurant than a brewery.  Little bit tighter squeeze for the dog.

Food is a little higher end with a huge menu.  Something for everyone.

Beers are great.  I am a big fan of Bear Republic so am always happy.  More likely to get something unique or new here than Lagunitas.  Last time for me, it was the Hop Shovel, which was fantastic.

Great place for dinner and a few beers.

http://bearrepublic.com/brewpub/

Anderson Valley Brewing Company

Anderson Valley Brewing Company is a doggie heaven.  The property is huge, including a disc golf course.

Dogs are allowed both inside the tasting room and all over the outdoor grounds.  It takes a few hours for us to get here, so when we finally make it, the huge property is perfect for the pup.

I personally think the Boont Amber is by far their best beer.  Certainly will find some beers at the brewery you do not see in the stores down here.

One of these days I would love to stay nearby to be able to spend the whole afternoon playing disc golf and hanging out, but most of the time we keep driving and spend the night at Mendocino.

(Also, NEED to get to their annual Beer Fest, have had conflicts the last few years)

https://avbc.com/the-brewery/

Russian River Brew Pub

Russian River Brewery, more known for their Pliny the Elder and Younger than the dog friendly aspect.  I will admit, we have never brought the dog here, as most times it is either crazy packed or we are just stopping to stock up on Pliny and Blind Pig for home.  NOTE – apparently dogs have to be leashed outside the gated area, so they cannot be “in” the patio area with you…

Last time I was there was a Tuesday late-morning, so there were plenty of seats out front that the dog could be at.

What else is there to say about Russian River?  It is an experience for all beer nerds due to the cult following they have created.  So, this place is maybe more about the beer than worrying if the dog can make it (sorry Sara!!).

IMG_6275http://russianriverbrewing.com/brew-pub/

Stumptown Brewery

One of our favorite dog friendly weekends is the Russian River.  But, not Russian River Brewery, actually going to the river and staying at a cabin or one of the little inns nearby.

We can go to the river with the dog, take her to wineries, and a few dog friendly restaurants in Guerneville.  So, for going to the wineries all day, my treat is going to Stumptown at the end of the day.

Stumptown is right on the main road, located above the river.  Stumptown has a huge back patio that looks over a grassy area and the river.  People oftentimes pull their canoes/tubes up at Stumptown and grab a beer.

Technically, the dogs are only allowed in a small gated dog area.  I have seen several dogs in there before.  There is a small table you can sit at in the dog area, however it is not an idea place to have to sit (so, if you are not comfortable leaving your dog alone with other dogs, this may not be for you).

Sometimes, late at night or on weekdays when it is not busy, we have had the pup on the balcony with us, but it has to be quiet for that to happen.

The beer is decent, Rat Bastard Pale is my favorite.  We have never eaten there, but the food is basic bar fare.

You come here for the view and because it is the only brewery on the river!

http://stumptown.com/

Marin Brewing Company

Marin Brewing Company is right across the bay from SF.  Located in a small mall in Larkspur, you do not have high expectations as you fight to find parking.  However, once you get through the mall and to the main attraction, you will find a pretty hopping brewery with a ton of outdoor seats.

Again, this falls more under the brewpup than brewery theme, but they do have a great selection of their beers on tap.  They make a few good IPAs, 3 Flowers being my favorite.  They also have some unique fruit beers, including raspberry, blueberry and a peach beer.

Food is good enough, standard bar food.

Sometimes a great way to get out of the City and/or Karl the Fog as you can get there quickly and easily.

http://www.marinbrewing.com/

Iron Springs Pub

The most recent North Bay brewery we visited was Iron Springs.  Iron Spring is in Fairfax, and a great stop on the way home after a hike in the Marin Headlands/Fairfax.

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Pre-brewery hike at the aptly named Lake Lagunitas.

I had never heard of Iron Springs before recently, by finding the brewery online when looking for post-hike beer/lunch.  Now that I have been there, I have noticed it popping up in a few local bars.  This is for good reason, they make some quality beers.

I really enjoyed the Casey Jones Imperial IPA (which has a dog on the label!).  The JC Flyer IPA was also quite good.

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Very impressive flight at Iron Springs.

The food was pretty good as well.  A slightly more varied menu than a typical brewery.  NOthing fancy or too crazy, but a good amount of options.

Definitely a must stop after a day in the North Bay.

http://ironspringspub.com/the-pub/

Again, these are probably not all the dog friendly breweries in the greater North Bay area, but this is a pretty good start for a nice little road trip!  I will be writing an article about dog friendly breweries in the Tahoe/Gold Country area soon!

Let me know if I missed any in the comments.