Thursday 7 May 2015
The long dead cohabit with the restless living and the beer list just keeps improving
Mercato di Mezzo, Bologna. It’s calm and careful, gustatory, as a Sunday evening of couples promenade with late night kids in tow, delighted as mum and dad lift a glass to toast some fortune or other (but the laughter will be stilled when the reveille is called in the morning), and then I spot a chef grilling, the word calamari pinned somewhere on the stall, followed by the fairground-tough aromatics of fried food elbowing their way through the elegant air, calamari, prawns, gloved in batter, crisp and salty and dotted with lemon juice. I order and then grab a table and look across and see the sign for Birra Baladin. I keep an eye on my food and order a glass of Super Bitter, as far from a traditional bitter as can be. The imperious wave of a conductor (Toscanini rather than the metronomic tick-tock of von Karajan thank god) brings the scent of deep, rugged, sensual orange marmalade to the nose alongside a spear thrust into the side of bitterness; almond, marzipan and sweetness on the palate start their descent to be cut off by an assertive bitterness, sticky almost, a big beer that beams in with a missile-like accuracy on the salty, citrus, crunchy, still briny impact of the seafood. As I crunch and sip, I sift through the weekend and recall the bitterness of White Dog’s American Pale Ale at Saturday’s farmers’ market, beneficially bitter, robust and yet mellow. Then I remember Friday night and the barman (and brewer) in Birra Cerqua, where at the back of the small bar there stands a kit of Italian-built stainless steel, while fermenting vessels cower behind opaque glass panels to my right (I told you it was narrow). A glass of Q-Ale, made with German malt and English hops I am told. It is pale gold, hazy, bittersweet and refreshing. ‘We brew on Sundays.’ Another result of this work is the rye beer, earthy and erudite. Back to Sunday, the day when the brewers of Cerqua are busy, the dominant vibe of Mercato di Mezzo as I look about are glasses being raised, the aromatics of fried fish, the deep undercover agents of cured meat and aged cheese and the empty, thin-sounding, TB-cough of an empty coffee carton as it rolls off on the empty floor. Later on, it’s time for Green River, another one room bar, a place that could have been a butchers’ (yet there is no smell of blood in the air), or perhaps it was a tailor’s, where each morning a mournful man washed the portico-shaded front of his shop with the dedicatory air of a penitent, or perhaps it was just another bar. Green Petrol from Brewfist, a Black IPA, smooth, robust, roastiness leashed, citrus flutters amongst the darkness, an ideal metaphor for Bologna, where the long dead cohabit with the restless living and the beer list just keeps improving.