The tyranny of distance (for Aussie beer drinkers)

One of the joys (and frustrations) of travelling is seeing new and/or different business ideas executed well.

Our apartment in Rome was just a couple of doors away from perhaps the best executed specialist beer bar I’ve seen outside of Belgium.  The hole in the wall, with the cool moniker of Ma Che Siete Venuti a Fà (which translates roughly as “what the hell are you doing here?”), was a true revelation.

Italian beer barI’d never really picked up a beer culture in Italy beyond the pale, insipid Peroni etc one sees everywhere. This place turned that impression on its head.  Here were 14 taps of artisinal beers from nearby lands (Belgium, Netherlands, Germany, Denmark, Britain) and the ‘hood (i.e. Italy), all fantastic quality, diverse in style, well-explained by the friendly barman, willing to give you a taste and enthuse about the offerings.  And, this was all delivered at competitive prices (nothing more than 6 Euro a pint).

The set up was decidely unpretentious, with most beers consumed standing out in the small, cobbled street or perched on the small number of stools.  There was no food on offer, but plenty within staggering distance.  No one was over-inebriated. All seemed most happy discussing the beer and the football on tv.

This is exactly what I’d love to see in Melbourne.  But the problem is one of distance and the associated costs.  No one could get such beers in kegs to Australia quick enough or cheap enough (especially once excise is hurled on top), so the variety and quality just wouldn’t be there.  What we do end up with is such European beers (in bottles) that are priced out of reach of all but the most eager/profligate, and/or the compulsion to pair such beers with overpriced food as some sort of destination venue.

The other option is cheerleading for the local microbrewers and trying to build a broad enough suite of offerings (which the Local Taphouse has made a good fist of in Melbourne).

Interestingly, that was the strategy of the bar across the road in Rome.  It only offered Italian microbrews (including some amazing stuff in 750ml bottles, such as collaboration between an Italian mob and US brewer Dogfish Head called My Antonia), but was smart enough to offer loads of tables, and excellent, cheap food (including the best pizza we’ve had in Italy this trip). This strategy worked extremely well due to the spillover from the destination bar.

I’d travel a long way for Ma Che Siete Venuti a Fà. Many others would too – it has topped the global ranking tables at the Ratebeer website in the past. Unfortunately, no bar in Australia can make such a claim.

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