May 26, 2015

Two new beers on the Israeli market (for now)

Within the last few weeks, several new Israeli craft beers have made their appearance on the Israeli market.  I hope to write about them all (not an easy task), but for now I'll mention two which won't be permanent.  Both are seasonal or time-limited.

Blazer from the Negev Brewery in Kiryat Gat

The first is the third version of a Blazer beer, brewed in conjunction with Blazer Magazine, a Hebrew-language men's publication specializing in sports, automobiles, fashion, food and drink, and women.  This Blazer beer was brewed by the Negev Brewery in Kiryat Gat, but previous Blazer beers were brewed by Jem's Beer Factory in Petach Tikva and Alexander Brewery in Emek Hefer (which you can read about here.)

As always, the magazine claims that it wants to brew a beer that its readers would want to drink.  This is strange, since I imagine that among the readers of Blazer, there are those who like their beer hoppy and bitter, or malty and sweet; light-bodied, or heavy; low in alcohol, or strong.

But what do I know.  The program certainly brings marketing and PR benefits to the magazine, and the participating breweries also share the spotlight.  

Yishai Auman, in charge of marketing at the Negev Brewery, told me that Negev's brewmaster, Tomer Ronen, produced Negev Blazer by combining elements of an American IPA (India pale ale), including two weeks of dry-hopping (steeping hops in the beer during fermentation), with hallmarks of a Belgian trippel, full-bodied, sweet and strong.   

Anyway, when I tasted it, I found the Negev version of Blazer beer to be quite similar to the Alexander version.  It poured a very appetizing dark amber color.  You could already sense the sweetness in the aroma, along with the hop character.  The taste was sweet caramel, cherries and/or berries.  This was nicely balanced by the bitterness of the hops.  Alcoholic content is a solid 6.9%.  I wrote that the Alexander Blazer was "bitter-sweet," not a common appellation for a beer, and I have to say that the Negev Blazer also fits this description.   

This is a beer that suits any occasion, winter or summer, with food or without.  Its strong flavor should pair well with any spicy cuisine, flavorful salads, and non-chocolate desserts. 

Yishai said that the original batch of Blazer was snatched up quickly from store shelves.  There really is none left.  But, he added, "we have done an additional brewing of Blazer and it should soon be in stores.  So those who missed out the first time will now be able to buy and enjoy our Blazer."

Amarillo 2015 India Pale Ale from 
Shapiro Brewery in Beit Shemesh

The new Shapiro IPA is made with American Amarillo hops, prominently proclaimed on the bottle.  These are hops grown in the West Coast state of Washington and give the beer a sweet citrus aroma and taste, specifically orange.  Amarillo hops are enjoying something of a trend these days and are popular in both the U.S. and Israel.

Until just a few years ago, Israeli brewers believed that the powerful flavor of hops and bitterness of India pale ales were too extreme for Israeli tastes.  Not any more.  As Israeli beer drinkers were exposed to strong IPAs from abroad, they developed a taste for this style of beer.  Today, at least 15 Israeli craft brewers are making IPAs.     

Shapiro IPA pours out a lovely mid-amber color with a creamy head.  You can smell the strong hops even before you bring the glass to your nose, a sure sign of an IPA.  Along with the citrus aroma and taste (orange-grapefruit), I also detected a nice piney finish.  The beer's hop bitterness is slightly mitigated by the malt base which also comes through.  The alcoholic strength is 6.5%.

I found this to be a very refreshing and drinkable beer.  It pairs well with any spicy or strong food and cheese, fried foods, and even rich, sweet desserts.

Itzik Shapiro, a partner in the brewery, told me that he intends to bring out a different version of an IPA every spring, "in time for Independence Day."  Shapiro Brewery has been doing something similar with their Jack's Winter Ale, brewing a different dated version at the start of every winter.

I've noticed that even now in Jerusalem it's not easy to find the 2015 Shapiro IPA, with its distinctive blue label and turbaned lion.  So if you come across a bottle, don't hesitate to buy it and enjoy a thoroughly Israeli IPA.  The beer is also available on tap in Jerusalem at the Bardak Pub, Borla, Tuvia, and the Glen Whisky Bar, and in Tel Aviv at the Agnes Pub. 

May 12, 2015

Israeli craft beer at the Jerusalem market

For me, a Jerusalemite who does not have easy access to the beer superstores in Tel Aviv, the best bottle shops for buying alcoholic beverages are along Agrippas Street near the Machane Yehuda market.  For years, I've been singing the praises of Hamisameach (64 Agrippas), which has the largest selection of Israeli beers, and I've been encouraging the other store owners to offer more of them.    

Yayin BaShuk owner Matan Levy
at his new mix-and-match section
for Israeli craft beers.
Maybe my kind words, or perhaps public pressure, are beginning to be heard.

Last week, another store, Yayin BaShuk ("Wine in the Market" at 63 Agrippas), unveiled a nice size section devoted to Israeli craft beers.  Nine brands to be exact -- Ahuzat Bayit, Alexander, Bazelet, Emek Ha'ela, Herzl, Jem's, Malka, Ronen, and Shapiro.

Even better: Owner Matan Levy has devised a unified pricing system where you can buy a mix of any of the above beers on a declining scale.  The more you buy, the cheaper is the per bottle cost.  For example, one bottle costs 15 shekels.  But if you buy a mix-and-match six pack, the cost drops to 11.50 shekels per bottle, an excellent price for craft beer.

So, for those readers who live in Jerusalem, or are visiting, let's get over to Yayin BaShuk and show Matan Levy that he made a great marketing decision by promoting Israeli craft beer.  And please tell him that you read about it here.  Thanks.    


Zman Amiti Beer Festival in Tel Aviv: Friday, May 22

The sixth Zman Amiti mini beer festival is taking place Friday, May 22, in Tel Aviv at the Zman Amiti school for bar tending, 23 Elefelet Street. That's way south near the Jaffa border. It's a good occasion to taste some new and not-so-new Israeli craft beers in a convenient, compact venue. If you have the time and the inclination, stop in. Noon to 6:00 pm. If you recognize me, step up and say hello.

April 26, 2015

Last beers before Passover -- Florida 2015

I think that in our 44 years of living in Israel, my wife Trudy and I have spent Passover back in the U.S. only twice.

This year was one of them.

The chalkboard at the Kapow Bar and Pub.
And so it was that I found myself having my last beer before Passover in the Kapow Bar and Pub in the Mizner Park section of Boca Raton in southern Florida.  We had come over to have the Passover seder (holiday meal) with my mother and our son Ami who lives in Washington, DC.  My mother is very sensitive about her age being known, so the most specific I can be is to say that it is approaching three digits.

In the days before we went to Kapow, I had the chance to taste two different American craft beers.

The first was Wild Blue, my first "premium blueberry lager," from Blue Dawg Brewery in Baldwinsville, New York. The label says that this beer is brewed with real blueberry juice, and in fact, it poured a dark ruby red with a purple head -- something I've never seen before.

The aroma was slightly indistinct fruity, but the taste was unmistakably bitter blueberry.  Rather nice.  The fruit blended very well with the malt, and then faded into a strong alcohol taste -- not surprising for a beer with 8% alcohol by volume.

Fruit-flavored beers are not my cup of tea, but this Wild Blue Lager was not at all bad.

I also had a 312 Urban Wheat Ale from Goose Island Brewery at an undetermined location.  I'm not a great fan of wheat beers either, but I was intrigued by the "Urban" in the title.  Apparently, "urban" means "something different," since it tastes like no other wheat beer I've had.  Hazy and the color pf pale straw, 312 Urban had little of the characteristic clove and banana aromas and tastes of a wheat beer.  Rather, it was refreshing and fruity with a very mild sweetness.  At only 4.2 ABV, it was very easy to drink and the light taste went well with my spaghetti dinner.

(My friend Jaime Jurado, Director of Brewing Operations at the Abita Brewing Company in Louisiana, informed me that both Blue Dawg and Goose Island Breweries are now owned by big beer, in this case the biggest, Anhauser-Busch InBev.  The Wild Blue, he says, is made with blueberry flavor and color, which are added to the beer.  Jaime said that there is a world of difference between beers which add fruit flavor and color this way, and those which use real fruit in the brewing process.)

Our visit to the Kapow Bar and Pub took place on the night before Passover, when we had our final meal containing leavened grain.  This is what is prohibited during the seven-day holiday, and it includes all bread, pastries, pasta, etc. -- and, of course, beer.

Danny Murphy served the old blogger
his last beer before Passover.
Our friendly waiter understood our situation.  His name was Danny Murphy ("A nice Jewish name, right?") and he had been in Israel last summer on a Birthright program which brings young Jews on free ten-day visits to Israel

I asked Danny if there were any local craft beers on tap which warrant being my last beer before Passover.  He offered me two to taste.

The first was the Vanilla Oak Dry-Hopped South End from SaltWater Brewery in Delray Beach, Florida -- very close to where my mother lives.  It was a very light-colored American pale ale with a strong hop aroma -- not less than any aggressive IPA.  It had a citrus taste which was mild and fruity, probably closest to red grapefruit with drops of vanilla.  I learned later that this beer is aged on "high vanilla American oak" staves (whatever those are) and with an experimental hop numbered 05256.  How very James Bond-ish.  

The other beer was the OP Porter, an American milk porter from the Funky Buddha Brewery in Oakland Park, Florida.  This one came to my table full black with no head and very little carbonation.  Although I am not a great porter fan, I loved this beer's taste combo of coffee, chocolate and sour cherry, along with the full roasty body of a strong porter.  OP Porter is brewed with added milk sugar and has a 6.3% alcoholic content.  This is the beer I chose to have with my spicy rice and vegetables.

I discovered that instead of extinguishing the fire of my food, the OP Porter was spreading it.  The burning sensation rippled across my sensitized tongue.  I don't recommend this for everybody, but I found that this heightened pain actually intensified the taste of the food.  Maybe I'm just a foodie masochist!

After wishing Danny a Happy Passover, I left Kapow feeling ready for the seven-day beer fast.
Wine replaces beer for a week:
with my mom before
the Passover seder.

Passover began on a Friday night. For my ageless mom, it was the first time she was at a seder in our family setting in over 20 years.  She enjoyed everything about it: the special foods, the historical narrative and the traditional songs.    

Trudy and I also enjoyed being in southern Florida for the holiday: the days were sunny and pleasant and we visited the magnificent Everglades National Park and Key Largo.

But we also missed being in Jerusalem, where you really feel the holiday everywhere and at all time: in the stores and restaurants, on TV and radio, on the streets full of kids off from school, tourists visiting the Holy Land, and Israeli families enjoying a week-long vacation.

It was good to get back home and catch up with our excellent Israeli craft beers.  They definitely hold their own against the beers I tasted in the U.S. -- including those from a local Miami brewery we visited.

But more on that later.

March 28, 2015

Podcast on four Israeli beers

Those Brew-Drink-Run guys are at it again.  This time they put up a podcast where they sit around, drinking four Israeli craft beers and commenting on them.  These are some of the beers that Lee Heidel brought back to Savannah, Georgia, from his visit to Israel.

The beers are Herzl Embargo, Negev Passiflora, Dancing Camel Midnight Stout and  Shapiro's Jack's Winter Ale.

The only thing they can read on the labels are the English names.

Enjoy listening to them here.

March 27, 2015

The Mateh Yehuda beer event

There was nothing new at the Mateh Yehuda beer event held March 19-20 on Kibbutz Netiv Halamed Hey.  Seven booths for seven brewers, all from the Mateh Yehuda region, plus a few food vendors selling hot dogs and hummus.  Suitable for this time of year, the booths were indoors, in a kind of warehouse structure.  Not very festive.

But it did give me a chance to renew old acquaintances with the brewers there:

Shapiro and Buster's:
Before the imbibers arrived. 
Itzik Shapiro from Shapiro Brewery (Beit Shemesh)

Itzik told me that his brewery's Purim charity project, with customers buying cases of 24 beer bottles with personal labels, was a big success.  More than 100 cases were sold, with the profits going to the Shekel charitable organization, providing community services for people with special needs.

He also said that Shapiro was bringing out a new, as yet unnamed beer later this year.

Denny Neilson from Isra-Ale and Buster's (Mevasseret Zion and Noham)

It was a great pleasure to taste Denny's double IPA, Chutzpah, which is normally available only at his brewery and store.  (Read more about Denny and his Chutzpah here.)

Amir Lev from Mosco (Moshav Zanoach)

I tried Amir's new Pilsner lager, which will probably not be brought to the market anytime soon.  It's very light and mild, only 3.8% alcohol by volume, and I found it quite taste deficient.  (You can read the story behind Mosco Beers here.)

Home-brewer Mark Markish by the
Hashahar Brewery booth,
with Ronnie Calderon.
Ronnie Calderon from Hashahar (Mevasseret Zion)

I re-acquainted myself with his IPA, a flavorful and refreshing beer, though not as hops-forward as other IPAs.  (Read about Ronnie and Sharon Calderon and their home brewery here.)

Aram Dekel from Abeer Ha'ela (Kibbbutz Tzafririm)

My friends and I paused to sip and savor his "Crispy," a delicious honey-wheat beer that Aram told me would pair well with any strong cheese.

Leon Solomon from Samson (Kibbutz Tzora)

Harriet and Leon Solomon at the
Samson Brewery booth.
Leon and his wife Harriet were pouring beer and selling soft pretzels in what may be Samson's final event.  Leon recently closed his pub on the kibbutz.  The good news is that he's not going to stop
brewing, if only for his family and friends.

I tried his stout, which was missing when I visited him a few months ago (read about it here), and found it creamy and delicious, with a nice roasted malt taste well balanced with the hops.  

Ofer Ronen from Srigim Brewery -- Ronen and Emek Ha'ela (Moshav Srigim)

Ofer told me that the brewery is expanding and that he is looking into the possibility of exporting his beers.  I wish him much luck.  Alexander and Malka are already in the U.S. and selling well in a number of states.

Afterwards, Barak Katz, one of the event's organizers from the Mateh Yehuda Regional Council, told me that the local beer festival is usually held twice a year, though there was none this past summer.

"This one was put at the last weekend of our Rural Food Festival, and is intended more for local area residents," he added.  "We are already planning our big beer festival for the end of June or the end of August.  I'll keep you informed.  That's my job."

And I'll keep all of you informed -- on this and all the other 2015 beer festivals that are coming our way.

March 24, 2015

Here for the beer, here for the run

Lee and Ginger Heidel with
their Israeli craft beer.
Lee and Ginger Heidel from Savannah, Georgia, came to Israel to run in the Jerusalem Marathon -- or at least in the shorter versions.  He for the 10 kilometer; she for the five.  They came as guests of the Israel Ministry of Tourism, along with other journalists, who were invited to write about their experiences in the marathon.  

But Lee is also a colleague of mine, a well-known beer blogger writing for Brew Drink Run and The Manual, The Essential Guide for Men.  

Choosing Israeli craft beer
in Hamisameach.
Lee found me via Israel Brews and Views and asked if I could help acquaint him and Ginger with the local craft beer scene during this, their first visit to Israel.  In the short time we had during their very tight schedule, I took them to the Hamisameach liquor store in Jerusalem's Machane Yehuda market, where I actually surprised myself by being able to describe almost all of the Israeli craft beers on display.  Lee bought some dozen bottles of the beers to enjoy back in Georgia and hopefully to write about them on his blog.

Savannah beer to Israel;
Israeli beer to Savannah.
Lee and Ginger presented me with a bottle of Rally Point Bohemian Style Pilsner from the Service Brewing Co. in Savannah, with the instruction to wait until a nice warm day to drink it.  I will.

I'm happy that I was able to play a small role in the success of the Heidels' visit to Israel, where they continued their quest for craft beers around the world.

You can read about what Lee had to say in The Manual here, and in Brew Drink Run here.

Lee wrote yet another article on his visit to Jerusalem in Connect Savannah.  You can read that one here.