|Denny Neilson and his son Matt at The Winemaker |
shop in Mevasseret Zion.
Denny welcomed me in his little shop, "The Winemaker," at 99 Shimon Swissa Street. "I'm afraid we have to talk here," he apologized, "because these are the hours that I have to man the store."
Denny is a true expert in what he calls the "fermentation arts." He might have gotten in on the crest of the Israeli wine and beer boom -- or he might have helped create it. At any rate, "The Winemaker" is today a very active enterprise, and is engaged in four distinct activities:
1) Teaching -- Wine-making, home-brewing, and, most recently, home-distillation.
2) Selling equipment and ingredients for making beer, wine and liquor at home.
3) Fermenting and marketing apple cider under the Buster's label.
4) Brewing and marketing Chutzpah IPA under the Isra-Ale label. This is what got me out here -- but more later.
|Buster's apple cider and Chutzpah IPA.|
He explains: "When we came on aliya ten years ago and I told people what I want to do, they said, 'Nobody drinks beer.' But we believed there was a market for people who wanted to make their own beer and wine. We wanted to provide a one-stop service for all of their needs. Our motto is, 'If we don't have it, you don't need it.'"
In addition to continuing courses in beer- and wine-making, Denny is introducing classes in distillation next month. "So many people applied," he says, "that we had to add on two additional groups." During the course of six months, the classes will make their own single malt whiskey, "moonshine," vodka and fruit brandy.
"We're starting the classes to teach people how to home-distill safely."
In the area of apple cider, Denny recently opened a fermenting plant in Beit Shemesh, and is now the third largest cider producer in Israel. ("Don't get too excited," he admits. "There might only be three real cider producers in Israel anyway.")
If you've ever tried Buster's cider at a beer festival or pub, or bought it at a retail store, you know it's a delicious drink. I'm not much a cider fancier, but for me, apple cider is intimately linked with the North American autumn: outdoor sports, powdered donuts, fireplaces. But Buster's is definitely a year-round drink. Denny said that the "kosher for Passover" apple cider is in high demand over Passover, when beer is forbidden. Buster's is available in the sweet variety (4.8% alcohol) or the dry (6.7% alcohol).
Now it's time for a little Chutzpah, what you've all been waiting for. This is the only beer currently being brewed at The Winemaker. "We call it an 'ass-kickin' IPA,' a beer drinker's beer," says Denny. "We make only 100 bottles a week, and most of the time, we're sold out in advance."
Denny poured me a glass of Chutzpah and, so help me, you can smell the hops as soon as he popped the cap. Chutzpah is made with six different expensive hops, and in quantities five to seven times the amount used in most Israeli beers. It is dry-hopped twice; once in a glass demijohn during regular fermentation, and then again seven days later in a different demijohn.
There is no doubt that Chutzpah is not a beer for everybody. (Denny says that he always asks first-time drinkers, "Are you sure?" before he draws them a pint of Chutzpah.) The intense aroma and taste of hops, the bitterness that floods over your tongue, the citrusy undertone -- all this will wallop the taste buds of anybody used to drinking tamer beers.
Because of the huge quantity of fresh hops used in making Chutzpah, it must be drunk fresh. "After about two weeks, the taste of the hops begins the dissipate and the malt becomes dominant," says Denny. "If we happen to have any Chutzpah in the shop which passes the two-week mark, I drink it myself."
That's the main reason you won't find Chutzpah in your local liquor store. With a shelf-life of only two weeks, Denny will only sell it at his own shop in Mevasseret Zion. The other reason is that Chutzpah doesn't fit into the commercial model for retail beers. With the extra time and expense needed to brew it, and the extensive labor, Chutzpah would have to sell at a cost higher than most retailers will allow. "Liquor stores don't really care about the quality or the ingredients of the beers they sell," Denny explains. "They just want the price to be low enough for quick sales. They don't think they could sell Chutzpah at the price we would need."
I respectfully disagreed with Denny, arguing that in my experience, there exists a niche market of Israelis who are willing to pay more for quality products, be it cars, clothing or alcohol.
Denny also told me that, in addition to Buster's cider and Chutzpah beer, The Winemaker will be unveiling a third alcoholic beverage in the spring. He would only call it "Product X," and promised that it would be special. "Start getting thirsty," he said.
I will be sure to let all of my readers know about Product X; Denny promised to invite me to the inaugural event! In the meantime, take it from this certified MBA that it is worth a trip to The Winemaker to bring home a six-pack (or more) of Chutzpah IPA. You won't find its like anywhere else in Israel.