March 31, 2014

Coming soon: Wheat Beer Tasting Panel

Another great Israel Brews and Views tasting panel will be held this week.  Your favorite gang of beer tasters will be commenting on and ranking Israeli wheat beers -- also known as hefeweizen and weissbiers -- made with malted wheat replacing a good part of the barley.

These light-bodied ales are cloudy, highly carbonated and not very bitter.  They generally have low alcoholic content and may be graced wth citrusy and spicy flavors.   

Just from eyeballing the shelves, I get the impression that more Israeli craft breweries brew a wheat beer than any other style.

We count around 20 Israeli wheat beers out there.  If we tasted them all in one sitting, you would have to carry the judges home in plastic bags.  So we're picking a nice variety of about eight beers from a representative cross section of Israeli craft breweries.

If you're not yet a subscriber, sign up now so as not to miss it.  Just type your e-mail in the little box in the right-hand column where it says, "Sign up for updates" and press "Submit."

You want to be here for the final verdicts.  

March 24, 2014

Another voice from Taybeh

My post of December 8, 2013, titled "My problem with Taybeh beer" has had the highest number of readers on my blog.  I can only guess that people are interested in the intersection of beer brewing and politics -- politics within the heavily-Moslem West Bank, and Taybeh beer's use of confrontation and anti-Israel rhetoric in its marketing.

Today, over three months after I posted the article, I can see that people are still reading "My problem with Taybeh beer" as the page views continue to climb.  I want to share with you a new comment from a reader in Taybeh (such is the power of the internet!) which sheds additional light on the Taybeh beer phenomenon, a side that is never included in press reports about Taybeh beer or its Oktoberfest. 

"I am a Palestinian Christian living in Taybeh and I agree with your post.  What you must know however is that the so-called Taybeh Oktoberfest is not an event in which the people of Taybeh participate, whether as attendees, hosts, etc.  This is largely a one man...I mean  The people of Taybeh are intentionally left out of the picture altogether.  The event does absolutely nothing in terms of "boosting the local economy" or "promoting Taybeh businesses" as the Khourys often recite to those who would listen.  We do however incur the costs of clean-up after the event each year which puts a heavy burden on a weak municipality which is already strapped for cash and is barely alive.

"David Khoury was the former mayor of Taybeh...for eight years no less...on account of the Palestinian Authority government freezing all elections until they could hammer out a national plan that unites all the parties.  We still don't have a unified government and the legislative council is still missing in action.  Most current policies are deployed through Abbas' "presidential decrees" or by one of his un-elected cronies.  Khoury leveraged his role as the mayor of Taybeh to boost his family's business, led by his brother Nadim, at the expense of Taybeh's common folk.

"As for why the Taybeh Oktoberfest wasn't held in Taybeh last year? Well, it was because the municipality had the nerve to ask the organizers of the festival to cover rental and clean-up costs for the event on municipal land since they were tired of footing the bill every year and being forced to cut costs of more important civil services.  Additionally, security was lax prior to moving the event to a Ramallah hotel.  The organizers did very little to protect the properties of local villagers or to remove drunken violent attendees who damaged property, cars, or started fights.  Of course these are things that are not mentioned in the media because no one has ever come to Taybeh to ask the people living here what they think of the event.

"Finally, most of the villagers do not hold the beer company in high regard.  The Khourys are thoroughly corrupt and are exploiting the village and its people for their own wealth.  As far as drinking Taybeh beer, many of us don't even buy or drink it.  The more popular brands here are your usual mainstream beers with Heineken taking the top spot.

"By the way, Maria Khoury is the wife of former mayor David Khoury and she is also the primary PR/Marketing brain behind the event and the company.  She is also a well-documented extremist in terms of her religious beliefs.  Many of us in Taybeh are sick of her hateful falsehoods.  Sadly, all you have to do is Google her and you'll see that she digs her claws into every available channel to recite her tired nonsense.  It's sickening and frankly it gives us, the people of Taybeh, a very bad name.  Taybeh is a biblical village.  It has been around for centuries. It is the home of ancient ruins that date back thousands of years but does anyone know that?  No.  We've been reduced to "that town that makes the beer."

"On a final note, let me say that I know that our two sides are locked in this perpetual conflict but I truly do hope that one day we can put aside our differences and live like neighbors.  I wish you all peace."

~ Rami from Taybeh
I would like to thank Rami for these interesting and, ultimately, quite brave comments.  There is always more going on beneath the surface than we are aware of and it's up to the people of Taybeh themselves to set their own agenda and decide what kind of a city they want to be. I also look forward to the day when we can live as neighbors and, as I wrote, if it's over a glass of beer, that would be even better.

March 17, 2014

Tel Aviv in Jerusalem

My search for comfortable watering holes in Jerusalem -- especially those which feature Israeli craft beers -- led me to the Tel Aviv Kitchen & Bar at 2 Ben-Shetach Street.

It's a dark and cozy place; a few tables and a bar inside, a few tables outside.  "We were the first ones to put tables on Ben-Shetach Street," says co-owner Gilad Levy.  That was about six years ago, soon after the restaurant opened.

"We wanted a place where students and young Jerusalemites could come and feel at home, with familiar food and good drinks," Gilad continues.  "We also wanted to keep the prices lower than the surrounding bars and restaurants so that students would be attracted.  My partner Itai Alter and I weren't much older than students at the time and we understood their situation."   

Itai Alter (left) and Gilad Levy,
owners of the Tel Aviv Kitchen & Bar in Jerusalem
Gilad calls their kitchen "American-style," which I guess is because the menu is top-heavy with hamburgers.  In fact, hamburgers and beer are why you come to the Tel Aviv Kitchen & Bar.  There are eight different kinds of hamburgers available in four different sizes -- plus a very delicious veggie burger for those who prefer not to chew cow.  There are also a few salads and all the side dishes you would expect in a burger restaurant.

The Israeli beers on tap are plain and unfiltered Goldstar and Shapiro Stout (24-28 shekels for an "Israeli pint").  In bottled beer, there are the three kinds of Herzl, Shapiro Pale Ale, Malka Blond, and Negev Oasis and Passion Fruit.  Prices range from 26 to 30 shekels. 

There is also a lovely selection of imported bottled beer, mostly Belgian strong blond ales, but also Monster Ale from Brooklyn and Fuller's IPA from England, which is definitely worth a taste.  Prices for these bottles are 26 to 33 shekels.   

The Tel Aviv Kitchen & Bar is also known for its home-made flavored arak(!), including peanut butter, banana, lotus, apple, cinnamon, and dried fruit.

There's a happy hour with 1 + 1 on all alcohol from 4:00 to 9:00 p.m.

The Tel Aviv Kitchen & Bar in Jerusalem is the place for a night out with familiar pub food and a good choice of Israeli craft beers.

Shushan Purim Sameach! 

March 10, 2014

Strange partners for new beers

Two major craft breweries have teamed up with some unusual partners to produce new beers.  One you can buy almost anywhere, but the other you can only get in the Negev town of Mitzpe Ramon.

A beer for a men's magazine

Alexander Blazer
The first unlikely brewing partner is Blazer, a Hebrew men's magazine, kind of like Esquire was in its heyday -- a mix of scantily clad young ladies, politics, culture and social commentary.  The editors of Blazer approached the Alexander Brewery in Emek Hefer with a proposal that they produce a beer which captures the experience of reading Blazer magazine.

They defined this as including articles which can be critical or inspiring ("bitter-sweet" if you will), not overly weighty, approachable and social, but which leave you with a strong taste long after you finish.

Sounds like a beer.

Ori Sagy and his brewing team at Alexander put their heads together and came up with Alexander Blazer, a beer which they call a golden strong ale.  I found it thoroughly enjoyable (with a nice hot lunch).  It's a cloudy beer with a thin head, but the sweetness of the malt and the bitterness of the hops are in perfect balance, so that neither really dominates.  I guess you can call this "bitter-sweet," though I've never heard this term used for a beer before.  The 8% alcohol by volume makes itself felt after the second swallow or so, as you enjoy the long, dry finish.  Another flavor I detected in there was, surprisingly, sour.  Now, this is definitely not a "sour beer" -- if there are any available in Israel, they're probably lambics from Belgium.  But I know what I tasted, and I liked it.

Alexander Blazer is sold in stores that carry other Alexander beers, so I recommend you try a bottle the next time you're looking for something new and different.

Think what could happen if this trend continues and other periodicals decide to sponsor new brews.  Maybe Ha'aretz will partner for a new IPA -- an Israel-Palestine Amalgamation.  Or Yediot Achronot will sponsor Bibi's Wicked Ale, a dark doppelbock dumkopf with no redeeming qualities.

A desert hotel brews a beer

Negev Beresheet
The other unusual brewing partner is a hotel -- in this case, the Beresheet Hotel in Mitzpe Ramon, a member of the Isrotel chain.  The hotel administration prides itself on cooperating with local craftsmen and businesses in the Negev.  In conversations with the Negev Brewery in Kiryat Gat, the hotel brought up the idea of a unique beer which would only be served at the hotel.  Of course, the beer's characteristics would have to reflect the ambiance of the hotel and the desert environment.

Beresheet Hotel
Mitzpe Ramon
Sagiv Karlboim, the head of Negev Brewery, told me that his brewers worked together with the hotel management to produce a beer which was suitable for the desert climate, a golden ale, "balanced between a delicate sweetness and bitterness, not heavy, with hops adding a flavor of tropical and citrus fruits."

The result was Negev Beresheet, with 4.7% alcohol.  Since I haven't been to the hotel, I haven't tasted the beer, but it sounds like a good summertime drink.  Even if Negev Brewery cannot sell it in regular stores, maybe they'll be able to serve it at beer festivals where they participate.  The hotel will benefit from the publicity and the name recognition that's generated.

Hey Juniper Boy

While we're on the subject of new beers, I should mention, well, a semi-new beer from Dancing Camel in Tel Aviv -- Hey Ju-Boy.

Yeah, you heard that right.  If this was a beer from a non-Jewish brewer, it certainly wouldn't pass quietly.  But brewmaster David Cohen has no problem with this provocative name.  The "Ju" refers to juniper berries, he told me, which are used in brewing this beer.  Juniper berries are best known for making gin, which they give its unique taste.  In Finland, they make a beer called sahti which is flavored with rye and juniper.

Fresh juniper berries
"Hey Ju-Boy is a light blond ale, at 5.6% ABV" says David.  "We brewed it once before with a higher alcoholic content.  Only ten kegs were brewed of this current batch.  One keg went to the Bodega in Efrat, one to the Beer Market in the Jaffa Port, and the others were served at the Dancing Camel's brewery and our pub in Florentine, Tel Aviv."

By the end of February, they were sold out.  Alas, I had this horrible cold and cough just then, so I missed tasting the Ju-Boy.  I'm going to have to wait until the next batch, whenever.  But by then, I hope we'll have other new Israeli beers to add to our national repertoire -- and I don't care if it takes some strange partners to make them.