April 23, 2014

First beer after Passover

Passover had not ended more than one hour earlier when I had my first beer.  It was a . . .  Tuborg Red.

Like any hungry person eating something after a long fast, I thought it tasted just fine.

It happened while Trudy and I were attending our first big, public Maimouna celebration -- the post-Passover feast traditionally held by Jews from North Africa.  It was on Moshav Sde Nitzan in the western Negev near Gaza, where we had spent the last days of the holiday with our friends Frank and Maxene Perlmutter.

The Maimouna was hosted by a Moroccan family, members of the moshav, in their huge truck-loading facility. There were dozens of different kinds of the traditional Moroccan sweets and pastries, including mufleta served with butter and honey, fresh fruits, candy, liquor -- and beer.

The beer being served was either Tuborg Red or Carlsberg, both made by Israel Beer Breweries Ltd. in Ashkelon.  Yes, authentic industrial beer, the kind that precipitated the craft beer revolution around the world.

But the Tuborg hit the spot after a beer-free week.  The crispness of the amber lager and the 5.2% alcohol went well with the super-sweet confections, cutting the sugary, honey tastes, actually making them more palatable.  

Some people like to drink a glass of water or seltzer when they eat ice cream. It dilutes the sweetness that builds up in your mouth.  Well, beer actually does it better (there are even those who enjoy a strong stout with ice cream), and an amber lager like Tuborg Red does it even better.  And with the Moroccan music blaring in the background, it was even better.

Oh well, only 49 more weeks to go until next Passover.  How many beers does that hold?

Tirb'chu v'Tisadu!

April 16, 2014

Kosher for Passover beer? -- Maybe for next year.

Passover, the joyous festival of spring and redemption, casts an ominous cloud over beer lovers who keep the dietary laws.  For beer, that delicious potion which depends on the fermentation of barley or wheat, is the granddaddy of chametz, leavened grain, which is strictly forbidden for the seven (or eight) days of Passover.

What if . . . ?
But what if there could be a beer that is Kosher for Passover?  Ah, not only would it sell like hot matza around the world, but the Jews would have light and gladness, joy and feasting.

If it were up to Bryan Meadan of Har Halutz near Carmiel, we would all be enjoying Kosher for Passover beer by next Passover.

Born in Montreal, Bryan spent some time in southern California before immigrating to Israel in 1982.  He is married with one son and three daughters.  He works as a computer programmer, building websites and doing consulting, most recently for his own company, Cyber Steps.  

Bryan and his brew.
But our story starts when Bryan was diagnosed with celiac disease eight years ago.  This is an immune response to gluten -- a substance found in wheat, barley, rye and other grains -- which can cause serious damage to the intestine.

Bryan was able to find adequate substitutes for breads, pastries and pastas -- but the thing he missed the most was beer.

"I love beer," he declares, "and the very few gluten-free beers available in Israel were all imported, expensive and not very good."

So he did what any beer lover would do: he started to brew his own.

Brewing with buckwheat.
Bryan worked with buckwheat (koosemet in Hebrew), a grain which does not contain gluten.  After a period of experimentation (including using quinoa and honey), he developed a recipe which satisfied his own demands for beer.

"We use buckwheat and silan (date syrup)," he explains, "and lots of hops.  The result is a gluten-free beer that I love."

Apparently, other beer drinkers -- and not only celiac patients -- loved the beer as well.  Bryan began selling the beer, and eventually moved his brewing to the Mivshelet Ha'am shared facility in Even Yehuda..

Meadan Gluten-Free
Buckwheat Malt Ale.
"We malt our own organic buckwheat," Bryan says, "which takes around two weeks to make enough for a batch of 200 liters of beer.  We can't make enough beer to meet the demand."  Today, Meadan Gluten-Free Buckwheat Malt Ale is sold in several restaurants and stores in the Galilee and the Central Region, and in Olam HaTeva near the Machane Yehuda market in Jerusalem.   

I tried the beer and found it had a very hoppy aroma (which I like), and a gentle bitter aftertaste.  Not being used to the flavor of malted buckwheat, my first impressions were of bitterness without the "taste" of beer.  I can understand where some beer drinkers would find this a bit of a hurdle.  Still, Meadan Beer has its own unique style which would appeal to people who appreciate strong hops with a very malty taste.   

By now, you're probably asking: "What does this have to do with Kosher for Passover beer?"

The thing is, the same qualities which make a beer gluten-free have the potential for making it Kosher for Passover.

The rabbis have decided that only fermentation in the following grains can make food chametz, or unfit for Passover: Wheat, barley, rye, spelt and oats.  And these are the same grains which contain gluten!  (Note: Even though oats are inherently gluten-free, they are usually contaminated with wheat gluten during growing and processing.)

Therefore, if a food item is gluten free, it probably cannot be chametz, and is therefore Kosher for Passover.

"Not so fast there," Bryan warns me.  "There are other factors as well.

"In the first place, even though buckwheat cannot become chametz, it is considered a legume (kitniya), which means that many Ashkenazi Jews do not eat it on Passover.  There is also the problem that my beer looks like any other beer, and the rabbis may withhold certification because: 'People will see observant Jews drinking Meadan beer on Passover and think it's okay to drink any beer.'

"But the biggest obstacle," continues Bryan, "is that I need a brewing facility which is free from any wheat and barley in order to get Kosher for Passover certification.  The Mivshelet Ha'am facility, where I brew now, certainly does not qualify.  There is no alternative: I have to open my own brewery."  

Bryan has crunched some numbers and believes that demand for Kosher for Passover beer would be huge.  "Our own poll shows that some 40% of Israelis would drink Kosher for Passover beer if it were available.  For one week a year, we will be the only beer on the shelf.  Even people who don't care about the kashrut will drink it -- and they will continue to buy it year-round because it's good beer.  The export potential to major Jewish centers is also there."

But everything depends on Bryan getting his own brewing facility.  "I am looking for investors who will also be able to work as partners.  Not only will our own facility enable us to approach the Kosher for Passover market, but we will also be able to meet the daily demand for a quality gluten-free, celiac-friendly beer.  Believe me, most people who are limited to drinking gluten-free brews rarely get the opportunity to taste something like this."        

If you are in a position to join Bryan in this amazing business adventure, or if you know someone who is, you can contact him through his website: www.meadan.com/

 . . . . or should that "Hoppy"?
Who knows?  If Bryan is able to achieve his dream, beers lovers at this time next year will be looking forward to Passover with glee rather than trepidation.

April 14, 2014

Last beer before Passover

Sort of like "the last exit before Brooklyn," I have to get off the beer train before we cross into forbidden territory. 

To celebrate the end of eating leavened grain for seven days, Trudy and I ate a veggie hot dog dinner last night, with mustardy buns and beans and pickles and potato chips.  All great stuff for we two American-born and -bred Israelis.

I eased it down with sips of Sparrow Brewery's new Zythos Wheat IPA.  I haven't seen any Sparrow beer in Jerusalem.  I bought a bottle when I visited Beer & Beyond in Tel Aviv a few weeks ago.      

It was an excellent choice.  Using wheat in an IPA is not very common, and in this case it adds a little of the sweetness and crispness of a wheat beer to the IPA hoppiness.  And these are not just any hops.  As the name says, these are Zythos hops, a special blend of West Coast U.S. hops which was formulated to enhance the aroma and flavor of IPAs.  Wow, does it ever!   

I got strong notes of citrus, particularly red grapefruit (how delicious was that!), and a little bit of pine and spice.  It ends with the bitterness you expect from a good IPA.  In short, a thoroughly enjoyable ale which would go well by itself on a hot day, or with any strong, spicy dish -- or even American-style hot dogs and beans.

This is a new brew from Sparrow -- I think just two months old -- and I would like to find out more about their other beers and the brewery itself.  I will make this my mission after Pesach some time.  The owner of Sparrow Brewery is Dror Sapir from Moshav Magshimim and the beer is brewed at Mivshelet Ha'am in Even Yehuda.

Sparrow's Zythos Wheat IPA was a good last beer to have before Passover.  Now it's a week of apple cider, arak and slivovitz.  Not especially bad -- but not beer.  Maybe by next year, we will have a Kosher for Passover beer.  Stay tuned.

With Passover and Easter upon us, I want to wish a very happy holiday to all my readers.  
!חג כשר ושמח  

April 2, 2014

"Guest Curator of Artisanal Beer" -- Hey, that's me!

With absolutely no fanfare, I was recently named the "Guest Curator of Artisanal Beer" on the Curated Israel website.  This is a New York-based site specializing in Israeli design -- jewelry, fashion and accessories, judaica, art, and food.  

Diane Kaston, Head Curator
Curated Israel

When I was asked by the Head Curator and webmaster, Diane Kaston, to recommend Israeli beers to go with their recipes (in other words, food and beer pairings), I humbly accepted.  It is a task that I enjoy and will hopefully grow into. 

You can read my first attempt here.

I think it could be very frustrating for readers outside of Israel, since only very few of our craft beers are available abroad, and that is only in major cities.  In fact, many of our excellent craft beers are not even available everywhere in Israel!
Here's hoping that changes soon, and beer lovers all around the world will be able to buy Israeli craft beers in their stores and restaurants as easily as they buy European and American imports.