May 26, 2014

Golan Brewery double bock comparison: Bazelet vs Og Alon

The Golan Brewery in Katzrin, the capital of the Golan Heights, was one of the first and is one of the more established craft breweries in Israel.  It's hard to call it "micro" when it is planning this year to top production of 300,000 liters.  Opened in 2006, Golan changed its brand name to Bazelet in 2009 when the famous Golan Winery joined them as a partner, bringing in professionalism, capital investment, marketing savvy, and proven sales.

The Golan Brewery today markets four beers under the Bazelet label: Wheat (5.1% ale), Pilsner (4.9% lager), Double Bock (8% lager), and Amber (6.4% ale).  They also brew seasonal beers under the Og brand.  (Og was the Biblical king of Bashan which was on the Golan.)  Og beers are sold in distinctive squat bottles of 330 milliliters.  The styles have included Og Keitzi, a summer pale ale, Og Wheat Double Bock, Og Gingi, a red lager, and Og Alon, a double bock lager aged in oak.

This last one is what got me interested.  Why brew a seasonal double bock when there's already one in your regular line?

Bazelet double
bock vs . . .
Og Alon
I put the question to Michael Giladi, the Belgium-born new brewery manager.  "Even though they're both double bock styles, they're very different beers," Mike told me.  "Og Alon is a joint venture of two very talented professionals: Michael Avery, the Australian-born winemaker at the Golan Winery, and Omri Zilberman, the Golan Brewery brewmaster.  For more details Mike sent me to Omri.

Omri said that double bocks (or doppelbocks) are lager beers that were first brewed in Germany (historically associated with the town of Einbeck) when there was an economic need to transport beer further afield than just the immediate area of the brewery.  Just like India Pale Ales hundreds of years later, double bocks were strengthened for the journey by higher percentages of hops and alcohol.

Some say that double bocks are cold weather beers, and in fact, Og Alon was brewed to appear at the end of winter.  (I admit I should have written this post a few months ago.)  Double bocks are also known as "liquid bread" and were reportedly brewed by German monks to drink during Lent instead of food.           
The Bazelet line in cork-topped
750 milliliter bottles.
They are known for their intense malty sweetness, just cut by bitterness of the hops.  They are strong beers, typically 7-8% alcohol.  No doubt the monks appreciated that too during the somber days of Lent.

Omri added: "Characteristics such as color, aroma, body and bitterness didn't interest the brewers of double bock beer.  That's why even today, double bocks can be so different one from the other.

"This is certainly the case with our two beers.  The original recipes are completely different.  Bazelet Double Bock gets its range of aromas and flavors from the brewing process.  Og Alon gets its aromas and flavors from aging in old oak wine barrels."

Other seasonal beers
in the Og line.
Israel Brews and Views did its own tasting to discover the differences.

We began first with the Bazelet, its 8% ABV putting it firmly in the double bock category.  It pours dark brown with a rich and foamy tan head.  The aroma is of roasted malts.  The taste is also overwhelmingly malty, which is nicely balanced by a very low hop bitterness.  My drinking partner enjoyed the "complexities" of the flavor, but was unable to pinpoint them more specifically.

The Og Alon has a much lighter honey color, even though it is fractionally more alcoholic (8.5% ABV).  It's not the alcohol you feel first; it's the strong fruit aromas, something I wasn't expecting in a double bock.  The hop aroma and taste are stronger than in Bazelet Double Bock, but still are balanced by the full malted barley taste.  I'm sure the aging in oak contributed something grand to Og Alon's overall drinkability, but I couldn't place it.        

All-in-all, I much preferred the Og Alon and I plan to enjoy it often, either by itself or with a hearty meal such as roasted vegetables or ratatouille.  I've already given two bottles as gifts.

So, a belated welcome to Og Alon 2014 seasonal double bock beer.  Try it before it disappears from the shelves.     

May 4, 2014

Results of the Israel Brews and Views -- Wheat Beer Tasting Panel

The results are in for the Israel Brews and Views Tasting Panel for Israeli wheat beers, which was held shortly before Passover.

Session One contenders.
Because of the large number of Israeli wheat beers available, we held two tasting panel sessions.  In the first session, eight wheat beers were tasted by our eight-person panel of reliable, impartial -- although amateur -- judges.  The beers were divided up into two groups: five standard Bavarian-style wheat beers (hefeweizen or weissbiers), and three wheats brewed with additional ingredients for flavor, color and body.

Later on, a second smaller panel tasted four
Session Two contenders.
additional standard wheat beers, which were judged separately.  We therefore tasted a total of 12 Israel wheat beers.  According to our rough calculation, however,  there are still about ten Israeli wheats we have not tasted.  We hope to get to these in the future.       

As always, our tastings were completely blind.  All glasses just had a number on them, corresponding to a beer which only the server knew.  The judges recorded their impressions on a specially prepared page and when they were finished first with the five regular wheats and then the three flavored wheats, gave each a ranking.  The same procedure was followed for the second session of four wheat beers.  The best beer received the same number of points as how many beers were in the group, number two got one point less, and so on.  All the points given to each beer were counted to obtain the final rankings.  

The results were unscientific.  The judges are just a collection of ten beer lovers who know what we like and can make relatively intelligent comments on it.  Who are we?
The hardships of beer judging!

Yitzchak from Orr Yehuda, computer programmer
Moshe from Jerusalem, office manager and app designer
Shoshana from Jerusalem, student, former bartender
Daniel from Tel Aviv, water purification expert 
Bob from Moshav Ramat Raziel, jeweler
Mike from Jerusalem, photographer and graphic designer
Andy from Ma'ale Adumim, press officer
Michael from Skokie, IL, real estate investor
Manny from Jerusalem, book store manager
Doug from Jerusalem, yours truly

Bavarian-style wheats

In both sessions for the Bavarian-style wheat beers, there was no significant difference in the ranking.  In other words, the difference in points between the highest ranking and lowest ranking was too small to be significant.  The judges were unanimous in saying that all of the wheat beers were good quality.

Nevertheless, the public demands a ranking, and we will list them as the points indicate.  Here are the rankings and comments for the first session:

Fourth Place:
Shoshana pouring.
Bazelet Wheat -- From the Golan Brewery in Katzrin, this is a very typical hefeweizen ale, with 5.1% alcohol by volume. 
Some comments from the judges:
  •  "Very light in color, tart.  Different from the others."
  • "Crisp, sour citrus taste."
  • "Clear, almost transparent.  Hoppy with orange taste.  Surprising and very refreshing."
  • "Very light color, no head.  Barley aroma, citrus flavor."
  • "No head, very carbonated.  Low alcohol taste, but smooth and pleasant."

Third Place:
Shapiro Wheat -- From the Shapiro Brewery in Beit Shemesh, 5.2% ABV.
  • "Darker with rich flavor, strong in cloves.  Flatter mouthfeel."
  • "Strong fruity flavor -- tangerines and cloves.  A good wheat beer."  
  • "Clear color, little aroma.  A light aroma of roses."
  • "The most carbonated, with a middle-size head."
  • "Light head, yellowish color.  Taste of carbonation, fruit and citrus."
Andy deliberating.

Second Place:
Maibeerovicz Weissbier -- From the home brewery of the Maierovicz family in Moshav Olesh near Nachal Alexander, at 5% ABV.  Though small, they are now brewing 13 kinds of beer!
  • "Medium head, darker, slightly bitter and malty."
  • "Creamy head, less defined flavors."
  • "Very dark, very mild, almost no taste."
  • "Dark, with banana and smoky flavors.  I chose it as number one because of the complexity."
  • "Large head, dark and cloudy.  Most pleasant."
  • "Large head, dark amber, yeasty aroma.  Flavors of butterscotch and banana."

Tie for First Place:
Bavarian Wheat -- From Srigim Brewery's "Emek Ha'ela" series (located on Moshav Srigim in the Ha'ela Valley).  A 5.1% ABV weissbier. 
  •  "Big head, medium light, cloudy color."
  • "Grass aroma.  Citrus, buttery and creamy." 
  • "Strong tastes of oranges and cloves."
  • "Taste of hops and a bit of wheat."
  • "Honey color.  Aromatic and bitter.  Medium high mouthfeel."
  • "Large head.  Most pleasant for a summer's day."
  • "Amber color.  Sweet yet tangy."

Doug distracted.
Galil Wheat -- From Hagalil Brewery on Kibbutz Moran in the central Galilee, also site of their brewpub.  At 4.8% ABV, it was the lightest of the beer's tasted.
  • "Small head and light color.  Cloudy and bitter with slight taste of cloves." 
  • "Sweeter and citrusy with cloves.  Buttery mouthfeel."
  • "Clear color.  Very strong with fruit and lemony flavors.  Good finish without additional tastes."
  • "Clear yellow color with less aroma than the others.  Summery and refreshing."
  •  "Medium head, amber color.  Tart and malty, with flavor of apricots."
  • "Pronounced banana taste.  Strong, but not at all bitter.  Perfect carbonation." 

Here are rankings and comments for the second session:

Third Place:
Katz Wheat -- From Katz Brewery, Orchan Katz in Meron.  A light wheat beer, typical hefeweizen, at 4.9% ABV.
  • "Good head, mild taste, orange undertones.  Home-brewed taste."
  • "Creamy head with good lacing on the glass.  Typical citrusy wheat, soapy aftertaste."
  • "Nice head, light sweet taste.  Taste of apricots.  No aftertaste or bite."
  • "Soft head.  Flavor was too mild for my taste."
  • "Medium color, robust chocolatey taste."    

Bob contemplating.
Second Place:
Don Jose Wheat -- From the Hiluvani Home Brewery in Ma'agan Michael.  Made with smoked malt.  We added this on a lark and the judges were very divided on awarding it points.  They all, however, found it very different from the other wheat beers.
  • "Very light colored, tasty and delicate.  Some hops but without added value.  Citrusy with hints of lemon."
  • "The lightest color.  Hints of leather and unknown spice."
  • "Hoppy, slight taste of flowers, no aftertaste."
  • "Great all around wheat beer."
  • "Light and cloudy color like a wheat beer should be.  Mild taste, very wheaty."    

Tie for First Place:
Sparrowheat -- From Sparrow Brewery located on Moshav Magshimim, although the beer is brewed at Mivshelet Ha'am in Even Yehuda.  It combines elements of German (lightness and freshness) and Belgian (depth and richness) wheat beers.  6.2% ABV.
  • "Strong hop aromas.  Very strong and tasty, but difficult to call this a wheat beer."     
  • "Darkest, aromas of sweet malt, lemons, grass.  Flavor tending to stout."
  • "Slightly bitter and woodsy taste.  Slight aftertaste."
  • "Dark.  Very smooth flavor, sweet and bitter at the same time, with some licorice."
  • "Deep color, strongest hop aroma and flavor."

Fassweizen -- From the Fass Brewery and Brewhouse on Kibbutz Geshur on the Golan Heights.  Brewed from 50% malted wheat and 50% malted barley for pale ale.  5.8% ABV.
  • "Good head.  Hoppy and citrus tastes, and some peach.  Pleasant aftertaste."
  • "Middle color and bitterness, somewhat sour.  Low malt and smooth finish." 
  • "Smooth.  Taste of chestnuts."
  • "Good but not great.  A bit too light for me."
  • "Great head, nice dark color.  Full flavored with hint of anise."

The butler will clean up!
Flavored wheats

All the judges agreed that the flavored wheat beers were all better than the regular wheats.  As they drank, you could see the sheer enjoyment on their faces, and their praise was all the more effusive.  Here are the rankings:

Third Place:
The Arrogant Wheat -- From Srigim Brewery's "Ronen" series.  Known as a "dunkleweizen" (a dark wheat beer), this is the kind of darker, stronger wheat beer (6.1% ABV) which this category represents.
  • "Dark, rich color, very fruity."
  • "Citrusy with wild berries.  Lovely mouthfeel."
  • "Medium hop flavor, full mouthfeel.  The most fruity."
  • "Little head, dark amber.  Sweet, medium bitterness, fruity flavor."
  • "Very carbonated.  Almost syrupy berry flavor."   

Manny and Michael imbibing.
Second Place:
HaTzvi Enigma -- From the HaTzvi Brewery in Kfar Saba, this is another dunkleweizen type of beer (5% alcohol) with orange peel and coriander seeds added.  HaTzvi is a mini-brewery, but they make 10 kinds of beer.   
  • "Big rich head, dark and cloudy.  Fruity flavor.  Great beer."
  • "Grassy and citrusy.  Coriander, dill, parsley."
  • "Peanut aroma.  Light hay.  Soft mouthfeel."
  • "Large head, more citrus flavor."
  • "Lots of head, amber color, berry flavor."
  • "Very heady and carbonated.  Flavor of berry and fruits."

First Place:
Lela Wheat -- From Lela Beers, with offices in Maccabim but brewed at the Mosco Brewery on Moshav Zanoach.  At 5% ABV, this is a delicious beer, taking second place in the Longshot 2011 competition for wheat beer.  Brewed with orange peel and coriander seeds.
  • "Medium head, dark amber.  Aroma of flowers and orange.  Tastes of citrus and maybe cinnamon."
  • "Medium head, best color, most pleasant flavor."
  • "High hop aroma, dark brownish blond.  Lemongrass.  Full mouthfeel."
  • "Tangerines and oranges.  Crazily citrus."
  • "Buttery, brown sugar.  Smooth mouthfeel."
  • "Big head, dark, rich color.  Fruity aromas."
Tasting and tallying.

Our warm thanks to the following who contributed beers for our Wheat Beer Tasting Panel:
The staff of life.

Ofer Ronen of Srigim Breweries (Ronen and Emek Ha'ela)
Niva Hermoni of Maibeerovicz
Itzik Shapiro of Shapiro Brewery
Michael Giladi of Golan Brewery (Bazelet)
Alon Riftin of Galil Brewery
Leo Hiluvani of Hiluvani Brewery

We would also like to thank Shachar Hertz and Alex Filimonov of the Beer & Beyond store in Tel Aviv for their assistance in choosing the beers.  Their expertise was invaluable.

I would also like to thank my wife Trudy for setting the scene for the panel, making sure we had enough munchies and water, and keeping the jabbering judges and testy tasters in good humor.

And special thanks to Judge Mike Horton, photographer and graphic designer extraordinaire, for immortalizing our Tasting Panel with his brilliant photos.