June 30, 2014

Man in search of beer in America: Part Two -- Washington, DC

Leaving my mother in good hands, Trudy and I flew up to Washington DC to spend a few days with our son Ami, who's been living in this city since 2007.  Ami's apartment is in the dynamic and trendy Adams Morgan neighborhood, filled with little specialty shops and all kinds of restaurants and pubs.  Some have impressive craft beer menus, but since it was close to Shabbat, we went out to a local liquor store to bring home a few bottles.   
"Sorry!  No single-bottle sales."

The store, De Vinos, had more than 100 different beers -- but we hit a hurdle right off.

"We don't sell the small single bottles," said the attendant.  "You have to buy the whole six-pack."

"But these are craft beers," I responded.  "What if you want to try a few different ones?"


Only in America.  You have to buy six bottles of a beer you don't know and may not even like!  I began to miss the super supermarket in Florida, with its single bottle mixing and matching.  Don't retailers realize that this may be a better way to sell craft beers?

The one way out was to buy the bigger bottles, those of one pint (473 milliliters) or more.  We chose the Whiter Shade of Pale Ale White IPA from Starr Hill Brewery in Crozlet, Virginia, and Red Wheelbarrow Ale from the Maine Beer Company in Freeport, Maine.     

We come for the beer:
Doug, Trudy and Ami in the nation's capital.
The Whiter Shade accompanied our Shabbat lunch, and once again it was a great choice.  This beer is a very successful fusion of a Belgian wit wheat ale and an Indian pale ale, with 7.5% alcohol.  It's massively hopped and has strong citrus and pine aromas.  I imagined that the beautiful white head smelled just like the fields or forests where the fresh hop clusters grow.  Belgian wheat beer adds the very dramatic fruity and spicy flavors.  If you're any kind of an IPA fan, this beer should be on your "must try" list.

The Red Wheelbarrow Ale is also a beauty.  Although it's called a red ale and not an IPA, it comes awfully close.  The deep red-copper color and red-tinged head are not indicative of IPA's, true, but the hop-heavy aroma and taste, and the 7% ABV certainly are.  There is also a chocolaty sweetness that I found different and delicious.

The Maine Beer Company does a lot or ecological-friendly activities, to their credit, and their slogan is "Do it right."  In this case, they certainly have.

Ami with his pale wheat;
me with my dark rye IPA.
On Saturday night, we took Ami out to eat at a so-called "small plate" Italian restaurant.  "Skimpy portions" is more like it.  Getting into the spirit of things, we ordered small glasses (10 ounces or 295 milliliters) of beer.

I chose the Rowdy Rye IPA from the local Atlas Brew Works in Washington, DC.  It poured very dark and tasted very bitter as an IPA should be, with a 6.2% ABV.  The hoppiness was also there but the rye replaces the floral scents and spice you expect in an IPA.  It's almost as if there isn't room for both.  This was a pleasant change for me, since I thoroughly enjoy the taste of rye whisky -- not to mention rye bread.

Ami had Optimal Wit from Port City Brewery in nearby Alexandria, Virginia.  It was as pale and transparent as Rowdy IPA was dark and opaque.  This is beer in the Belgian wit style, and brewed with the prerequisite coriander, orange peel and peppery grains of paradise.  It had a distinctively lemony taste alongside clove and grassy tones.  It's a wheat beer that flaunts its wheatiness, but I don't think I would have ordered it with pasta.

Ethiopia's St. George:
rich and tasty brew.
Before we left Washington, we took Ami and Trudy's niece Marcia out to one of the many Ethiopian restaurants in the city.  I find Ethiopian food to be a lot like Indian, and we ordered a large vegetarian platter.  It was served with mounds of the flat and spongy injera bread made from teff, which you use like a scoop to eat the food. 

What better way to accompany Ethiopian food than with Ethiopian beer?  We ordered a bottle of St. George.  Although it is an industrial beer from somewhere in Ethiopia (most of the label was in Amharic), it was actually a rich and tasty brew, going well with our strong, spicy food.

If Ethiopia could do it, why couldn't American "big beer" like Budweiser and Coor's be this good?  St. George was actually closer to Israeli-made Goldstar and Tuborg.  Maybe that's why I was getting a little bit homesick.  But I had two more states to cross before heading back to Israel.

June 24, 2014

Man in search of beer in America: Part One -- Southern Florida

Your intrepid Israeli beer seeker flew towards the western skies on June 8.  The trip was planned for a while but it took on urgency when my 96-year-old mother in southern Florida suffered a very minor stroke around a month ago.  It left her needing round-the-clock assistance, which Trudy and I were able to arrange.

The shelves of American craft beers:
Mix and match six-packs for $9.99.
Anyway, in between interviewing aid-givers and keeping house, I was able to get out and see some of the effects of the craft beer upsurge in America.

One of the super supermarkets had an entire wall of single bottles of craft beers, and a huge refrigerated section of beers in six-packs and twelve-packs.  Beers from the four corners of America and beyond.  The single-bottle wall let you pick any six beers for $9.99!

I chose three different style beers to drink at home -- my mother's home, that is.

The first was Shiner FM 966 Farmhouse Ale from Spoetzl Brewery in Shiner, Texas.  The interesting label informed me that farmhouse ale is from a European tradition of brewing beers in the winter for drinking in the spring.

I think I might have missed the right spring by several years.  FM 966 had the color and fizz of ginger ale.  The aromas were hoppy, spicy and grassy -- but the dominant taste was sour. The bitterness of the hops -- listed on the label as Golding, Sterling and Meridian -- just weren't able to counteract the sourness.  This is a beer I did not enjoy.

Things got better with the second beer, which we drank with Shabbat lunch: Hoptical Illusion from the Blue Point Brewing Co. in Patchogue, Long Island, New York.  I visited Blue Point several years ago on a visit to the U.S.  They have a beautiful Friday afternoon beer party (which we called a kabbalat Shabbat, a welcoming of the Sabbath), when you can drink three of their great beers for free and then buy some more.

Hoptical Illusion is a classical India Pale Ale (no ABV was given), with a delicious balance of hops and floral spicyness.  It enhanced the taste of our food, and of the entire day.

Ice cold six- and twelve- and 
I tried to imagine the British soldiers in 19th century India enjoying beer this good, but I couldn't do it. No way.  Hoptical Illusion is IPA which has evolved in the New World, spurred on by American ingenuity and magnitude.

My third bottle was Southern Pecan, "the original pecan nut brown ale," from the Lazy Magnolia Brewing Co. in Kiln, Mississippi.  The label claims it's the first beer made with whole, roasted pecans.

Southern Pecan pours out dark copper with a thin head and, really, a nutty aroma.  I found it to be a bit on the sweet side but a delicious beer.  I couldn't find any pecan taste; I guess the pecans ferment into a neutral nuttiness.  But it was a truly interesting and awareness enhancing beer drinking experience.

When we visited my cousin Debi, her husband Jerry served us Sam Adams Summer Ale and Boston Lager.  I preferred the latter, a rich and satisfying dark amber which to my mind redeems the "lager" appellation from the indignity caused by the mega macro brewers of American pale lagers.

The Summer Ale tries too hard to suit itself to the season.  This wheat ale has nothing special to say, even though it it's made with added lemon peel and grains of paradise, a kind of African pepper.  I found it a little acrid.

I had one more beer before leaving Florida.  When we ate at the California Pizza Kitchen, the Blue Moon Brewing Company's flagship beer, their Belgian White wheat ale, was offered as a draft choice.  It was just one more nondescript wheat ale that I drank along the way -- though it did go well with the salad and pizza we had.

My search for American craft beer would now have to continue at my next stop, Washington DC.          

June 8, 2014

2014 Israel beer festivals -- Update

As June busts out all over, we decided it was time to take another look at what this summer holds for us faithful followers of beer festivals.  Since I last wrote on the subject back at the start of the year, some dates have been confirmed, though still not all.

Let's begin close to home, in Jerusalem.

The ghosts of beer festivals past.
Jerusalem Beer Festival - "Ir Habira" -- August 27-28 in Independence Park.  Organizer/Producer Eli Giladi says that this will be the tenth festival in Jerusalem, and it will be bigger and better than ever.  "We are investing a lot of money to make this the greatest," says Eli, including food and music.  Jerusalem bars and restaurants will be offering specials during the week of the festival.  All of the bigger names on the Israeli beer scene -- industrial brewers, craft brewers and imports -- are already signed on, according to Eli, and the newer and smaller brewers will also have a chance to display and offer their wares.  He promises that over 120 beers from Israel and abroad will be available.

Eli said that if any smaller or home brewer still wants to join, they can send him an e-mail at giladi007@gmail.com

Tel Aviv "BEERS 2014" Exhibit -- September 9-11 at the Train Station (HaTachana) in Neve Tzedek. 
This location is a great improvement over the Nokia Center, where previous BEERS exhibits have been held.  It was more like a stuffy trade show than a beer festival.  Moving it from the dead of winter to the end of summer is also a great idea.  The information came from the Ben-Ami Studio which produces the BEERS exhibits.   
Mateh Yehuda Rustic Beer Festival -- Still no final date yet, but Chani Ben-Yehuda, who is responsible for festivals and events at the Tzlilei Hakesem company, which is organizing the event, says that it will take place at the Mini Israel Park in Latrun at the end of August or the start of September.  This will also be a new venue, as the festival has been held until now at the crossroads of Srigim and Givat Yeshayahu.

With Ofer Ronen of Srigim Brewery
at Zman Amiti.
Beer City Festival in Haifa -- August 21-22 at Students Beach.  After getting the run around from a number of offices in Haifa, I was finally able to obtain the information from Polina Charnovelsky from the "Customer Relations" Office in the Cultural Department of the Haifa Municipality.  This one is the biggest festival with free admission and first-string musical performers, but it's sponsored by Goldstar and Maccabi beer, so don't expect any Israeli craft beers to be served.              
In addition to these major festivals, there will probably be some smaller, local ones going on later this year.  If I hear about any, I will let you know.

The Zman Amiti mini beer festival.
I myself attended two in recent months.  The first was the Fifth Zman Amiti Beer Festival, held at the Zman Amiti bar tending school in Tel Aviv just before Passover.  It was a small affair, held inside the building.  I enjoyed meeting or re-meeting some of the bigger brewers, as well as some of the smaller ones like Baron (Lior Degabli), HaChatzer (Yochai Meytal) and Lanner (Boaz Lanner).  I hope to write about them all.

A few weeks ago, I went out to Modi'in where my son Aharon lives with his family, for an even smaller "brewers festival" held just outside the More Than Pub in the new Ligad Center.

There were no more than a dozen exhibitors, most of them on the smaller end of the spectrum.  I finally met home brewer Noam Shalev who lives in Modi'in and makes sour beers under the Shibolet label.  Alas, because of my failure to communicate, Noam didn't bring any of his beers with him, so I'll have to wait until next time to get to drink them.

With Noam Shalev in Modi'in:
Next time I get to taste his beers.
Boaz Harel, from Three Cats Brewery in Ramat Gan, brought me two bottles of a British porter which he brewed according to a recipe from 1834!  One was brewed as it would have been at that time, and the other as a porter is brewed today.  I will do a comparison tasting of the two and report on that.  I thank Boaz for his gifts and his patience.  

I also met Levi Fried, a physician whose passion is home brewing.  He served me his Chocolate Porter, which was made with real cocoa nibs and had the most creamy chocolate taste I have ever experienced in a beer.

A few steps away, Roni Waldman of Ruth Brewery (named after his wife) served me his Coffee Break Porter, made with roasted coffee beans.  Here too, the coffee taste didn't have to be imagined.  It was real and bitter, yet beautifully balanced by the malt sweetness.

I'm going to do my best to attend all the festivals I can.  If you notice me walking around, step up and say hello.  That's what beer festivals are for.

Tonight, Trudy and I are flying to the U.S. for some family and friends visits over the next three weeks or so.  It's also a great chance for us to try some American craft beers.  If I can do some writing from there, I will.  If not, it will wait until I return.  In the meantime -- A wonderful summer to all!

June 3, 2014

Chuck's Place on Teverya Street

Chuck's home is his bar.

Well, so is mine, sometimes.  But he can open the front gate, hang up a shingle, and it becomes a public house.  I still can't do that.

Chuck and me at his "home & bar."
Chuck Paz has set up a few eclectic tables, chairs and sofas in his front yard, makes burgers and fries in his kitchen, and pumps beer out of a tap in his refrigerator.  Different chefs in the neighborhood may add pizza and soft pretzels.  Meat ands dairy are not served on the same night. 

"We call this place a 'home & bar,'" chuckles Chuck.  "Most of my customers are friends and neighbors," he says, referring to his Nachlaot neighborhood in Jerusalem.  "During the warmer months, I'm open on Thursday nights, my 'Thirsty Thursdays.'  I also open on special holidays like Lag BaOmer and Jerusalem Day. . . ."

Above the bar is a notice that Chuck's Place is "under rabbinical supervision."  "That would be me," he says.  "Years ago, when I was living in Efrat, I was ordained a rabbi."  

Chuck came to Israel from Chicago 13 years ago and started home brewing because he didn't like any of the standard Israeli beers that were available at the time.   

Baruch Berabooah
He began working at his current location (17 Teverya Street) five years ago, making sushi and brewing beer for a friend's establishment.  The friend's name was Baruch, which is also Chuck's Hebrew name, so people began calling them Baruch BeRabooah ("Baruch Squared") and the name stuck.  It's now his Facebook name and logo.      

"The first two beers I brewed were a honey lager and a red ale," Chuck continued.  As luck would have it, those were two of the beers Chuck was serving when I visited.

The honey lager was one of two that he makes, this one called Honey Bru.  It was less sweet and less hoppy than the other beers.  Chuck adds the honey right after flame-out, just when the fermentation process begins, so it has a long time to become food for the yeast.  The alcohol goes up (6.7%), but not the sweetness.  I found it a pleasant summer drink, not very hoppy, maybe some light spice and fruits to keep in interesting, but the honey is all gone.

Chuck's brand: Teverya Street Beer.
Honey is a popular ingredient with home brewers, since it is full or pollens and nectars from the flowers, which can add subtle aromas to the beer.  Even President Obama has been brewing a honey ale in the White House since 2011!  (Look up White House Honey Ale if you think I'm joking.)  Opinions vary on when the honey should be added to the mix, but that's another story.

The red ale I thought was less defined, although somewhat sweeter than the honey lager.  It fits in the category of American amber and red ales very comfortably.  The malts and hops are well matched, with the malts winning by a nose.      

Chuck was also pumping a third beer that day -- a pilsner, which was my favorite, with the classic pils crispness, extensive fruity and hoppy aromas, and the taste of blended citrus fruits.  At 4.5% ABV, I can see myself drinking a lot of this stuff on a hot summer's day.

Chuck also brews a stronger honey lager (Honey Blaze at 7% ABV), an amber ale, and a bock. 

Chuck hopes that he will soon be taking his talents to a restaurant, where he will, in effect, turn it into a brew pub with his beers.  He is working on developing several new beers for the restaurant, one of which is a "Mexican-type beer," though it's not clear exactly what that means.
The view from Chuck's gate.
When I asked Chuck to be more specific about his beers, he answered with what is probably his "mission statement" as a home brewer: 

"With all my beers, I am trying to make an American-style beer that I grew up with. I really don't do anything that special when I brew. Put all the ingredients in the pot and cook them. Then once it is cooled I put it in the fermenter, add the yeast, and God takes over from there.  Walla, 16 days later the beer is ready to drink.
"I am just a simple man who likes making beer and drinking it. The beers speak for themselves; you just have to drink them. Maybe the one special thing I put in to my beers is love and caring for the beer I am producing."

Nothing wrong with that.  If you'd like to drink some different home brews on a hot Thursday night, drop into Chuck's Place.  (Check first on his Facebook page: Baruch BeRabooah Fan Page.)  Tell him I sent you.