October 26, 2014

Coming soon: Porter Beer Tasting Panel

Stay tuned for the next Israel Brews and Views Beer Tasting Panel.  This time we are uncapping seven Israeli-brewed porters.  Porter is an English dark ale, somewhere between brown ale and stout.  It has nice non-roasted malt flavor, slightly sweet and low on the hops.

Beer historians say it is older than its cousin stout.  Porter became popular in London in the late 18th century, when the public wanted a full-flavored and heartier beer than the pale ales being served in pubs.  It quickly became the favorite of the city's porters and hence its name.  Stronger porters made with roasted barley were called "stout porters" and eventually, just "stouts."

Today, I would say, stout is a more popular beer style around the world.  We considered doing a tasting panel on stouts -- and we will, eventually.  But Israeli craft brewers make 15-20 stouts, far too many for a single panel.  So we decided to start with porters.  I believe we got all the major ones made in Israel.

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See how they rank.  Read how they taste.  Keep it right here -- at Israel Brews and Views.     


October 21, 2014

Friday mornings at the Glen Whisky Bar

Shmuel Naky posing at the
Glen Whisky Bar.
The Glen Whisky Bar at 18 Shlomzion Hamalka Street in Jerusalem is a cozy bar that pumps nine Israeli craft beers and ten imported beers.

This past summer, owner Leon Schwartz started to invite different brewers to come and sell their beers on Friday mornings, or more accurately, lunchtime.  Before this wonderful practice ended with the start of autumn, I went to three such events and here is my report:

1) HaDubim

The first morning I was there was International IPA Day, and the Glen Bar was selling bottles of the three India pale ales made by HaDubim Brewery (Mivshelet Ha'am) from Even Yehuda.  (All the hosted beers, whether bottles or draft, are sold for the discounted price of 18 shekels.)

Tom Castel, Glen Whisky bartender.
Bartenders Tom Castel and Shmuel Naky were selling their homemade humus and gnocchi to accompany the beers.  They also offered my drinking partner Mike and me some tastings of the draft beers we were unfamiliar with.  But what we came for were the IPAs.

HaDubim's first IPA was Indira.  It's the darkest of the three, copper-colored, and the strongest, at 7% ABV.  Indira's style is called an American IPA, which cranked up the original British version with extreme hops in the aroma and taste throughout.  The brewers use American Cascade hops, which impart a fresh citrusy aroma.  Yet, we also agreed that Indira had the strongest malty sweetness of the three. 

Next in line, and in time, was Eshibobo, a golden hued ale, rounder in taste and mouthfeel than Indira, and less alcoholic (5.8%).  HaDubim started brewing it, I guess, to give customers a more moderate and less bitter alternative to Indira.  Mike found it a "warmer" beer, which could also mean "friendlier" if you're not a confirmed hophead.  We also thought it was drier and less sweet -- a refreshing and drinkable beer -- but at the southern border of IPA-land.

The three IPAs from HaDubim
at the Glen Whisky Bar in Jerusalem.

(Photo: Mike Horton)

Polar is the newest IPA, on the market only a few months.  It's the palest of them all, with alcoholic content just a shade above Eshibobo (6%).  Dagan Bar Ilan (who with his brother Ronen are the owners of HaDubim Brewery) told me that the major change here was replacing the Cascade hops with Chinook and Simcoe.

And indeed, we found this beer stronger on the pine and spice and less on the citrus.  The finish was light and dry -- another easy to drink IPA, not for extremists.

The final verdict: You have to really split hairs to find the differences in HaDubim's three IPAs.  If you believe a beer should be hoppy and bitter, you can grab any one and be satisfied.

2) Shibolet 

Noam Shalev of Modi'in has been home-brewing for several years.  His beers bear the Shibolet label, which means "ear of corn" in Hebrew.  Shalev is the only Israeli home-brewer I know who has been experimenting with sour beers, very popular in Belgium, and I've been looking forward to tasting them for some time.  Shalev is also known as a true beer-maven by his peers.  He recently won first prize in a London beer trivia contest.

Noam Shalev discusses his Shibolet Beer
with the old blogger.
(Photo: Mike Horton)

On his Friday morning, Shalev was pouring his Summertime Saison, a 6% ale made with barley, wheat and rye malts.  "But the important thing with saisons is the yeast," Shalev told me.  "I use a special saison yeast which gives the beer a typical Belgian flavor that Israelis seem to like."

Not many Israeli brewers make saison beer.  It's a style that was originally brewed in Belgian in the spring for summer drinking, and is highly refreshing with fruity or spicy flavors.  I found Shalev's saison a very mild beer, not too bitter and easy to drink.  There was a definite turn to sourness or tartness, which at this low level is kind of nice.  There was very little presence of hops.

Shalev also had his Badass Bitter on tap.  Now, "bitter" is a style the British like, but in reality, it isn't very bitter.  In fact, it is closest to a pale ale: well-hopped and fruity, light bodied, low carbonation and alcohol.  When you go into a pub in Britain and ask for a "bitter," it's like asking for a "beer" in America.  These days, you have to be a little more specific.  I found Shalev's bitter very flavorful and refreshing, a balanced beer with perhaps less hops than I normally prefer.

Shibolet beers.(Photo: Mike Horton)
We were joined by Dr. Levi Fried and his wife Harmony.  Dr. Fried is another home-brewer from Modi'in whose beers appear under the Righteous Brew label.  Shalev served us one of his bottles of sour beer.  Dr. Fried took a sip and weighed it thoughtfully and considerately.  I found it difficult to do so.  If all good tastes are acquired, I have quite a ways to go with sour beers.

I also later tasted a bottle of Shibolet's Pomegranate Sour Ale, which is based on a Flander's Red sour ale with the addition of pomegranate seeds.  The sour or acetic taste comes from the special yeast which produces lactic acid in the fermentation.  Shalev let this beer ferment in oak for a whole year(!) and then aged it for an additional six months with the seeds.  He only made 20 liters, so don't look for this one in any store.   

The Pomegranate Sour Ale pours out a lovely light red and has an aroma of dry wine and fruit.  In fact, it reminded me of pomegranate wines I've had.  It is very sour with no hop taste and very light carbonation.  The taste is pleasant enough if you like sour fruits, but as I said, it really has to grow on you.  Kudos to Noam Shalev for bringing us beers, well, that maybe no one else is, and for expanding the boundaries on how we think about our favorite beverage.

3) Sparrow

The third Friday was devoted to Sparrow Beer, brewed by Dror Sapir at the Mivshelet Ha'am contract brewery in Even Yehuda.  Sapir himself lives on Moshav Magshimim in the southern Sharon region.
Sparrow Beers.(Photo: Mike Horton)

He brews one batch of 200 liters every month.  Sapir has done a good job at marketing his beers, which are on sale at the three major beer stores in Tel Aviv: Beer & Beyond, Beer Bazaar and Beer Market.
Sparrow Beers' Sparrowheat,
Belgian Double 8%, and Zythos Wheat IPA.
(Photo: Mike Horton)

He markets three beers:

Zythos Wheat IPA -- I have written about this beer before (see here) and it's one of my favorite Israeli beers.

Sparrowheat -- a strong (6.2% ABV) wheat beer

Classic IPA

The old blogger with Dror Sapir
of Sparrow Beers.
(Photo: Mike Horton)

 On his Glen Bar morning, Sapir was also pumping a West Coast IPA, which is dry-hopped for an even more intense hop flavor.

He also shared a bottle of his Belgian Double 8% with me.  This is a beautiful beer that demonstrates Sapir's skill as a brewer.  From the small tan head and yeasty aroma, the beer develops with a strong, sweet flavor of roasted malt and dark chocolate.  The gentle carbonation only adds to the overall impression of rich taste and full body.

As a beer lover and a social animal, I enjoyed every minute of my Friday lunchtimes at the Glen Whisky Bar.  They are too good to be lost, and I can only hope that they are reinstituted as soon as possible.     

October 2, 2014

Food and beer pairing for Rosh Hashana: Beer and prakas (What's that?)

One of the delicious dishes that my wife Trudy makes for Rosh Hashana (the Jewish New Year, celebrated this year on September 24-26) is stuffed cabbage, which she also calls prakas.

Prakas: Only in Philly and Baltimore.
Now, the interesting thing is that the only Jews who call stuffed cabbage prakas are those from Philadelphia, PA or Baltimore, MD, where Trudy grew up.  We learned this only a few days ago.  Trudy has gone through life thinking how strange that all these other Jews in the world don't know what prakas are!  Now we know why.

Anyway, since we keep a vegetarian kitchen, Trudy makes her prakas without meat, although they do maintain their famous sweet-and-sour taste.  The stuffing contains rice, spices, ground soya and a little tomato sauce.  The all-important gravy is made from tomato sauce, lemons (that's the sour), onions, and raisins and brown sugar (that's the sweet).

Since I was asked by the Desert Hops International Beer Festival in Las Vegas to write about a beer and food pairing just before Rosh Hashana, it made complete sense to me to find a beer to go with our holiday stuffed cabbage.  
Stuffed cabbage, spinach and tzimmes,
along with Baron's American Rye Ale.

(Photo taken after Rosh Hashana.)
I chose American Rye Ale from Baron's Brewery in Hod Hasharon.  The beer is brewed with malted rye and Centennial hops.  Flaked rye is also added to enhance the flavor.  The result is a full-bodied beer with citrus aromas and taste of rye sourdough bread.

Baron's American Rye Ale.
This went very well with our sweet-and-sour stuffed cabbage.  The sour taste and spicyness of the beer blended with the sour lemon in the gravy and actually intensified the sweetness of the raisins and brown sugar.

As for the rye flavor, well, think of sopping up the tomato gravy with a chunk of Jewish rye bread.  The dryness of the beer -- almost an astringency -- was also a fine contrast to the rich flavors of the cabbage and tomato.

In short, it was a delicious meal bringing together a taste of the Old Country, where a stuffed cabbage is still a praka, and a beer from Israel, our adopted old-new land.

October 1, 2014

Some impressions from the BEERS 2014 Exhibit in Tel Aviv

The BEERS 2014 Exhibit in Tel Aviv (September 9-11) was and will be the biggest beer festival this year.  For the first time in four years, BEERS was held outdoors in the summer instead of indoors in the winter.  This was a great idea and it turned it from a "beer exhibit" to a real "beer festival"  -- even though they kept the old name.   

They advertised that over 200 beers were available.  I neglected to count how many I tried, but you know me, too polite to offend anybody by saying "no."

It was great fun, an uplifting social experience and highly educational.

I actually went twice -- on the first night when it was open only to "the trade" (although there were probably hundreds who were not in "the trade" who found their way in), and the last night just to kick back with friends and to meet the home-brewers, who were not allowed to display on the first night.  Unfortunately, I was in my working mode, with pad and camera, on both nights.

Here are some random impressions:

The India pale ale craze 
is getting to Israel.

A healthy number of craft breweries -- established, micro- and home-based -- were unveiling their new IPAs.  As I wrote about Malka Brewery's new Hindi IPA (see here), Israeli tastes are moving in the direction of hoppier, bitterer and stronger beers.  Works for me.
It was 9/11, so David Cohen and I
thought American flag bandannas
would be most appropriate. 

Take for example, Dancing Camel's Doc's Green Leaf Party IPA, named in memory of Don Morris, who was a college professor from California and a friend and business associate of owner David Cohen.  Dr. Morris passed away last month, and Dancing Camel is donating all the profits from sale of the beer to the Cancer Research Institute at Sheba Hospital, Tel Hashomer.

It's a beautifully refreshing IPA, full of citrus inducing hops from California and Australia.  The hop taste is fruity and suitably bitter, and the ABV is a hefty 6.8%.  Unfortunately, Doc's Green Leaf Party IPA was bottled in a very limited edition for sale at the Dancing Camel's brewery and bar in Tel Aviv, and perhaps at a few select stores.

HaDubim Brewery in Even Yehuda premiered their Grizzly Double IPA.  At 9% ABV, this is an ultra-hopped strong beer in the so-called West Coast IPA style.  It's big and balanced; you can't miss the sweety malt flavor alongside the hops, which are more fruity and citrusy.  If you can't get enough of hops, get Grizzly.

From the Golan Brewery (Bazelet) comes their new 2014 Summer Pale Ale (marketed as an IPA) in the Og seasonal beer series.  The Og series are noticeable by their squat bottles.  This is one beautiful, fresh beer.  Although it's lower in alcohol than other IPAs (only 4.5% ABV), it has a big hop taste with strong fruit and citrus notes.  Moderately bitter -- probably what Israeli taste buds want.  I've always found the Og seasonal beers to be preferable to Bazelet's regular series, and this is no exception.  Buy this baby while it's still on the shelves.  Production ended with the summer.                

HaGalil Brewery from Kibbutz Moran was serving their new Hopla IPA.  I tasted it and wrote "excellent."  I'm sorry that I didn't write any more and I'm sorry that I didn't bring home a bottle when I could have.  My avocation can be very pressured.

Breweries used the festival 
to unveil new beers.

Since BEERS 2014 was the biggest beerfest in Israel, drawing the largest crowds and getting the splashiest publicity, some breweries used the occasion to introduce new brews.

The premiere of Emek Ha'ela's
11% Belgian Tripel.
We already mentioned the new IPAs.  But there was also, for example, Emek Ha'ela's (Srigim Brewery on Moshav Srigim) 11% Belgian Tripel.  They already make a 9.2% Belgian Tripel, but this new 11% ups the alcohol and the flavor.  It was available only on tap.  I found it sweet and fruity, like an abbey beer should be, and very welcome after drinking the bitter and astringent IPAs.

Bryan Meadan of Meadan Brewery from Har Halutz was serving his new Humus Beer, a non-gluten beer made from malted humus and silan (date honey).  He already makes a non-gluten beer from buckwheat (see here), but I found his Humus Beer even better.  It tastes like an excellent pale ale with a touch of sour.  Meadan malts his own humus, because I doubt if anybody else in the world does.

The Dictator introduces his new
Laphroaig Irish Red, made with
single malt whisky.
From the Dictator (Mivshelet Ha'am in Even Yehuda) comes Laphroaig Irish Red, made with Laphroaig single malt whisky from Scotland.  This gives the beer a peaty and smoky taste.  Although this nearly overpowers any other malt and sweet flavors that may be there, I found it a successful blend.  Some of the smoked beers I've tried tasted like wet ashtrays, but the Dictator's Laphroaig gets it just right.  "Where's the beer?" you might ask.  It's there; it's just different.  And at 6.1% ABV, this is clearly a whisky-flavored beer, not beer-flavored whisky.

While not actually a new beer, Beresheet from the Negev Brewery in Kiryat Gat was made available to the general public for the first time at the festival.  Until now, it was only available to guests at the luxurious Beresheet Hotel in the Negev town of Mitzpe Ramon.  In fact, it was made in partnership with the hotel to be suitable for the desert climate (see my older post here).  Since I will probably never be staying at the hotel, this was my only chance to taste Negev Beresheet beer.  I found it to be light and delicate (only 4.7% alcohol) as the desert air it reflects.  It has a gentle hop citrus fruityness which is hardly bitter.  Drinking Beresheet is a good way to keep hydrated when you're in the desert.

Beer levels the playing field.

Just like in the earlier Jerusalem Beer Festival, there were several home-brewers and mini-brewers who are doing some interesting things with beer.  I'll mention a few just to get them on the record.  I hope that very soon, I'll be able to give them more attention.  That's what I'm here for.

     The beer is named in honor of the year of Israel's independence.  Their slogan is "Beer of the Brave."  Brewmaster Lior Hertz makes a Blond Ale and an Amber Ale at Mivshelet Ha'am contract brewery in Even Yehuda.  
"48" -- Beer of the Brave.

Emek Hama'ayanot
     Brewed at Mivshelet Ha'am for the Chaim's Cellar pub on Kibbutz Maoz Chaim in the Ma'ayanot Valley east of Beit Shean.  A 5% pale ale.
Smiles from Emek Hama'ayanot.

Shenkin -- a brewpub in Ra'anana.
     I tasted their American pale ale.   

The Stranger
     A Honey Ale made by Gordon Sutker in the Mosco Brewery, Moshav Zanoach.  I like the attention Sutker pays to branding and packaging.  The beer is distinctive too.  
The well-branded Stranger.
(Photo credit: Beer & Beyond)

Beerale (pronounced Beer'eleh)
     They make an Amber Ale, Belgian Tripel and Dark Wheat.
Beer'eleh: A nice Jewish name and pun.

     Avinoam Talman brews his sweet and malty 5% Old Ale at the Mivshelet Ha'am.  Talman also devotes time and thought to branding and marketing his beer.  

Achuzat Bayit
     They were introducing their new dark lager, a malty and sweet beer known as Bialik.  Owner Danny Schnur told me that they also make three other lagers: Rothschild, a light pilsner; Dizengoff, a dark double bock; and Allenby, a Bavarian red.  With Schnur living in Nes Ziona, the brewmaster Ro'i in Modi'in, and the brewery in Ashdod, Achuzat Bayit is a true "national" company.      
Four lagers from Achuzat Bayit.

     Run Asulin was offering two beers: Blue Moon Clone, a subdued wheat beer with a distinct sweet and sour taste I found much better than the original.  (Run was surprised to hear that the Blue Moon Brewery in the U.S. had been bought by Miller-Coors.)  The other was Born in the U.S.A., a light American pale ale full of spice and citrus flavors.

     Boaz Lanner poured me his American Pale Ale and took the time to explain why it was not an India pale ale.  Sorry, I was unconvinced.  It might have been brewed differently, but this had all the elements of a quite excellent IPA, including flavorful hops, 5.8% ABV, and bitterness in the range of 44-45 IBUs.  I also tasted Lanner's Brown Ale, very malty with real earthy elements.  This is a good representative of a brown ale, not very many of which are brewed in Israel. 

      Alex Fuks' home-brewery in Beersheva.  I tasted his Field of Hops Pale Ale -- very good, very borderline IPA (except for the low 4.3% ABV).
Taekwonbeer served Field of Hops
and Cinnamon Mead.

      Lior Degabli's home-brewery in Hod Hasharon.  I drank their Hibiscus Saison, a beer made with hibiscus tea, lemongrass, black pepper, rose hips and honey.  The result: a smorgasbord of flavors, including hops, citrus and sour fruits.  This Belgian-style saison pours out a lovely red (which I could see even in the darkness of the festival) and is 6.5% alcohol.  Since the hour was getting late and I was sampling too many beers, I took bottles of Baron's Cream Ale, American Rye Beer and American Pale Ale to try at home.      
Lior Degabli (right) serving his Baron's beer.

     The home-brewery of Michael Dubinsky, Matan Drory and Oren Ben-Shalom in Rosh Ha'ayin.  I tasted their full-bodied porter (also not too many brewed in Israel) which is made with coffee.  I also detected a taste of licorice.  Beeryon also makes a wheat beer, a Belgian-style beer and an English stout.      

The Beeryon crew.
      Adam Souriano brews his beers in Yehud.  I tried his new American Pale Ale and found it, once again, right up there with the IPAs, with a touch of vanilla in there.  Souriano won two awards in the Longshot home-brewers competition in Jerusalem.     

This beer blogging really 
does get you recognized!

Somewhere among the home-brewers' stands (which were located near the ear-splitting band), an American-born young lady came up to me and said, "You're Doug Greener, right?  I read your blog all the time."

"Oh really?" says I.

"Yes, I think it's great."

So I blushed and we chatted for a while.  [Do beer bloggers have groupies?  Do old beer bloggers have groupies?]  Turns out she has been living in Israel for eight years, works in hi-tech and loves beer.  [Why else would she be attending a beer festival?]  I didn't think of writing down her name.  I didn't think of taking a picture.  I really have to adapt a more professional mindset when I'm on assignment.

So we say good-bye and I take a few steps and this couple walk up to me positively gushing.  "Oh, you're Doug Greener," says the wife.  "We recognize you.  We really love your beer blog."

Is this really happening?

This time I do write but I don't think of taking a picture.  Marilyn and Andrew Eagles are from Vancouver, but live in Israel for extended periods.  They are great beer lovers and have been turned on to Israeli craft beers by yours truly.  "We used to think the only Israeli beers were Goldstar and Maccabee," says Marilyn.  "Now we tell all of our friends about these wonderful Israeli boutique beers."

My kind of people.  My kind of beer festival.