July 29, 2015

Coming soon: Amber Ale Tasting Panel

Oh beautiful for spacious skies, 
For amber waves of grain . . .

You know the rest.  But if we stop here, we have the breathtaking image we need for the next Israel Brews and Views Tasting Panel.  This time we will be judging amber ales, a popular cousin of pale ale.

Using malted grain that's a bit darker, this ale brews out amber colored, rather than the whiter shades of pale.  It's maltier and fuller bodied than its pale cousin; a good balanced beer.  

Amber ale has been popular in Israel since the start of the craft beer nascency.  Known as inbari in Hebrew, there are some 11 craft breweries here which make amber ale.

Our panel of beer-hardened judges will be tasting seven of them and reporting their opinions back to you.    

In order not to miss the results of our tasting panel, I strongly urge you to sign up now as a subscriber.  Just type your e-mail in the little box in the right-hand column where it says, "Sign up for updates" and press "Submit."  It's free, and always will be.

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

July 21, 2015

New "White Beer" from Herzl

It's summer, and a young man's fancy turns to thoughts of . . . beer.

There's no doubt about it – summer is beer-drinking time.  A tall, ice-cold beer is perfect when you're kicking back on a hot day, watching television, or having a meal. 

Save the darker, heavier, more alcoholic beers for the colder times.  In the heat, choose a beer that's light and refreshing and preferably low in alcohol so that you can have more than one without getting plastered.  Many people seek out a beer that's "crisp," a description that's hard to define, but you know it when you drink it. 

With this in mind, I tried a bottle of the new White Beer ("Bira Levana") from Herzl Brewery in Jerusalem.

The first thing you notice on the simple black-and-white label are the English words, "Hallertau Blanc" and "Jerusalem Common Beer."  What does this mean?

Hallertau Blanc is a newly cultivated variety of hops from Bavaria in Germany which add aroma and flavor (as opposed to bitterness) to the beer.  Beer mavens say that these aroma and flavor "profiles" include white grapes, pineapple, passion fruit, gooseberry and other fruits.

Next, the term "Jerusalem common beer."  This is taken from "California common beer," also known as "California steam beer," which harks back to San Francisco in the wide-open mid-19th century.  The local brewers had lager yeast, which ferments at low temperatures, but no way to bring the temperature of the wort (the pre-fermented liquid) that low.  Remember: no ice and no refrigeration.

What did they do?  They forced the yeast to ferment at a higher temperature than the tiny fungi would have liked.  The result was a hybrid beer, neither ale nor lager, but with attributes of both.  It became popular as a low priced beer for the toiling masses.  It was called "steam beer" probably because of the clouds of steam which hovered over the open fermentation vats.

Herzl Brewery has recreated this style by putting lager yeast into wort that's a hot 21 degrees centigrade (70 degrees Fahrenheit).  According to Herzl partner Maor Helfman, this is like putting a truck engine onto a Vespa scooter.  "Our White Beer is fuller-bodied than the typical lager, with a stronger smell of yeast," he says.  "It combines the refreshing qualities of a lager with the more complex tastes of an ale.  It's very compatible to our climate here in the Middle East."            

Herzl White Beer pours out a clear golden color with a strong aroma of hops, yeast, grass and flowers.  The taste is mid-bitter with some light citrus.  My drinking partner called it "hop punch" – which is a pretty good description.  It has a medium body and a dry and bitter finish.  At 4.9% alcohol by volume, this is a very easy drinking beer, and perfect for the summer. 

My sinuses are not so well developed to detect the "ripe white grapes" as it says on the label – but there was another intriguing taste from the Hallertau Blanc.  Hops, it seems, are in the same plant family as cannabis, which includes marijuana.  Maybe it was our imagination, but we were able to detect the distinct taste of pot in this beer. 

"No way," laughed Maor, when I told him this.  "You were tasting the hops.  Unfortunately, we run a very legal brewery."

Bottles of Herzl White Beer are available in stores wherever Herzl Beer is sold.  You should really try a bottle this summer.  And make sure your taste buds stay open-minded.  

July 12, 2015

A Jem of a brewery

Jeremy Welfeld came to Modi'in especially to meet with me.  That's quite a compliment because the man is very busy.

Jeremy is the founder and partner of Jem's Beer Factory, one of Israel's most recognized craft beer brands, as well as three thriving brewpubs -- in Petach Tikva, Ra'anana and Kfar Saba -- with a fourth being planned in Modi'in.  A busy man.

Jeremy Welfeld meets the old blogger in Modi'in.
How Jeremy (whose nickname is Jem) came to brewing craft beer in Israel is well documented on the internet.  But to recap briefly, he came to Israel from the States to do his army service from 1984-87, and then returned to the U.S. to study food management and brewing science, and worked in restaurants and catering and brewing.

He returned to Israel in 1999 and ten years later he and partner Daniel Alon nailed down a business plan and found 30 investors who put up the money needed to open the Jem's Beer Factory and Brewpub in Petach Tikva.

"I've always been a service guy," he told me.  "That's what defines what I do.  Making the beer is easy.  [Well, some would argue with that.--DG]  The hard part is to sell it and to keep giving your customers excellent, personal service."

Jeremy with Jem's beer.
Jem's brews about 20,000 liters a month of six core beers, which are sold in bottles and on tap in its own brewpubs and a few other restaurants.  These six beers represent different national styles.

Dark Lager -- Germany
Pils -- Czech Republic
Wheat -- Bavaria, Germany
Stout -- Ireland
8.8 -- Belgian strong ale
Amber Ale -- England

In addition, they brew occasional seasonal beers.  Two years ago, Jem's teamed up with Blazer, a Hebrew-language magazine for men, to brew the first Blazer beer.  The magazine wanted to produce a beer which would satisfy what it believed to be the tastes of its readers.  The result was a strong brown ale (6% alcohol), brewed with roasted malt and dry-hopped.  Jem's Blazer struck a fine balance between the bitterness of the hops and the sweetness of the malt.

Last winter, Jem's came out with the Black Mamba, a dark IPA made with roasted malt and dry-hopped with Cascade and Citra hops.

"The strong malt all but hid the hop flavor," says Jeremy, "so we brewed a second batch with less roasted malt, called Black Beauty.  This was just right."

Jem's seasonal Summer Ale for 2015.
Jem's new seasonal beer is Summer Ale.  It's on sale on tap at the Jem's Brewpubs and in bottles in the Derech Hayayin chain of liquor stores.

"This is a beer that Derech Hayayin asked us to brew," says Jeremy.  "They wanted a beer that was toned down from our core beers, with less extreme flavors.  So we designed our Summer Ale with Citra hops and a refreshing, clean finish.  It's basically a Pilsner with more aroma."

Jeremy brought me a bottle of his Summer Ale.  (There are no Derech Hayayin stores in Jerusalem.  What else is new?)

I found it to be a refreshing blond ale, hazy and pale colored, with a flowery and yeast aroma.  It's a little bitter and a little sour and, at 5% alcohol, is an easy drinking beer for a summer day.  The label says it's an "Israeli pale ale," and perhaps one day we will all know for sure what this means.

Speaking about the brewery in general, Jeremy told me that Jem's beer is delivered in the brewery's own vehicles, "except in Jerusalem, where it's done through a distributor.  To ensure freshness, we remove any beer which is still on the shelves after four months.

"Another quality rule we follow is processing our own water.  We insist on a level of purity which cannot be found naturally in Israel."

Jem's also has an educational service program for home-brewers and would-be home-brewers.  "We bring them into our brewery to learn the basic techniques of brewing and to get hands-on experience," explains Jeremy.            

Waxing more philosophical, Jeremy thinks that for now, the craft beer market in Israel is pretty saturated.  "There might be room for a few more player, but not more than that.  I personally don't think that Israeli tastes are changing, but the younger generation is drinking more beer.  They drink more out of the house, and they also keep beer in the refrigerator on a regular basis.  This is something their elders never did."