August 23, 2015

Results of the Israel Brews and Views -- Amber Ale Tasting Panel

Our very august and robust Israel Brews and Views Tasting Panel met on a recent summer night to taste and rate seven Israeli-brewed amber ales.  We are honored to bring the results to you -- the beer-loving public.

This time we had a full complement of ten judges, whom we can really say represented the tastes of the Israeli public -- masculine and feminine, young and old, urban and rural.  To have had a panel more representative, we would have had to hold elections.

Brilliant amber ale.
Amber ales are the duskier cousins of pale ales, or more accurately, American pale ales.  To get the amber color, which can appear in a range of shades, a darker malt is used.  Although amber ales can have strong hop tastes, they are usually better balanced with malt than pale ales.

When our Tasting Panel chose amber ales, I was concerned that this style would be a kind of nondescript way station between a pale ale and a porter, without real distinguishing characteristics.

I was wrong.  The amber ales we tasted had a variety of colors, aromas, tastes and bodies which made the judging quite enjoyable.  Speaking in the royal "we" (as they usually do), several of the judges told me afterwards that these beers were the best group of any of our tastings.

Four of the seven beers we tasted are from what I would call major craft breweries, available in stores throughout most of the country.  The other three breweries are smaller, not so readily available outside of their local area, but are seriously working on expanding their marketing and distribution.  

On a balmy Budapest evening, our judges
celebrate a successful Tasting Panel.

As with our past panels, our tastings were completely blind.  All glasses just had a number on them, corresponding to a beer which only the servers knew.  The judges recorded their impressions on a specially prepared page and when they were finished, gave each beer a ranking.  The best beer received seven points, number two got six points, and so on.  All the points given to each beer were counted to obtain the final rankings.

Unlike the results of our last tasting panel, for porter beers, this time there was a very clear winner . . . and a clear loser.  The middle five beers were separated by only seven points.  Eight judges gave the winner high points, and eight judges gave the loser low points.  To me, this indicates that the judges, in spite of their very different backgrounds and tastes, were basically on the same page in choosing their favorite, and their least favorite, amber ale.         

The old blogger himself
watches over the contenders.
Before we give the final comments and rankings -- what you're all waiting for -- please meet out esteemed judges.

Yitzchak from Orr Yehuda, computer programmer
Moshe from Jerusalem, office manager and app designer
Shoshana from Jerusalem, student, former bartender
Bob from Moshav Ramat Raziel, jeweler 
Mike from Jerusalem, photographer and graphic designer
Eitan from  Tekoa, tour guide
Ira from Jerusalem, risk management consultant
Batya from Shiloh, teacher and blogger 
Manny from Jerusalem, book retailer
Doug from Jerusalem, yours truly

Our beer servers bringing on the suds.

And here, without further ado, are the results of their judgment: 

Seventh Place:
Alexander Ambree -- This is a classic amber ale from the Alexander Brewery in Emek Hefer, with 5.7% alcohol by volume.  Several of the judges mentioned that they enjoyed this beer in the past either by itself or with food, but that in the head-to-head competition with other ambers, it just didn't make the grade.  

Some comments from the judges:  
Manny contemplating.
  • "Low hops, high malt sweetness.  Dank."
  • "Fruity taste.  Interesting, impressive and different.  Amber ale without exaggerated tastes."
  • "Very malty, almost like soda.  Spicy aftertaste. "
  • "Frothy, sour, bitter and dull flavor."
  • "Too light, lacks taste."
  • "Very thin, light body."
  • "Diluted flavor, disappointing."

Sixth Place:
Katzra Amber -- From the Arava Brewery in Tzukim, located in the Arava Valley of the Negev Desert.  "Katzra" is a stream in the Arava.  This is a small, local brewery which also makes a dark ale and a blond ale.  The alcoholic content of the amber is 4.6%.       
  • "Grassy and no hop aroma.  Sour."
  • "Strong aroma of spices, fruit and caraway.  Some cloves and banana."
  • "Dark color, fruity and hoppy, nice after-taste."
  • "Flat and cloudy with a mild taste."
  • "A bit bland, but good all-around taste."
  • "Bitter, light after-taste."
  • "No smell.  Diluted flavor, and later fruit."

Fifth Place:
Jem's Amber Ale -- From the Jem's Beer Factory in Petach Tikva.  The bottle label says that this is a 5.3% ABV "English Ale" made with Carafa malts.   
Batya deliberating.
  • "Almost no aroma.  Good for those who like mild amber ales."
  • "Gentle, sweet, light body."
  • "Lemony, bitter after-taste."
  • "Slight bitterness.  Balanced."
  • "Medium amber color.  Mid-bitterness.  Thick and smooth."
  • "No aroma and flat flavor."

Fourth Place:
Chuck's Amber Ale -- From Chuck's Brewery in Ra'anana, although the beer is brewed at the Mosco Brewery facilities on Moshav Zanuach.  Chuck's is a small brewery of four partners which has recently increased its commercial activities.  5.3% ABV.        
  • "Earthy aroma.  Very well balanced."
  • "Mild, pleasant aroma of hops.  Balanced."
  • "Light color.  A little sour."
  • "Strong on hops.  Closest to an IPA."
  • "Dark amber color, thick head.  Hoppy, strong initial bitterness, full body."
  • "Neutral taste.  Not overly bitter."
  • "Mild aroma, hoppy taste."

Third Place:
Amber Beer -- From the Vilde Chaya Brewery.  Vilde Chaya beer is made at the Mosco Brewery facilities on Moshav Zanuach by Itai Tzuker of Kibbutz Gvat and Hagai Gelman of Kiryat Tivon.  Their impressive showing in this tasting is indeed a compliment to Itai and Hagai's talent.  In addition to their Amber Ale (5.2% ABV), Vilde Chaya also makes a wheat beer, a stout, and a beet(!) beer.         
Eitan savoring.
  • "Sweet hop aroma.  Bitter chocolate taste."
  • "Very mild.  Strong hop presence and pleasant finish."
  • "Slightly sour and sweet.  Musty."
  • "Bitter and strong, with a hint of citron."
  • "Highly aromatic.  Nice balance between bitter and sweet."
  • "Darker color.  Strong fruity aroma and strong flavor."

Second Place:
Bazelet Amber Ale -- From the Golan Brewery in Katzrin.  At 6.4% ABV, this was the strongest amber ale in our tasting.    
  • "Fruity with a good malt taste."
  • "Excellent hop flavor and finish.  Balanced and tasty."
  • "Fruity, lightly bitter, malty."
  • "Strong hops flavor but not bitter."
  • "Not a good after-taste, but refreshing."
  • "Medium bitterness, sour and hoppy."
  • "Dark and sweet.  Bubbly in the mouth.  Taste of hops and schav (sorrel soup)."

First Place:
Amber Ale -- From the Negev Brewery in Kiryat Gat.  Our winner was 11 points above number two.  The judges, while not being unanimous in their praise, had several enthusiastic comments for this beer.  Alcohol by volume is a low 4.9%.   
Bob relishing.
  • "Strong but not exaggerated hops.  Excellent taste and clean finish."
  • "Good hop flavor.  Close to an IPA."
  • "Light color.  Balanced flavors of fruit, vanilla, malt."
  • "Nice aroma.  Good all-around beer.  Smooth mouthfeel."
  • "Light amber.  Citrus aroma and flavor.  Very nice."
  • "Sweet and fruity."

Congratulations to the folks at Negev Brewery, led by Sagiv Karlboim, for their first-place amber ale.

Amber waves of grain.
Our warm thanks to all of the brewers represented in the Tasting Panel for contributing their beers.  They came from near and far to put the amber ales on our table.

Thanks also to my wife Trudy for helping to make the Tasting Panel a culinary and social success.  She became a "beer maiden" for the night, making sure the beer was served cold and the snacks were plentiful.  

And extra-special thanks to Judge Mike Horton, the photographic magician who immortalized our Tasting Panel and transported us to exquisite realms in Budapest.   

August 10, 2015

Ashdod Beer Festival -- August 19-20

I just found out about the Ashdod Beer Festival, which will be held August 19-20 at the Mei-Ami Beach.  The only thing I was able to learn from the website and phone number was that this is the fifth Ashdod Beer Festival (though I was completely unaware of previous ones) and that tickets cost 35 shekels and do not include tastings.  The festival opens at 8:30 and there are big-name entertainers on both nights.  I couldn't find out which breweries will be represented nor how many beers will be available.

Ashdod on the Mediterranean.
If you live in the area and would like to attend, the phone number for tickets is 08-854-5833 and the municipal office for these events is 08-854-5141.  Maybe you'll have better luck getting information than I did.

By the way, the name of the beach, Mei-Ami, means "waters of my people" in Hebrew.  There are folks out there who believe that the name Miami (as in Florida) comes from the same source.

Just a reminder that the BEERS 2015 Festival in Tel Aviv will be held this coming Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday evenings (August 11-13) at the Train Station (HaTachana) in Neveh Tzedek.  Doors open at 6:00 pm.  The entrance fee is 70 shekels, which includes the first five tastings.  After that, you can buy five additional tasting coupons for 30 shekels.        

According to information on the BEERS website, if you print out and bring the coupon below (or display it on your smartphone), the entrance fee is reduced to 50 shekels.  What are you waiting for?

There are two beer festivals going on over August 26-27.  One of them is in Haifa (held on the Agritech Grounds, near the Convention Center) where entrance is free.  Since it is sponsored by Goldstar and Maccabee Beer, don't expect any Israeli craft breweries to be there -- but it should be a lot of fun anyway.

Last year's Jerusalem Beer Festival.
(Photo: Koby Sharvit)
The other one is the 11th "Ir Habira" Jerusalem Beer Festival, held in Independence Park (Gan HaAtzmaut).  Entrance costs 35-45 shekels, and does not include any beer tasting.  There will be food and entertainment, and if it maintains the level of past Jerusalem festivals, a great time should be had by all.    
Regarding the Mateh Yehuda Rustic Beer Festival, I have been informed by Chani Ben-Yehuda, who is responsible for festivals and events at the Tzlilei Hakesem company,   which organizers these events, that it doesn't appear as if there will be a festival this year.  This is a real shame, since the atmosphere, the music, the beer and the food at these festivals were always first-rate.  As they used to say in Brooklyn, "Wait'll next year!"   

August 7, 2015

Jerusalem Brewgarden: Lucky neighbors

Lucky is the person who lives near a home-brewer.  If you play your cards right, you shall not lack for good beer.

Ron Prigat (left) and Yair Uziel pumping their
home-brews at the sixth Brewgarden in Jerusalem.
Jerusalem's Givat Hamivtar neighborhood, near Ramat Eshkol, has a few such lucky people.  They live near Yair Uziel and Ron Prigat, two 27-year-old home-brewers who love to share their beer with friendly neighbors who appreciate it.  And once a year, sometimes more, Yair and Ron throw their famous Brewgarden party for family and friends.  I was fortunate to be invited to number six a few weeks ago.

The Prigat family garden is an ideal backdrop for a brew party, with grass, flowers and shade trees to set the scene.  Yair, who works in high-tech, and Ron, an artist, were in their element, pumping beer from a homemade refrigerated tap system while offering their guests inspired explanations.  

They were selling four kinds of beers that day, all solid styles.

Ron Prigat sharing secrets
with the old blogger.
Honey Wheat (4.5% ABV) -- Classic weissbier color and aroma, but the honey is very dominant to the taste.  It contrasts well with the sourness in the beer, so I guess it could be called sweet-and-sour.  Quite yummy, actually.

Belgian Trippel (8.5%) -- Another classic: Strong alcohol scent.  Taste of sweet malt and yeast cake.  Very weak hops.

Coffee Stout (4.5%) -- Made with Brazilian coffee, this has a delicious strong coffee taste, though the body is weak for a stout.  I had the feeling that a good spot of milk or cream would have been just right.

Rye IPA (7%) --  This was the only "non-classic" beer being served.  About 5% of the grain used is unmalted rye.  The beer is not as bitter as a regular IPA, perhaps because the rye imparts a fruity-nut flavor.  The hops, however, are very present, both in aroma and taste.  A very drinkable IPA -- avoiding extremes while keeping taste.

Ron and Yair have been making beer for about three years, brewing batches of 150 liters each time.

Beer and company at the Brewgarden. 
"Our Beergardens have become public events," says Ron, "attracting people from all over.  We get to share our beer with other people and get their feedback.  It shows that our brewing has meaning, that we're not just another small home-brewery."

I have found that many home-brewers have this need to reach out, to share their beer with others.  They may even go to the extent of giving their beer a brand name, a logo and a label -- even though they have no intention of going commercial.  It's as if their beer brewing is not just a generic hobby, but needs to have a name and a personality of its own.        

In the case of Ron and Yair, they call themselves the Yeasty Boys, but still do not have a brand name for their brewery.  There's already a Yeastie Boys Brewery somewhere in New Zealand, so they don't want to go with that.

They'd be happy to hear suggestions from readers, so if you have any bright ideas, please send them to me.

At any rate, take a tip from me and search your neighborhood for home-brewers.  If you find any, introduce yourself.  They'll probably be very friendly people, as home-brewers usually are.  Tell them how much you appreciate good craft beer.  You're sure to make a new friend -- and you shall not lack for good beer.