May 17, 2017

Five early beer events!

Two signs that craft beers are really gaining traction in our fair land: Beer festivals and events are starting earlier in the season (some are even going on year round!), and they are popping up at more and more non-central locations.

So, for example, five events have recently come to my attention that I hasten to share with you, my readers.  By all means, try to attend one of them near you and enjoy the experience of comradery and socializing with people who share your taste and passion for good beer.

Gaash BeerFest 2017
May 19-20

The first one is only two days away -- the BeerFest on Kibbutz Gaash on the coastal plain.  This is over two days, Friday, May 19, and Saturday, May 20.  The hours are between noon and 2:00 a.m. or so, and entrance is free.  The beer on sale is Barzel, whose partners are also kibbutz guys.  As with most of such festivals, there will be music and food, including hand-made Bavarian sausage.

More information at:

Beer 7 Fest
May 26

This local Beersheva beer festival (held at 33 Hechalutz Street) has always been a favorite of mine, a chance to meet smaller brewers and taste their often-wonderful beers.  This time, the fifth such Beer 7 Fest, there will be nine of them, so it's conceivable that you should be able to taste all of their wares -- if you don't have to drive home.

Doors open at noon on Friday, May 26.  Admission is 30 shekels, though you can buy your ticket early for only 25 shekels and get your first taste free.  Tastes are 5 shekels each, and third-of-a-liter glass of beer is only 15 shekels.  All attendees get to take home a branded tasting glass.

More information at:

Beer in the Corridor
May 30

On the day before the Shavuot holiday, Tuesday, May 30, the Beer & Beyond store at 159 Igal Alon Street in Tel Aviv will turn the corridor in the building into a mini beer festival, with stands offering free beer tasting and special prices for beer packages.  From 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.     

More information at:

Festi-Bira Givatayim
June 7-8

Billed as the first beer festival in the city of Givatayim (adjacent to Tel Aviv), the Festi-Bira is taking place on Wednesday and Thursday, June 7-8, from 4:00 to 11:00 p.m. each day.  As joint sponsors, the Municipality of Givatayim and the Azrieli Mall (53 Yitzhak Rabin Road) seem to be going all out to make this a big success.  It should be drawing participants from the entire Greater Tel Aviv region.

Over 40 brands of local Israeli craft and imported beer will be on sale, with discounts for soldiers and students over 18.  There will be stands for food and places for sitting and eating, with musical entertainment throughout.  Admission is free, as is parking for the first two hours.

More information at:

Beer in the Heart of the Desert 
June 22

For those who live in the south, here's another beer festival for you, this time in Arad.  Held at the Tzim Center (9 Shamir Street), the event will take place on Thursday, June 22, from 8:00 to 11:00 p.m.  Beer will be available from southern brewers, as well as more well-known brands.  And, of course, it wouldn't be a beer festival without food stands and live music.  Admission is free.         

More information at:

April 22, 2017

Machane Yehuda bar map

As I promised (here), below is your free, handy map of the famous Machane Yehuda market in Jerusalem, with the names, locations and photographs of the bars serving Israeli craft beers on tap.  It's a jpeg version which you can open, save and print at any size you want.  Use it when you visit the market to find out where you can go to enjoy excellent Israeli craft beer.

Please tell the bartender you read about them on Israel Brews and Views.  Don't be taken aback when s/he looks you straight in the eye and says, "What's that?"  Just show them the map.  And have a good time.  Thanks.

These bars are also on an illustrated pub crawl video which you can access on the Wish Trip application.  Here is the link:  

(Map created by: Mike Horton)

April 20, 2017

Still with the dark beers

The season for darker beers is ending -- or is it?  As we get deeper into spring, it doesn't appear that Israeli beer drinkers are abandoning their taste for stouts, porters, and black IPAs.  Israeli brewers are still coming out with new versions of these dark ales.

Here is one that's available in many beer and liquor stores, one that's only available in a few bars and pubs, and one home-brew that you're never going to taste.

Dictator Porter

The newest addition to the Dictator line of beers, brewed by Yotam Baras, Tomer Goren, and Nir Gilat at the Mivshelet Ha'aretz (Beer Bazaar Brewery) in Kiryat Gat, is the Dictator Porter.  Keeping with tradition, there's a caricature of an infamous dictator on the label, in this case the nefarious Idi Amin.

This 6.4% alcohol porter pours out a very dark brown with a tan head.  You get the aroma of roasty chocolate from the dark malt.  There is almost no hop aroma.

There's more chocolate in the taste, bitter and very dry, with note of chocolate liqueur.  Very carbonated for a porter beer, but why not?  The finish is dry, even a bit astringent.  The overall impression is that this is a strong porter, rich in flavor and alcohol-powerful, but very refreshing.  A welcome addition to the Dictator line.

Jem's Winter Special

Winter Special in the vat:
The old blogger stirs up the cauldron with
Jem's brewer Leiby Chapler.

(Photo: Mike Horton) 
First a disclosure: This is beer I was with at its birth, stirring the mash and channeling the wort.  I was invited to the Jem's Beer Factory in Petach Tikva just for this purpose.  [Read about it here.]

It took a while for the fermentation and maturation, but when it was ready, owner and brewmaster Jeremy Welfeld sent photographer Mike Horton and me each a growler of this first-rate beer.

It was originally called Black Beauty and then Winter Ale, but what's in a name?  We're talking about a black IPA that straddles the worlds of stout/porter and IPA.

This beer is not exactly black, more like a very dark brown.  The aroma is of yeast and very citrusy hops.  It's when you taste it that you find the balance between the citrus and the roasted barley, a light burnt taste with caramel and other fruits, tapering to a dry finish.

This is definitely a beer that I would want to drink again, but I don't know if there's any left.  If you find yourself at any on of Jem's restaurants, by all means ask for it, even though winter is officially over.  If I had known it was going to be so good, I would have made more!

Touching Darkness
by Ben Ben Tal Home-Brewers

Friends from their army days:
Liran Bartental (left)
and Itai Benvenisti 
Another disclosure: One of the brewers of Touching Darkness is Itai Benvenisti, the advertising manager of one of the newspapers where I work as an agent.  A really wonderful fellow.  I can't say it enough.  His brewing partner is Liran Bartental of Re'ut.  Together, they home-brew under the Ben Ben Tal label.

The two have been experimenting with brewing strong stout beers; at first not too successfully.  An earlier version was strong on the chocolate aroma and taste, but with a very thin body that could have used more malt.

Touching Darkness has solved this problem.  The body is full; you can even call it chewy.  The color is dark reddish brown, with a thin tan head.  Although the aroma is rather nondescript, the flavor is full and complex.  We tasted Israeli instant coffee, milk chocolate and prune juice.  The finish was creamy.

I had Touching Darkness with my drinking partner Moshe, over a dish of garlic-roasted kale, and the beer more than stood up to the strong, pungent flavor of the kale.  Moshe pronounced that it was "an interesting beer -- not a regular stout."

It's a shame you can't go out a buy a bottle.  There are a few fine Israeli stouts out there, but nothing quite like Touching Darkness.                

April 8, 2017

Old dark and new light

New beers are constantly soft-landing on my table (although some of them are just new to me).  And that's a good thing.  The local craft beer fellowship has reached a maturity where new beers are appearing quite regularly.  I try to taste them and report to you in a timely manner, but sometimes I am unavoidably delayed.  Here are two more or less recent.

Lynx Imperial Stout

This beer won the Best-in-Show award in the B'tsisa home-brewers competition almost a year ago.  I wrote then [read it here] that I would try to get a bottle and report back to my readers.  I wasn't sure how I was going to do this.

Zeev Stein (left) and Yaron Rachamim
of Lynx Brewery, receive their
B'tsisa award last year.
Then, at last summer's Tel Aviv Beer Festival, I bumped into Lynx brewers Zeev Stein and Yaron Rachamim.  "Wait right here," said Zeev.  "I want to bring you a bottle of our Imperial Stout."  One of the great perks of being a beer blogger!  Zeev actually ran out to his car and came back with a precious bottle of the dark liquid.  I promised I would drink it and report back.    

It strikes me that Lynx Imperial Stout is sui generis.  (Thanks to Mr. Hugh O'Donnell, my high school Latin teacher.)  It's made with two types of coffee and whisky-steeped vanilla beans, and aged for one year in the bottle.      

The result is a 12% ABV beer the color of dark brown ink with a thin foam.  My drinking partner Moshe pulled back his head when he took his first whiff.  What an intense aroma of burnt espresso coffee, perhaps some carob and, of course, the alcohol.    

The taste was a very enjoyable bitterness from the roasted malt, rather than from hops.  Also some summer fruits.  The powerful alcohol was also in the taste, but was not intrusive like a stranger.  Rather, it blended in very nicely with the malt.

The distinctive stout taste was much more weighted to coffee than to chocolate, prompting Moshe to exclaim, "It's almost like drinking a coffee liqueur!"

I agreed with Moshe.  This is an extreme stout, but in a good way.  You can't so much drink this beer as sip it.  It's a beautiful tasting experience, and I can understand why the B'tsisa judges thought so highly of it.

But I couldn't help thinking that this Imperial Stout was brewed for other beer brewers, or connoisseurs, or beer geeks, or whatever you want to call the "in crowd."  The taste is too extreme for the general beer-drinking public, and since this was a very limited home-brew, it will never reach the public anyway.  But I'm sure that the talented brewing duo of Zeev and Yaron can make excellent beers more attuned to popular tastes, and we should all be hoping that these eventually become commercially available to all of us.

Buster's Pils

Going from dark to light, I also tasted the new Buster's Pils, the second commercial beer from the Buster's Beverage Company in Beit Shemesh.  (The first was their Oak-Aged Stout, which was reviewed here.)  The beer is contract brewed at the Alexander Brewery in Emek Hefer.

Pilsner was originally brewed in Plzen in what is today the Czech Republic, and we even know the exact year -- 1842, the year gold was discovered in California!  Pilsner quickly became one of the most popular beer styles in the world, and it still is.  It's the "universal donor" of beer styles: it goes well with almost any food.

Pilsner is a clean and simple beer with simple ingredients: light malted barley, Noble hops (imparting more aroma and flavor than bitterness), lager yeast and soft water.  Brewing skill, however, is the one extra ingredient needed to achieve an excellent Pilsner.

Master brewer Denny Neilson displays this skill with his light (4.8% ABV) Pils lager.  Denny revealed that this Pilsner is the only Israeli beer made with 20% corn in the grain bill.  Now, of course, corn has a very bad press as an "adjunct" used by mega-brewers in their pale lagers.  Craft beer aficionados have been known to turn up their noses to any beer made with adjuncts such as corn or rice.  Yet, when used correctly, corn can actually lighten up the color and body of a beer, and maybe add a smooth sweetness, without changing its flavor much.  This is what Denny tries to do with his Pils.      

Buster's Pils pours out the color of ginger ale, pale as straw and a little hazy.  The aroma is floral hops, some fresh grain and grass.  The taste has a satisfying balance between the bitter and sweet, with some hop spice, fruit and citrus.  The beer's finish -- the taste that hangs on your tongue after you swallow -- is dry, bitter and refreshing.  That's what makes you want to continue drinking, and why Pilsner is so good with almost any cheese, as well as dishes light, fried or spicy.

Denny says that he hopes that Israeli beer drinkers will now be able to enjoy Pilsner beer without having to buy it from Europe.  I concur.  Buster's Pils is a credit to the style, and an excellent way to introduce yourself to Pilsner beer.                  

March 30, 2017

Kosher for Passover beer to America

We've been following Bryan Meadan for a few years.  First, as a home-brewer and contract brewer of gluten-free beer (please see here); then as a commercial brewer of Israel's only kosher-for-Passover beer (here).

Well, this year, Bryan took another giant step -- across a continent, an ocean, and another continent.

He's exporting to California and giving American Jews their first taste of kosher-for-Passover beer. "This year is only a test," Bryan acknowledged.  "We sent only 60 cases (1,440 bottles) of Bitter Date Ale and 60 cases of Amber Date Ale.  They'll be sold in select stores in the Los Angeles and San Francisco areas."

These ales are not new to Meadan Brewery, which was opened in 2015 in Carmiel.  They are both based on date honey (silan), meaning they are gluten-free and legume-free, making them kosher-for-Passover for all Jewish ethnic groups and communities.

"The Bitter Date Ale has more hops than the Amber Date," Bryan revealed, "but other than that, they are basically very similar.

The first shipment of
Meadan kosher-for-Passover beer
arrives in California!
"We hope that American Jews will be so excited about kosher-for-Passover beer that they will make it a holiday tradition."

In addition to the kosher-for-Passover customers, the beer will also be marketed to people who keep gluten-free diets (such as celiac patients), and as a unique date ale beverage in itself.  Each store will decide how best to market the beer.

Meadan Brewery hasn't forgotten the local market.  This year, 125,000 bottles of the kosher-for-Passover beer have been brewed for sale in Israel before and during the holiday.  "I doubt if that will be enough to meet the demand," Bryan concludes.  "Last year we produced  45,000 bottles, but stores and restaurants ran out during Passover."

If Meadan's kosher-for-Passover beers find a successful market in America, these numbers will seem like drops in the beer barrel.

March 20, 2017

Craft beers on tap in Machane Yehuda

Just two years ago, it wasn't easy to find Israeli craft beers in bars and pubs.  And I'm talking about bottles -- much less on tap!

What a difference 24 months make!

Your intrepid old blogger, accompanied by photographer extraordinaire Mike Horton, took several cold night strolls through Jerusalem's Machane Yehuda market -- rapidly becoming the city's new center for night life -- looking for Israeli craft beers on draft (or draught, as Mike would write).  We found them in no less than 17 bars and restaurants.
The numbers on this map of the Machane Yehuda market in Jerusalem
refer to the bars and restaurants listed below.
(Map created by Mike Horton.) 
Tour Guide Fun Joel Haber ( was fantastic in helping us find the qualifying establishments, though a few might have fallen through our dragnet.  If you know of any that we missed, please let me know.

Here then are the photos of the craft beer taps, the name and address of the bar/restaurant, and the name of the barperson who was there to greet us.  In most cases, you can click on the name of the establishment and go to its Facebook page, where you can learn more about each one.

Like all eating establishments in Machane Yehuda, these places are kosher, although with different certifications.  Some are full-blown restaurants; others serve pub grub, or only alcohol.  This is mentioned in the names below each photograph.

Since the market is a maze of streets, lanes and alleyways making it almost impossible to list the locations in any logical geographical order, we decided to use the English alphabet instead.

The map above shows all locations with their identifying number.  You can save this map on your computer and then print it out for easy use.  In the near future, we also hope to bring you a more detailed and interactive map which you can download directly to your smartphone.

We hope this helps get you out into the Machane Yehuda market and into enjoying Israeli craft beers in their natural setting.

Agrippas Bar and Grill
56 Etz Chaim
Kineret pumping Dictator Irish Red Ale
(four Jem's beers are also on tap.)

Number 1 on the map.

Bardak Pizza
4 Beit Yakov
Tal behind the all-Israeli-craft taps.

Number 2.

Beer Bazaar (pub and restaurant)
3 Etz Chaim
You can hardly see Shiri behind the Israeli craft taps.

Number 3.

Crave Gourmet Street Food
1 Hashikma
Naomi with Alexander Blazer and Beer Bazaar Bhindi.
They also have a very flavorful light pilsner on tap
made by Alexander Brewery exclusively for Crave.
They call it "Pure Love" -- 5.2% alcohol and highly recommended!

Number 4.

Hachapuria -- Georgian Bakery
5 Hashikma
Two Shapiro beers on tap.

Number 5.
Hashechena -- Dairy Restaurant
11 Beit Yakov
Ana'el is hiding behind Alexander, Shapiro and Herzl.

Number 6.

Ishtabach Middle Eastern restaurant
1 Hashikma
Hila pumping Mosco beer.

Number 7.

La Cornerie bar and coffee shop
40 Etz Chaim
Shira serving Madam Cornerie,
a private label beer from the Srigim Brewery.

Number 8.

Meorav Yerushalmi mixed grill
14 Ha'egoz
Assaf behind the Bazelet taps.

Number 9.

Michmoret Fish Restaurant
7 Hatoot
Adi is the bartender; Bazelet on tap.

Number 10.

O'Connell in the Shuk (pub and restaurant)
63 Etz Chaim
Sivan behind the Herzl 6% Kapara tap.

Number 11.
Que Pasa Tapas Bar
9 Ha'egoz
Yaniv behind the taps of all the beers from the Srigim Brewery:
Ronen and Emek Ha'ela.

Number 12.

Roasters Coffee Bar
20 Afarsek
Omri pumping two Shapiro beers.

Number 13.

Shuka Bar
17 Ha'egoz
Dhyan and his dreadlocks behind the Shapiro beer taps.

Number 14.

Steam Kitchen and Bar
26 Ha'egoz
Nati with four Mosco beer taps.

Number 15.

Sushiyuda sushi restaurant
69 Etz Chaim
Timor pumps a Bazelet pale ale.

Number 16.

Time Bar & Coffee
8 Etz Chaim
Shlomi behind the Alexander and Shapiro taps.

Number 17.

March 13, 2017

The famous beer lecture returns -- March 20

If you find yourself in or around Jerusalem next Monday, March 20, please stop in to the Beer Bazaar and hear my (now) famous lecture on the history of beer in the Middle East -- followed by a guided tasting of three Israeli craft beers.  I've already given this lecture a few times in English and Hebrew -- this time it's in English -- and it seems like the audience and I have had a good time together.  My talk is accompanied by the excellent slides of photographer and graphic artist Mike Horton.  (You can read some background on the lecture here.)

The lecture begins at 6:30 p.m. at the Beer Bazaar, 3 Etz Chaim Street in Jerusalem's Machane Yehuda market.  The entrance fee is 30 shekels if you order your ticket in advance (use the link below) or 40 shekels if you pay at the door.  The entrance fee includes a third-of-a-liter of beer, which you can enjoy while I'm talking, in addition to the tastings at the end.

So sign up and come out for an evening well spent.  Hope to see you there.

March 12, 2017

1,300 bottles of beer on the wall

Yitzhak Berman started drinking beer on his frequent business trips to Europe for the same reason the medieval monks drank their doppelbock "shtarkbier" during Lent: The beer was a kind of "liquid bread" that gave them sustenance.

Beer bottle collector Yitzhak Berman with
"some" of his Israeli beers.
The monks drank it because they weren't allowed to eat solid food during Lent.  Yitzhak drank it because it was the only plentiful food he could find that he knew was kosher!

"I figured, as long as I was drinking so many beers, I might as well start collecting the bottles and cans," explains Yitzhak.  "At first, it was Belgian beers, then I added Austrian, then all of Europe."

That was 20 years ago.  Today, Yitzhak's collection has over 1,300 bottles and cans from 74 countries, including 400 from Israel.  He keeps them on shelves all over his house in Beit El.  "And my collection keeps on growing," Yitzhak adds.  "I'm always looking for new beers here in Israel and when I travel abroad, and my friends know to bring me beers from all over the world."

Yitzhak Berman meets the old blogger
at the Beer Bazaar in Jerusalem.
One thing Yitzhak, who came on aliya from Brooklyn in 1968,  hasn't done is to try to connect with other "breweriana" collectors in Israel.  I know there are others, since I have met some during my beer escapades around the country.  In fact, in 2014, beer-stuff collector Ralph Mendel was well on his way towards organizing the First International Breweriana Convention in Jerusalem -- when the summer war in Gaza ended any hopes of foreign collectors coming here.

I am sometimes amazed at the passion shown by collectors like Yitzhak and Ralph, yet why should I be?  Isn't it just another extension of the rush that we -- me and you, dear readers -- feel when we find, drink and appreciate good beer?  These collectors want to hold on to that feeling in some tangible way, and I can understand that.  So more power to them.  Perhaps the Yitzhaks and the Ralphs can link up in some way and form an Israeli breweriana collectors association.  It would certainly be a colorful addition to the Israeli craft beer scene.

In the meantime, Yitzhak asked me to help spread the word that he is on the lookout for bottles from the Coney Island Brewery in Brooklyn, as well as a bottle of Alef Alef Beer, made in Israel beginning in 1952.  If you can help him, please let me know.  Click on the link on the right-hand side where it says: "Write to me: Click here!"  Also, if you're a collector or a would-be collector and would like to correspond with Yitzhak, I'll be happy to put you in touch.                  

February 21, 2017

Tasting winter beers at Beerateinu, Jerusalem

Although I have been known to travel elsewhere for beer events, as a contented Jerusalemite (at least from April to October), I unapologetically favor local happenings.

The Winter Beer Tasting Session at the Beerateinu
store and bar in Jerusalem.

(Photo: Mike Horton)

So it was that I happily signed up for the second tasting session of winter beers at Beerateinu, the Jerusalem Beer Center (3 Yanai Street).  I wasn't able to attend the first session a week earlier because it was fully booked.  Owners Leon Shvartz and Shmuel Naky graciously scheduled a second session.

Inside the cozy retail store, bar and brewing education center, around a dozen people came together to taste and hear about winter beers.  There were also platters of cut vegetables and cheeses.  Leon and Shmuel gave running commentary to these winter warmers as we sipped and snacked.

1) Beresheet from the Negev Brewery, Israel.  A 4.7% alcohol by volume cream ale, not necessarily considered a winter beer, but  . . . okay, it was on the menu.  Citrus fruits dominate this beer's aroma and flavor profile,  It was first brewed only for guests at the Beresheet Hotel in the Negev Desert, but is now available to all.  (Read about its first mention here.)

2) Kaguo, a strong (9%) ale brewed in De Graal, Belgium, for the Japanese market.  Highly spiced with yuzo (Japanese citrus) and sansho pepper, brewed with added sugar.  Citrus, malts and hop flavor carry this beer to a warming finish.

3) Espresso Stout from Hitachino Nest Brewery in Japan.  A coffee-flavored imperial stout, 7% ABV, made with coffee beans.

4) Shakespeare Oatmeal Stout from the Rogue Brewery in Newport, Oregon.  Brewing with rolled oats gives body and smoothness to this 5.7% ABV American stout beer.  Lots of coffee and bitter chocolate flavors.

5) Jack's Winter Ale (2017) from Shapiro Brewery in Israel.  The flagship Israeli winter beer for the past six years.  Strong (8.5%), flavorful, and brewed with bourbon-infused oak chips.  (First reviewed here.)

6) Imperial Stout from Alexander Brewery, Israel.  Brand new for this season.  A black stout on steroids, 10.4% ABV, with flavors of roasted caramel, coffee, bittersweet chocolate, molasses and roasted malt.  (Recently reviewed here.)  

7) Lupulus Hibernatus, a Belgian strong ale from the Lupulus Brewery in the Ardennes region of Belgium.  Brewed with a little bit of added cinnamon, 8.5% ABV, coffee is the dominant flavor here.

8) Lupulus Organicus, a pale ale very similar to the Hibernatus, but made only with organic hops and malt.  Also 8.5% alcohol.

9) Lupulus Brown, a good example of the English brown ale style, warming and toasty, with nice citrus notes from the added orange peel.  8.5% ABV.              

10) Chouffe N'ice Winter Beer from the Achouffe Brewery in the Ardennes region of Belgium.  A strong (10% ABV), brown beer brewed for the cold months, for sipping on a snowy night in northern Europe.  Spiced with thyme and Curacao orange liqueur.

11) Leon and Shmuel then served us from another bottle of Chouffe N'ice, asking us if we could taste any difference from the previous.  It was a trick question.  People said, "It's sweeter," "It's stronger," "Less alcoholic."

In fact, it was the same beer, only from a bottle that had expired over two years ago.  "It shows that these government regulations concerning beer are not very useful," Leon told us.  "These stronger beers can age very well."

12) St. Bernardus Christmas Ale from the St. Bernard Brewery in Watou, Belgium.  A classic quadruple-style Belgian abbey ale, consistently considered as one of the finest beers in the world.  Has a strong taste of warming alcohol (10% ABV), with sweet and complex flavors such as dried fruits and molasses.    

So, thank you Shmuel and Leon for a very enjoyable and warm evening, introducing us to the right beer to have while the Jerusalem winter howls and chills our bones.    

February 13, 2017

More "stouts plus"

We're on a roll here, people.  Doing a catch-up on Israeli stouts which didn't make it in to our Stout Beer Tasting Panel because they were brewed with special ingredients or processes.  Here are two more -- one an oldtimer, been with the brewery since the start, while the other has been out there for only a few months.

Shapiro Oatmeal Stout

This beer from the Shapiro Brewery in Beit Shemesh is one of their three core beers, along with the Wheat Beer and the Pale Ale.  The Oatmeal Stout is 5.2% alcohol by volume, and is made, as you would expect, with the addition of oatmeal during the brewing process.

The beer pours a very dark brown with thin tan foam.  There are light aromas of malt, chocolate and coffee, but nothing really dominant.  The taste is bitter chocolate, perhaps some licorice.  The carbonation was quite strong and it has a mid-thick creaminess and body.  After sitting in the glass for a few minutes at room temperature, the chocolate and astringency were enhanced.

I guess there are people for whom the words "Oatmeal Stout" on the bottle will stimulate their imagination to smell or taste oatmeal.  But I wasn't getting it.  The oatmeal was probably the ingredient that gave this beer its creamy texture, which was quite an accomplishment, thank you.

During my Friday morning get-togethers with members of the Machane Yehuda Market "parliament," we sit next to a bar selling Shapiro Oatmeal Stout on tap.  It is by far, the most popular beer among us decision makers, as well it should be.          

Black Jack Smoked Stout

This is the latest bottled beer from the Beer Bazaar Brewery in Kiryat Gat, for sale at the Beer Bazaar pubs in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, and other beer and liquor stores.  The delicate smoky taste comes from some of the malt which is smoked over an oak fire.  Alcohol by volume is 4.7%.

Black Jack is really black, with a medium beige head.  Strong aromas of sweet chocolate, roasted malt and espresso hit you right away -- a delicious combination.  The taste is mid-sweet, with notes of milk chocolate, caramel, and dried figs and dates.  It has a thin body, but a strong bittering aftertaste, and this is where you feel the gentle smoke.  Don't expect a very smoky experience.  This beer is well balanced between bitter and sweet, and also (in my opinion) with just the right amount of smoke.  A very enjoyable "stout plus."

To complete our exploration, my next post on stouts will include two Israeli home-brews -- one Imperial, the other merely regal -- and a surprise guest visitor from abroad.        

February 8, 2017

New "stouts plus"

Our recent Tasting Panel for Israeli stout beers (see here) in no way covered all of the stouts brewed in this country.  In fact, there are several new stouts out there now, but they didn't qualify for our Tasting Panel because they are what I call "stouts plus" -- stouts with something extra; maybe smoked, sweet, oatmeal, oak-aged, or imperially enhanced.  
Here, then, are reviews of two of them.  Stout beers are enjoyable throughout the year, though especially in the colder months, so now's a good time to try these.

Buster's Oak Aged Stout
Led by Master-of-Fermentation Denny Neilson, Buster's Beverage Company in Beit Shemesh started out making apple ciders and spiked lemonade.  But Denny was always a beer brewer at heart, and in fact was making and selling beers from his home in Mevasseret Zion even before Buster's was opened.  (One of these was the incomparable Chutzpah Double IPA which you can read about here.)  He also gives excellent courses in beer- and wine-making, and distilling.  

Buster's first venture into the commercial beer market is their Oak Aged Stout, a 5.8% alcohol stout aged with oak chips.  Denny says that this method is preferable to aging in oak barrels because the barrels would have to be disinfected with chemical sulfites, which would have an adverse effect on the beer.  "We don't like chemicals," he adds.

The beer is brewed at the contract brewery facilities, known as Abir Habar, of the Alexander Brewery in Emek Hefer.  Denny says that this is only until Buster's gets its own brewing system, hopefully by the end of the year.

The Oak Aged Stout pours out an opaque black-brown with a thin creamy head and aromas of coffee and bitter chocolate.  The taste opens with a sour astringency so appreciated in fine stouts, and develops into mild roasted coffee.  There's also a lovely chewiness and creaminess in the beer's texture, with a bitter ending.

My drinking partner Moshe and I felt that this was an excellent beer -- but where was the oak?  Perhaps the oak aging added to the tartness and the creamy mouthfeel.  As far as flavor goes, I must admit that I have never tasted oak wood, so I was not sure what I should be looking for.    Perhaps I owe it to my readers and myself to chew on some oak chips -- if I could just get over my fear of splinters between my teeth!

Alexander Imperial Stout

From the Alexander Brewery in Emek Hefer comes their newest seasonal beer, Imperial Stout.  Traditionally, imperial stouts are said to have originated in England in the 18th century for export to the court of the Russian czars and czarinas, who loved their beers black and strong.  For this reason, they are also known as Russian imperial stout.  Whatever the history, the style has become a popular craft beer brewed in the U.S. and Europe.  In effect, it is stout beer on steroids -- brewed with large amounts of roasted barley malt, highly complex flavor and high in alcohol.  These are beers meant for sipping, not gulping.

As the label says, Alexander Imperial Stout is made with added sugars, which boost the alcoholic content to a whopping 10.4%.  This is another dark brown to black beer with a thin tan head.  I loved the aroma: strong alcohol and with a wine-like essence.  A very thick and full-bodied beer, with tastes of roasted caramel, coffee, bittersweet chocolate, molasses and roasted malt.

Moshe thought it was "too alcoholic" -- that the alcohol got in the way of the other interesting flavors.   But I didn't find that a problem.  I enjoyed the warmth of the alcohol going down.  This is a fine winter beer: great by itself on cold days and nights, or with strong flavored foods, aged cheeses and dark chocolate desserts.    

We're not through with "stouts plus" yet.  Keep your eye on Israel Brews and Views for more reviews of these surprising beers.

February 1, 2017

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

I know, the suspense must be terrible.  What were the results, you've been asking, of the Israeli Brews and Views Stout Beer Tasting Panel?  
Judge Ira.

Well, we recently met in convivial assembly to taste and rate six Israeli brewed stout beers.  We chose stouts which are produced by the most commercial of our micro-breweries, and are therefore available in bottle shops and beer specialty stores throughout the country.  We also chose stouts which had no added ingredients or extraordinary production methods, but were classic stouts in the British or Irish traditions.  

In the future, by the way, we hope to have separate reviews for those wonderful specialty stouts which are also being brewed in Israel -- oatmeal stouts, milk (or sweet) stouts, smoked stouts, Imperial stouts, oak aged stouts, and perhaps others.           

Our panel was expanded to 11 judges and, as you know, the more judges, the more truly representative are the results.  Our judges were men and women, young and old, urban and rural, sabras and immigrants, beer geeks and beer guzzlers.  Because we are not professional judges or tasters, I believe we encapsulated the tastes of the wider Israeli public.  

Judge Chaya.
Stouts are black-as-night beers, where you should expect full, roasty tastes, some astringency and a dry finish.  The hop character can be variable, but generally the bitterness comes from the roasted barley itself.  The distinctive flavors can be chocolate and/or coffee, of course, but also caramel, dark fruits like plums or prunes, and even licorice.

Chronologically, porter beer was developed before stout, in London, probably during the 1720s.  It became popular among the city's porters (from where it got its name, of course), who enjoyed its strong taste and high alcohol after a long day's work.  Porter was brewed in different strengths, and the strongest of these came to be called "stout porters," quaffed only by stout-hearted men, no doubt.  Before too long, "porter" was dropped from the name, and the beers were called simply "stouts."  

Today, porters and stouts are kind of interchangeable, but in general, stouts tend to be darker, roastier in taste, and drier than porters.            

Judge Bob.
We tasted our six stouts completely blind, as we've done in all of our past Tasting Panels.  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 six points, number two got five points, and so on.  All the points given to each beer were counted to obtain the final rankings.

The results were not a close field.  The highest ranking and the lowest ranking beers were separated by 22 points.  There was a pretty clear winner and a clear loser.  
Judge Batya.

The results also demonstrated something very interesting: Even though there were major differences in the individual tastes of our judges, we were basically on the same page in ranking the beers.  For example, the winner got five "6 point" votes (the highest) and three "2 points."  Number two got three "6 points" and one "1 point."  Number three got one "6 points" and a bunch of 5s, 4s and 3s -- a good middle position.  At the other end, the lowest ranking beer got four "1 point" and one "5 points."

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, travel industry start-up company
Shoshana from Givatayim, student, former bartender
Bob from Moshav Ramat Raziel, jeweler 
Mike from Jerusalem, photographer and graphic designer
Ephraim from Jerusalem, entrepreneur, home-brewer, educational activist.
Chaya from Jerusalem, MA graduate in Israel Studies from Hebrew University. 
Ira from Jerusalem, risk management consultant
Batya from Shiloh, teacher and blogger 
Manny from Jerusalem, book retailer
Doug from Jerusalem, yours truly

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

Sixth Place:
Judge Ephraim.

Jem's Stout -- This is a classic dry stout from Jem's Beer Factory in Petach Tikva. with 5% alcohol by volume.  Several of the judges mentioned that they normally enjoy this beer, but it did not do well in the head-to-head competition. 

Some comments from the judges:  
  • "Coffee notes, bit of bitterness."
  • "Too heavy on the malt.  Taste might have gone off."
  • "Bitter, kind of flat. "
  • "Light aroma.  Very bitter.  Lingering bitter aftertaste"
  • "Reminds me of soda."
  • "Creamy.  Underwhelming flavor."
  • "Roasty, sour.  Not much flavor."
  • "Good, all around taste.  What I look for in a beer."

Judge Shoshana.
Fifth Place:
Midnight Stout -- From the Dancing Camel Brewery in Tel Aviv, Israel's first commercial micro-brewery.  5% ABV.  
  • "Strong aroma of espresso coffee.  Tasty and mild.  Thin body."
  • "Weak carbonation, tastes flat."
  • "Creamy, light aroma, a little bland."
  • "No aroma.  Not much flavor."
  • "Roasty aroma."
  • "Thin head, smooth and weak."
  • "Toasty nose.  Mid-bitterness."

Fourth Place:
Judge Doug.

Vilde Chaye Stout -- Brewers Etay Tzuker (from Kibbutz Gvat) and Hagai Gelman (from Kiryat Tivon) make their Vilde Chaye beer at the Mosco Brewery on Moshav Zanuach.  Vilde Chaye uses Yiddish phrases and caricatures in it labeling and marketing.  The Stout is 6.1% ABV.        
  • "Light notes of coffee and bitter chocolate."
  • "Thick head.  Strong hoppy bitterness."
  • "Roast aroma with dried fruit.  Tart, fruity taste."
  • "Citrusy with chocolate finish."
  • "Smooth and sweet, flavorful."
  • "Burnt and rather tasteless."
  • "Classic stout with mid-bitterness."

Judge Mike.
Third Place:
Stout Mountain Beer -- From the Mosco Brewery on Moshav Zanuach.  4.8% ABV.    
  • "Chocolate aroma and taste, soapy.  Sweet finish."
  • "Sort of bland.  Slight coffee notes."
  • "Not a classic stout.  No presence of chocolate or coffee."
  • "Giant head.  A sweet (maybe caramel) hint, yet a bitter lingering taste."
  • "Sweet, hoppy aroma.  Nice fruity flavor."
  • "Lemony, almost soapy.  No roast or coffee.  Citrusy taste, bitter kick."
  • "Slight bitterness, heavy on the caramel."

Second Place:
Judge Moshe.

Malka Stout -- From the Malka Brewery on Kibbutz Yechiam in the Galilee.  An Irish-style stout, at 6% ABV. 
  • "Strong coffee taste.  Light, thin mouthfeel."
  • "Bitter, with a thin body.  Bitter finish."
  • "Very nutty aroma.  Thick and flavorful.  Light, lingering aftertaste."
  • "Bitter chocolate taste.  Lingers on the tongue."
  • "Some cherry aroma.  Roasty, light bitter taste.  Nice texture and finish."
  • "Velvety chocolate finish."
  • "Bitter, possible plum flavor."

Judge Manny.
First Place:
Lela Mild Stout -- From Lela Beers, brewed by Eli Bechar, with offices in Maccabim but brewed at the Mosco Brewery.  5.2% ABV.  While not unanimous, most judges gave Lela high marks, even though it beat the second place beer by only three points.      
  • "Love the aroma.  Hoppy and sweet flavor."
  • "Low on aroma and flavor.  Creamy, full mouthfeel and texture."
  • "No aroma, creamy head, full body."
  • "Great full-bodied stout."
  • "Lovely flavor, nice burnt aftertaste."
  • "Sweet dark chocolate and creamy."
  • "Thin head, watery, bit bitter."

Judge Yitzchak.
So congratulations are in order to Eli Bechar of Lela Beers.  His Wheat Beer came in First Place in a previous Israel Brews and Views Tasting Panel for Flavored Wheats.  Lela Beers are not widely distributed, but can be found in beer specialty stores in major cities, as well as in a number of bars and restaurants around the country.

Our warm thanks to all of the brewers represented in the Tasting Panel for contributing their beers.  Israeli craft brewers are truly a fraternity of colleagues, not competitors, and it's always an honor for us to cooperate with them. 

We would also like to thank the Beer Bazaar and Beerateinu in Jerusalem for facilitating the delivery of the beers from the brewers to us.  

Thanks also to my wife Trudy, whose attention to detail and good taste made the Tasting Panel a culinary and social success.  

And special thanks to Judge Mike Horton, photographer and graphic designer extraordinaire, whose magic camera transported the Esteemed Judges to the Roman Coliseum for a final "L'chayim!"