December 31, 2017

Four breweries and their new brews

"Churn" may be a good word to describe the Israeli craft beer industry today.  Always moving, new beers and exciting events, new faces and constant surprises.  Year's end is a good time to review some new beers and their breweries – some veteran, a newcomer, and even a merger.

Matt Neilson (left) and his father Denny
with their Buster's Apple Cider.
The Buster's Beverage Company on Moshav Naham near Beit Shemesh began originally in the home on Denny Neilson in Mevasserat Zion more than a decade ago.  Neilson is a true practitioner of what he calls, the "fermentation arts."  He makes – and teaches how to make – beer, wine and distilled spirits, and sells the necessary equipment and ingredients. 

Neilson first called his enterprise The Winemaker, then Isra-Ale, and today Buster's (after their recently deceased family dog).  The Buster's distillery-brewery turns out three kinds of hard apple cider and two kinds of alcoholic lemonade, all delicious.  They also distill and bottle a line of liquors under the Pioneer label: so far spiced rum, arak, vodka, moonshine and apple brandy.   This year, they also began to brew a new line of craft beers, which now includes a Pilsner, Oak-Aged Stout, India Pale Ale (IPA), and a Smoked Lager.

Neilson relates: "When we came on aliya around 15 years ago, and I told people what I want to do, they said, 'Nobody drinks beer.'  But we believed there was a market for people who wanted to make their own beer and wine.  We wanted to provide a one-stop service for all their needs."

Today, even though Neilson still give his home-brewing classes, Buster's concentrates on production rather than education.  Beer enthusiasts in Israel have a great appreciation for Neilson's brewing skills, and they welcomed the introduction of his craft beer line.      

Buster's new Smoked Lager,
brewed with hickory-smoked
malt from Traeger Grills.
The Smoked Lager is the most recent to appear.  In the past year, no less than three Israeli craft breweries have introduced smoked beer.  The very distinct taste is achieved by smoking the malted grain before it is used to brew the beer.

Buster's Beverage teamed up with Traeger Grills to smoke the malt.  Neilson's son Matt calls Traeger, "the Rolls-Royce of meat-smoking grills."  In this case, barley malt, not meat, was smoked in the grill by burning hickory wood.  "This took us a few days," Matt said.

What the hickory-smoked malt does is give the beer a rich barbecue taste – as if the beer itself had been hanging in a Traeger grill.

The aroma from this clear, golden amber liquid is unmistakably smoked meat, maybe sausage or pastrami (at least that's what I remember from the last time I had them about 40 years ago!), and smoked cheese, along with some sweet malt.  On the tongue, you get some spicy bitterness from the hops, but the dominant flavor is smoked malt.  Alcohol by volume is 5.5%.

Only one batch of this beer was brewed, so you might have trouble finding any bottles left in stores.  However, Matt Neilson tells me that by popular demand, they will probably be brewing more.  If you can't get enough of smoked meats, this is the beer for you.

Basel Massad (left) and
Amir Elouti of the
Nazareth Brewery.
The Nazareth Brewery went commercial last year with a lovely American Wheat beer.  For four years before that, partners Basel Massad and Amir Elouti, both 33, had been brewing beer at home and in a smaller facility for their own use and for very local distribution to family and friends. 

"We brewed a different beer every week," says Massad, "but the both of us loved this American Wheat and the reactions to it were very good.  So we decided to take the big step and brew it in commercial quantities.  The two of us, however, kept our day jobs, which are in high-tech."  
To produce the quantities they need, they contract brew at the Beer Bazaar Brewery in Kiryat Gat.  Nazareth American Wheat is now available in liquor and beer stores in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Haifa, Akko and of course, Nazareth. 

"In Nazareth, everybody drinks beer, including the Moslems," jokes Massad.  He and Elouti, however, are Christians.  Perhaps that explains why they allowed themselves to use a logo which some may say is sacrilegious: It's the face of Jesus the Nazarene in the shape of a hop cone, with a hop beard and a crown of hop leaves! 
The hop-shaped face of
Jesus the Nazarene, with a hop beard
and a crown of hop leaves.
In the West Bank, there are two other Christian-owned breweries:  The most veteran of these is the Taybeh Brewery in Taybeh, and Shepherd's Brewery in Birzeit near Ramallah.

As to the Nazareth beer itself, it is a fine example of the American wheat ale style.  Alcohol by volume is 4.5%.  The color is a slightly cloudy orange-gold with a frothy white head.  The aroma is sweet and hoppy, with none of the clove and banana notes you find in the older and more traditional German wheats.  The flavor has a gentle bitterness with citrus and yeast.  I found the body light and the finish refreshing – sort of like a pale lager but with much more taste.  I can see why Nazareth Brewery chose this to be its flagship beer.        
Massad and Elouti plan to bring out a second beer early next year.  Although they have not yet decided on the style, they say it will be something "different," like the American Wheat.

Jeremy Welfeld, founder and partner of the
Jem's Beer Factory, relaxing at the brewery
and restaurant in Petach Tikva. 
Another new wheat beer is named Hoppy Hanukka, brewed to commemorate this festive season by the Jem's Beer Factory in Petach Tikva.  It is not in the image of your other winter holiday ales, popular in Europe and the U.S., which are dark, sweet and alcohol-heavy.   
Hoppy Hanukka is a very moderate 5% alcohol.  The color is a medium amber with a thin head.  (Jem's founder and partner Jeremy Welfeld claims that the color is like "the light of Hanukka.")  You get some aroma of cloves from the wheat ale yeast, but mostly tropical and citrus fruits from the hops. 

Jem's Hoppy Hanukka beer against a
background of a beer bottle menorah.
The taste is a very clean and refreshing bitter, with notes of summer fruits and spice.  It's a very interesting beer.  I can say that I have not tasted this combination of flavors before.  Now, what that has to do with Hanukka, I cannot tell you, but it is a lovely experience.

Hoppy Hanukka is available (while it lasts) only at the Jem's restaurants in Petach Tikva, Ramat Hachayal, Ra'anana, Kfar Saba, Caesarea and Modi'in. 

Welfeld opened the Jem's Beer Factory and Brewpub in 2009 with partner Daniel Alon.  Today, with all six outlets pumping beer and with sales in stores and restaurants throughout Israel, Jem's has become a craft beer powerhouse.  The brewery produces seven core beers – Dark Lager, Pilsner, Wheat, Stout, 8.8 Belgian Strong, Amber Ale, and IPA – plus occasional seasonal beers like Hoppy Hanukka.

American-born Welfeld came to Israel and served in the IDF in 1984-87, before returning to the U.S. to study food management and brewing science.  He earned his wings working in restaurants, brewing and catering – including catering for the White House.

"I've always been a service guy," he says.  "That's what defines what I do.  Making the beer is easy.  The hard part is to sell it and to keep giving your customers excellent, personal service."

Gilad Ne-Eman, partner and brewer of the new
Tog Brewery in Beersheva, presents the first
six-pack of new beers to the old blogger.

(Photo: Mike Horton)
The Israeli south has not lagged behind in the craft beer renaissance.  With Beersheva as the hub, a number of small and not-so-small breweries have sprung up, in addition to an active home-brewing community.

Two breweries – Gilad Ne-Eman's HeChalutz ("The Pioneer") and Tomer Ronen's HaDag HaLavan ("The White Fish") – have recently merged to form Tog (rhymes with rogue).  They brew their beers at the Beer Bazaar Brewery in Kiryat Gat. 

Tog, the blue desert lizard,
logo-mascot of the
new Tog Brewery.  
"Tog is the name we gave to our new logo mascot, a blue desert lizard," explains Ne-Eman.  "His fearsome face is on every label, and on one label he's standing there holding the map of Israel like a surfboard!"

Ne-Eman and Ronen have worked together for two years on several projects promoting craft beer in the south.  For example, they organize Beersheva's only beer festival, known as the Beer7 Fest, which attracts dozens of brewers and hundreds of visitors.   They run the Brew Shop in Beersheva, a center for learning home brewing and purchasing equipment and ingredients; Israeli and foreign craft beers are also on sale.  They have founded a home-brewers' club which is among the biggest in Israel.  
Most recently, Ne-Eman and Ronen have organized a competition for home-brewers, known as Isra-Brew, which will award prizes for the best beers in several categories.  The winners will be announced at the end of February. 

"After working together on so many projects, it was only natural for the two of us to join together to brew our beers," adds Ne-Eman.  "We share the same philosophy about brewing beers that are different and creative, and that is what we pledge to continue doing under the Tog label."

The three new beers from the Tog Brewery
in Beersheva: Kimat Esser, HeChalutz,
and 40° in the Shade.

(Photo: Mike Horton)  
There are currently three Tog beers being marketed.  Two are versions of beers originally produced by the separate breweries:

40° in the Shade – A blond ale geared for summertime drinking.  4.7% alcohol.  Light, fruity hop aroma; mildly bitter taste with citrus, yeast and malt.  Dry and refreshing.  Brewed originally by HaDag HaLavan.

HeChalutz – A 5.5% American pale ale, with an aroma and taste of citrus and tropical fruits, herbs and grass.  Well balanced with hops and malt; moderately bitter.  This was originally brewed by HeChalutz and called Totzeret Ha'aretz ("Made in Israel").  After the merger, the name was changed to HeChalutz because it was the beer most associated with the brewery.

The Tog Brewery logo, including the
face of the blue desert lizard.  
The third beer is a new creation from Tog, called Kimat Esser ("Almost Ten"), referring to the high 9.8% alcohol by volume.  This is a beer in the Belgian tradition of strong ales: Dark, red amber color, sweet and high in alcohol.  The aroma is fruity and caramel.  On the tongue, you get more caramel, a strong alcohol taste (perhaps plum brandy), prune and other dark fruits. 

This is a beer that I associate with the winter holiday ales so popular at this time of year.  It is best enjoyed in front of a roaring fireplace while snow is gently falling all around.  Hey, where am I living?  Kimat Esser is a beautiful, full-flavored beer that will warm you through our Israeli winter months.  
Tog beers are available in bottles and on tap in many places in the south, including Beersheva, Sderot and Ofakim, as well as in Kfar Saba, Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.  "We are working very hard on expanding our distribution network so that craft beer drinkers everywhere will be able to have our beers," concludes Ne-Eman.  

A version of this article appeared in The Jerusalem Post Friday Magazine.

December 27, 2017

American breweries tour: Part Two -- Riverhead, New York

The next stop on my U.S. breweries tour was Riverhead, New York, located on the eastern end of Long Island, that fish-shaped isle which incorporates Brooklyn and Queens in the west, Nassau County in the center, and Suffolk County in the east.

In Nassau and Suffolk Counties alone,  there are today no less than 32 craft breweries.  According to many press reports, these breweries -- and all craft breweries across America -- are doing their part to revitalize their towns' economic fortunes.  "Build a craft brewery," the Associated Press wrote, "and urban revival will come."     

Len and Abigail at home in Westhampton.
I was visiting my friends Len and Abigail at their home in nearby Westhampton for the weekend, when Len said that Riverhead, a small, unexciting town of 33,500 souls, had three craft breweries.

"Wouldn't it be a good idea if we could visit all of them before the Sabbath?" Len wondered.

I was not inclined to decline.

We decided to bring some food to have with the many beers that were awaiting us.  We stopped in the Pera Bell Food Bar on Main Street to buy some sandwiches and pizza.  We told the Mixologist-Manager David Chiarella about our mission and he insisted we start having beers right there in his establishment.  After all, it was a dark and rainy afternoon with almost no one on the streets; perhaps he feared we would not find the breweries and end up empty handed.

David Chiarella welcomes the old blogger
at the Pera Bell Food Bar
in Riverhead, New York.
David offered us two local beers:

NOFO Farmhouse Ale, a saison style beer from the Long Ireland Brewery right there in Riverhead.  Typical saison yeast aromas of spice, some cloves, and malt.  The taste is sour apple, but also with a sweet note, maybe honey.  (Hey, Rosh Hashana!).  The finish is crisp and spicy.

Honey Robber Cream Ale from the Blue Point Brewery in Patchogue, Long Island.  This is a spring seasonal beer brewed with honey.  Starts with a lush aroma of cream soda (vanilla and caramel), and a vegetal, acerbic taste, also malt sweetness, honey and light spicy hops. 

Thus fortified, Len and I drove through the foggy streets of Riverhead to the Crooked Ladder Brewing Company.  We found the tasting room filled with warm, friendly people, but unheated.  Luckily, we knew how to drink with our coats on.

The brewmaster Stevie Czelatka welcomed us and invited us to spread out our feast at the bar while he served up his beers.  We took the $10 "Everything on Tap" flight, which included a souvenir pint glass.

First up was Southampton Light, a 3.6% ABV American light lager, which was perhaps a tastier version of the mass produced lager beers that Americans consume by the lakefull.  There was no problem with it clashing with the flavor of our food.

Next was the Southampton Keller Pilsner, a refreshing and hoppy German-style Pilsner lager with 5% alcohol.

Going up in strength, we then had the Southampton Double White, a Belgian witbier (7.2% ABV) with ample wheat flavors plus citrus.  Len found a note of banana in the mix as well.

The old blogger is dwarfed by Stevie Czelatka,
Brewmaster at the Crooked Ladder Brewing Co.
in Riverhead, New York. 
The Southampton Secret Ale was in the classic "altbier" style of a German brown ale.  Even the "Secret" in the name is a translation from the "Sticke" style of strong altbier.  It was a dark copper color, with a roasty or nutty malt flavor, smooth mouthfeel and crisp finish.  The hop presence was very low in this 5.2% beer.

Our next tasting, the Southampton Imperial Porter, had a full body and rich taste that I really appreciated.  It was a very dark brown with no head of foam and high in alcohol -- 7.2%.  The flavor was dominated by dark chocolate, but also with some caramel.

I asked Stevie why "Southampton," one of the neighboring Hampton towns, was in the name of all of these beers.  He said that the Southampton Brewery had recently purchased the Crooked Ladder, and the two breweries sold their beers in each other's taprooms.  As far as I can tell, however, the Crooked Ladder has maintained its independent operation, as has the Southampton Publick House, which is the brewpub of the Southampton Brewery.

Ashley and Amelia, the two lovely servers
at the Crooked Ladder.
At any rate, the next beer was a Crooked Ladder original -- "Outta My Vine" -- an out-of-season pumpkin ale.  This was full of the pumpkin pie taste that craft beer drinkers seem to love or hate.  Brewed with pumpkin, cinnamon and fresh ginger, it was brown in color, 5.7% alcohol, with a strong cinnamon aroma and tastes of cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger and roasted malt.  Like I said, pumpkin pie.

Our last tasting was an IPA -- "It Was All A Dream" -- a wheat IPA, hopped and dry hopped with Citra, Simcoe and Amarillo hops, mouth puckeringly bitter with citrus flavors.  5.5% ABV.

Another of Crooked Ladder's IPAs, the 70 West IPA, was apparently the most popular and not surprisingly, sold out.  We actually saw customers walk in, ask for the 70 West, and then walk out when told it was all gone.  Didn't even say, "Well, let's try something else as long as we're here."  Just walked out.  Talk about brand loyalty!

Len and I weren't suffering from jet lag after that flight, and in fact were still pretty thirsty.  So we thanked Stevie for his hospitality and commentary, and headed off to our second destination -- Moustache Brewing Co.  It was still chilly and rainy and also much darker, which we neglected to take into consideration.

The lights and gem├╝tlichkeit in the Moustache taproom deflected our attention from the gathering dark outside.  We had every good intention of arriving back home to Abigail by the start of the Sabbath, but there was certainly time for one more beer.

We had eight.  Owner and brewer of Moustache, Matthew Spitz, and his wife Lauri greeted us on this, the third anniversary of the brewery's opening.  Matthew said he was very satisfied with Riverhead's reception.  "The town knew what to do with a brewery, what we needed, and what we could bring to the community."

Len and I were joined in our tastings by Lori Mills and Scott Zoldak, the self-crowned "Hoppy Couple," whose very excellent pastime is visiting breweries and taprooms and aiming to taste all the beers they can find.  Our paths crossed at the Moustache.
In the Moustache Brewing Co. taproom,
owner and brewer Matthew Spitz spent
some time with the old blogger from Israel.

Here again, we took the flight:

First up was Sailor Mouth, a 6.5% IPA double dry-hopped with Comet and Amarillo hops.  It had a strong citrus and spice aroma, and a bitter spice taste that stays with you at least until the next beer. 

And that was Rally Beard, a double IPA, 8.8% in strength, reddish amber, heavy on the full range of citrus flavors.  A thoroughly tasty and enjoyable drink, Len and I agreed.

With Wanderlust ESB (Extra Special Bitter), we figuratively crossed the nearby Atlantic to the style of British amber ales.  This was 6.3% alcohol, given a mildly bitter character with American hops, and whose taste was halfway towards being a porter. 

Sharing smiles and beer with the "Hoppy Couple,"
Lori Mills and Scott Zoldak (center) in the
Moustache Brewing Co. taproom.
"Get Up On Outta Here" was a strong (8.5%) IPA brewed with H├╝ll Melon, Mandarina Bavaria and Motueka hops.  It had an aroma of citrus, tropical fruits and fresh earth, and strong citrus tastes.

Number five was Milk & Honey, a brown ale (it's actual color was reddish amber) made with lactose (milk sugar) and honey.  I couldn't help comparing it to Israel's own Milk & Honey stout made at the Alexander Brewery in Emek Hefer.  

Life of Leisure was an American pale ale brewed with Glade hops, which had a nose-filling floral aroma.  5.7% ABV.

Everyman's Porter, 4.5% alcohol, was a tasty, solid porter, nothing special, with the requisite chocolate and coffee notes. 
Len and me toasting the weekend,
this time with coffee!

Patiently waiting for us at the end of the line was a super beer -- Blueberry Ginger Triple, brewed of course with fresh blueberries and ginger, and aged in barrels previously holding Woodland Reserve bourbon whisky.  The alcoholic strength (10.6%) only enhanced the powerful and enticing blueberry element in the aroma, and kept pace with the delicious tastes of blueberry and ginger.      

Len and I were savoring every sip of this one, when we noticed the night outside the windows.  We thought of Abigail waiting for us at home with growing impatience as the Sabbath meal she had prepared got colder and she got hungrier.  We felt like bad boys who had stayed out too late -- which we were.  

All plans to visit the third brewery -- Long Ireland -- dissolved in our guilty consciences.  That would have to wait until next time, which meant, as it turned out, my next visit to America.

It was already the Sabbath when Len and I arrived back home.  It took Abigail a long while to forgive us, not only for being late but for not having called her to let her know.  It would have been too easy to blame the beer.  Len and I were suitably embarrassed and ashamed.  

Eventually, we all gathered together around the festive table to celebrate the holy day.

Len and I would be visiting more micro-breweries, but these would henceforth never be scheduled for a Friday afternoon.  

Join me in the final installment, when we take a subway to a brewery in the Bronx, the borough where I was raised and hadn't been back to for maybe 50 years!  

December 24, 2017

More places to buy Israeli boutique beer on tap in Machane Yehuda

"Why does he only write about places in Machane Yehuda?" you may well be asking.  Well, I know there are restaurants and bars that have craft beers on tap in every city in Israel, and in some places that are much less than cities.  But I don't get to these locations very often, certainly not enough to do the kind of research that went into my previous posting and map.   [Read about the other establishments here and get the full pictorial map here.] 

Jerusalem is my city, and Machane Yehuda is my stomping ground -- and from what I can see every week, it's also a major attraction for people from all over the country and foreign visitors as well.

Two new eateries and drinkeries in the Machane Yehuda market in Jerusalem have begun to sell Israeli craft beer on draft.  We'll eventually add these to our map of such locations, but in the meantime, here's the info about them.

(If you know of any other bars in Machane Yehuda which are selling Israeli craft beer on tap, and are not on my map, please let me know.)

17 Afarsek
Daniel mans the taps selling
                      Alexander, Mosco, Jem's and Herzl beers.                                      

Sweet, savory and gluten-free crepes
47 Etz Chaim
Jem's 8.8 and Pils being served by Bosmat and Noa.

December 11, 2017

A sweet-and-sour Thanksgiving

Since we are a (sort of) traditional Jewish family living in Israel, but still with strong familial and cultural ties to the U.S. of A. (the "old country"), we try to celebrate Thanksgiving, but normally move our Thanksgiving meal from Thursday to Friday night, joining it to our Sabbath meal.

This year we actually did both.  And it gave me an opportunity to continue with my exploration and appreciation of sour or "wild" beers.  Here's what we did:

On Thanksgiving Thursday, I made a vegan Sweet 'n' Sticky Stirfry, about as far as you can get from the traditional turkey and stuffing and sweet potato pie.  (However, in a nod to tradition, Trudy made a beautiful pumpkin pie.) 

As the name says, the stirfry was indeed sweet.  Why not pair it, I thought, with something sour?  Since we are still waiting for an Israeli brewery to make a sour beer,  I had to use an import.  I was lucky enough to have a cold bottle of Lindemans Geuze Lambic Beer, imported from Belgium.

Geuze is a born-in-Belgium beer style in the lambic family, but not as sour and acidic as straight lambics.  It has traditionally been prepared by blending young and old lambic beers which have been fermenting in wooden barrels to achieve their sour character.  The younger beer is less sour than the older and still contains fermentable sugars.  When mixed with the older beers and bottled, you get a second fermentation and a beer that is complex, balanced, acidic and well carbonated -- geuze.

The Lindemans geuze (5% alcohol) uses a new technique which filters the beer and adds COand candy sugar to a year-old lambic, making it slightly sweeter and more carbonated than the traditional "old geuze" style. 

Nevertheless, it was still plenty sour for novices to this style, which I am.

But I must say it worked.  The sweetness and richness of the stirfry was cut by the carbonation and the sour fruit and apple taste of the beer.  I also detected some vanilla and caramel in the taste, which added to the mix.  Sweet and sour is a very acceptable combination of tastes for our western palates. My mouth enjoyed putting them together, even though they came from two different sources!  What an interesting way to do Thanksgiving.

The sour geuze was also not bad with the sweet pumpkin pie.

The next night, we had cholent, a traditional Sabbath stew made with beans, barley and potatoes.  Some people add meat, but in our vegetarian kitchen, Trudy uses soya chunks and veggie hot dogs.  Many people leave the cholent in a warm oven for the entire night, to make it even thicker and creamier for the Sabbath lunch.

We paired our cholent with the only commercial pumpkin beer made in Israel -- Pumpkin Ale from the Galil Brewery on Kibbutz Moran in the central Galilee.  In America, pumpkins are forever intertwined with Thanksgiving and the month-earlier holiday of Halloween. 

So the cholent-pumpkin ale combination was in some way the opposite of the stirfry-geuze.  The cholent was salty and spicy, eaten together with a pickle and mustard, while the pumpkin ale was fruity and malty with sweet spice.  It was not a perfect pairing, but an interesting one which still had echoes of the harvest holiday.     

It seems to me that the Galil Pumpkin Ale, which has been coming out every fall for at least five years, has become stronger in the taste of dla'at (which is the nearest Israeli gourd to the American pumpkin) and pumpkin pie spices.

The ale is a brown amber color with a thin head.  Alcohol by volume is 5.1%.  The aromas are not very pronounced, some spice, caramel and malt.  The label does not say which spices are used in the beer, but I was able to taste some cinnamon and nutmeg, in a sweet envelope -- the same as were in our pumpkin pie. 

There was still some beer left over to accompany my pumpkin pie, and in this case they complemented each other quite well.  A nice ending to the Greeners' two-day holiday of Thanksgiving.           

November 29, 2017

New beer roundup

The time has come to catch up with some new beers on the market.  I'm never going to be able to keep up with the pace at which new beers are being launched -- and that's a good thing.  It means that Israeli micro-breweries have reached a level of sustainability in creating new beers for the growing market which constantly demands new tastes and experiences.

We'll begin with two new Pilsners.

Pilsner lager beer was first introduced in the Czech city of Plzen in 1842 and quickly became the most popular beer style in Europe.  The Germans began to brew their own version of Pilsner, and today in America, craft breweries are doing the same.  In Israel, a number of craft breweries also make a Pilsner-style beer.   
Pilsner lagers are known for their clarity, golden color, spicy hop flavors, flavorful malt, light body and crisp, clean mouthfeel.  It's no wonder their popularity swept across the beer-drinking world.  

Pair your Pilsners with light appetizers and food, salads, mild cheeses, salsa and other dips, grain dishes, stir-fries, and light desserts (lemony or berry).

Lela Pilsner
From Eli Bechar of the Lela Brewery in Maccabim (brewed commercially at the Mosco Brewery) comes a "Gentle" Pilsner, an even lighter version of a light beer.  With only 3.8% alcohol, Lela Pilsner pours out clear and pale with very fine carbonation.  The aromas were very fresh, including lemon and hay (not unusual for a Pilsner), but there was also a note of something that I can only call "soft boiled egg whites."  
The body is very light, but there are excellent flavors: bitter citrus and raw wheat.  The carbonation tickles your tongue like the gas in soda.  A very interesting Pilsner, indeed.

Mosco Pilsner
Mosco is one of the veteran Israeli craft breweries and, as you read above, often contracts out its facilities to smaller and newer brewers.  Owners Amir Lev and Yaron Moscovich have recently added a Pilsner and a Smoked Beer to their repertoire. 

The Pilsner is as classic as you can get.  Clear and pale yellow with light carbonation and 3.8% alcohol, the aromas that hit you first are grass, yeast and fresh grain.  These are also in the mid-bitter taste, with the grain morphing into malt, and also citrus and vegetal.  The finish is crisp and astringent.

Even though Pilsner lagers are associated with summertime drinking, these are beers you can enjoy year-round, even during the cold and rainy months ahead of us.  Israeli breweries are becoming very adept at perfecting this styles, and there is no reason for us to choose imported beers in their place.  

Mosco Smoked Beer
The other new beer from Mosco is a Smoked Beer, which earlier this year took first place in the Flavored Beer category in the Golden Beer competition for Israeli commercial brewers.  (See the entire list of winners here.)     

Smoked beer is a style which has achieved a certain following abroad, with most beer drinkers either liking it a lot or the opposite.  

Just a few Israeli micro-breweries make a smoked beer.  I can think of Black Jack Smoked Stout from Beer Bazaar in Kiryat Gat, Cool Madjul from Beertzinut on Kibbutz Ketura, and Smoked Stout from LiBira Brewery in Haifa.  The beers get their smoky taste from the barley malt which is dried over an open flame.   

I personally find an extreme smoky taste hard to swallow -- which is why I enjoyed this new Mosco Smoked.   

The smokiness is not overpowering, just one of the taste-sensations among many.  The beer is a cloudy amber color with low carbonation.  Already in the aroma, the smoke is evident.  My drinking partner, Moshe, who is a carnivore, said that the smell was "smoked meat."  The taste is very rich and malty, with some smoke, caramel and yeast.  The smoke taste contributes to the long and dry finish.  Alcohol by volume is a hefty 7%.  

This is an enjoyable beer by itself, certainly with salty snacks, but would also pair well with foods that can be smoked, such as certain cheeses, vegetables and desserts.

Lela Date Ale

Another new beer from Lela is a Date Ale ("Tmarim"), brewed with silan (date syrup) instead of grain.  Since it is made at the Mosco Brewery, which does use wheat and barley in its equipment, the Date Ale cannot be called "gluten-free," but simply, "For people who avoid gluten."  Alcohol by volume is 5.4%.  The silan is made from premium dates grown in the Jordan Valley.

Lela Date Ale pours out with the color and look of Coca Cola, finely carbonated.  On the nose, you get chocolate-covered dates.  The tastes we picked up were sweet licorice, molasses, bitter dark chocolate, carob, burnt dates and Tamar Hindi (a Middle Eastern drink made with tamarind fruit).  With all these tastes, the finish is long and moderately bitter.  

This was a fresh bottle of beer, so the tastes were all quite distinct.  I think these would dissipate as the bottle ages, so I recommend you drink this beer as fresh as possible.

Even though hops are used in brewing Lela Date Ale, we found no presence in the aroma or taste.

Lela Date Ale is a tasty and interesting drink.  Even though I personally have a problem accepting as "beer" any beverage which gets its fermentable sugars from something other than grain, you may have a different opinion.  Taste it and let me know what you think.

Buster's IPA

After bringing out an Oak Aged Stout and a Pilsner (read about them here and here), the Buster's Brewing Company in Beit Shemesh has released an India Pale Ale.  Brewmaster Denny Neilson has pulled out all the stops and produced an IPA in the American (West Coast) style -- hoppy, fruity and bitter.  

A few years back, Denny was brewing a Double IPA called Chutzpah ("Insolence").  He sold it only at his store and a few other beer events, and never if it was over two weeks old.  After that, he said, the hop flavors would get too mellowed out -- in short, they would lose their chutzpah.  (Read more about the original Chutzpah here.)

The new Buster's IPA tips its hat to its predecessor by telling you on the label that it's "Beer with a little chutzpah," and "Very hoppy, do not age!"  It's also only 4.8% alcohol by volume, so you can easily enjoy more than one bottle at a time.  It's made with Cascade hops for the bitterness, and then hopped and dry-hopped with Columbus, Centennial and Simcoe hops for the flavors and aromatics.

Buster's IPA has a partly cloudy, golden orange color, and a thin white head.  The hop aromas are ripe pineapple, lemon zest and pine, with some peach as well.  The tastes continue with fruit and citrus, finishing with dry lemon, very hoppy and very bitter.  My drinking partner Moshe found the bitterness, "a bit exaggerated, like a punch in the face," but I had no problem with it.  As Israeli tastes go, this is one of the more "extreme" IPAs -- and one of the most enjoyable.           

November 9, 2017

Scenes from the Jerusalem Beer Festival 2017

I have almost no notes from the Jerusalem Beer Festival -- Ir HaBira -- held a few months ago.  Since I'm always looking for the "new," there wasn't much to write about.  The "tried and true," however, was more than enough to have a good time.  I went with friends and fellow Israel Brews and Views judges just to enjoy the beer and the ambiance.  I even had the foresight, finally, to bring a sandwich from home rather than rely on the scant selection of vegetarian fare for sale at these beer festivals.

So, without much to write about, I'll use Mike Horton's photos to get us through the Ir HaBira Jerusalem Beer Festival.

It's always fearsome to meet up with The Dictator.  He says he knows what's best for us, but I'm not so sure.  Well, at least he has an old/new beer coming to the market soon -- his Whisky Beer, a hearty, boozy brew just in time for the winter.  Look for it, and look for my two cents which shouldn't be too far behind.

Every once and a while, Eli Bechar (far right) would ring the bell at his Lela Beer stand to shake things up -- and attract visitors.  It worked with us.  Here is part of the Israel Brews and Views entourage (from left): Esteemed Judge Shoshana Miskin Perez, Esteemed Judge Batya Medad, Rachel Lipshitz, Esteemed Judge Moshe Lipshitz, Esteemed Judge Yitzchak Miskin, and the old blogger himself.  Look out for two new Lela beers from Eli: Date Ale, brewed with date honey instead of grain, so it's suitable for those who want to avoid gluten (though it's also a rich and tasty beer on its own), and a "Gentle" Pilsner, a lighter version of an already light beer style.     

The Herzl Brewery stand, Jerusalem's only craft brewery, was also a popular place for congregating.  Owner and Brewmaster Maor Helfman (far left) was pumping all of his beers, including the always in demand Embargo, made with Cuban tobacco leaves.  That's the old blogger to the right of Maor, followed by Eli Giladi, the eternally young-looking and young at heart impresario of the Jerusalem Beer Festival, and the most helpful and welcoming host.         

Not everybody at the festival was an old friend.  Here I am meeting Natan Arutiunov, owner of the Soof Brewery and the Mivshala (Brewery) Restaurant in Eilat.  Well, that makes sense since I don't get to Eilat very often and this was Natan's first time at the Jerusalem Beer Festival.  We tried three Soof beers: a Rye Lager brewed with honey and mint; an Amber Ale brewed with date honey; and a Smoky Brown Ale.  All different and all interesting, and a reason for me to get down to Eilat sometime and write about Natan's beers.  Thanks to the Soof Brewery, the craft beer flag waves all the way down on Israel's southern border.                 

October 26, 2017

A free-style wheat beer from Blinderweiss

I first met Michael Blinder on a visit to Haifa to see my number three son and his wife.  Michael wanted to introduce me to his first commercial scale beer, Blinderweiss -- a three-syllable mouthful that's as fun to say as the beer is to drink.

But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Marketing Director Neta Koltin (left) and
Brewer-Partner Michael Blinder (center)
introduce the old blogger to Blinderweiss
free-style wheat beer.
I met Michael, who lives in Hadera, and his very energetic marketing man, Neta Koltin, in the LiBira Brewpub (the subject of another article someday).  I met Michael again at the big BEERS Festival in Tel Aviv in August (refresh your memory here).

Michael began home-brewing three years ago, and from the beginning was aiming to achieve a very specific taste for his beer.

"Everybody brews in their own way," Michael explains.  "It's not just the recipe that determines the final product.  It's everything the individual brewer does.  Blinderweiss represents the taste that I wanted to attain."

Michael began to brew Blinderweiss commercially at the Mosco Brewery on Moshav Zanuach in January, and the beer was ready for distribution one month later.  "We had to do a lot of experimentation until we achieved the same beer at Mosco as we had at home," says Michael.

Blinderweiss, as Michael describes it, is a free-style wheat beer.  Its style is closest to an American wheat ale.  Although malted wheat is 65% of the grain bill, it does not use typical wheat beer yeast, and it is heavier hopped than most wheat beers.

There was no mistaking this in the taste test.

Blinderweiss may look like a wheat beer, pouring out a very cloudy pale yellow color with a full, white head, but the aroma lacks the usual banana-cloves of a German wheat beer (hefeweizen).  Instead, there's a lot of citrus, spice, hops and hay.  On the tongue, you get more fruit, caramel, yeast, and even vegetal flavors.   

Bitterness is moderate and the finish is roasty and long-lasting.  Alcohol by volume is a kind 5%.

Since I am not a fan of hefeweizens, I found Blinderweiss to be a most enjoyable beer.  As far as food pairings go, I think of Blinderweiss as an AB universal recipient of the beer world, that is, it would go well with almost all foods.

Neta Koltin told me that Blinderweiss is now on sale in stores and pubs in the Haifa to Netanya area, as well as in Jerusalem and Rehovot.  He is continuing to expand the distribution.  Production now stands at 1,400 liters per month.
Though they are heavily emotionally and financially invested in brewing, Michael and Neta are keeping their day jobs for the time -- Michael as a fresh flower exporter and Neta working at Radio Haifa.  Michael's business partner is Roman Shih.

I asked Michael if there are plans to brew other styles of beer, and what would they be called, since the "weiss" in Blinderweiss dictates that it could only be a wheat beer.

"For now," Michael answered, "we are concentrating on this beer since we believe it's really the best.  If there are new beers, I guess they'll be called 'Blinder-something.'  We'll just have to wait and see."

October 19, 2017

Craft beer under down under

Mike Horton, the chief photographer for Israel Brews and Views, visited his sister in Tasmania last month.  For those of you who live elsewhere, Tasmania (home of platypuses, pademelons, wombats and Tasmanian devils) is a nice-sized, triangular-shaped island off the southeast coast of Australia.  This means it's even further down than down under.      

While Mike was there, the beer gods smiled on him.  The Tasmanian Microbrew Fest was taking place.  Yes, craft brewing has even reached Tasmania.  Ever watchful for things beery, Mike packed his tucker bag, got over to the festival, and took some pictures.  

Over to you, Mike.  

Tasmanian Micro Brews 
by Mike Horton

My normal stance at Israeli beer festivals is shooting photographs over Doug Greener’s shoulder. Before spending the month of September in Tasmania where my sister lives, I suggested to Doug that I prepare a short illustrated article on what I could find there. 

As luck would have it, the Tasmanian Microbrew Fest was held the first weekend I was there in a large warehouse hard by the Aurora Australis, the ship that makes trips to Antarctica and which is painted bright orange.
The good ship Aurora Australis (far left)
is docked beside the Tasmania Microbrew venue.

Just inside the entrance was Dan McWilliams of the Taverner's Tasmanian Boutique Brewery, who uses wonderful Tasmanian honey in his ales and porter.  It was still wintry outside but I was left with the impression that these would be perfect on a warm summer evening.

Stephen Brooks goes under the name of Captain Bligh's, and his Colonial Ale had a rich coffee flavor.

The Kick Snare Brewing guys prepare their own malt and were generous with their samples which were excellent. I took a few bottles back but my brother-in-law felt that the pale ale lacked flavor.

A 16-minute drive outside Hobart brings you to the Margate train where the Devils Brewery is housed in one of the carriages. Their Coffee Stout uses the train on its label although the original engine does not have a cow-catcher.  The Tasmanian devil appears on the other labels. Having tasted their beers at the festival, I desisted from re-sampling the beers.

If one looks past the Margate train, Bruny Island lies not far out to sea.  At the festival, the Bruny Island Beer Co. only had their Farm Ale to taste. Their cheese company established by Nick Haddow (not the guy in the photo below) is well known in Australia.

Brendan Parnell of the Hobart Brewing Co. also presented a single beer which gave a smoky after-taste that has an apple core dryness. Tasmania is well known for its apples so it is only natural that they should be used in beer.
On my last day in Tasmania, a friend took me up to Mount Fields and above the snowline. On the way we travelled along the Derwent River, one of the large hop growing areas, passing hop fields although it was too early for the plants to sprout.

Modern hop drying methods are being introduced so many of the old oast houses have been incorporated into hotels.