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.

October 17, 2017

Designer labels for Herzl Beer

If you're a beer shopper in Jerusalem, you've probably noticed some fancy bottle labels on Shesh Achuz (6%) Kapara beer from the Herzl Brewery.  For example, there's a pioneer woman swilling a bottle, a desert island shaped like a bottle cap, a mustachioed face, a buxom bathing beauty, and just figuratively used calligraphy.

All of these labels were designed by students in the Visual Communication Department at Shenkar College of Engineering and Design in Ramat Gan.  Maor Helfman, a partner at the Herzl Beer Workshop, established contact with Shenkar and suggested that the students present their ideas for labels.

Some of the ideas for Shesh Achuz (6%) Kapara labels on display
at the Shenkar College of Engineering and Design.
The school agreed and the students went to work, doing research on the brewery and the beer, a British-style mild ale, with a pleasant malt sweetness and low on hop bitterness.  Sixty students participated in the project, and 12 were chosen to have their designs printed and pasted on the bottles -- 200 bottles for each of the winning labels.

A student's sketch of one of the
winning beer label designs. 
I wanted to tell you the students' creative thought behind some of the designs.  I asked the person at
Shenkar who organized the project, and she promised to send me a list of the winners whom I could contact.  But she never did.  Sorry about that. 

The results of the label project, according to Maor, were "fantastic."  People called the brewery and asked where they could find the special bottles.  Sales went extremely well, as beer enthusiasts snatched up the bottles, not only to enjoy the beer but to collect the labels.

Nevertheless, I did notice that up until a few days ago, there were some bottles still on the shelves in beer and liquor stores in Jerusalem; for example, Beer Bazaar, Beerateinu, Hamisameach, Nechemia Brothers, and Aggripas Drinks.  If you hurry, you may be able to find one or two still left.

 This was a great idea from Herzl: good for the brewery, good for publicizing Israeli craft beers, and good for the Shenkar students who got some practical experience in designing for the real world. 

October 3, 2017

Alexander Beer wins 3 awards in European Beer Star

The Alexander Brewery in Emek Hefer has taken home three medals from this year's very prestigious European Beer Star competition in Munich.  This is the fourth year in a row that Alexander has won prizes in this contest -- the only Israeli brewery to have done so.  (Read an earlier post about Alexander winning this competiton here.)

Ori Sagy (center), founder and brewmaster of Alexander Beer,
is joined by 
operations manager Eran Weisman (second from left), 
and brewer Elad Gassner (second from right)
as they receive three awards at the
European Beer Star Competition last month in Munich.
"We are proud and excited to receive for the fourth time the approval of the greatest beer experts in the world, and to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the world's best beers," said Ori Sagy, the founder and brewmaster of Alexander Beer.

For the third time, Alexander Black won the gold medal in the Sweet/Milk Stout category.  Alexander Blonde took the silver medal for English Style Golden Ales, while Milk & Honey won the silver in the Baltic Style Porter category.

Pride for Israel:
Alexander's three winning beers are
screened above the stage at the
European Beer Star competition. 
In 2014, Alexander Black was the only Israeli beer to win a medal in the World Beer Cup, the other well-known international beer competition.  It won the gold medal in the Robust Porter category.

I was curious about the European Beer Star and the World Beer Cup, so I asked my friend Conrad Seidl of Vienna, also known as the "Beer Pope."  He told me that the European Beer Star was created about 15 years ago by the small, independent breweries in Germany as a counterweight to the older World Beer Cup.

"The style guidelines at the EBS focus on classic beer styles of European origin," Conrad explained, "while the WBC (organized by the U.S.-based Brewers Association) tends to invent new beer styles every year!  This, of course, works in favor of American micro-breweries and brewpubs.  They win a lot of the WBC awards, while the European brewers get relatively few.

"In fact, many German and Austrian breweries don't even bother entering the WBC, preferring the more conservative EBS."

Thank you, Conrad.  All the more reason why Alexander Beer should be commended for boldly entering these bastions of European and American brewing tradition, and bringing medals of excellence home to Israel.

Shouldn't more Israeli breweries be trying to do the same thing?

October 2, 2017

American breweries tour: Part One -- Florida

Ami cuts up the floor dancing
with his grandma. 
I timed my last trip to America so the weather was bearable in southern Florida and less than frigid in New York City.  I visited my mom who was about a year short of her century mark, my eldest son, my brother and my cousin in Florida, and various friends in NYC.  While there, I tried to make it a vacation, but ended up working.  I visited four craft breweries and one craft distillery.  Thus are the interminable obligations of a beer blogger.

From my mom's home in Deerfield Beach to the Bangin' Banjo Brewing Company in Pompano Beach is just a short ride.  I exploited the driving skills of my visiting son Ami (from Washington, DC) to get us over there.

Waves of migration of northerners fleeing from the winter (but right into the path of hurricanes) have taken southern Florida out of Dixie.  Yet the Bangin' Banjo, which opened in 2014, had a real down-home feel to it.  The taproom was just an extension of the brewery, lacking all but the minimum accouterments for selling cold beer.

I had called the previous evening and introduced myself to the co-founder, Adam Feingold, and arranged my visit.  Adam said that Ami and I would be very welcome at the bar, but that he himself wouldn't be there because of a family event.  He told me that the bartender, Cameron Donisi, would be happy to host us and tell me anything I want to know about the beers.

Bartender Cameron Donisi introduced us
the the day's taplist.
Tattooed, bearded and burly, Cameron was a jolly bartender who'd been pumping beers at the Bangin' Banjo for a few years.  I don't think he'd get sore if I said he was built for the part -- at least I hope not.  But he would shortly be leaving, he said, to become head brewer at the new Prosperity Brewers in Boca Raton, a few miles up Florida's east coast.

To experience a wide range of the Banjo's brews, Cameron suggested that we take the flight of six beers, so we enthusiastically agreed.

Perry's Pineapple Gose is a 4.4% alcohol gose-style sour beer brewed with pineapple juice.  Cameron explained that gose beers and New England IPAs are two rapidly-trending styles in the U.S., and Perry's Pineapple Gose combines the best elements of the two: tangy, salty, refreshing, fruit juicy, and not especially bitter.  Oats and wheat in the malt bill add a creamy finish to this beer.

The Bangin' Banjo's 6-beer flight.
Since this was before I began to take sour and "wild" beers seriously, I didn't enjoy this beer as much as I should have, though Ami thought it was delicious.

Our next beer was Hop Jam: Session No. 1, an American IPA whose bounteous hops (including Azacca and Vic Secret from Australia) were full of non-citrus aromas and flavors, such as quava, apple and mango.  A fine IPA with a 7.1% ABV kick.

Invincibility Potion (Don't you just love the names?) was a Belgian Strong (10.5%) Golden Ale with a clear, light amber color, Belgian yeast aroma and a sweet, crisp finish.

Next in line was an Imperial Red Ale named Studious Judious, 8% ABV, made with copious amounts of red malt, yet maintaining a delicate balance between the hops and the malt.  Looking back after we finished all the beers, this was my favorite of the lot.

Number five was Chocolate Covered Peanut Porter, a black-as-night porter with a delectable aroma of chocolate (from the malt and added cocoa nibs) and peanut butter (from chopped peanuts added to the secondary fermentation).  Vanilla beans were also added to the brew.  4.9% ABV.

Last was Overcast Shadow, a 9% Russian Imperial Stout that gave a strong, sweet finish to our stay at the Banjo.  This beer had luxurious flavors of chocolate and coffee, with chocolate dominating.

The Bangin' Banjo's down-home taproom:
New beers all the time.
The taps at the Bangin' Banjo are constantly changing, so don't expect to find the same beers I had if you get over there.  I think it's safe to say, though, that you'll find the same basic styles.

Ami and I had a delightful father-son experience exchanging our opinions of the beers, and chatting with the other patrons.  One of them was an executive in a company which provides solutions for bringing clean water to villages in the third world, something which Ami was familiar with because of his background in environmental planning.  I suggested that beer would also help solve the problem of having something healthful and clean to drink, but I was voted down by the experts. 

Drinking at the Bangin' Banjo was a great way to enter the world of American craft beer taprooms -- and I still had plenty to look forward to as I headed north.

To be continued . . .

September 28, 2017

Scenes from BEERS 2017

It seems as if the only reason I go to Tel Aviv these days is for beer-related events.  I rode down (Jerusalem is high up in the mountains; Tel Aviv is low down on the coast) for the launch of Mikkeller Green Gold IPA from the Alexander Brewery (read about it here) and for the early bird Israel Beer Festival back in June.

And of course, I couldn't miss last month's BEERS 2017, the most important of the summer festivals -- if not the most enjoyable.  I was trying to cut out the chaff and looking for the new beer stories, and here is what I can report:

(All photos were taken by Mike Horton, photographer supreme of Israel Brews and Views.)

New Collaborative Mint Beer

A great gift from the Dancing Camel's David Cohen:
The new Nana beer, brewed in
collaboration with the Shapiro Brewery.
The big story of the festival is that two of Israel's veteran and major craft breweries -- Dancing Camel in Tel Aviv and Shapiro in Beit Shemesh -- have collaborated to produce a mint-infused beer, which was premiering at BEERS.

Dancing Camel owner David Cohen told me that the new beer, named Nana (which is Hebrew for "mint") brings together Shapiro's famous Pale Ale and Dancing Camel's Gordon Beach Blond, which is flavored with mint and rosemary.

"We left out the rosemary," David said, "but we increased the strength of the mint using the method called 'dry-hopping,' that is, steeping mint in the beer while it is fermenting."  The hops used are Cascade and Citra, and the alcohol by volume is 4.8%.

Nana pours out semi-hazy and very pale yellow, with low carbonation and a thin, fast-dissipating head.  I didn't get any of the typical hop aromatics, but nice mint zest and lemon grass.  There is also mint and sweet spice in the taste, with a strong malty backbone adding some bread flavor.  The finish is very tasty with light bitterness, though not especially long.

Mint makes everything refreshing, and in this Nana beer, it works wonderfully.  Lots of enjoyment in drinking this by itself, with salty snacks, or with dishes which go well with mint, for example, couscous and bean salads, chickpea or other grain salads, or even (if you're really adventurous) vanilla and chocolate ice cream!

With David Shamis, Marketing Director
of Oak & Ash.
Oak & Ash Wheat

New brewery Oak & Ash (using the facilities of Dancing Camel) introduced their new Wheat Beer at the festival.  Like their original Rye Pale Ale, this beer too is aged with oak.  [Read that review here.]

The Oak & Ash logo is thoughtfully bi-lingual, with the "Ash" being spelled in Hebrew, a word that is pronounced aish and means "fire."  You can't brew beer without fire.     

Marketing Director David Shamis calls the Wheat Beer a true "Mediterranean beer," geared for local tastes and preferences.  It is flavored by a whole shelf of different spices -- orange peel, cardamon, anise and saffron.

It's a lovely wheat beer, but the spices were more a faint background noise than clearly defined flavors.  A beautiful foamy white head sits atop this cloudy pale gold beer, in the style of Belgian wheat ("wit") beers.  The aroma is strongly cloves and some orange.  With the first sip, you get lots of little flavor notes, all on the sweet side of the spectrum with a little sourness -- cloves, hyssop, tropical fruits and general spiciness.  We smacked our lips in vain for any malt or oak character, but these were out of our range.  A light-bodied beer (5% ABV), it ends with a short though refreshing finish.  The brewers are even kind enough to recommend foods that would pair well with Oak & Ash Wheat: fettuccine alfredo and roasted vegetables.   

Festival Kegs

The Fass Brewhouse from Kibbutz Geshur on the Golan Heights was serving two new draft beers made just for the BEERS Festival.

Shaike was a 3.6% alcohol Pilsner, mild and flavorful, a good representative of this long-surviving beer style.

Yechezkel was the opposite: a strong (7%) Scottish ale, sweet and alcoholic with strong malt aromas.  I enjoyed experiencing the wide difference between these two beers.

The Fass brothers, Or and Hagai, always seem to bring interesting and different draft beers to beer events, yet their bottled beers available in retail stores have remained unchanged for years: Wheat, Lager, and Porter.  They have the knowledge and the experience to expand their line, and everyone will benefit.

Barzel brewer Yair Alon with bottles of his
original Belgian Ale and Ruby Wheat.
The Barzel Brewery stand was also serving a draft beer prepared for the festival.  (Barzel contract brews at the Mosco Brewery on Moshav Zanuach.)  It was a Brown Ale made with dark malted wheat.  You could taste the beginnings of a stout in this beer, but also a very intriguing sourness (which, as my readers know, I am trying to cultivate a taste for).

However, brewer Yair Alon apologized that, as much as I appreciated it, the sour taste was an inadvertent by-product of undue oxidation!  I still liked it.  Sometimes, in small amounts, unplanned by-flavors in beer can be quite acceptable.

Adam Souriano with his
new Gorgeous IPA.
Joya Gorgeous IPA

Another new beer that I met at the festival was Gorgeous IPA, the first commercially brewed beer from the Joya Souriano Brewery in Yahud, brewed at the facilities of the Shapiro Brewery in Beit Shemesh.  Brewer Adam Souriano (Joya was the name of his grandmother) took a small stand at the festival, but it usually was surrounded by a large group of people waiting to try his new IPA.

And no wonder.  It's a lovely beer, brewed in the popular style of a New England IPA: very hazy, loaded with hops (Gorgeous has seven varieties!) chosen to impart citrus and tropical "juicy" flavors, and a soft mouthfeel due to the addition of oats.

The label description of the beer is one of the longest I have ever seen.  Adam Souriano promises a "frightening amount" of hops in the beer, and explains that the cloudiness is a product of the suspended "proteins and hop oils which accumulated during the brewing process."  Whatever you do, he jokes, "don't inhale the foam. It will make you wonder why you haven't gone more often to pick lychees, pears, passion fruit, apricots and even grapes."  The label also gives the alcohol by volume (7.2%), International Bitterness Units (30, which is considered moderate), Standard Reference Method for color (5.5), and even the Original Gravity of the wort (1.064), a rough indicator of the amount of alcohol which will be in the finished beer.  I just love labels full of information.  Doesn't everybody?

As to the beer inside the bottle, Gorgeous IPA poured out a cloudy pale-to-orange gold with a thin head.  The aroma from the seven hops was a blend of tropical fruits and pine.  The strong bitterness in the taste departed from the New England IPA style, but there were also plentiful juice flavors: orange, pineapple and with a little stretch, lychee and pears.  The dry and bitter finish was exceedingly refreshing.  The label recommends paring this beer with salty and fatty foods like pizza, French fries and burekas.  That would work for me. 

New Places to Buy Beer    

George Yusopov, owner of the
Beer Station chain,explains his
new concept for selling beer.
Two competing chains were at BEERS for the first time.  Both of them were peddling the same concept: Selling a lot of different beers on tap either by the glass or in take-home bottles or "growlers."

The first was Beer Station, which now has outlets in Tel Aviv, Haifa, Beersheva, Ashdod, Holon, and Rishon LeZion.

Owner George Yusopov told me that the idea for what I would call a "beer automat" came originally from Russia.  Twenty-five different beers are on sale at the Beer Stations, and the cost for filling a liter bottle is between 25 and 49 shekels, definitely not exorbitant.  There are Israeli craft beers and foreign beers on the menu.

The competing chain is called Beer Point and has franchises in Ashdod, Bat-Yam, and Rishon LeZion, with another planned to open in Beersheva.

Why the both of them choose to "pass over" Jerusalem I just don't know.  We drink our beer here in nobody's shadow.

Noa and Shira Matosevich:
Smiling representatives of the Raaya Beer
home-brewing workshop in Zichron Yakov.
Learning to Brew

Another newcomer to BEERS was Raaya Beer.  This may sound like a new brewer, but it's not.  It's a home-brewing workshop located in Zichron Yakov, which holds classes Sunday to Friday in all-grain brewing.

The owner and teacher is Aviram Matosevich, but he wasn't at the festival that night.  Instead, his two very personable daughters, Noa and Shira, were handing out literature and explaining the courses.  Raaya Beer only opened in March of this year and already has a sizable number of graduates who have become home-brewers.

Three for the Future    

I also met three brewers for the first time.  They're not new and I had heard of them, but it was only the festival that brought us together.

Tal Bitton (second from left) and his team from
Tavor Brewery meet the old blogger.  
Tal Bitton is the owner of Tavor Brewery on Moshav Shadmot Dvora in the Galilee.  It's named after Mount Tavor, mentioned in the Bible (Judges 4:6) as the place where a battle between the Israelites and Canaanites took place, and today is a very prominent landmark in the area.

I took home four of their beers -- a Belgian Dubbel and Trippel, a Pale Ale and an IPA -- and will review them soon enough.

Nazareth Beer partner Basel Massad was happy
to introduce the old blogger to his American Wheat beer.
I also met Basel Massad, a partner in the Nazareth Brewery in  . . . Nazereth (where else?).  I brought home the one beer that they are now brewing -- an American Wheat.  You will also be hearing about that.  Basel told me that he is also making a Brown Ale which is not yet in bottles.

Michael Blinder was doing a good job
of introducing his Blinderweiss
to Tel Aviv beer enthusiasts. 
Another new brewery that took a booth was Blinderweiss, headed by Michael Blinder from Hadera.  Michael brews his one style of beer at the Mosco Brewery on Moshav Zanuach.  It is a free-style weissbier (wheat beer) made according to Michael's very specific recipe and taste.  But more about that later.    

September 8, 2017

Wheat and mango in new beers

I've just had the pleasure of tasting two pretty new beers which are now being sold in beer specialty shops and selected liquor stores.  They are quite different, but both in my opinion are welcome additions to the craft beer panoply in Israel. 

Beer Bazaar Wheatney

The Beer Bazaar Brewery in Kiryat Gat (known in Hebrew as Mivshelet Ha'aretz) has come out with Wheatney, their own version of a German-style wheat beer ("weissbier") for the "Israeli taste."  As I've written before, wheat beers seem to very popular in Israel and every craft brewery wants one in its repertoire.

Lior Weiss (no relation to the beer), a partner and brewer of Beer Bazaar, told me that Wheatney is based on his unique recipe of Pilsner malt, wheat and rye.  The alcohol by volume is 5%, very comfortable if you're having more than one on a hot day.

Wheatney is straw colored, slightly hazy, with active carbonation and a huge frothy head.  The aroma is very typical of this weissbier style: banana and cloves, but with an herbal background from the hops and some toasty malt.  The flavor is also quite marked by the banana and cloves, with the hops adding fruit and spice but very little bitterness.  The finish is sweet and medium lasting.

If you're a wheat beer fan, and apparently many Israelis are, you can't go wrong with Wheatney.

HeChatzer Double Kruzo

(Photo: HeChatzer Brewery)
HeChatzer Brewery ("Back Yard Beer") has introduced another version of their popular mango beer Kruzo, called Double Kruzo because it's made with twice the amount of mango and twice the amount of dry hopping.  (Read about Kruzo at last year's Jerusalem Beer Festival here.)  The beer is brewed in commercial quantities at the Srigim Brewery.

Double Kruzo is at base a pale ale.  The color is hazy pale orange, with an active carbonation that I appreciated.  The aroma was very hoppy, with citrus and tropical fruits being dominant, and some grass.  The bitter mango comes through in the taste, though very understated; in fact, not much more so than the original Kruzo.  Other fruit tastes are also there from the Magnum and Citra hops: citrus, tropical fruits and pineapple.  The mouthfeel is very creamy, and the finish moderately bitter and refreshing.  Alcohol by volume is 5.3%.

HaChatzer partners Yochai Maytal, Ariel Chinn and Shachaf Ashkenazi have demonstrated their talent and innovation on numerous occasions, and Double Kruzo is definitely further proof of that.