January 15, 2018

Yechiam: the fortress and the brewery

As I've written before, craft breweries are popping up all over Israel -- from the Lebanese border in the north to the southernmost city of Eilat.  So, Trudy and I have been able to combine our tours to different parts of the country with visits to nearby breweries.

The Miskins and the Greeners,
intrepid trekkers all, about to assault
the Yechiam Fortress.
We have done this several times with our friends Yitzchak and Pnina Miskin, he being a member of the Israel Brews and Views Tasting Panel.  [You can read about our trip to the Alexander Stream and the Alexander Brewery here.]

Recently we headed up to Israel's northwest corner on the Lebanese border, to Kibbutz Yechiam, home to a kosher salami factory, a Crusader fortress, and the Malka Beer brewery.  We visited all three, although let's make it clear that the meat factory was for the Miskins, who had forgotten to pack their sausage!

Related image
A beautiful view of the Galilee from
the top of the Yechiam Fortress.
The Yechiam Fortress, as it is known, was our first stop.  Originally built by the Crusaders in the 1240s, it was used to control travel and communication in the area and collect taxes from the local inhabitants.  It was conquered by the Mameluks under Sultan Baibars from Egypt  in 1265 and largely destroyed.  In the 18th century it was rebuilt and used as the palatial home of local leaders, including Mahd el-Hussein and Zahir al-Umar, who called it the Jiddin Castle.

We walked through the rooms and towers and climbed the ancient stairs to the roof, where you have stunning views of all the surrounding hills and countryside.

During Israel's War of Independence in 1948, residents of Kibbutz Yechiam used the ruins as a fortified position to fight off the invading Arab armies.  Signs around the fortress indicate locations where the Jewish forces had firing positions, command bunkers, and shielded areas for evacuating the wounded.

After our tour, we drove to the nearby border city of Ma'alot for a hummus lunch in a restaurant that Yitzchak had recommended.

The old blogger with Yaniv Katz,
the always busy manager of the
Malka Brewpub.
Lunch left us thirsty, so it was definitely time to head back to the kibbutz and the Malka Brewpub.     

A few days earlier, I had called Asaf Lavie, the owner of Malka Brewery, and told him we would like to visit on Friday, speak with him and maybe tour the brewery.

"What time?" he asked.  Around 12:30 to 1:00, I said.  "Oh, that's no problem.  After around 2:30, the place becomes packed and we're all too busy to talk."

Because our schedule was a little delayed, we arrived at the brewery around 2:45.  Every table and chair on the lawn, inside and around back was taken by happy, gregarious beer drinkers.

Restaurant manager Yaniv Katz greeted us and, even though he was being called away every two minutes with a question or emergency, found time to make us up a table and talk with us.

The Friday afternoon packed beer garden
at the Malka Brewpub on Kibbutz Yechiam.
Only 29 years old, Yaniv shoulders the responsibility of keeping the restaurant functioning smoothly.  Around 800 people come to eat and drink at the Malka Brewpub every weekend (Thursday, Friday and Saturday night).  Five hundred liters of Malka's five beers are consumed.

While they may not all be available all the time, Malka's regular beers are:

Pale Ale
Blond Ale
Hindi IPA
Wheat Ale

At the Brewpub, a third of a liter of beer costs 17 shekels, and a half-liter 22 shekels.  Bottles are available to take home for 12 shekels each, with a four-pack costing 44 shekels.

The food menu is kosher and more extensive than the usual pub grub.  In addition to the expected hamburgers, hot dogs, shnitzel nuggets, meat sandwiches and French fries, there are vegetarian options such as Portobello mushroom burgers, and fried cauliflower and broccoli nuggets.

Trudy and the old blogger enjoy
the ambiance at the Malka Brewpub.
Between the four of us, we ordered and shared almost all of Malka's beers.  I have always enjoyed their bottled beer, and fresh from the tap they were even more delicious.  The Hindi IPA and the Blond Ale were especially welcome.

Having a few beers with good friends in a rustic setting was a very cultured way to start the weekend.  Afterwards, we happily worked our way across the road to the kibbutz guest house, where we would be spending the Sabbath.

The Holy Day was delightful, nourishing and relaxing.  But since that's not the subject for a beer blog, this would be a good place to finish.  We can only heartily recommend the combination of touring Israel and visiting a craft brewery.  There's something for everybody and a brewery almost everywhere.   

January 10, 2018

1872 Baltic Porter launched: An Israeli-German collaboration

As 2017 ended, I went to the Dancing Camel Brewery in Tel Aviv for the first pouring of the 1872 Baltic Porter, an Israeli-German collaboration beer.

The beer had not two, but four collaborators: Dancing Camel and Oak & Ash in Tel Aviv, and Bierfabrik and Two Fellas in Berlin.

David Cohen, owner of Dancing Camel, has already brewed several beers in collaboration with German craft breweries.  "Why do we love collaboration beers?" he asks.  "Because beer holds no agenda, no political affinity, no religion and no cause more sacred than the freedom of the human spirit."  Who am I to disagree?     

Asher Zimble (left), owner and brewer of
Oak & Ash Beers, and David Cohen of
Dancing Camel (center), join the old blogger
for the launching of 1872 Baltic Porter. 
David explained that each of the brewers contributed something to the concept and recipe of 1872.  The German breweries suggested a Baltic porter, since northern Germany was one of the places where this style originated some 200 years ago, as well as the basic grain bill using German malt.

"The Dancing Camel brought up the idea of adding Israeli date honey -- silan -- and Oak & Ash was called upon to age the beer with oak," says David.  "The beer was brewed simultaneously in Tel Aviv and Berlin, and each brewery had leeway to choose the malts and hops.  The use of the date honey and the oak aging was required by all."

The name of the beer commemorates the tragic storm and flood of November 13, 1872, which devastated much of the Baltic Sea coast from Denmark to the German-Polish border. 

David Cohen at the Bierfabrik Brewery
with Sebastian Mergel (left) and
Andre Schabrackentapir (right).
The Baltic porter style developed when the British began exporting their popular porter beer to the Baltic countries (Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania) and also Sweden, Denmark, Poland, Finland, Russia and northern Germany.  These countries began brewing it for themselves, but according to their own tastes.  For example, they fermented it at lower temperatures with lager yeast, rather than ale yeast.  This tends to mellow out the flavors.         

Baltic porter was also somewhat heavier and stronger than its British progenitor. David adds: "Our 1872 is 8% alcohol by volume, just right for this style.  Also, Baltic porters are usually not oak aged, as ours is.  This adds a touch of oak taste and smoothness to the final beer."

Background explanations are nice, but it was time to taste 1872 for ourselves.  I had some on tap at the Dancing Camel pub with Israel Brews and Views Taster Yitzchak Miskin, and back at home from a bottle with Taster Moshe Lifshitz.

1872 is a clear, dark reddish-brown beverage with healthy carbonation.  With the first whiff, you would not be delusional if a Belgian dubbel came to mind: aromas of caramel, roasted malt, licorice and chocolate.  The body is full and thick, with flavors of caramel malt, a little smoke, date honey, dark fruits and vanilla.  The overall impression is sweet and mild to the palate, fading into a bitter finish.  The high alcoholic content stays in the background.

All of us agreed: This is a complex, flavorful and warming beer, especially suitable for the winter months.  It's excellent as a sipping beer on its own, or pair it with strong tasting foods such as chilies and stews, sweet potatoes, odorous cheeses like Camembert, Gouda and brie, and any chocolate desert, cheesecake or apple pie.         

Dancing Camel Deutschland

Alone among Israeli brewers, David Cohen started around three years ago to build bilateral relationships with German craft brewers.  He has been very successful.  Since then, the Dancing Camel has participated in several German-Israeli collaboration beers, including Happy Hour in Sodom, Two Cats on a Camel, Gates of Helles, and now 1872.  Dancing Camel beers are sold in pubs and stores in Berlin and other cities, and its Leche del Diablo chili pepper wheat beer and Doc's Green Leaf Party IPA  are brewed under license and sold in Germany.  David opened a Facebook page for his activities in Germany called Dancing Camel Deutschland.  (Read more about Dancing Camel and these collaboration beers here.) 

David explains that the initial impetus for cooperating with German breweries came from the Israeli Consul General in Munich.  David pursued it with visits to Berlin and other cities and admits struggling with "the ghosts of the past" when in Germany.  However, his contact with the German brewers led first to ties of professional appreciation, and then to feelings of friendship.  "One thing organically led to another," he says,"and today I feel very much at home when I visit Germany, which I do around once a month."

So kudos to David for setting his own path, as he did in 2006 when he opened Dancing Camel, Israel's first craft brewery.