April 10, 2018

American breweries tour: Part Three -- The Bronx

Even though I was born in Manhattan not far from the Harlem River, the Bronx was where I grew up.  From 1943 to 1955, I lived on Eastburn Avenue in the West Bronx, just off of the Grand Concourse.  Then we moved out to Levittown on Long Island.  The Bronx then was beginning to change for the worse, though it wasn't to reach its rock bottom until more than a decade later.

For a few years following, we would ride back to the Bronx from time to time to visit family and friends.  But beginning from the early 1960s, I can't remember ever going back.  There was no reason to.  So, saying that I hadn't been in the Bronx for over 50 years is not a stretch.

On a recent visit to New York City, with its over 40 craft breweries, I had made it my priority to visit one of the four in the Bronx.  To tell the truth, the Bronx is in the middle of a boom these days, after having been known as New York's "Wild West" during the 1960s and 1970s, followed by decades of neglect. 

Today, the Bronx boasts real economic growth, the fastest growing county in New York State, and lots of civic pride.  Craft brewing is just one more element in the mix. 

My first choice was the Bronx Brewery.  With a name like that, it had made itself representative of all the positive developments in the borough -- just like the Brooklyn Brewery to the southeast.

But for all its media savvy, the Bronx Brewery wasn't answering my many phone calls and e-mails  pleading to arrange an appointment.  No matter that I said I was a world-famous beer blogger and a Bronx native yearning to return to my home turf.  Not even a hint of a response was forthcoming.

So my friend Len and I searched and found another brewery in the Bronx -- the Gun Hill Brewing Company, located further east in the Williamsbridge section of the north central Bronx.  They were much more responsive and even seemed eager to meet an old Bronx-bred blogger from Israel.

So one weekday after work (Len's work, that is; I was on vacation), we took the subway to the Bronx.  Bad reputations have a habit of lingering, and friends had advised us against walking around after dark.  The nearest subway stop for us was still about a 20 minute walk to the brewery.  We really didn't know what to expect.

The expansive Gun Hill Brewing taproom.
It was fine.  On both sides of us were private and semi-private homes, clean and well-kept.  Walking along the streets were typical New Yorkers going about their business.  I felt a little embarrassed by my fears.

The Gun Hill Brewing Company is in an industrial building not on Gun Hill Road but the adjacent
Laconia Street.  Founded by Kieran Farrell and Dave Lopez, two Bronx boys who met on the baseball diamond, Gun Hill Brewing opened in 2014.  The partners see their extra-commercial mission as bringing pride and beer brewing back to the Bronx.  They use local ingredients, including New York State-grown hops (which I didn't know existed, by the way).

Len at the bar with brewer/bartender
Hector Borja at Gun Hill Brewing Co.
Len and I were welcomed to the taproom by assistant brewer and occasional bartender Hector Borja, a Bronx native happy to meet a returning son.  Hector said that he was always a beer drinker (certainly a positive attribute if you want to be a brewer and bartender), and was turned on to home-brewing when he worked as a personal trainer for one of the founders (not sure if was Kieran or Dave).  He did well in some home-brewing competitions and was hooked.                           

It was no surprise then that Hector was a very beer-savvy bartender as he guided us through some of Gun Hill's best brews.

The old blogger and Len meet some
friendly Bronx natives. 
We began on an unusual note: a sour stout called Kentucky Common, made with lactobacillus and
aged in former bourbon barrels.  It was a very smooth stout, 6.4% alcohol, with a taste of sour citrus, notably lime.  Crossover?  Boundary-pusher?  Yes, but a pleasure to drink.

Next up was Mosaic Soft Serve, a cloudy yellow ale brewed with Mosaic hops and a bit of Centennial as well.  The "Soft" refers to added lactose (milk sugar) which adds smoothness and body.  Aroma was pine and citrus, with pine dominating in the taste.  Alcohol was a low 3%.

Number three beer was similar, with Motueka hops from New Zealand replacing the Mosaic -- so it's called Motueka Soft Serve.  The flavors here were pear and grapefruit.

Hector Borja and the old blogger
in the Gun Hill Brewery.

Void of Light is one of Gun Hill's best sellers: a black-black stout, 7.9% alcohol, aged in bourbon barrels.  Espresso coffee is strong in the aroma, while the taste is decidedly bitter chocolate.

State Fair is an appropriately named American pale ale, hazy straw color and 5.3% alcohol by volume.  Flavors are apple, pear and citrus, with a sweet finish.

A golden, summer-weather beer came next: Guava Apricot Ale, 4.6% ABV and sweet sided.  As you might surmise, guava and apricot puree are added during fermentation; they are dominant in the nose, less so on the palate. 

Hessian in Paradise brings us into the world of sour (or wild) beers.  It's a Berliner Weiss beer with key lime juice added during the fermentation.  Nutmeg and cinnamon are added during the boil.  The result is a refreshing sour citrus, spicy beer that really hit the spot with me.  The flavors are balanced just right.

Image result for bronx memes
Bringing up the rear was Gun Hill IPA.  Since the brewery gave its name to this beer, we figured it might be a cut above.  It turned out to be a mid-amber colored, mid-level India pale ale -- well balanced and not overly bitter, 6.6% ABV.  Grassy and fruity esters are plentiful from the Centennial and Mosaic hops, and the flavor is orange-citrus.

Thus sated with beer, we thanked Hector and said good-bye to the Gun Hill Brewing Co.  It was already after dark when we walked back to the subway station, but there were no glances over our shoulder this time.  I felt right at home.  Maybe I was.

April 2, 2018

The most unusual brewery

The most unusual brewery in the world is right here in Israel.  Right here in Jerusalem.

The Adult Day Center of Tsad Kadima ("A Step Forward") in Jerusalem hosts many activities for the benefit of adults with cerebral palsy and other severe physical disabilities.  It provides, for example, academic studies in different subjects, including courses held at the David Yellin College and the Hadassah-Hebrew University School of Occupational Therapy; training for a very active and successful bocce team, a Paralympic sport especially suitable for those with physical disabilities; and a framework for leisure activities such as arts and crafts and the internet.

Four bottles of fresh Kadima Beer.
(Photo: Mike Horton)
But every Wednesday for the past several months, the Center is transformed into a brewery for Kadima Beer.  "It's amazing to see the motivation of the people who do the brewing and bottling," says Guy Salomon, the Executive Director of Tsad Kadima. 

"They wait for this day.  Our brewing project is different from anything else we do.  The work is unique; it's economic and commercial; it gives our participants a feeling of achievement and accomplishment.  They are more active and cooperate with each other in a way not seen elsewhere."

On one recent Wednesday, ten young adults with differing levels of function were bottling an Irish Red beer which they had brewed two weeks earlier.  Three stations were set up under the guidance of Avi Colodner, a specialist in conductive education and Head of the Adult Day Center, occupational therapist Ruth Cohen, Shir Tevet, a National Service volunteer, and Khalil Lubbat, an aide.  But all the work was done by the Tsad Kadima participants themselves, in their powered wheelchairs.

Oshri places the sterilized bottles
on the drying tree.

(Photo: Mike Horton)
The first commandment of bottling is that everything the beer touches has to be sterilized: the receptacles, the tubing, the nozzles, the bottle caps, and of course, the bottles themselves.  So the first step was Moshiko's.  His task was to drop the bottles into the sterilizing solution. 

"Most home-brewers use a device that forcefully sprays the solution into the bottle," explains Colodner.  "But few of our participants have the strength and dexterity to push the bottles down on this device, so we came up with the idea of a 'sterilizing bath' instead."

Hagit fills the bottles on Ayelet's wheelchair
while Itzik supervises.

(Photo: Mike Horton)
It was then Oshri's job to take the bottles out of the bath and hang them upside-down on the drying tree.

Getting the bottles over to the filling station was handled by Ayelet.  Her wheelchair was fitted with a bottle holder, and when Oshri filled it with four clean bottles, she transported them around two meters or so, over to Hagit, who filled them with a spring operated filling tube connected to the tank of beer.

It was a challenge for Hagit to insert the tube into the narrow bottle opening, but she kept on trying until she succeeded – bottle after bottle after bottle.

Watching this process was Itzik, whose cerebral palsy was probably too severe for him to do any of the physical activities.  But he was in charge of "quality control," letting Hagit know when each bottle was full so she could stop filling.

Rotem (left) sterilizes the bottle caps
before Elior presses them onto the bottles.

(Photo: Mike Horton)
With four bottles brimming with Irish Red ale, Hagit continued her route another two meters over to the capping station, where Rotem was sterilizing the bottle caps before Elior pressed them onto the bottles.  Working the press took a lot of strength and Elior was one of the few who could handle that with precision.

In an adjacent room, even as the batch of Irish Red was being bottled, a brew kettle was being readied for Tsad Kadima's next beer – a Belgian Triple.  Yotam and David were watching over the pot until it reached the proper temperature before the malt and hops could be added. 

The old blogger in the middle of
the most unusual brewery.

(Photo: Mike Horton)
Guy Salomon looks out over this beautiful, imperfect assembly line with pride and satisfaction.  It was just a year ago that Tsad Kadima's academic director, Dr. Rony Schenker, raised the idea of beer brewing in the Center: A project which would give young adults with CP a chance to do trendy, interesting and meaningful work, to learn new skills, and even earn a little something for their efforts. 

Salomon, a serious home-brewer, loved the idea.  The fact that welfare officials had certified Tsad Kadima participants as "100% unemployable" only whet Salomon's appetite for the challenge.      
Drinking beer together at the Sira Pub
in downtown Jerusalem.

(Photo: Maoz Vaystooch)
Brewers were called in to volunteer their time and talent to instruct the working crew and to adapt the brewing process to fit the needs of physically challenged adults.  Sponsors were found for purchasing the equipment.

"This took a lot of time and trial and error," says Salomon.  "Outside observers were not optimistic, and even some parents didn't believe their children could do the work."

Before the first batch was brewed, Salomon called together the entire staff of Tsad Kadima and demonstrated the brewing process so that everyone would be conversant with it.

Then, about three months ago, the first bottles of Kadima Beer were ready.  Launching parties were held at the Sira Pub in downtown Jerusalem (operated by the Shapiro Brewery in Beit Shemesh) and at the Mifletzet ("Monster") Pub in the Kiryat Yovel neighborhood.  The Tsad Kadima brewers also attended these parties, enjoying the beer and the beer-talk with the general public.   

Making up six-packs of Kadima Beer.
(Photo: Maoz Vaystooch)
"This was a very important step in the whole inclusion process," explains Salomon.  "Our participants met the public as equals in a completely social situation, drinking beer together, exchanging brewing stories, and being the center of attraction for those evenings."

As for the Kadima Beers themselves, I was able to taste three kinds: an Amber Ale, refreshing, with a bitter citrus taste; a Dry Stout, dark ruby brown, with aroma and taste of dark chocolate, and a dry finish which balances the sweetness of the chocolate; a Belgian Wheat (Witbier), a very cloudy and creamy ale, sweet with a mild orange taste and spicy finish.

At the Mifletzet Pub in Kiryat Yovel, Jerusalem.
(Photo: Maoz Vaystooch)
Beyond the quality and taste of the beer itself is the huge social dimension which makes Kadima Beer so special.  Beer historians (yes, there are such things) point out that the grain-fermented beverage has been bringing people together for at least 4,000 years.  The brewery at Tsad Kadima is certainly the latest expression of this continuing phenomenon.  Beer enthusiasts who sees these young people in action, overcoming their own physical disabilities to brew beer, can be excused if tears come to their eyes.          

For the future, Avi Colodner would like to find new markets for Kadima Beer.  "We'll be speaking to stores and pubs, and maybe even companies who want to buy beer for their workers.  We now produce only 60 bottles a week, but we can easily expand that with bigger and more modern equipment.  Our participants have shown that they can handle the work!"

At the Sira Pub in downtown Jerusalem.
(Photo: Maoz Vaystooch)
Tsad Kadima was established in 1987 by parents and professionals to provide educational and rehabilitative services to children and adults with cerebral palsy and other physical disabilities nationwide. These services include rehabilitative day care centers for babies, special education kindergartens and schools, inclusive classes in regular schools, training and residential apartments in the community, and a day center for adults.
The system used at Tsad Kadima is called "Conductive Education," a unique pedagogy that considers all aspects of human development in an integrated learning and teaching manner.  The goal is to help the disabled person become an autonomous, active and participating adult, leading a meaningful, interesting life with friends and family, and with the freedom to make their own decisions in life. 
Guy Salomon would be happy to speak with any brewers who want to volunteer their time to help Tsad Kadima improve the quality and output of its beer.  "I also welcome all those who can contribute towards purchasing new equipment," he adds.  Tsad Kadima can be contacted at telephone (02) 654-0062, or e-mail office@tsadkadima.org.il