August 17, 2017

Beer festivals next week: Jerusalem, Hadera, Petach Tikva

Could this be the end of the beer festival season?  Probably not, but three more festivals are on tap for next week.  That should effectively bring us to the end of August, the end of summer vacation, and the time when our thoughts turn to the High Holiday season and the start of a New Year.  So before that happens, go out and drink some beer, eat something, absorb the music, and laugh with friends in the company of fellow beer lovers.

Ir HaBira -- Jerusalem Beer Festival
August 23-24

This one is on my home turf.  One of my favorites, and not only because I can jump on a bus or the Light Rail and be home in a few minutes.  The Jerusalem Beer Festival has tradition on its side -- this is the 13th straight summer it's being held -- and in recent years has taken place over a huge area in the central Independence Park (Gan Ha'atzmaut), a beautiful setting for any festival.  Impresario Eli Giladi puts his soul into making everyone feel welcome and attaining just the right mix of beer, food, music and ambiance.

The Festival will take place next week on Wednesday and Thursday, August 23 and 24, from 6:00 p.m. until midnight.  Eli promises that 120 different beers from Israel and abroad will be flowing.  The popular music groups Knessiyat Ha Sechel and Hayehudim will take the central stage on Wednesday night, followed by Muki and rapper Nechi Nech on Thursday.

Entry costs 45 shekels, and discounted tickets of 40 shekels are available to students, soldiers and National Service, holders of the Jerusalem Card, and people with disabilities.  You can order tickets online in English at:         

I intend to attend on Thursday, August 24.  As is my wont, I will get there early on with my entourage of friends, imbibers, and fellow judges, and leave before the flood of crowds begins.  If you see me, please come over and say hello.  I pose for selfies.

Hadera Beer Festival
August 23-24

For those further north, you can attend the world's first Hadera Beer Festival on the same days as Jerusalem's.  Here admission is free, beginning at 7:00 p.m., on the Piazza Pedestrian Walkway, Herbert Samuel.  Dozens of local and foreign beers will be served; food will be sold, and giant "knightly" tables will be available for sitting, eating and drinking!  Live performances include the Mercedes Band and rapper Nechi Nech.  

More information at:

Petach Tikva Beer Festival
August 26

Beginning on Saturday night, August 26, at 8:30 p.m., the Petach Tikva Beer Festival opens on the Shacham parking lot.  Entrance is free to all those over 18; younger children may also attend but they have to be accompanied by an adult.  Over 45 Israeli and imported beers will be available, along with stands selling street food and more "knightly" tables.

There will be a live performance by the popular group Hayehudim ("The Jews").  Fitting name for a beer festival in Israel, I guess.  As long as the music is loud and keeps on coming!

More information at:

August 9, 2017

The happy return of the Mateh Yehuda Beer Festival (Mini-Israel)

I remember fondly the Mateh Yehuda beer festivals, held in large grassy areas with lots of room to walk around, drink beer, sit down, drink beer, buy food with beer, and listen to fine music while drinking beer.  Beautiful atmosphere for a summer night.  So I was very saddened when they stopped holding them three or four years ago, and was very happy when they announced a few months ago that the festival is coming back.

With a passel of friends at the Mateh Yehuda Beer Festival 2017.
So it was that few weeks ago I went to the renewed Mateh Yehuda Beer Festival with my wife and a passel of friends.  It was held at the Mini-Israel Park near Latrun, where detailed models of famous Israeli buildings and sites are on permanent outdoor display.

Sure enough, the festival was spread out over a lovely grassy area with chairs and tables (although maybe not enough), interesting food stands, and wonderful live music.  There weren't many brewers but it was a pleasure for me to walk around and speak with all of them and taste their beers.  As usual, I was on the lookout for new beers, or at least beers which were new for me.

Two of the brewers I had never met before:


Pepo (left) and Moti Bohadana introduce
their beer to the old blogger.
Where have I been?

(Photo: Mike Horton)
Moti Bohadana has been brewing Pepo Beer on his Moshav Tslafon (near Beit Shemesh) since 2009.
 It's named after Moti's father, who was also at the beer stand.  The beer is well branded and marketed, but it is sold only on the moshav and at local festivals such as this, and not available elsewhere.  There is a taproom and restaurant on the moshav where the beer is served to groups during the week and to the wider public on Friday.  They make nine different beers in batches of 250 liters.

Pepo has been flying underneath my radar simply because it is not seen at the regular commercial outlets and I haven't noticed it at festivals.  The beers seem interesting and varied, and I would like to get to know them better.  But that's for another time.

Shiksa Wheat and Coriander Pale Ale:
With Cheli (center) and Nir Lavi
of the Beero Brewery.

(Photo: Mike Horton)

The new kid on the block was Beero, brewed by husband-and-wife team Nir and Cheli Lavi of Kibbutz Beit Nir, at the Mosco Brewery.  Before venturing out into the commercial world, they had been home-brewing for three years.

Nir and Cheli were pouring their two beers: One was called Shiksa(!) Wheat, a quite typical German weissbier, and the other was Coriander Pale Ale, brewed with coriander seed.  This beer is a hazy, light amber color with little carbonation, so almost no head.  The aroma is grassy and floral, and the taste is very bitter with an undercurrent of Indian spice.  Alcohol by volume is 6.5%.  I found this to be a well constructed beer, not strong on taste, but very refreshing.

I wish Nir and Cheli the best of luck.  They certainly have a lot of enthusiasm for their brewing.      

You can tell the Dictator by his hat:
Yotam Baras and the old blogger
toast the new IPA.

(Photo: Mike Horton)
The other brewers at the festival were Srigim (Ronen and Emek Ha'ela), Buster's, Shapiro, HaShachar, Mosco, and The Dictator.

From The Dictator's Yotam Baras I got their new IPA, and from Mosco's Amir Lev, I was given bottles of their new Smoked Beer and Pilsner.  These will all be reviewed as soon as possible.

My thanks to Omer Harpaz of the Orna Ben-Chaim PR agency for accommodating our visit to the Mateh Yehuda Beer Festival.  Its return is long overdue and I'm happy that it's come back with all the good points that I remember.          

August 5, 2017

New summer beers

A few new beers are already here to quench your summer thirst.  Our craft brewers know that it's the lighter, crisper, drier beers that people prefer in the hot months -- the July-August-September doldrums when your clothing sticks to your body and people carry water bottles with them when they take more than two steps out of the house.

Three brewers have come out with new India pale ales, always summer favorites with their light bodies, dry finishes, and ratched-up hop bitterness.  But before we taste those, let's try a new Belgian strong ale.  Although it's not associated with summer drinking, no one says you can't enjoy any beer you want, any time you want!

Esser Beer

Esser Beer is a strong Belgian-style ale
(10% alcohol), sweet, fruity and spicy.  
Esser means "ten" in Hebrew, and that's the alcoholic content of this latest beer from the Beer Bazaar Brewery (Mivshelet Ha'aretz) in Kiryat Gat.

Esser is a strong ale in the Belgian style, the color of golden straw and with a small creamy head.  The alcohol is very present in the aroma, along with caramel and peach/nectarine.  Taste is sweet caramel, not unusual for a Belgian-style beer, but it's balanced by the fruity esters of the hops and the yeasty spice.  The alcohol comes back on the exhale.  (Try this sometime.  The technical term is retronasal, and it's the way your nose catches all the aromas when you exhale after you swallow.  This is an important component of what we call "taste.")

The body is full and creamy, with a bittersweet finish.  My drinking partner Moshe found a quality of "lemon pie or creme brulee."

It's not easy to pull off a balanced beer of this strength, but Esser is just that.  Don't gulp it down on a hot day, and don't have more than one.  Enjoy this with spicy grilled and fried foods, rich cheeses and a sweet, non-chocolate cake.

Shapiro 2017 IPA

Every summer for the past three years, the Shapiro Brewery has been bringing out a seasonal India pale ale, brewed to the same recipe except for the hops.  This year, they're using Simcoe, a proprietary hop from the U.S., known for its pungent, citrusy and piney aroma.  (Read about last year's with Citra hops here.)  The alcoholic content has remained 6.5% every year.

The Shapiro 2017 IPA pours out a clear reddish amber.  In addition to the citrus, we got some aromas of tropical fruits, specifically passion fruit and mango.  The taste is bitterer than the aroma suggests it might be, but it doesn't overpower the fruit and citrus flavors.  Ripe mango remains predominant here as well.

In short, the Shapiros have once again brought out an excellent seasonal IPA -- balanced, mid-bitter, full of delicious fruit flavors.

Laughing Buddha Single Malt IPA

Vladimir Gershanov, brewing partner of
Laughing Buddha beer, in pleasant surroundings.
Vladimir Gershanov from Tel Aviv and partner Dima Grabak from Haifa have been brewing beer with the jolly Laughing Buddha label since 2005.  Their Single Malt IPA has been around quite a while, having been contract brewed in several locations.  But it is now being prepared in commercial quantities at the new Sheeta Brewery in Arad.  
The beer is a cloudy, pale amber color with a pinkish tinge and a foamy white head.  Alcohol by volume is 7.1%.  The surprise begins with the aromas.  Along with the citrus and pine hops, you get  . . . sugar candy.  With that in our nostrils, we took a sip and found tastes of jelly apple, cotton candy and toffee.  Moshe said it was, "as if we had walked into a candy store."  

Then, with the second swallow, you do get the bitterness of the hops, along with citrus fruits.  Coming after the candy, it's quite refreshing.

Laughing Buddha Single Malt IPA.
(Photo: Alex Koldertsov)
Vladimir calls this an IPA, but you'll find it quite different from other IPAs you've tasted.  If you can accept that, you'll have a very pleasant beer experience.

Taste aside, I asked Vladimir if he has had any problems with the use of his Laughing Buddha image, specifically from Buddhists who might think of it as sacrilege.  He said that in the twelve years of using that brand, there have never been any complaints.  In fact, a few other breweries in the U.S. and elsewhere also use the Buddha in their logo.  And, although Buddhists are overwhelmingly teetotalers, Vladimir was told that there is a branch which do drink alcohol.  Ganbei!

Mikkeller Green Gold IPA

Mikkel Borg of Copenhagen meets the
old blogger in Tel Aviv.  
(Photo: Mike Horton)   

Brewed in Israel at the Alexander Brewery in Emek Hefer, Green Gold IPA is actually a product of the Mikkeller contract brewery based in Copenhagen, Denmark.

Mikkel Borg, the Mikkeller founder and owner, brews his beers in different breweries all around the world.  Israel is in fact not the first country where he's made Green Gold.  

I was at the launching of this excellent beer at the Agnes Pub in Tel Aviv and I asked Mikkel Borg if he would call Green Gold a collaboration beer with Alexander.  He said something about the brewing taking place in Israel, using our "air and water," but really it was at heart a Mikkeller beer which happens to be brewed in Israel.
Mikkel Borg (left), brewer of Green Gold,
addresses the crowd at the beer
launch in Tel Aviv.

(Photo: Mike Horton) 

In fact, Mikkel explained that brewing Green Gold in several countries was his attempt to introduce a real American-style IPA to the locals, which now includes us Israelis.    

Ori Sagy, founder and owner of the Alexander Brewery, added that "maybe Green Gold was too extreme for the Israeli market."  

Well, I certainly didn't think so.  Probably during the time Mikkel Borg was doing his planning, several Israeli craft breweries have brought out their own IPAs, no less hoppy than Green Gold.

Green Gold may not have been conceived in Israel, but it was born here, so let's have a taste.

Ori Sagy, founder and owner of Alexander Brewery,
shares of bottle of Green Gold IPA with Mikkel Borg.
(Photo: Mike Horton) 
As I mentioned, I think the beer is wonderful.  It pours out the color of clear gold, with a lovely foamy head.  The aroma is citrusy and piney hops.  The taste includes elements of grass, more pine resins, and some grapefruit and orange.  The bitterness is moderate, and blends very well with the flavors.  The delicious long and fruity finish stays with you.  Alcohol by volume is 6.8%.  (N.B.  This review refers only to the Green Gold brewed at Alexander.  The same beer brewed in other countries may be somewhat different.)

These beers will help you get through the summer.  Well, so will any beers, but you should give these a try if you haven't yet.

August 3, 2017

BEERS 2017: Next Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday

It's time to get prepped for the Big Daddy of Israeli beer festivals -- the BEERS 2017 Festival and where else but Tel Aviv. 

This is the seventh annual BEERS Festival, running for three nights, August 8, 9 and 10, at the Train Station (Hatachana) in the Neveh Tzedek neighborhood, on the Jaffa border, near the ocean.  The gates open at 6:00 p.m. and close at 11:00.

According to the organizers, the Ben-Ami Studio, over 200 beers are being served, Israeli and foreign.  In my experience, BEERS attracts even the smaller Israeli craft brewers by promising them exposure to a large crowd of Tel Avivian beer enthusiasts and "opinion leaders."  So it really is a wonderful venue for getting to taste a lot of beers you never knew about, all in the same place.  Many brewers also use the occasion to introduce new beers.

Entry is 70 shekels and includes five tasting coupons.  Five additional coupons can be purchased for 30 shekels.  You can save 20 shekels on the entry price by visiting the BEERS Facebook page ( and sharing the post which includes the discount 50 shekel entry coupon.  That's what it looks like to the left.  Share it on your Facebook page and bring proof of the sharing on your smartphone (I have no idea how you do this) and enter for only 50 shekels.  You have to do the sharing by Monday, August 7.  Good Luck!   
As always, there will be quite a few food stands (these can crowd up as the night wears on), and very ambitious live music.

I was invited on the opening night, Tuesday, August 8, along with the other "professionals."  That was arranged by a special internet form which I filled out and returned.  As in the past, all of my other attempts to get more information about BEERS from the Ben-Ami Studio have been unsuccessful.  E-mails have gone unanswered and no phone number for inquiries is given on their social media.  It's as if they look upon the media and the public as nuisances who must be kept at arm's length.  

Nevertheless, I'm going to BEERS to have a good time, try some new beers, and report back to you, my loyal readers.                

July 26, 2017

My peach lambic problem -- and ours

The winner in the Fruit Beer category of the B'tsisa home-brew competition was Noam Shalev's Peach Lambic.  You can read about the other winners here, where I also wrote that reviewing Noam's Peach Lambic was very difficult for me.  As I promised you then, here are a few words about why that is so.  
Noam Shalev enjoying his Lambic at the
annual Brew Party for Israeli home-brewers. 
Lambics are more than a different beer style; they are in a different category.  We call these "sour beers," even though they may not all be sour.  Noam himself suggests that they be called "wild beers," because they contain elements in the yeast or bacteria which are in some way out of the control of the brewer, and therefore "wild."  

The Beer Judge Certification Program recognizes ten beer styles in this group: lambic, fruit lambic, gueze, Flanders red, oud bruin, gose, Berliner Weisse, Brett beer, mixed-fermentation sour, and wild specialty beer.

 Let's see why I, and many other beer drinkers, have a problem with these styles:    

Of the four traditional tastes, sweet and salty are kind of naturally inviting.  Children don't have to develop these tastes, and food manufactures pour in sugar and salt to keep us hooked.  In nature, something sweet or salty is not dangerous.  We are hot-wired by evolution to enjoy these tastes.

Bitter, on the other hand, is a warning that something is spoiled, poisoned, dangerous.  For us to enjoy the bitterness of hops in beer, we have to overcome this instinct and "develop" an appreciation for this taste.  That's why children guzzle down Coca Cola and recoil when tasting beer.  Most beer enthusiasts these days have no problem handling bitterness.  In fact, they seek it out.

What about sour?  It also has warned of danger from the dawn of humankind.  But shouldn't we be able to surmount this gut-reaction for the sake of enjoying this basic taste just like we have with bitterness?

Well, in many instances, we have.  We already enjoy a whole bunch of fruits and other foods which bombard us with sour: lemons, sour pickles, sauerkraut, sour cream, vinegar.  There's even an entire genre of sour candies which go to extremes to make us pucker up.  Shouldn't we be able to take the leap and enjoy this same sensation in beer?  

We love sour candy, don't we?
We certainly should.  In Belgium and northern France, so I'm told, there are thousands upon thousands of beer drinkers who love their lambics and other sour or tart beers no less than we love our bitters.  There is no reason we bitter-lovers cannot open ourselves up to new sensations and experiences and begin to develop a taste for sour beers.  True, the lambic-lovers started earlier than we did, much earlier, and the older you get, the harder it is to learn new tricks.

But we can at least try to expand our horizons, or in new-age parlance, to open ourselves up to new experiences.

To give myself a little background, I spoke to Noam Shalev about how he brews his lambics.

Where the Sour Things Are:
Brettanomyces yeasties do their stuff.
He tries to remain true as much as possible to the traditional lambic process.  For example, 30% of the grain he uses is unmalted wheat, although traditional brewers can use up to 60%.  He uses old hops which don't give much flavor, but have an anti-bacterial function, preventing undesirable bugs from multiplying.

Noam aged this beer in oak for six months, and then with peach pulp for another two months, while the Brettanomyces yeast, Pediococcus bacteria, and Lactococcus bacteria did their microscopic work, adding fruity aromas and acidity to the beer.

However, while the Belgians originally depended on wild yeast, floating in the country air, to do the initial fermentation, Noam buys his wild yeast from a yeast lab.  Sort of like zoo animals: they're raised in captivity, but they're still wild.

Not what we want:
vinegar = vin aigre = sour wine.
All of this chemistry, Noam explains, is meant to impart a sourness to the beer that is, "yogurt sour, not vinegar sour."

Well, I tried.  I really did.  But it's going to take more work.  My drinking partner Moshe and I approached this beer as we would any other.  It poured out a hazy, light copper color with almost no carbonation.  The aroma was sour yeast, with none of the regular hop aromas.  And then the taste: sour from start to finish.  Unrelentingly sour.  Sour in your mouth and sour in your throat.

If there was any peach flavor, it was almost completely obscured by the sour, but something was there.  A hint of peach tried to come through, but it didn't last.  "If this is what sour beer is supposed to be," averred Moshe, "then this is good."  We tried to understand it, but really, we did not enjoy it.

But then, just to show us how personal a thing is taste, I called over my wife Trudy, not a great beer drinker, to have a sip of the Peach Lambic.  I expected of course a loud "Ugh!" like when she tastes a bitter beer.  Instead: "Hmm, this isn't bad.  It's like a sour juice."  

So with Trudy giving me a glimmer of hope, I'll keep trying to acquire a taste for wild beers, and I invite you to join me.  Someday, we may find that sour is the new bitter.  May take a while though. 

July 22, 2017

Kfar Saba Beer Festival this week

This Monday and Tuesday, July 24 and 25, Kfar Saba will be in the spotlight with the third annual Kfar Saba Beer Festival.  Held in the Courtyard of the shuk (market), the festival will begin each day at 7:00 p.m. and will include food stands and live music, featuring the Mercedes Band on Tuesday at 9:30 p.m.

Over 20 Israeli craft beers will be served from the following breweries: Buster's, Malka, Ronen, Emek Ha'ela, Barzel, Alexander, Jem's, and HeChatzer.  Shoshana, an "Israeli" wheat beer brewed with mint in Belgium, will also be on sale.

Entrance is free, and only to those 18 or older.  If you live in the area of Kfar Saba, this one's for you. 

July 19, 2017

B'tsisa 2017 -- Tasting some of the winners

Way back in April, the winners were announced to the B'tsisa home-brewing competition, another one of Israel's growing list of beer contests.  B'tsisa (which means "In Fermentation"), however, is no johnny-come-lately, but one of the more prestigious competitions for home-brewers in Israel.  (Read about last year's contest and ceremony here.)

Sponsored by the Beer & Beyond store and activity center in Tel Aviv, the exhibit and ceremony this year was held at the Weihenstephan Biergarten in the Tel Aviv port.  I didn't attend, but I was able to hustle, make contact with some of the winners, and taste their beers.  That's why this is s-o-o-o late.  

First, a list of the winners by category:  

Best in Show
Omer Laser -- Belgian Strong Dark Ale 

Special Bitter
First:  Liran Gesua
Second:  Yonatan Bendett 
Third:  Yarden Dror 

First:  Asaf Murkes 
Second:  Elchanan Hopper-Hornman 
Third:  Natan Feidrob 

Session IPA
First:  Elad Talbi 
Second:  Dotan Kalmer 
Third:  Mark Markish

First:  Tamir Bunny
Second:  Roi Fuchs 
Third:  Gil Bronstein 
Fruit Beers
First:  Noam Shalev
Second:  Dennis Pravdaev
Third:  Ran Dach
Honorable Mention: Alex Putchin and Alon Rotem

Belgian Strong Dark Ale
First:  Omer Laser
Second: Yaron Rachamim and Zeev Stein (Lynx Brewery)
Third:  Vladislav Sakorik 

Of these, I was able to find and taste Omer Laser's Belgian Strong Dark Ale, Asaf Murkes' Weizenbock, Elad Talbi's IPA, and Noam Shalev's Fruit Beer (Peach Lambic).  I'm going to tell you about them because they're winners all -- but you're not going to have a chance to taste them because they're all non-commercial home-brews.  Sorry.

Belgian Strong Dark Ale
Omer Laser

Omer Laser with the B'tsisa
Best-in-Show award for his
Belgian Strong Dark Ale. 
This is one powerful beer, although at 9%+ alcohol by volume (Omer doesn't remember if it's 9.2 or 9.7), it's actually in the mid-range for this style.  It pours into your glass an opaque dark brown topped by a thick and foamy tan head.  The aromas are burnt caramel, dark chocolate and toasted malt.  At first taste, you're hit with an almost undecipherable mix of flavors: raisin, caramel, carob and figs.  Of course, it's sweet, but nicely balanced by hops in the background. 

You feel the high alcohol content rather than taste it; a positive attribute.  The body is full, almost I would say syrupy, much like a home-made fruit wine or liqueur.  This is a beer which will perhaps go well with salty and other strong cheese, and grilled and roasted vegetables.  It would easily overpower most other food.

Omer has tackled a very complex beer style and came out on top.  I don't think the Belgians themselves could do it any better.       

Session IPA
Elad Talbi

The old blogger is honored to meet
Elad Talbi, first prize winner in the
Session IPA category.
Thirty-year-old Elad Talbi from Tel Aviv took the Session IPA gold for his beer.  "Session beer" simply means is has a pretty low alcohol by volume (in this case 4.99%) so you can have more than one during a drinking session!  Elad has been home-brewing for a year and this is his first competitive entry.

The beer I got from Elad was not exactly his winning entry, but something close enough, he said.  He called it "somewhere between a blond and a session IPA, less aromatic and less bitter" than his winner. 

So with that in mind, I poured out the beer he gave me, a clear amber color with a very creamy head and full carbonation.  There's a wonderful aroma of pineapple and pine, which are also in the taste, along with perhaps some apricot.  The taste begins sweet and ends dry and bitter.  Very interesting how that happens, and of course, it's that kind of finish that make you want more.  Although this bitterness is very pronounced, it does not interfere with the hop and yeast flavors.  

Even though I didn't have his winning beer, the beer I tasted was also a winner in my book.   

Asaf Murkes

Asaf Murkes, first-prize
winner for his
excellent Weizenbock
strong wheat beer.
Home-brewer Asaf Murkes from Modi'in entered a perfectly brewed Weizenbock (a strong wheat beer) in that category and won.  The others might have also been great, but we only tasted Asaf's.

Although Weizenbocks can be dark in color, this one is pale and clear, with very creamy foam.  The aromas are spicy cloves from the wheat ale yeast, but also apple cider and some vanilla.  Almost no hops are detected.  The flavors are pretty complex but almost all in the spicy range.  The heavy carbonation gives the glass a look of sparkling white wine.  The body is full, rounded out by the malt-sweet backbone.  Alcohol by volume is a hefty 6.7%.  

Asaf, in our opinion (mine and drinking partner Moshe's), has nailed the Weizenbock style as good as any I have tasted.  Someday, an Israeli-brewed Weizenbock this good will be available commercially.  Until then, I'll just have to remember how Asaf's winning beer tasted -- and you'll have to believe me.         

Fruit Beer
Noam Shalev

Nothing on this blog has been more difficult for me than giving an opinion on Noam Shalev's Peach Lambic beer, which won first place in the Fruit Beer category.  I do not have the tools or the taste for doing justice to this style of sour Belgian beers.  I still can't get beyond my initial reaction to the sourness, but I am aiming to overcome this. 

So let's do this:  This report on the B'tsisa winners is late enough.  I'll stop here and post what I've written until now.  Then I'll devote some time to Noam's Peach Lambic and write about it in a future post.  Not too long in the future, I promise.  We all should know more about sour beers.