August 27, 2014

Four new beers

In advertising, as in other agency-type offices, "new business" is like lifeblood.  Now, servicing veteran clients is no less important, but it's the new business that refreshes and motivates the staff and gets the creative juices flowing.

For beer bloggers, of course, it's the new beers that give us a kick.  I may not be able to keep up with all the new Israeli craft beers -- people have to tell me about them or I have to see them -- but I'll do my best.

Here are four new beers which have come to my attention:

              Mexico 70 from Herzl Beer in Jerusalem.

Maor Helfman and Itai Gutman brewed only 840 bottles of this commemorative beer.  What does it commemorate, you ask?  The only place and year that Israel took part in the Mondial World Cup Soccer Tournament.  Yes, that would be in Mexico City in 1970, long before Maor and Itai were born.

Israel will be a competitor again someday, maybe, but in the meantime, we have this interesting wheat ale (6% ABV), which is brewed with mango and chipotle pepper in honor of Mexico.  It's a pleasant cloudy orange color, and the wheaty, spicy aroma is quite typical of wheat beer.  The flavor is sweet and fruity (is that the mango speaking up?), but it's the pepper that makes this beer distinctive.  It doesn't burn your mouth, but you can feel the heat in your throat as the swallow goes down.  An interesting, enjoyable brew.  I look forward to more innovation from the Herzl Beer boys.

            Omer Bock from Negev Brewery 
                             in Kiryat Gat.

Negev has come out with a dark bock lager beer in the tradition of the maibocks, typically brewed in the springtime for drinking right after.  Maibocks are known for their complex flavors, full bodies and high alcohol content.  To give Omer Bock a local, Jewish connection, it is brewed and aged over the seven week "omer" period following Passover, as I was informed by Sagiv Karlboim, the head of Negev Brewery.

This was the second year that Negev produced an Omer Bock beer, in limited quantities, so there may not be too many more bottles left in stores.

Omer Bock pours out a dark brown color with a little beige head.  You smell caramel and brown sugar.  The taste is a good strong bock with dark fruits and a chutzpadik vanilla.  The aftertaste remains strong, with the hefty 6.6% alcohol very noticeable.  I and my drinking partner Moshe enjoyed this beer, especially since it was a cool Jerusalem evening.
   Organic Blonde from Alexander Brewery 
                      in Emek Hefer.

Alexander already brews a blonde ale, so why bring out an organic version?  The way to find out is to taste -- and then compare.  So we did.  

The Organic Blonde is made with organic barley malt and hops.  The color is very pale yellow and the first aromas I smelled were grass, lemon and delicate hops.  Not surprisingly, the lemons stayed in the taste, and they added a pleasant sourness.  There was also a light bitterness in the taste and the dry aftertaste.  Moshe called this an "exact beer," meaning it's well balanced; nothing is exaggerated; there is harmony between the hops and the malt; "it feels right."

After drinking the Organic, we found the regular Alexander Blonde much blander.  (Does this make it a "bland blonde"?)  At 5.3% ABV, it's the same strength as the Organic, just as pale, but cloudier.  The taste was sweeter, without the hop bitterness.  Had we had this beer on its own, it might have been a very enjoyable experience with light food or snacks.  But after the Organic, we missed the fuller flavors and found it too mild.

The Organic Blonde was definitely our choice.
                 Wheat Mountain Beer from  
           Mosco Brewery on Moshav Zanuach.

Mosco brewers Amir Lev and Yaron Moscovich first brewed a wheat beer (hefeweizen) for Yaron's wedding around six months ago.  It was so well received that they took it public, adding it to their Mosco Blond ale and Mosco Red ale.

As wheat beers go, it is very mild in taste.  You don't get the typical banana and clove tastes of most wheats, but rather sweet fruits, caramel and yeast.  And yet, it is stronger than most other wheat beers (5.9% ABV) and has a heavier body.  Perhaps because it was so different, and because I am not a big fan of hefeweizens, this was a beer that I really enjoyed.

Mosco's Wheat Mountain Beer came to my attention a few months ago during the Shavuot holiday.  I wanted to try to pair some beers with the sweet, cheesy desserts that are eaten during that holiday.  I chose a selection of  stout, porter, Belgian trippel, and wheat beers.  So, while others were drinking coffee with their cheese cake and blintzes and grasshopper pie, I and a small groups of brewheads were drinking beer.
The beers we paired with the Shavuot desserts.

The hands-down favorite was the Mosco Wheat Beer.  The sweetness of the beer and its fruity flavors complemented the creamy desserts very well.  The stronger tasting beers were much less successful.

As I continue my search for new Israeli beers, I call upon my faithful readers to give me a heads-up if they hear of any.                    

August 20, 2014

Kevin Unger's Brew: Beer and Politics

Every commercial craft brewer I've spoken to started out as a home-brewer.  At some stage, they got the courage, went through the bureaucracy, and broke out into the world of business.

Your happy beer blogger with Kevin Unger (right)
and his (as yet) unnamed and unlabeled beer.
Kevin Unger of Beit Shemesh is right at this cusp.  Every Thursday night, he and his brewing partner Betzalel brew two batches of 18 liters each in his kitchen.  About half of the beer is sold to neighbors and fans.  The other half Kevin and Betzalel drink with family and friends.

"I started home-brewing so that I could drink for cheaper than the price of commercial beer -- and get better beer at the same time," explains Unger.  "Now, I'm drinking great beer for free."

One of the batches is always their "flagship" beer -- Whisky Chips -- made with oak chips soaked in whiskey.  "This is always a big hit," says Unger.  "Sold out as soon as I bottle it."

The second batch is a rotation of the three other styles he brews:

Oak chips add the mellowness.
India Dark Ale (c. 6%)

India Pale Ale (6.5-7%)

Scottish Ale (7.5-8%)

The Whisky Chips Ale pours a cloudy reddish color with almost no head, and it has a slightly sweet aroma.  When I tasted it, I understood why it's so popular.  No taste is overwhelming.  This is not a beer for those who like powerful, one-dimensional flavors in any direction.  It's for the majority who prefer a rich, smooth and gentle beer (just 5.5% ABV) -- even in the aftertaste.  Maybe it's the oak chips.  After all, aging in oak makes whisky and wine "mellow."  Even though I've never heard a beer termed mellow, maybe that's what the oak chips do.  It is indeed a pleasurable beer.                  
I also tried Unger's India Dark Ale.  It couldn't be more different.  It looks like Israeli non-alcoholic "black beer" in the glass.  The aroma brings to mind an India pale ale with nice, spicy hops -- but it's also sweet and yeasty, the result of Unger using roasted barley malt instead of pale.  On your tongue, the hops add bitterness rather than flavor.  Some would say that the taste is on the way to a stout, with other notes of cream.  The alcohol percentage is 6%, fitting for any India-style ale, pale or dark.         

Recently, the fame of Unger's beers reached potential investors who are prepared to bankroll his expansion into commercial brewing.

"We're checking into the matter now," says Unger.  "We want to be sure that our beer has a chance to succeed with all the other craft beers on the market."    

One of the problems Unger sees is Israel's high tax on beer.  "This is hurting the sales of all the micro-breweries.  It puts them at a very serious disadvantage against the country's industrial brewers and the cheap beer imports that are flooding Israel."

Unger has decided to take an active role in trying to lower the tax on craft beer in particular, although he admits it's an uphill battle.  "The government makes a lot of money on the alcohol tax," he says, "and they'll resist any change."

Still, around two months ago, Unger initiated a meeting with American-born Knesset Member Rabbi Dov Lipman, to try to convince him of the need for reforming the alcohol tax.

"He was very receptive," Unger reveals.  "He asked me to prepare a paper on why the tax should be lowered or repealed, and promised to deliver it personally to the deputy minister of finance.

MK Rabbi Dov Lipman:
Giving beer a chance.
Unger explained to MK Lipman how the tax on craft beer was stunting the growth of this infant industry, which has the potential for providing jobs to hundreds of people.

He also addressed the government's policy of combating alcohol-related violence among youth.

"I told Rabbi Lipman that the kids who drink and get violent don't do it with craft beer.  You would
have to drink a lot of beer to get in that state.  No, they buy a bottle of cheap vodka or something and finish that.  Craft beer is definitely not a part of the alcohol problem among youth."

Unger knows of what he speaks.  He is a youth counselor and substance abuse professional working with English-speaking youth at risk in Beit Shemesh.  He works almost daily with people who have alcohol and drug related problems, and can speak with complete authority on the subject.  When he says craft beer is not a part of the problem, the argument should be over.

This is perhaps the main reason why Dov Lipman agreed to follow through with Unger's appeal for tax reform.

Unger, 51, is passionately devoted to his work as a youth counselor.  He is married and has, as he says, "one son of my own and about 50 kids who aren't."  He came to Israel 21 years ago via Toronto and Los Angeles for a three-and-a-half week visit, and stayed.  His brewing partner Betzalel was one of the kids he met in Beit Shemesh a few years ago.      

Unger has in the meantime purchased new brewing equipment so they can double their weekly output of beer.  He is also preparing the position paper which Lipman requested. 

We can only hope that it will make a difference, and that micro-brewers in Israel will soon be able to make their beers without a useless tax crushing them down.  Stay tuned.  I plan to keep up on this.                                       

August 11, 2014

2014 Israel beer festivals: Yet another update

The war in Gaza is not over, but this summer's beer festivals are taking place almost as planned.  I did a quick round of phone calls and e-mails, and can report on the situation as of now.  You might want to mark them down on your calendar in pencil.

One place you don't run out of beer.
Jerusalem Beer Festival - "Ir Habira" -- No change.  Still taking place August 27-28 in Independence Park.  

Tel Aviv "BEERS 2014" Exhibit -- No change here either.  The festival will be open to the public September 10-11 at the Train Station (HaTachana) in Neve Tzedek.  On September 9, it will be open only to people in the "trade":  brewers, restaurant and pub owners, retailers, importers, etc.  (You think they'll include beer bloggers in that?  I'll have to ask.)

 Mateh Yehuda Rustic Beer Festival -- Still no final date yet, but Chani Ben-Yehuda, who is responsible for festivals and events at the Tzlilei Hakesem company, which is organizing the event, says that she will let me know as soon as they decide.

Beer City Festival in Haifa -- The dates have been postponed to August 27-28 at Students Beach.  Head-to-head with Jerusalem.  Each of them are two days, so you can attend both if you really want to.

If I hear of any updates or changes, I will let you know.

To read more background information, please go to my previous post here. 

August 6, 2014

Hindi -- Malka's new IPA

"We waited until Israeli beer drinkers were ready for India pale ale -- and now we think that the time has come."

With these words, Assaf Lavi, the owner of Malka Brewery on Kibbutz Yechiam in the western Upper Galilee, announced the inauguration of Malka's new IPA -- Malka Hindi

Other Israeli micro-breweries make IPAs.  There might be something like 15-20 different brands out there.  But most brewers seem to believe that Israeli beer drinkers haven't yet developed a taste for the intense hop flavor and bitterness that characterize India pale ale.  They prefer their beers with less extreme tastes, sweeter, maltier.

Recently, however, Lavi noticed that more people were asking for the Malka IPA at their own brewpub, where it was being served on tap on an experimental basis.  "Our kegs were emptying fast," says Lavi.  "I thought that maybe Israeli tastes have developed enough to support the entry of our IPA to the general market."

In the U.S., India pale ale is one of the most popular craft beer categories.  In fact, it's almost impossible to find a craft brewer in America that doesn't make at least one of those hoppy, bitter beers -- where International Bittering Units (IPU), the universally accepted scale of bitterness in beers, reach the 40 to 70 level.  Alcohol by volume is usually in the 6% to 8% range.

"I don't know how long it took IPAs to become popular in the U.S.," says Lavi, "but it was probably longer than it's taking in Israel.  We tend to speed up any process over here."

Malka Hindi weighs in at 6.2% alcohol, a nice stiff drink, while the bitterness is 30-40 IBUs, less than the average IPA and a concession to Israeli tastes.  In addition to hops with alpha acids (for the bitter flavor) and hops with beta acids (for the aroma) which are used during the wort boiling, Hindi is also "dry hopped" during the fermentation process.

Malka Hindi pours cloudy, with a pretty red-copper color, resulting from the caramel malts that are used.  The aroma is actually less hoppy than other IPAs, with citrus, tart fruits and pine dominating.  The taste, as expected, is medium bitter, with sweet malt and fresh berries in there.  What I found so appealing is the balance that Hindi achieves between the hops and the malt, the bitter and the sweet.  Although it's a good, classic IPA, it doesn't have the hop overload which may trouble some beer drinkers.  It's a beautiful enjoyable beer, and a welcome addition to Malka's line -- and to Israeli craft beer.      
"Malka" in Sanskrit.
In the way of a footnote, "malka" means "queen" not only in Hebrew, but also in Sanskrit, the classical language of India.  So Malka Hindi means about the same thing to Hebrew speakers as it does to many millions of Hindi speakers around the world.