October 21, 2014

Friday mornings at the Glen Whisky Bar

Shmuel Naky posing at the
Glen Whisky Bar.
The Glen Whisky Bar at 18 Shlomzion Hamalka Street in Jerusalem is a cozy bar that pumps nine Israeli craft beers and ten imported beers.

This past summer, owner Leon Schwartz started to invite different brewers to come and sell their beers on Friday mornings, or more accurately, lunchtime.  Before this wonderful practice ended with the start of autumn, I went to three such events and here is my report:

1) HaDubim

The first morning I was there was International IPA Day, and the Glen Bar was selling bottles of the three India pale ales made by HaDubim Brewery (Mivshelet Ha'am) from Even Yehuda.  (All the hosted beers, whether bottles or draft, are sold for the discounted price of 18 shekels.)

Tom Castel, Glen Whisky bartender.
Bartenders Tom Castel and Shmuel Naky were selling their homemade humus and gnocchi to accompany the beers.  They also offered my drinking partner Mike and me some tastings of the draft beers we were unfamiliar with.  But what we came for were the IPAs.

HaDubim's first IPA was Indira.  It's the darkest of the three, copper-colored, and the strongest, at 7% ABV.  Indira's style is called an American IPA, which cranked up the original British version with extreme hops in the aroma and taste throughout.  The brewers use American Cascade hops, which impart a fresh citrusy aroma.  Yet, we also agreed that Indira had the strongest malty sweetness of the three. 

Next in line, and in time, was Eshibobo, a golden hued ale, rounder in taste and mouthfeel than Indira, and less alcoholic (5.8%).  HaDubim started brewing it, I guess, to give customers a more moderate and less bitter alternative to Indira.  Mike found it a "warmer" beer, which could also mean "friendlier" if you're not a confirmed hophead.  We also thought it was drier and less sweet -- a refreshing and drinkable beer -- but at the southern border of IPA-land.

The three IPAs from HaDubim
at the Glen Whisky Bar in Jerusalem.

(Photo: Mike Horton)

Polar is the newest IPA, on the market only a few months.  It's the palest of them all, with alcoholic content just a shade above Eshibobo (6%).  Dagan Bar Ilan (who with his brother Ronen are the owners of HaDubim Brewery) told me that the major change here was replacing the Cascade hops with Chinook and Simcoe.

And indeed, we found this beer stronger on the pine and spice and less on the citrus.  The finish was light and dry -- another easy to drink IPA, not for extremists.

The final verdict: You have to really split hairs to find the differences in HaDubim's three IPAs.  If you believe a beer should be hoppy and bitter, you can grab any one and be satisfied.

2) Shibolet 

Noam Shalev of Modi'in has been home-brewing for several years.  His beers bear the Shibolet label, which means "ear of corn" in Hebrew.  Shalev is the only Israeli home-brewer I know who has been experimenting with sour beers, very popular in Belgium, and I've been looking forward to tasting them for some time.  Shalev is also known as a true beer-maven by his peers.  He recently won first prize in a London beer trivia contest.

Noam Shalev discusses his Shibolet Beer
with the old blogger.
(Photo: Mike Horton)

On his Friday morning, Shalev was pouring his Summertime Saison, a 6% ale made with barley, wheat and rye malts.  "But the important thing with saisons is the yeast," Shalev told me.  "I use a special saison yeast which gives the beer a typical Belgian flavor that Israelis seem to like."

Not many Israeli brewers make saison beer.  It's a style that was originally brewed in Belgian in the spring for summer drinking, and is highly refreshing with fruity or spicy flavors.  I found Shalev's saison a very mild beer, not too bitter and easy to drink.  There was a definite turn to sourness or tartness, which at this low level is kind of nice.  There was very little presence of hops.

Shalev also had his Badass Bitter on tap.  Now, "bitter" is a style the British like, but in reality, it isn't very bitter.  In fact, it is closest to a pale ale: well-hopped and fruity, light bodied, low carbonation and alcohol.  When you go into a pub in Britain and ask for a "bitter," it's like asking for a "beer" in America.  These days, you have to be a little more specific.  I found Shalev's bitter very flavorful and refreshing, a balanced beer with perhaps less hops than I normally prefer.

Shibolet beers.
(Photo: Mike Horton)
We were joined by Dr. Levi Fried and his wife Harmony.  Dr. Fried is another home-brewer from Modi'in whose beers appear under the Righteous Brew label.  Shalev served us one of his bottles of sour beer.  Dr. Fried took a sip and weighed it thoughtfully and considerately.  I found it difficult to do so.  If all good tastes are acquired, I have quite a ways to go with sour beers.

I also later tasted a bottle of Shibolet's Pomegranate Sour Ale, which is based on a Flander's Red sour ale with the addition of pomegranate seeds.  The sour or acetic taste comes from the special yeast which produces lactic acid in the fermentation.  Shalev let this beer ferment in oak for a whole year(!) and then aged it for an additional six months with the seeds.  He only made 20 liters, so don't look for this one in any store.   

The Pomegranate Sour Ale pours out a lovely light red and has an aroma of dry wine and fruit.  In fact, it reminded me of pomegranate wines I've had.  It is very sour with no hop taste and very light carbonation.  The taste is pleasant enough if you like sour fruits, but as I said, it really has to grow on you.  Kudos to Noam Shalev for bringing us beers, well, that maybe no one else is, and for expanding the boundaries on how we think about our favorite beverage.

3) Sparrow

The third Friday was devoted to Sparrow Beer, brewed by Dror Sapir at the Mivshelet Ha'am contract brewery in Even Yehuda.  Sapir himself lives on Moshav Magshimim in the southern Sharon region.
Sparrow Beers.
(Photo: Mike Horton)

He brews one batch of 200 liters every month.  Sapir has done a good job at marketing his beers, which are on sale at the three major beer stores in Tel Aviv: Beer & Beyond, Beer Bazaar and Beer Market.
Sparrow Beers' Sparrowheat,
Belgian Double 8%, and Zythos Wheat IPA.
(Photo: Mike Horton)

He markets three beers:

Zythos Wheat IPA -- I have written about this beer before (see here) and it's one of my favorite Israeli beers.

Sparrowheat -- a strong (6.2% ABV) wheat beer

Classic IPA

The old blogger with Dror Sapir
of Sparrow Beers.
(Photo: Mike Horton)

 On his Glen Bar morning, Sapir was also pumping a West Coast IPA, which is dry-hopped for an even more intense hop flavor.

He also shared a bottle of his Belgian Double 8% with me.  This is a beautiful beer that demonstrates Sapir's skill as a brewer.  From the small tan head and yeasty aroma, the beer develops with a strong, sweet flavor of roasted malt and dark chocolate.  The gentle carbonation only adds to the overall impression of rich taste and full body.

As a beer lover and a social animal, I enjoyed every minute of my Friday lunchtimes at the Glen Whisky Bar.  They are too good to be lost, and I can only hope that they are reinstituted as soon as possible.     

October 2, 2014

Food and beer pairing for Rosh Hashana: Beer and prakas (What's that?)

One of the delicious dishes that my wife Trudy makes for Rosh Hashana (the Jewish New Year, celebrated this year on September 24-26) is stuffed cabbage, which she also calls prakas.

Prakas: Only in Philly and Baltimore.
Now, the interesting thing is that the only Jews who call stuffed cabbage prakas are those from Philadelphia, PA or Baltimore, MD, where Trudy grew up.  We learned this only a few days ago.  Trudy has gone through life thinking how strange that all these other Jews in the world don't know what prakas are!  Now we know why.

Anyway, since we keep a vegetarian kitchen, Trudy makes her prakas without meat, although they do maintain their famous sweet-and-sour taste.  The stuffing contains rice, spices, ground soya and a little tomato sauce.  The all-important gravy is made from tomato sauce, lemons (that's the sour), onions, and raisins and brown sugar (that's the sweet).

Since I was asked by the Desert Hops International Beer Festival in Las Vegas to write about a beer and food pairing just before Rosh Hashana, it made complete sense to me to find a beer to go with our holiday stuffed cabbage.  
Stuffed cabbage, spinach and tzimmes,
along with Baron's American Rye Ale.

(Photo taken after Rosh Hashana.)
I chose American Rye Ale from Baron's Brewery in Hod Hasharon.  The beer is brewed with malted rye and Centennial hops.  Flaked rye is also added to enhance the flavor.  The result is a full-bodied beer with citrus aromas and taste of rye sourdough bread.

Baron's American Rye Ale.
This went very well with our sweet-and-sour stuffed cabbage.  The sour taste and spicyness of the beer blended with the sour lemon in the gravy and actually intensified the sweetness of the raisins and brown sugar.

As for the rye flavor, well, think of sopping up the tomato gravy with a chunk of Jewish rye bread.  The dryness of the beer -- almost an astringency -- was also a fine contrast to the rich flavors of the cabbage and tomato.

In short, it was a delicious meal bringing together a taste of the Old Country, where a stuffed cabbage is still a praka, and a beer from Israel, our adopted old-new land.

October 1, 2014

Some impressions from the BEERS 2014 Exhibit in Tel Aviv

The BEERS 2014 Exhibit in Tel Aviv (September 9-11) was and will be the biggest beer festival this year.  For the first time in four years, BEERS was held outdoors in the summer instead of indoors in the winter.  This was a great idea and it turned it from a "beer exhibit" to a real "beer festival"  -- even though they kept the old name.   

They advertised that over 200 beers were available.  I neglected to count how many I tried, but you know me, too polite to offend anybody by saying "no."

It was great fun, an uplifting social experience and highly educational.

I actually went twice -- on the first night when it was open only to "the trade" (although there were probably hundreds who were not in "the trade" who found their way in), and the last night just to kick back with friends and to meet the home-brewers, who were not allowed to display on the first night.  Unfortunately, I was in my working mode, with pad and camera, on both nights.

Here are some random impressions:

The India pale ale craze 
is getting to Israel.

A healthy number of craft breweries -- established, micro- and home-based -- were unveiling their new IPAs.  As I wrote about Malka Brewery's new Hindi IPA (see here), Israeli tastes are moving in the direction of hoppier, bitterer and stronger beers.  Works for me.
It was 9/11, so David Cohen and I
thought American flag bandannas
would be most appropriate. 

Take for example, Dancing Camel's Doc's Green Leaf Party IPA, named in memory of Don Morris, who was a college professor from California and a friend and business associate of owner David Cohen.  Dr. Morris passed away last month, and Dancing Camel is donating all the profits from sale of the beer to the Cancer Research Institute at Sheba Hospital, Tel Hashomer.

It's a beautifully refreshing IPA, full of citrus inducing hops from California and Australia.  The hop taste is fruity and suitably bitter, and the ABV is a hefty 6.8%.  Unfortunately, Doc's Green Leaf Party IPA was bottled in a very limited edition for sale at the Dancing Camel's brewery and bar in Tel Aviv, and perhaps at a few select stores.

HaDubim Brewery in Even Yehuda premiered their Grizzly Double IPA.  At 9% ABV, this is an ultra-hopped strong beer in the so-called West Coast IPA style.  It's big and balanced; you can't miss the sweety malt flavor alongside the hops, which are more fruity and citrusy.  If you can't get enough of hops, get Grizzly.

From the Golan Brewery (Bazelet) comes their new 2014 Summer Pale Ale (marketed as an IPA) in the Og seasonal beer series.  The Og series are noticeable by their squat bottles.  This is one beautiful, fresh beer.  Although it's lower in alcohol than other IPAs (only 4.5% ABV), it has a big hop taste with strong fruit and citrus notes.  Moderately bitter -- probably what Israeli taste buds want.  I've always found the Og seasonal beers to be preferable to Bazelet's regular series, and this is no exception.  Buy this baby while it's still on the shelves.  Production ended with the summer.                

HaGalil Brewery from Kibbutz Moran was serving their new Hopla IPA.  I tasted it and wrote "excellent."  I'm sorry that I didn't write any more and I'm sorry that I didn't bring home a bottle when I could have.  My avocation can be very pressured.

Breweries used the festival 
to unveil new beers.

Since BEERS 2014 was the biggest beerfest in Israel, drawing the largest crowds and getting the splashiest publicity, some breweries used the occasion to introduce new brews.

The premiere of Emek Ha'ela's
11% Belgian Tripel.
We already mentioned the new IPAs.  But there was also, for example, Emek Ha'ela's (Srigim Brewery on Moshav Srigim) 11% Belgian Tripel.  They already make a 9.2% Belgian Tripel, but this new 11% ups the alcohol and the flavor.  It was available only on tap.  I found it sweet and fruity, like an abbey beer should be, and very welcome after drinking the bitter and astringent IPAs.

Bryan Meadan of Meadan Brewery from Har Halutz was serving his new Humus Beer, a non-gluten beer made from malted humus and silan (date honey).  He already makes a non-gluten beer from buckwheat (see here), but I found his Humus Beer even better.  It tastes like an excellent pale ale with a touch of sour.  Meadan malts his own humus, because I doubt if anybody else in the world does.

The Dictator introduces his new
Laphroaig Irish Red, made with
single malt whisky.
From the Dictator (Mivshelet Ha'am in Even Yehuda) comes Laphroaig Irish Red, made with Laphroaig single malt whisky from Scotland.  This gives the beer a peaty and smoky taste.  Although this nearly overpowers any other malt and sweet flavors that may be there, I found it a successful blend.  Some of the smoked beers I've tried tasted like wet ashtrays, but the Dictator's Laphroaig gets it just right.  "Where's the beer?" you might ask.  It's there; it's just different.  And at 6.1% ABV, this is clearly a whisky-flavored beer, not beer-flavored whisky.

While not actually a new beer, Beresheet from the Negev Brewery in Kiryat Gat was made available to the general public for the first time at the festival.  Until now, it was only available to guests at the luxurious Beresheet Hotel in the Negev town of Mitzpe Ramon.  In fact, it was made in partnership with the hotel to be suitable for the desert climate (see my older post here).  Since I will probably never be staying at the hotel, this was my only chance to taste Negev Beresheet beer.  I found it to be light and delicate (only 4.7% alcohol) as the desert air it reflects.  It has a gentle hop citrus fruityness which is hardly bitter.  Drinking Beresheet is a good way to keep hydrated when you're in the desert.

Beer levels the playing field.

Just like in the earlier Jerusalem Beer Festival, there were several home-brewers and mini-brewers who are doing some interesting things with beer.  I'll mention a few just to get them on the record.  I hope that very soon, I'll be able to give them more attention.  That's what I'm here for.

     The beer is named in honor of the year of Israel's independence.  Their slogan is "Beer of the Brave."  Brewmaster Lior Hertz makes a Blond Ale and an Amber Ale at Mivshelet Ha'am contract brewery in Even Yehuda.  
"48" -- Beer of the Brave.

Emek Hama'ayanot
     Brewed at Mivshelet Ha'am for the Chaim's Cellar pub on Kibbutz Maoz Chaim in the Ma'ayanot Valley east of Beit Shean.  A 5% pale ale.
Smiles from Emek Hama'ayanot.

Shenkin -- a brewpub in Ra'anana.
     I tasted their American pale ale.   

The Stranger
     A Honey Ale made by Gordon Sutker in the Mosco Brewery, Moshav Zanoach.  I like the attention Sutker pays to branding and packaging.  The beer is distinctive too.  
The well-branded Stranger.
(Photo credit: Beer & Beyond)

Beerale (pronounced Beer'eleh)
     They make an Amber Ale, Belgian Tripel and Dark Wheat.
Beer'eleh: A nice Jewish name and pun.

     Avinoam Talman brews his sweet and malty 5% Old Ale at the Mivshelet Ha'am.  Talman also devotes time and thought to branding and marketing his beer.  

Achuzat Bayit
     They were introducing their new dark lager, a malty and sweet beer known as Bialik.  Owner Danny Schnur told me that they also make three other lagers: Rothschild, a light pilsner; Dizengoff, a dark double bock; and Allenby, a Bavarian red.  With Schnur living in Nes Ziona, the brewmaster Ro'i in Modi'in, and the brewery in Ashdod, Achuzat Bayit is a true "national" company.      
Four lagers from Achuzat Bayit.

     Run Asulin was offering two beers: Blue Moon Clone, a subdued wheat beer with a distinct sweet and sour taste I found much better than the original.  (Run was surprised to hear that the Blue Moon Brewery in the U.S. had been bought by Miller-Coors.)  The other was Born in the U.S.A., a light American pale ale full of spice and citrus flavors.

     Boaz Lanner poured me his American Pale Ale and took the time to explain why it was not an India pale ale.  Sorry, I was unconvinced.  It might have been brewed differently, but this had all the elements of a quite excellent IPA, including flavorful hops, 5.8% ABV, and bitterness in the range of 44-45 IBUs.  I also tasted Lanner's Brown Ale, very malty with real earthy elements.  This is a good representative of a brown ale, not very many of which are brewed in Israel. 

      Alex Fuks' home-brewery in Beersheva.  I tasted his Field of Hops Pale Ale -- very good, very borderline IPA (except for the low 4.3% ABV).
Taekwonbeer served Field of Hops
and Cinnamon Mead.

      Lior Degabli's home-brewery in Hod Hasharon.  I drank their Hibiscus Saison, a beer made with hibiscus tea, lemongrass, black pepper, rose hips and honey.  The result: a smorgasbord of flavors, including hops, citrus and sour fruits.  This Belgian-style saison pours out a lovely red (which I could see even in the darkness of the festival) and is 6.5% alcohol.  Since the hour was getting late and I was sampling too many beers, I took bottles of Baron's Cream Ale, American Rye Beer and American Pale Ale to try at home.      
Lior Degabli (right) serving his Baron's beer.

     The home-brewery of Michael Dubinsky, Matan Drory and Oren Ben-Shalom in Rosh Ha'ayin.  I tasted their full-bodied porter (also not too many brewed in Israel) which is made with coffee.  I also detected a taste of licorice.  Beeryon also makes a wheat beer, a Belgian-style beer and an English stout.      

The Beeryon crew.
      Adam Souriano brews his beers in Yehud.  I tried his new American Pale Ale and found it, once again, right up there with the IPAs, with a touch of vanilla in there.  Souriano won two awards in the Longshot home-brewers competition in Jerusalem.     

This beer blogging really 
does get you recognized!

Somewhere among the home-brewers' stands (which were located near the ear-splitting band), an American-born young lady came up to me and said, "You're Doug Greener, right?  I read your blog all the time."

"Oh really?" says I.

"Yes, I think it's great."

So I blushed and we chatted for a while.  [Do beer bloggers have groupies?  Do old beer bloggers have groupies?]  Turns out she has been living in Israel for eight years, works in hi-tech and loves beer.  [Why else would she be attending a beer festival?]  I didn't think of writing down her name.  I didn't think of taking a picture.  I really have to adapt a more professional mindset when I'm on assignment.

So we say good-bye and I take a few steps and this couple walk up to me positively gushing.  "Oh, you're Doug Greener," says the wife.  "We recognize you.  We really love your beer blog."

Is this really happening?

This time I do write but I don't think of taking a picture.  Marilyn and Andrew Eagles are from Vancouver, but live in Israel for extended periods.  They are great beer lovers and have been turned on to Israeli craft beers by yours truly.  "We used to think the only Israeli beers were Goldstar and Maccabee," says Marilyn.  "Now we tell all of our friends about these wonderful Israeli boutique beers."

My kind of people.  My kind of beer festival.                                              

September 7, 2014

The 2014 Jerusalem Beer Festival -- and the future of Israeli beer

After a few days of uncertainty if it will be cancelled because of the "security situation," the 2014 Jerusalem Beer Festival opened on August 27, a day after the Gaza ceasefire went into effect.

Hats off to Eli Giladi of Giladi Productions for an impressive and well-organized tenth anniversary festival on the grassy knolls of Independence Park (Gan Ha-Atzmaut).

Meeting with friends to drink good beer, eat a little something and listen to Israeli pop can't be a bad way to spend an evening.

Mosco's Amir and Yaron.
Big Beer was represented at the festival by Tempo Beer Industries (Goldstar, Nesher and Maccabee), Israel Beer Breweries Ltd. (Carlsberg and Tuborg), and the major importers, who had big impressive bars.

But some of the more veteran Israeli craft breweries were also there making a splash.  It was a pleasure renewing acquaintances with Denny Neilson of Isra-Ale (Buster's Cider, Chtuzpa IPA, and Hard Lemonade), Yaron Moscovich and Amir Lev of Mosco Brewery, Maor Helfman and Itai Gutman of Herzl Beer, Mike Giladi of Bazelet (Golan) Brewery, Ofer Ronen of Srigim Brewery (Ronen and Emek Ha'ela), Itzik Shapiro of Shapiro Beer, and Eli Bechar of Lela Beer.  I also met Or Fass from Fass Brewhouse at Kibbutz Geshur on the Golan Heights.  Negev Brewery and Bazelet had the biggest bars.

Bazelet's Mike (behind the bar).
Good people all -- passionate about their beer, yet otherwise quite different one from the other.  I wish them well.  They are the leaders in Israel's craft beer efflorescence.

But I was also attracted to one long table that was just opposite the entrance to the festival grounds.  Along the length of it were some 20 home-brewers who were pouring their wares -- and all the beer was free.  Many of the bottles didn't have labels; most of the brewers had no written literature or even business cards.  But they all had enthusiasm.   

I apologize for not writing down all the names, but a partial list includes:

HeChatzer's Yochai Maytal,
Ariel Chinn and Shachaf Ashkenazi.
Gecko (Kevin Unger: Read more about him on my previous post.) 
HeChatzer--Back Yard Brewery 
Opi's (Sagi Schonewald)
HeChalutz (Gilad Ne-Eman)
Duveen (Idan Duveen)
I & R

Shita's Neta and Jean.

Ruth (Roni Waldman))
Shita (Jean Torgovitsky)
Lanner (Boaz Lanner)
Wiesenfelder (Mano Peled)
Avir (Avi Riji)
Joya (Adam Souriano)
Samson (Leon Solomon)
Nazareth (Amir Elouti)

Many of the beers were simply more of the same; not different from the pale ales, stouts, amber and red ales already made by the veteran craft breweries.

But a few stood out for their originality.  I noted, for example, the Shitake Pale Ale from Opi's, made with shitake mushrooms and German pepper; a Christmas Ale with cinnamon and other spices from Avir; an Amber Wheat from Mami's; and a Triple New Zealand IPA from Joya.
Opi's Sagi and friend Adam.

Lanner's Boaz and Avir's Avi.
If the big bars at the top of the park represent where Israeli beers are today, these home-brewers at the bottom are harbingers of where we are going.

A little later on in the evening, the winners were announced of the Longshot competition for home-brewers, sponsored by Samuel Adams Beer from the U.S.  The best-in-show prize went to HeChalutz Brewery for their Totzeret Ha'aretz ("Made in Israel") Amber Ale, while their American IPA, called HaTalmid ("The Student"), took first place in the pale ale category.  Gecko's Whisky Chips beer and Joya's Triple New Zealand IPA tied for first place in the freestyle category.  The Smoky Chaser from Opi's took first place in the lager category.
Gecko's Kevin and his first prize
for Whisky Chips beer.

I ran into my middle son Aharon and together with other friends, we walked around, drinking and comparing beers and talking with brewers and strangers until it was time for me to go home.  Aharon stayed on to hear Rami Fortis belt out his songs.  I'm an old guy, after all.      

September 2, 2014

Coupon for BEERS 2014 Exhibit in Tel Aviv -- September 10-11

The big BEERS 2014 Exhibit will take place in Tel Aviv next week on September 10 and 11 at HaTachana, the New Station Compound in Neve Tzedek, on the corner of Hamered Street and Kaufman Street.  In Hebrew, it's called Mitcham HaTachana.  Doors open at 6:00 pm.

It promises to be the biggest and best beer exhibit this year.  Craft-breweries big and small and micro will be there.  It's the place to go to taste a lot of great beers under the same roof, and to meet the brewers who are making them.

You pay an admission fee which also gives you a glass and a booklet with five coupons for tastings.  You can buy more tasting booklets during the exhibit.

Print out and bring the coupon below for a discounted entrance fee of 50 shekels instead of 70.    

Show your support for our valiant brewers -- and have a great time.

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.