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.       

July 30, 2014

IPA Day in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem

Believe it or not, July 31 is International India Pale Ale Day, and it's being celebrated in Israel in Tel Aviv on Thursday night (July 31) and in Jerusalem on Friday morning (August 1).

The festivities begin in Tel Aviv at the Beer Market in Jaffa Port, 6:00 to 11:00 pm on July 31.  Visitors will be able to taste at least seven Israeli craft IPAs on tap (including Polar and Indira from HaDubim, Alexander Green, The Ugly Indian from Ronen, Zythos Wheat IPA from Sparrow, Malka's new Hindi, and Single Malt IPA from Laughing Buddha), and about six bottled IPAs (including IPA . . v'Zeh from Herzl, Ace IPA from Clara, Shesh-Besh from the Beer Bazaar, IPA from Sparrow, Desert Ale from Isis, and Eshibobo from HaDubim).

That's a lot of good beer.         

 
 Friday morning starting at 11:00 am, the action moves to the Glen Whisky Bar at 18 Shlomzion Hamalka Street in Jerusalem.  The bar will celebrate IPA Day with Hindi and The Ugly Indian on tap, and Eshibobo, Polar, Indira and IPA . . v'Zeh in bottles.

Food and snacks will be available at both locations.

If you love India pale ale, as I do, you should certainly try to attend at least one of these events.  For me, it's the hops that make beer beer, and along with the bitterness, the pumped-up alcoholic strength, and the surrounding complex flavors, no other style does it better than IPA.

When I commented to one of the organizers that perhaps the events should be postponed because of the war in Gaza, he replied, "Even in times of war we drink beer."

I apologize for the lateness of this posting.        

July 23, 2014

Man in search of beer in America: Part Four -- New York

My first stop in the Big Apple was my friend Ben in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn.  I arrived late and hungry, so we went out to eat in a local Chinese restaurant.  I couldn't resist ordering a Chinese beer, of course, and the only one they had was Tsingtao from the Tsingtao Brewery in Qingdao, China.

Knowing the huge scale they do things in China, I'm guessing Tsingtao must be the mother of all mass-produced beers.  It was a perfectly nondescript Pilsner-style lager (4.8% ABV), brewed with as much rice as the American industrial beers.      

With Ben in Brooklyn.
On the way back to Ben's apartment, we stopped in a grocery store and bought cold bottles of Brooklyn Summer Ale from the Brooklyn Brewery (where else?) to have as a nightcap.

Lots of boutique breweries make a summer ale.  These are designed to be light and "crispy," low in alcohol so you can drink two or more on a hot summer's day -- and we were four days into summer.

Brooklyn Summer Ale fits this category perfectly.  Everything about it is light.  It's 5% ABV and pours a light gold color.  The hops are moderate, coming in second to the rich taste of the malt.  There is also a light yeastiness in the flavor, and if this beer were any crispier, it would break.    

I met friends all the next day, including two women I was with in Sierra Leone 51 years ago, through Operation Crossroads Africa.  Over dinner, we reminisced, as always with wine, a lot of wine -- so the only thing I can write is that we had a great time.

The next day, Thursday, I was taking the old Long Island Rail Road out to Westhampton to spend a long weekend with my old friend and drinking buddy Len and his girlfriend Abigail.

Westhampton gardeners:
Len and Abigail.
On the way, I stopped in to the incredible Fairway Market on the Upper West Side of Manhattan for some window shopping -- and lo and behold, they had mix and match six-packs of craft beers, a la Florida, for $10.99.  I chose six very different style beers to bring with me to Westhampton.  Here they are:

Purple Haze from Abita Brewery in Abita Spring, Louisiana
Finestkind IPA from Smuttynose Brewing Company in Hampton, New Hampshire
Wolaver's Fine Organic Oatmeal Stout from Otter Creek Brewing in Middlebury, Vermont
Independent Full Sail Amber from Full Sail Brewing Company in Hood River, Oregon
Sawtooth Nitro from Left Hand Brewing Company in Longmont, Colorado
2014 Summerfest from Sierra Nevada Brewing Company in Chico, California

Out in Westhampton, Len added Springfling Ale from the local Blue Point Brewing Company in Patchogue, New York.

Brewology Pub:
We were too early.
We got off at the Speonk station, got into Len's car and drove over to the new Brewology Pub.  With a name like that, we had high hopes that it would not lack craft beers.

Alas, the friendly owner greeted us and told us that Brewology would only be opening in five days.  He promised us 24 American craft beers on tap.  [Since I left, Len and Abigail have gone back to Brewology and report that the food and the beers are excellent.]

We ate instead in an "Asian fusion" restaurant which seemed to have blended Chinese, 
Japanese and Thai food.  As has been my wont, we ordered Japanese beer to accompany the food -- actually, two of them -- Sapporo and Kirin Ichiban.

Although I have never seen more lavish, creative, extravagant beer commercials than Sapporo's, the beer itself was quite uninspiring, in fact pretty bland, not much different from Tsingtao.

The Kirin Ichiban was better.  It was actually made with enough malts and hops to give the beer a rich taste, malty and sweety.  Kirin Ichban claims it is brewed without yeast, containing only hops, water and "100% malt."  They also claim that they only use "the first press of the wort: the liquid which flows naturally from the mash."

I asked Denny Neilson of Isra-Ale, brewer of Chutzpah beer, what this strange wording meant.  Denny ventured that it probably refers to the malt mash being used only once, for a single quantity of wort.  "There may be some brewers," he said, "who reuse the mash to make second and third worts.  It's like reusing a tea bag; each time the brew gets weaker and lighter." I thank Denny for his expert assistance, and for letting me know what Kirin Ichiban doesn't do.

              
With Len at The Hampton Synagogue.
I settled into Len and Abigail's lovely home.  On Friday, Len and I went to morning services at The Hampton Synagogue, did some shopping for our Shabbat meals, and had a light lunch with the first of my mix-and-match beers.

It was Purple Haze, a beer I had read about and been wanting to try.  Purple Haze is a wheat lager, with only 4.2% ABV, with a balanced flavor of wheat malts and citrusy hops.  It had a very faint purple hue, caused by real raspberries which are added to the beer after filtration.  But this is not a "fruit beer" in the usual sense of the Belgian sweeter fruit beers, like Framboise.  Rather, it goes back to the time when fruit beers were less sweet, when the fruit contributed a tart taste.  Purple Haze is a good example of how craft beers can introduce innovation in brewing and change consumer tastes.  It is one of Abita's flagship beers.   

Afterwards, I prepared my contribution to the Shabbat meal: a pasta penne dish with asparagus, mushrooms and other vegetables.  Len and Abigail made a white bean soup.  As we cooked, we imbibed a small bottle of tsipouro, a potent Greek liquor distilled from grape skins and pits after they are pressed for wine.

As Shabbat came in, Len and I had the 2014 Summerfest, another low alcohol (5%) beer made for summertime drinking.  This one was a pilsner-style lager with almost no hop aroma.  Flowers and malt were dominant.  The taste, too, was sweet and malty, crisp and refreshing.  I imagined the flavors flowing across my tongue, floral hops to one side, sweet malt to the other.

Len gave this beer a thumbs-down because of the "weak nose" and a certain "dustiness," but I thought it was a drinkable summer beer.
   

In the morning, we walked to services at The Hampton Synagogue, perhaps the main Jewish attraction in this part of Long Island.  The congregation is Orthodox, decorous, influential and very wealthy.  Under the watchful eyes of Rabbi Marc Schneier, the synagogue has a very full summer season with panels, lectures, fundraising events, shows and films.

Not least, the Hampton Synagogue is known for its Shabbat morning kiddushes, apres-prayer repasts.  These could put most wedding receptions to shame.  The "bar table" alone is a groaning board of expensive bourbons, single-malt Scotch whiskeys and premium vodkas.

But no beer.

Len and I arrived back home after a long walk in the sun, stuffed and slightly inebriated, but also hot and thirsty.  It was time for more beer.  (Or, as Secretary of State John Kerry put it on April 3, 2014, "Now is the time to drink.")

We started with the Independent Full Sail Amber ale.  Okay, you may say, when you're dying of thirst, any beer tastes great.  True, but this amber ale surpassed all expectations.  I loved the color (a cooling red amber), the aroma (strong hops and fresh bready -- 6% ABV) and the taste (a complex blend of floral spice and sweet malt).  I try not to chug my beers, but the way I felt and the way this tasted, I couldn't stop.             
Next we had the Springfling Ale, which was also amber-copper colored, but lighter than the Full Sail, in color, body and alcohol strength (5.2%).  It was also sweeter, and we noted a delicious taste of vanilla.  Springfling is meant to be a light, post-winter beer, but it had more taste than others of its kind.  These beers put a strong emphasis on "balance," and Springfling did that all right, with the barley malt flavor in perfect alignment with the spicy hops.   

These were two good beers but I would rather have had them with the kiddush than after it.  Maybe by my next visit, Len will have convinced the powers-that-be to add a keg or two of craft beer to the bar table.


Left Hand's nitro beers.
A little later we chose the Sawtooth Nitro to help us compensate for the exit of Shabbat.  It was the first time either of us had tried a nitrogen beer, which uses nitrogen gas instead of carbon dioxide for carbonation.  The first thing we noticed is that it has almost no head and low carbonation.  "It enters your mouth flat," is how Len put it.

But the flavor was great -- nutty malts balanced by herbal hops.  I can also vouch that the reputed smoothness of nitro beers is completely true.  The smaller bubbles -- for so they seemed to us -- make the beer smooth and creamy.  "It soothes your mouth," is how Len put it.

The Left Hand Brewing Co. claims that they were the first to put nitro beer in bottles, in 2011.  This is not a panacea for all beers.  You can't use nitrogen carbonation to disguise a bad beer.  But if you start with a good base, a good tasting beer, nitrogen adds a surprising dimension to the drinking pleasure.  


Finestkind IPA:
Two old guys on the label.
The next day, Sunday, we had the final two beers.  The first was the Finestkind IPA.  Len noted that it had these two old guys on the label, so it was kind of meant for us.  This is a good, balanced "American-style" IPA, bitter to a fault with 75 bitterness units and 6.9% alcohol.  But the aroma has less hops than other IPAs I've had, and the malt taste is stronger.  The verdict: A perfectly enjoyable IPA.

Then we had the Wolaver's Fine Organic Oatmeal Stout.  Made with organic oats and dark roasted malts, this ale pours out so black that it frightened Len and me.  We are not great admirers of stout beers.  But . . . this was different.  It had the creamiest head and was sweet "without being cloying like Guiness" (thus Len), with tastes of coffee and chocolate.  The dust of the waving oats and herbal hops were there, too, but very unobtrusive.  Alcohol by volume was a moderate 5.4%. 

"It's called a stout, but has more of a porter feel to it," is how Len put it.  "You know, this is actually pretty good.  Thanks for introducing me to it."

New York craft beers in Taste NY.
That evening, I said goodbye to Len and Abigail and headed back to Brooklyn.  My days in America and drinking American craft beers were coming to an end.  The next day I flew home to Israel, but before take-off, as I was walking around the airport, I noticed an attractive shop named Taste NY.  They advertised made-in-New York food and gift items.  And there, taking up a whole wall of shelves, were craft beers.  Most of the breweries I had never heard of, including -- are you ready for this -- The Bronx Brewery

With a slogan like "Our Borough, Your Beer," how could yours truly, born and bred in the Bronx, resist?  So I bought a can of Bronx Pale Ale.  (Now, to be fair, the can says that the beer was brewed in La Crosse, Wisconsin, but it was for The Bronx Brewery.  Their website says that they do have a small craft brewery in the Port Morris section of the South Bronx, so I guess they do some brewing there.  Someday, we hope, all the brewing will be done in the Bronx.  It is a fact that more and more micro-breweries are opening in New York City.)

I took the can home with me and will soon enjoy it in Jerusalem.  Sort of like two streams of my life coming together.  But that's a story for another day.                                 

July 14, 2014

Man in search of beer in America: Part Three -- New Jersey

After Washington, DC, Trudy and I parted company; she flying to her brother Danny in Cleveland and I taking a bus north to Atlantic City, New Jersey.  I was going to meet my friend Delia who has a home on Long Beach Island in central New Jersey with her husband Dr. John Edoga, a surgeon and medical equipment developer.  Our friendship goes back almost 50 years.

The Atlantic City boardwalk.
I met Delia on the boardwalk, which for me was a nostalgic stroll back to Rockaway, New York, where my family spent our summers in the 1950s.

Blue Point's Toasted Lager.
We went to have lunch in the middle of all the casino-hotels.  The restaurant had a pretty weak list of craft beers and I think I chose the best -- Toasted Lager from the aforementioned Blue Point Brewing Company in Patchogue, New York.  My friend and drinking buddy Len (more of whom later) says it's one of his favorite beers.  I thought it was a perfectly refreshing beer for such a hot day, while Delia and I caught up on what was going on in our lives.


Toasted Lager gets its name from the "toastiness" of the six malts used in the brewing.  It was hard for me to pick out a toasted flavor, but I was impressed by the nice balance between hops and malt.  At 5.5% ABV, it was an easy beer to enjoy on a hot day, and went surprisingly well with our salads.           

Delia's house was well stocked with wine and booze, but alas, no beer around.  We spent the day talking like we always do and staying mellow in and out of the sun.

Delia and the old beer blogger on
Long Beach Island, New Jersey.
The next morning we took a long walk along the beautiful beach on the eastern side of the island, drinking . . . coffee.

Before I continued north by bus, we had lunch in a lovely restaurant along the island's one main road.  They had some interesting craft beers on tap, which were described by the friendly waiter.

I chose the Route 113 IPA from the Sly Fox Brewing Company in Pottstown, Pennsylvania.  I found out later that the name is derived from the bitterness units (IBUs) which are an outrageous 113!

But as soon as I took my first sip, I was sure that something was wrong.  The IBUs weren't even 30 -- and this was not an IPA, certainly not one with 7% alcohol and advertised as "big, flavorful, bold and spicy."

Route 113 IPA -- NOT!
I called over the waiter and told him (without sounding like a beer snob, I hope) that there must have been a mistake; perhaps this was drawn from the wrong tap.  He assured me it wasn't and that I could go up to the bar and see for myself.  Delia told the waiter, "You don't want to argue with him.  He writes a beer blog."  That felt good.

Of course I went up to the bar.  The tender gave me a taste from the Sly Fox tap and it was the same.

"Nope," I said.  "They must have mixed up the kegs.  This is not an IPA."

I asked the bartender to let me have a taste of the one-tap-over Torpedo IPA (7.2% ABV, 65 IBUs) from Sierra Nevada Brewery in Chico, California.

"Now that's an IPA," I told him.  "Have a sip and you'll see the difference."

"Yeah.  You're right," he said.  That felt good too.

After we finished eating, Delia got me over to the New York City bus one-and-a-half minutes before it left.  You could say we either planned it perfectly, or got lost and were just lucky.  Either way, I was soon on the road to my final destination -- the Big Apple, New York City.

July 13, 2014

Dizengoff Center Beer Fair -- July 17-18



This may be of interest to some readers: 

The Dizengoff Center shopping mall in Tel Aviv has been having "food fairs" for its shoppers every Thursday and Friday for the past 17 years. This week there will also be a "boutique beer fair" so the shoppers will be able to have some great beer while they eat.

The boutique beer fair will take place:
Thursday, July 17, 4:00 to 9:00 pm
Friday, July 18, 10:00 am to 4:00 pm

Naama Polak, who is responsible for the Dizengoff Center fairs, told me that this is the third boutique beer fair being held there.  Entrance is free.  The following breweries will have booths: Mosco, Alexander, Meadan Gluten-Free, Shapiro, Golan (Bazelet), Jem's, Lela and Gopher's.
In addition, there will be workshops on home-brewing going on at the same time. For more information, you can call Naama at 057-239-2491.


I'm not going because, well, it's a bit of a shlepp for me and there's really nothing new. But if you're in the area and would like to have a nice choice of some good Israeli craft beers along with some interesting food (I guess), you might want to stop in. Let me know how you like it.