June 28, 2015

Jerusalem Beer Festival update

It's already summer and the beer festivals cannot be far behind.  Eli Giladi, the energetic producer of the 11th Jerusalem Beer Festival, which will be held August 26-27 in Gan Atzmaut (Independence Park), has given me more details.

Wow!  Aerial view of the 2014 Jerusalem Beer Festival.

There will be over 150 beers to try at this year's festival, craft beers and mega-brewery beers from Israel, and imported beers from around the world.  The entrance fee to the festival is 35 to 45 shekels, which does not include the beer tasting.

The famous Tuborg Bus will be there.
Brewed-in-Israel Tuborg Beer will be a sponsor, and the famous Tuborg Bus will be on hand, with a 2nd-floor bar.  This bus is very expensive to operate; it appears at only very few events around Israel.

On the first evening, Wednesday, August 26, the Sam Adams Longshot home-brewing competition will take place at the festival.  Visitors will have a chance to taste free samples of beer from home-brewers.  This is a very enjoyable event at the festival and I highly recommend that you come on this night (even though I know that Thursday is  more popular because most people can sleep late on Friday).  Try to come early because the home-brewers run out of their beers fairly quickly.  I mean, how long can free beer last?

There will be live musical entertainment by Jerusalem performers, including Hadag Nachash.  There will be a fair of T Market fashion products and accessories at specially discounted prices.

After 11:00 pm, when the festival ends, 25 bars in Jerusalem will offer discounts on drinks and food.  I guess this is so you can continue eating and drinking after you leave the festival.

If you see me, say hello.

June 25, 2015

New beers at Zman Amiti

One fine Friday morning, I braved the perils of the road and traveled to Tel Aviv to the Zman Amiti Beer Festival, co-sponsored by the Beer & Beyond store.  I was joined by my good friend Yitzhak Miskin and his daughter Shoshana -- two enthusiastic beer lovers.

Zman Amiti (which means "real time" in Hebrew) is basically a school for bar-tending, a profession much in demand in Israel.  The venue is compact enough to visit all of the brewers on display in a short time.

Many of the smaller brewers chose this event to unveil their new beers.  That's what got me to make the trip.

Here, then, in no particular order (Did I mention that I was tasting beers?) are some memorable new brews:

Baron's Brewery in Hod Hasharon

Lior Degabli of Baron's Brewery undoubtedly was pouring the largest number of new beers.  I noted:

Lior Degabli and friend
pouring Baron's beer.
         Chocolate Robust Porter
         Cardamon Coffee Stout
         Winter Saison
         Imperial IPA
         Belgian Dark Strong Ale
         Peanut Butter Ale
         Summer Session IPA

While I wouldn't recommend making Peanut Butter Ale your go-to beer, I actually enjoyed the taste of fresh peanuts in the envelope of a hoppy pale ale.  We eat peanuts with beer, don't we?  I think this beer would pair well with any sweet, neutral-flavor dessert.  And of course, if you're ever having a plain grape jelly sandwich on white bread . . .

The Cardamon Coffee Stout was another excellent blending of flavors.  This beer is brewed with ground Turkish coffee and cardamon.  It pours a very dark brown color with strong aromas of the spice and the coffee.  I'm used to cardamon as part of a spice package in winter holiday or Christmas ales, but by itself it adds a beer-friendly sparkle that had me doing a double-take.  In fact, the taste was roasty cardamon, if you can imagine that, but I'm not sure if it comes from the malt or if the spice itself was roasted.

I brought home a bottle of the Chocolate Robust Porter which I enjoyed with a hearty Shabbat lunch.  This is a strong and dark American porter.  The flavor of the chocolate malt is enhanced by the addition of chocolate shavings and vanilla sticks during the fermentation.  Not all foods would go well with such a chocolaty beer, but I actually thought it was surprisingly complementary to our vegetarian shepherd's pie and noodle kugel.

Argamon Brewery in Bat Yam

Tamir Bunny (right) at Zman Amiti.
Home-brewer Tamir Bunny, whose day job is in the Beer & Beyond store in Tel Aviv, was making his debut with the Argamon ("Crimson") Beer label.  On the table were:

       Air Born Saison
       Sludge Factory IPA
       Uberlin (German-American wheat beer)

I tried the Air Borne Saison, a light Belgian saison-style beer, but dry-hopped with Nelson hops.  I found it to be semi-sour, which is just enough for me, and very refreshing.  I took home a bottle of the Sludge Factory for later enjoyment.

Hechalutz Brewery from Beersheva

Best-in-show brewer Gilad Ne-Eman.
Owner Gilad Ne-Eman was still riding on cloud nine following the Best-in-Show award for his Avodah Ivrit ("Hebrew Labor") IPA at the London and South East Brewing Competition.  His prize was unique and exciting: His beer was brewed in England and sold from a cask at the Brewhouse & Kitchen in Islington.

Gilad was proud that "Hebrew beer" was able to make such a strong showing in an international competition.  "Maybe now our craft beer industry will feel free to brew what it wants to," he says, "and not be held back by its fears."  

 Although I don't believe that Israeli brewers have to "prove" themselves to foreign connoisseurs, international recognition does us great honor.  So, way to go, Gilad!

Hechalutz (The Pioneer") IPA
on tap in London.

At the Zman Amiti Festival, I tried the new Hechalutz Belgian Yam Specialty Ale, made with sweet potatoes.  It is also flavored with grains of paradise (African pepper), honey, ginger and coriander.  You would think that this combination would impart a taste of a baked sweet potato pie, but it doesn't.  The yams add to the body of the beer and a sweet, nutty taste.  I thought it was quite successful and would give Gilad another prize.

I brought home two other bottles of Hechalutz beer, the new The Catcher, an American rye ale, and Great White Buffalo, an American brown ale "made with too much espresso."  Still haven't opened them.

Chuck's Brewery in Ra'anana

Chuck's beers and pretzels at Zman Amiti.
The four partners of Chuck's Brewery -- Benny, Rafi, Doron and Lior (Chuck is the name of the dog!) -- were celebrating their first commercial batch of beer.  After home-brewing their beer for about three years, they just brewed their first batch of Irish Red at the Mosco Brewing facility on Moshav Zanoach.

The beer poured out a rich red-amber color and had the aroma of earth and yeast.  The dominant flavor, however, was a caramel malt, what you would expect from an Irish Red ale.

The Chuck boys also had a lemon wheat, an IPA, a blond ale and an amber ale.

Taekwonbeer from Beersheva

Alex Fuks with his Taekwonbeer.
Taekwondo master Alex Fuks combines his passion for the martial arts and beer in the name of his brewery.  I chose to try his Oxford Night, a plum porter which was new to me, even though it's been around for a while.

Alex adds fresh plums to the second fermentation and lets them fizz for three weeks.  The result is a strong chocolate porter with the sourness of plums, if not their flavor. I also detected flavors of prunes or raisins.  I thought it was a delicious alternative to any regular robust porter.

At the end of the day, I had a wonderful time at Zman Amiti, tasting the very different beers of these small breweries.  They are the ones that are experimenting with beer styles and flavor profiles, utilizing different ingredients and combinations, to take beer in new directions.  Most attempts end in failure, but the successes are what all of us are waiting for.

June 7, 2015

Beer festivals this summer: interim info

Early information has been arriving about beer festivals for this summer.  It's still incomplete, but I want to share what I have.

Jerusalem Beer Festival - "Ir Habira" -- Independence Park (Gan Ha'atzmaut) is once again the site for the wild and wonderful Jerusalem Beer Festival, Wednesday, August 26 and Thursday, August 27.  Organizer/Producer Eli Giladi says that this will be the eleventh festival in Jerusalem, and it will be bigger and better than ever.  

Tel Aviv "BEERS 2015" Exhibit -- August 11-13 at the Train Station (HaTachana) in Neve Tzedek.

This is all I know at this point because Studio Ben-Ami in Tel Aviv, the organizer of the BEERS Exhibits, is maintaining its tradition of being largely unresponsive to requests for information.    

Beer City Festival in Haifa -- Uh oh!  This is being held on the same days as the Jerusalem Beer Festival, August 26-27.  So if you want to attend both, you have to be one day here, one day there.  Polina Charnovelsky from the "Cooperation" Office in the Cultural Department of the Haifa Municipality, also told me that the festival will be held on the Agritech Grounds, near the Convention Center.  

As of now, it appears like this festival will once again be sponsored by Tempo Beer Industries, brewers of Goldstar and Maccabee beer, so don't expect any Israeli craft beers to be served.  On the other hand, it's that sponsorship which makes this festival the biggest in Israel, with free admission and first-string musical performers. 

Beersheva Home-Brew Beer Festival -- For the first time, Beersheva is hosting a beer festival, and it's this Friday, June 12.  The festival is being held at Hachalutz 33, and the door opens at noon.

Home-brewers, and some smaller commercial brewers, from Beersheva and the south will be pouring their beers for the guests.  For most, it will be the first time they've appeared at any beer festival.  I'm told there will be many classic style beers, but some will be pushing the envelope.  

If the time and location were more convenient for me, I would certainly be there.            

Mateh Yehuda Rustic Beer Festival -- Chani Ben-Yehuda, who is responsible for festivals and events at the Tzlilei Hakesem company, which organizers these events, told me that there is still no decision made on the date -- or even if there will be a festival this summer.  When I get more information, I will share it with you.  

May 26, 2015

Two new beers on the Israeli market (for now)

Within the last few weeks, several new Israeli craft beers have made their appearance on the Israeli market.  I hope to write about them all (not an easy task), but for now I'll mention two which won't be permanent.  Both are seasonal or time-limited.

Blazer from the Negev Brewery in Kiryat Gat

The first is the third version of a Blazer beer, brewed in conjunction with Blazer Magazine, a Hebrew-language men's publication specializing in sports, automobiles, fashion, food and drink, and women.  This Blazer beer was brewed by the Negev Brewery in Kiryat Gat, but previous Blazer beers were brewed by Jem's Beer Factory in Petach Tikva and Alexander Brewery in Emek Hefer (which you can read about here.)

As always, the magazine claims that it wants to brew a beer that its readers would want to drink.  This is strange, since I imagine that among the readers of Blazer, there are those who like their beer hoppy and bitter, or malty and sweet; light-bodied, or heavy; low in alcohol, or strong.

But what do I know.  The program certainly brings marketing and PR benefits to the magazine, and the participating breweries also share the spotlight.  

Yishai Auman, in charge of marketing at the Negev Brewery, told me that Negev's brewmaster, Tomer Ronen, produced Negev Blazer by combining elements of an American IPA (India pale ale), including two weeks of dry-hopping (steeping hops in the beer during fermentation), with hallmarks of a Belgian trippel, full-bodied, sweet and strong.   

Anyway, when I tasted it, I found the Negev version of Blazer beer to be quite similar to the Alexander version.  It poured a very appetizing dark amber color.  You could already sense the sweetness in the aroma, along with the hop character.  The taste was sweet caramel, cherries and/or berries.  This was nicely balanced by the bitterness of the hops.  Alcoholic content is a solid 6.9%.  I wrote that the Alexander Blazer was "bitter-sweet," not a common appellation for a beer, and I have to say that the Negev Blazer also fits this description.   

This is a beer that suits any occasion, winter or summer, with food or without.  Its strong flavor should pair well with any spicy cuisine, flavorful salads, and non-chocolate desserts. 

Yishai said that the original batch of Blazer was snatched up quickly from store shelves.  There really is none left.  But, he added, "we have done an additional brewing of Blazer and it should soon be in stores.  So those who missed out the first time will now be able to buy and enjoy our Blazer."

Amarillo 2015 India Pale Ale from 
Shapiro Brewery in Beit Shemesh

The new Shapiro IPA is made with American Amarillo hops, prominently proclaimed on the bottle.  These are hops grown in the West Coast state of Washington and give the beer a sweet citrus aroma and taste, specifically orange.  Amarillo hops are enjoying something of a trend these days and are popular in both the U.S. and Israel.

Until just a few years ago, Israeli brewers believed that the powerful flavor of hops and bitterness of India pale ales were too extreme for Israeli tastes.  Not any more.  As Israeli beer drinkers were exposed to strong IPAs from abroad, they developed a taste for this style of beer.  Today, at least 15 Israeli craft brewers are making IPAs.     

Shapiro IPA pours out a lovely mid-amber color with a creamy head.  You can smell the strong hops even before you bring the glass to your nose, a sure sign of an IPA.  Along with the citrus aroma and taste (orange-grapefruit), I also detected a nice piney finish.  The beer's hop bitterness is slightly mitigated by the malt base which also comes through.  The alcoholic strength is 6.5%.

I found this to be a very refreshing and drinkable beer.  It pairs well with any spicy or strong food and cheese, fried foods, and even rich, sweet desserts.

Itzik Shapiro, a partner in the brewery, told me that he intends to bring out a different version of an IPA every spring, "in time for Independence Day."  Shapiro Brewery has been doing something similar with their Jack's Winter Ale, brewing a different dated version at the start of every winter.

I've noticed that even now in Jerusalem it's not easy to find the 2015 Shapiro IPA, with its distinctive blue label and turbaned lion.  So if you come across a bottle, don't hesitate to buy it and enjoy a thoroughly Israeli IPA.  The beer is also available on tap in Jerusalem at the Bardak Pub, Borla, Tuvia, and the Glen Whisky Bar, and in Tel Aviv at the Agnes Pub. 

May 12, 2015

Israeli craft beer at the Jerusalem market

For me, a Jerusalemite who does not have easy access to the beer superstores in Tel Aviv, the best bottle shops for buying alcoholic beverages are along Agrippas Street near the Machane Yehuda market.  For years, I've been singing the praises of Hamisameach (64 Agrippas), which has the largest selection of Israeli beers, and I've been encouraging the other store owners to offer more of them.    

Yayin BaShuk owner Matan Levy
at his new mix-and-match section
for Israeli craft beers.
Maybe my kind words, or perhaps public pressure, are beginning to be heard.

Last week, another store, Yayin BaShuk ("Wine in the Market" at 63 Agrippas), unveiled a nice size section devoted to Israeli craft beers.  Nine brands to be exact -- Ahuzat Bayit, Alexander, Bazelet, Emek Ha'ela, Herzl, Jem's, Malka, Ronen, and Shapiro.

Even better: Owner Matan Levy has devised a unified pricing system where you can buy a mix of any of the above beers on a declining scale.  The more you buy, the cheaper is the per bottle cost.  For example, one bottle costs 15 shekels.  But if you buy a mix-and-match six pack, the cost drops to 11.50 shekels per bottle, an excellent price for craft beer.

So, for those readers who live in Jerusalem, or are visiting, let's get over to Yayin BaShuk and show Matan Levy that he made a great marketing decision by promoting Israeli craft beer.  And please tell him that you read about it here.  Thanks.    


April 26, 2015

Last beers before Passover -- Florida 2015

I think that in our 44 years of living in Israel, my wife Trudy and I have spent Passover back in the U.S. only twice.

This year was one of them.

The chalkboard at the Kapow Bar and Pub.
And so it was that I found myself having my last beer before Passover in the Kapow Bar and Pub in the Mizner Park section of Boca Raton in southern Florida.  We had come over to have the Passover seder (holiday meal) with my mother and our son Ami who lives in Washington, DC.  My mother is very sensitive about her age being known, so the most specific I can be is to say that it is approaching three digits.

In the days before we went to Kapow, I had the chance to taste two different American craft beers.

The first was Wild Blue, my first "premium blueberry lager," from Blue Dawg Brewery in Baldwinsville, New York. The label says that this beer is brewed with real blueberry juice, and in fact, it poured a dark ruby red with a purple head -- something I've never seen before.

The aroma was slightly indistinct fruity, but the taste was unmistakably bitter blueberry.  Rather nice.  The fruit blended very well with the malt, and then faded into a strong alcohol taste -- not surprising for a beer with 8% alcohol by volume.

Fruit-flavored beers are not my cup of tea, but this Wild Blue Lager was not at all bad.

I also had a 312 Urban Wheat Ale from Goose Island Brewery at an undetermined location.  I'm not a great fan of wheat beers either, but I was intrigued by the "Urban" in the title.  Apparently, "urban" means "something different," since it tastes like no other wheat beer I've had.  Hazy and the color pf pale straw, 312 Urban had little of the characteristic clove and banana aromas and tastes of a wheat beer.  Rather, it was refreshing and fruity with a very mild sweetness.  At only 4.2 ABV, it was very easy to drink and the light taste went well with my spaghetti dinner.

(My friend Jaime Jurado, Director of Brewing Operations at the Abita Brewing Company in Louisiana, informed me that both Blue Dawg and Goose Island Breweries are now owned by big beer, in this case the biggest, Anhauser-Busch InBev.  The Wild Blue, he says, is made with blueberry flavor and color, which are added to the beer.  Jaime said that there is a world of difference between beers which add fruit flavor and color this way, and those which use real fruit in the brewing process.)

Our visit to the Kapow Bar and Pub took place on the night before Passover, when we had our final meal containing leavened grain.  This is what is prohibited during the seven-day holiday, and it includes all bread, pastries, pasta, etc. -- and, of course, beer.

Danny Murphy served the old blogger
his last beer before Passover.
Our friendly waiter understood our situation.  His name was Danny Murphy ("A nice Jewish name, right?") and he had been in Israel last summer on a Birthright program which brings young Jews on free ten-day visits to Israel

I asked Danny if there were any local craft beers on tap which warrant being my last beer before Passover.  He offered me two to taste.

The first was the Vanilla Oak Dry-Hopped South End from SaltWater Brewery in Delray Beach, Florida -- very close to where my mother lives.  It was a very light-colored American pale ale with a strong hop aroma -- not less than any aggressive IPA.  It had a citrus taste which was mild and fruity, probably closest to red grapefruit with drops of vanilla.  I learned later that this beer is aged on "high vanilla American oak" staves (whatever those are) and with an experimental hop numbered 05256.  How very James Bond-ish.  

The other beer was the OP Porter, an American milk porter from the Funky Buddha Brewery in Oakland Park, Florida.  This one came to my table full black with no head and very little carbonation.  Although I am not a great porter fan, I loved this beer's taste combo of coffee, chocolate and sour cherry, along with the full roasty body of a strong porter.  OP Porter is brewed with added milk sugar and has a 6.3% alcoholic content.  This is the beer I chose to have with my spicy rice and vegetables.

I discovered that instead of extinguishing the fire of my food, the OP Porter was spreading it.  The burning sensation rippled across my sensitized tongue.  I don't recommend this for everybody, but I found that this heightened pain actually intensified the taste of the food.  Maybe I'm just a foodie masochist!

After wishing Danny a Happy Passover, I left Kapow feeling ready for the seven-day beer fast.
Wine replaces beer for a week:
with my mom before
the Passover seder.

Passover began on a Friday night. For my ageless mom, it was the first time she was at a seder in our family setting in over 20 years.  She enjoyed everything about it: the special foods, the historical narrative and the traditional songs.    

Trudy and I also enjoyed being in southern Florida for the holiday: the days were sunny and pleasant and we visited the magnificent Everglades National Park and Key Largo.

But we also missed being in Jerusalem, where you really feel the holiday everywhere and at all time: in the stores and restaurants, on TV and radio, on the streets full of kids off from school, tourists visiting the Holy Land, and Israeli families enjoying a week-long vacation.

It was good to get back home and catch up with our excellent Israeli craft beers.  They definitely hold their own against the beers I tasted in the U.S. -- including those from a local Miami brewery we visited.

But more on that later.

March 28, 2015

Podcast on four Israeli beers

Those Brew-Drink-Run guys are at it again.  This time they put up a podcast where they sit around, drinking four Israeli craft beers and commenting on them.  These are some of the beers that Lee Heidel brought back to Savannah, Georgia, from his visit to Israel.

The beers are Herzl Embargo, Negev Passiflora, Dancing Camel Midnight Stout and  Shapiro's Jack's Winter Ale.

The only thing they can read on the labels are the English names.

Enjoy listening to them here.