July 29, 2015

Coming soon: Amber Ale Tasting Panel

Oh beautiful for spacious skies, 
For amber waves of grain . . .

You know the rest.  But if we stop here, we have the breathtaking image we need for the next Israel Brews and Views Tasting Panel.  This time we will be judging amber ales, a popular cousin of pale ale.

Using malted grain that's a bit darker, this ale brews out amber colored, rather than the whiter shades of pale.  It's maltier and fuller bodied than its pale cousin; a good balanced beer.    

Amber ale has been popular in Israel since the start of the craft beer nascency.  Known as inbari in Hebrew, there are some 11 craft breweries here which make amber ale.

Our panel of beer-hardened judges will be tasting seven of them and reporting their opinions back to you.    

In order not to miss the results of our tasting panel, I strongly urge you to sign up now as a subscriber.  Just type your e-mail in the little box in the right-hand column where it says, "Sign up for updates" and press "Submit."  It's free, and always will be.

See how they rank.  Read how they taste.  Keep it right here -- at Israel Brews and Views.   

July 21, 2015

New "White Beer" from Herzl

It's summer, and a young man's fancy turns to thoughts of . . . beer.

There's no doubt about it – summer is beer-drinking time.  A tall, ice-cold beer is perfect when you're kicking back on a hot day, watching television, or having a meal. 

Save the darker, heavier, more alcoholic beers for the colder times.  In the heat, choose a beer that's light and refreshing and preferably low in alcohol so that you can have more than one without getting plastered.  Many people seek out a beer that's "crisp," a description that's hard to define, but you know it when you drink it. 

With this in mind, I tried a bottle of the new White Beer ("Bira Levana") from Herzl Brewery in Jerusalem.

The first thing you notice on the simple black-and-white label are the English words, "Hallertau Blanc" and "Jerusalem Common Beer."  What does this mean?

Hallertau Blanc is a newly cultivated variety of hops from Bavaria in Germany which add aroma and flavor (as opposed to bitterness) to the beer.  Beer mavens say that these aroma and flavor "profiles" include white grapes, pineapple, passion fruit, gooseberry and other fruits.

Next, the term "Jerusalem common beer."  This is taken from "California common beer," also known as "California steam beer," which harks back to San Francisco in the wide-open mid-19th century.  The local brewers had lager yeast, which ferments at low temperatures, but no way to bring the temperature of the wort (the pre-fermented liquid) that low.  Remember: no ice and no refrigeration.

What did they do?  They forced the yeast to ferment at a higher temperature than the tiny fungi would have liked.  The result was a hybrid beer, neither ale nor lager, but with attributes of both.  It became popular as a low priced beer for the toiling masses.  It was called "steam beer" probably because of the clouds of steam which hovered over the open fermentation vats.

Herzl Brewery has recreated this style by putting lager yeast into wort that's a hot 21 degrees centigrade (70 degrees Fahrenheit).  According to Herzl partner Maor Helfman, this is like putting a truck engine onto a Vespa scooter.  "Our White Beer is fuller-bodied than the typical lager, with a stronger smell of yeast," he says.  "It combines the refreshing qualities of a lager with the more complex tastes of an ale.  It's very compatible to our climate here in the Middle East."            

Herzl White Beer pours out a clear golden color with a strong aroma of hops, yeast, grass and flowers.  The taste is mid-bitter with some light citrus.  My drinking partner called it "hop punch" – which is a pretty good description.  It has a medium body and a dry and bitter finish.  At 4.9% alcohol by volume, this is a very easy drinking beer, and perfect for the summer. 

My sinuses are not so well developed to detect the "ripe white grapes" as it says on the label – but there was another intriguing taste from the Hallertau Blanc.  Hops, it seems, are in the same plant family as cannabis, which includes marijuana.  Maybe it was our imagination, but we were able to detect the distinct taste of pot in this beer. 

"No way," laughed Maor, when I told him this.  "You were tasting the hops.  Unfortunately, we run a very legal brewery."

Bottles of Herzl White Beer are available in stores wherever Herzl Beer is sold.  You should really try a bottle this summer.  And make sure your taste buds stay open-minded.  

July 12, 2015

A Jem of a brewery

Jeremy Welfeld came to Modi'in especially to meet with me.  That's quite a compliment because the man is very busy.

Jeremy is the founder and partner of Jem's Beer Factory, one of Israel's most recognized craft beer brands, as well as three thriving brewpubs -- in Petach Tikva, Ra'anana and Kfar Saba -- with a fourth being planned in Modi'in.  A busy man.

Jeremy Welfeld meets the old blogger in Modi'in.
How Jeremy (whose nickname is Jem) came to brewing craft beer in Israel is well documented on the internet.  But to recap briefly, he came to Israel from the States to do his army service from 1984-87, and then returned to the U.S. to study food management and brewing science, and worked in restaurants and catering and brewing.

He returned to Israel in 1999 and ten years later he and partner Daniel Alon nailed down a business plan and found 30 investors who put up the money needed to open the Jem's Beer Factory and Brewpub in Petach Tikva.

"I've always been a service guy," he told me.  "That's what defines what I do.  Making the beer is easy.  [Well, some would argue with that.--DG]  The hard part is to sell it and to keep giving your customers excellent, personal service."

Jeremy with Jem's beer.
Jem's brews about 20,000 liters a month of six core beers, which are sold in bottles and on tap in its own brewpubs and a few other restaurants.  These six beers represent different national styles.

Dark Lager -- Germany
Pils -- Czech Republic
Wheat -- Bavaria, Germany
Stout -- Ireland
8.8 -- Belgian strong ale
Amber Ale -- England

In addition, they brew occasional seasonal beers.  Two years ago, Jem's teamed up with Blazer, a Hebrew-language magazine for men, to brew the first Blazer beer.  The magazine wanted to produce a beer which would satisfy what it believed to be the tastes of its readers.  The result was a strong brown ale (6% alcohol), brewed with roasted malt and dry-hopped.  Jem's Blazer struck a fine balance between the bitterness of the hops and the sweetness of the malt.

Last winter, Jem's came out with the Black Mamba, a dark IPA made with roasted malt and dry-hopped with Cascade and Citra hops.

"The strong malt all but hid the hop flavor," says Jeremy, "so we brewed a second batch with less roasted malt, called Black Beauty.  This was just right."

Jem's seasonal Summer Ale for 2015.
Jem's new seasonal beer is Summer Ale.  It's on sale on tap at the Jem's Brewpubs and in bottles in the Derech Hayayin chain of liquor stores.

"This is a beer that Derech Hayayin asked us to brew," says Jeremy.  "They wanted a beer that was toned down from our core beers, with less extreme flavors.  So we designed our Summer Ale with Citra hops and a refreshing, clean finish.  It's basically a Pilsner with more aroma."

Jeremy brought me a bottle of his Summer Ale.  (There are no Derech Hayayin stores in Jerusalem.  What else is new?)

I found it to be a refreshing blond ale, hazy and pale colored, with a flowery and yeast aroma.  It's a little bitter and a little sour and, at 5% alcohol, is an easy drinking beer for a summer day.  The label says it's an "Israeli pale ale," and perhaps one day we will all know for sure what this means.

Speaking about the brewery in general, Jeremy told me that Jem's beer is delivered in the brewery's own vehicles, "except in Jerusalem, where it's done through a distributor.  To ensure freshness, we remove any beer which is still on the shelves after four months.

"Another quality rule we follow is processing our own water.  We insist on a level of purity which cannot be found naturally in Israel."

Jem's also has an educational service program for home-brewers and would-be home-brewers.  "We bring them into our brewery to learn the basic techniques of brewing and to get hands-on experience," explains Jeremy.            

Waxing more philosophical, Jeremy thinks that for now, the craft beer market in Israel is pretty saturated.  "There might be room for a few more player, but not more than that.  I personally don't think that Israeli tastes are changing, but the younger generation is drinking more beer.  They drink more out of the house, and they also keep beer in the refrigerator on a regular basis.  This is something their elders never did."

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.