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.

March 27, 2015

The Mateh Yehuda beer event

There was nothing new at the Mateh Yehuda beer event held March 19-20 on Kibbutz Netiv Halamed Hey.  Seven booths for seven brewers, all from the Mateh Yehuda region, plus a few food vendors selling hot dogs and hummus.  Suitable for this time of year, the booths were indoors, in a kind of warehouse structure.  Not very festive.

But it did give me a chance to renew old acquaintances with the brewers there:

Shapiro and Buster's:
Before the imbibers arrived. 
Itzik Shapiro from Shapiro Brewery (Beit Shemesh)

Itzik told me that his brewery's Purim charity project, with customers buying cases of 24 beer bottles with personal labels, was a big success.  More than 100 cases were sold, with the profits going to the Shekel charitable organization, providing community services for people with special needs.

He also said that Shapiro was bringing out a new, as yet unnamed beer later this year.

Denny Neilson from Isra-Ale and Buster's (Mevasseret Zion and Noham)

It was a great pleasure to taste Denny's double IPA, Chutzpah, which is normally available only at his brewery and store.  (Read more about Denny and his Chutzpah here.)

Amir Lev from Mosco (Moshav Zanoach)

I tried Amir's new Pilsner lager, which will probably not be brought to the market anytime soon.  It's very light and mild, only 3.8% alcohol by volume, and I found it quite taste deficient.  (You can read the story behind Mosco Beers here.)

Home-brewer Mark Markish by the
Hashahar Brewery booth,
with Ronnie Calderon.
Ronnie Calderon from Hashahar (Mevasseret Zion)

I re-acquainted myself with his IPA, a flavorful and refreshing beer, though not as hops-forward as other IPAs.  (Read about Ronnie and Sharon Calderon and their home brewery here.)

Aram Dekel from Abeer Ha'ela (Kibbbutz Tzafririm)

My friends and I paused to sip and savor his "Crispy," a delicious honey-wheat beer that Aram told me would pair well with any strong cheese.

Leon Solomon from Samson (Kibbutz Tzora)

Harriet and Leon Solomon at the
Samson Brewery booth.
Leon and his wife Harriet were pouring beer and selling soft pretzels in what may be Samson's final event.  Leon recently closed his pub on the kibbutz.  The good news is that he's not going to stop
brewing, if only for his family and friends.

I tried his stout, which was missing when I visited him a few months ago (read about it here), and found it creamy and delicious, with a nice roasted malt taste well balanced with the hops.  

Ofer Ronen from Srigim Brewery -- Ronen and Emek Ha'ela (Moshav Srigim)

Ofer told me that the brewery is expanding and that he is looking into the possibility of exporting his beers.  I wish him much luck.  Alexander and Malka are already in the U.S. and selling well in a number of states.

Afterwards, Barak Katz, one of the event's organizers from the Mateh Yehuda Regional Council, told me that the local beer festival is usually held twice a year, though there was none this past summer.

"This one was put at the last weekend of our Rural Food Festival, and is intended more for local area residents," he added.  "We are already planning our big beer festival for the end of June or the end of August.  I'll keep you informed.  That's my job."

And I'll keep all of you informed -- on this and all the other 2015 beer festivals that are coming our way.

March 24, 2015

Here for the beer, here for the run

Lee and Ginger Heidel with
their Israeli craft beer.
Lee and Ginger Heidel from Savannah, Georgia, came to Israel to run in the Jerusalem Marathon -- or at least in the shorter versions.  He for the 10 kilometer; she for the five.  They came as guests of the Israel Ministry of Tourism, along with other journalists, who were invited to write about their experiences in the marathon.  

But Lee is also a colleague of mine, a well-known beer blogger writing for Brew Drink Run and The Manual, The Essential Guide for Men.  

Choosing Israeli craft beer
in Hamisameach.
Lee found me via Israel Brews and Views and asked if I could help acquaint him and Ginger with the local craft beer scene during this, their first visit to Israel.  In the short time we had during their very tight schedule, I took them to the Hamisameach liquor store in Jerusalem's Machane Yehuda market, where I actually surprised myself by being able to describe almost all of the Israeli craft beers on display.  Lee bought some dozen bottles of the beers to enjoy back in Georgia and hopefully to write about them on his blog.

Savannah beer to Israel;
Israeli beer to Savannah.
Lee and Ginger presented me with a bottle of Rally Point Bohemian Style Pilsner from the Service Brewing Co. in Savannah, with the instruction to wait until a nice warm day to drink it.  I will.

I'm happy that I was able to play a small role in the success of the Heidels' visit to Israel, where they continued their quest for craft beers around the world.

You can read about what Lee had to say in The Manual here, and in Brew Drink Run here.

Lee wrote yet another article on his visit to Jerusalem in Connect Savannah.  You can read that one here.

March 23, 2015

An evening at the Frieds -- delicious food, excellent beer

By day, Dr. Levi Fried is a medical intern doing research on drug discovery.

By night, he turns into an driven home-brewer, pushing the envelope into strong flavors and little-known beer styles not attempted by more timid souls.

I've met Levi Fried once or twice before, but I've never had the chance to visit him in his home in Modi'in and try his beer, which he bottles under the Righteous Brew label.  He is an excellent brewer: knowledgeable, curious and adventurous.
Dr. Levi and Harmony Fried in Modi'in:
our hosts for the beer-and-food pairing dinner.

So I was extraordinarily pleased to receive his invitation to a six-course beer-and-food pairing dinner at his home.  I was also pleased to learn that it would be a meatless dinner, since Levi's wife Harmony, who will be preparing the courses, is a vegetarian, as I am.  She is also, I learned, a professional chef who once worked in the Ritz Carlton Hotel in Atlanta, Georgia.

This evening had definite possibilities.

I arrived at the Fried home on time -- which is actually early by Israeli standards.  While we waited for the other guests, Levi asked me if I would like to try his new Bourbon Barrel Stout, made with a few shots of American bourbon whiskey.  Would I?

Levi Fried introduces his guests to the
world of beer-and-food pairing.
The BB Stout was almost black with a roasty aroma.  It had a wonderful creamy smoothness and the rich, complex taste was fortified by the bourbon.  Levi said that he prepares all of his stouts by adding the liquid of cold-soaked roasted malt.  "This is what helps achieve the creaminess and avoids the 'soy-sauce taste' that many stouts have," he added.

It was certainly true.  This was a real "sipping beer" and made a perfect aperitif to our meal.

Before Harmony began arranging and serving the courses, Levi briefly explained to the guests the principles of beer-and-food pairing.

"Beer is a better partner for food than wine," he declared, "because its range of flavors is wider and more complex than wine.  What we're looking for are flavors that support each other because of their similarities, or complement each other because they are different -- like, for example, sweet and sour or sweet and salty."

All interesting stuff, I'm sure, but I was getting hungry.

First course.
The first course was served not a minute too soon.  It was a piece of brie cheese with tomato chutney and a homemade black sesame seed cracker, paired with a very pale blonde lager, also known as helles in German.

Levi brews the beer with Hallertau hops from Germany and Carlsberg yeast, and then ages it for four months.  The beer had pleasant floral aromas and notes of caramel and cherries in the taste.  Levi explained that the mild taste and low alcoholic content (4.5%) go well with the delicate flavors of the course.  A stronger beer would have overwhelmed them.

Second course.
Our second beer was a French biere de garde, a 7.5% ABV farmhouse-style ale.  The name alludes to the fact that these beers were brewed in the winter and then "guarded" until the spring, when they were enjoyed.  It was served to us fresh.

The biere de garde was paired with grilled zucchini with Swiss cheese and a spicy roasted red pepper relish with a Swiss cheese tuile (a crisp, thin wafer).  The note of fresh pepper in the beer was a beautiful complement to the cheese in the dish, once again without overpowering it.

Third course.
The third course was fresh fettuccine with Thai basil pesto and an egg yolk in the middle.  Sounds strange, but it was truly delicious, with the yolk adding both smoothness and flavor.

This was paired with a French saison beer, a lighter version (6.5% ABV) of biere de garde. This beer also had a peppery tang, but was maltier than the biere de garde and more aged.

Fourth course.

A curried arancini (rice ball) stuffed with mild goat cheese in a coconut cream infused sauce was the fourth course.  Levi paired it with his German maibock, a very strong lager (9% ABV) which held its own against the rich flavors of the food.  Like the previous two beer styles, maibock has also traditionally been brewed in the winter months for springtime drinking (hence its name!).

It poured a middle amber color and had a yeasty aroma which, Levi explained, was the lager (bottom fermenting) yeast coming through.  The beer's powerful sweetness complemented the rich, acidic flavors of the food.  Added CO2 refreshes your taste buds from the strong cheese and curry.

Fifth course.
For the next course, dessert number one, we went in a completely different direction -- a sour lambic beer which Levi had brewed together with his friend Noam Shalev.

"Actually, this is a pseudo-lambic," Levi explained to us, "since true lambic beer can only come from Belgium."  Similarly, only sparkling wine from the Champagne region of France can be called "champagne," and only whisky from Kentucky can be labeled "bourbon."

We poured this very sour beer to accompany sweet lemon cake with a soft meringue and tart cherries.  It was an intriguing choice, with  the sourness of the beer cutting the extreme sweetness of the dessert.  Alcohol was a low 4%.  The beer was accompanied by a jigger of cherry syrup, which is often added to lambic beers in Belgium to cut the sourness and add a different taste.  I found this tasty, but actually preferred the "raw" lambic with our cake.

Beers are rarely paired with sweet desserts, and this bold move by Levi and Harmony demonstrated the reservoir of possibilities involving food-and-beer pairings.

Sixth course.
Our last course was homemade vanilla ice cream with caramel sauce and salty pecans.  It was delicious, but the flavor was heightened even more by the paired beer: an English spiced barley wine, 18% alcohol, brewed with silan (date honey) and pumpkin spice (ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves).  It had strong notes of what I describe as chocolate and prunes.

Barley wines are strong ales, so called because the alcoholic content is similar to wine.  This was another courageous pairing that succeeded in ending the meal with exquisite, complex flavors.

A wonderful evening at the Frieds came to an end, an evening for people who appreciate delicious food and great beer -- and what connects them.  I hope the Frieds do it again sometime.  Hell, I hope every home-brewer does it sometime.  What a great way to introduce neighbors and friends to craft beer's contribution to our quality of life.        

March 10, 2015

Golan Brewery launches new Og Double Bock Wheat Beer

The Golan Brewery in Katzrin, one of Israel's most established craft breweries, recently launched a new seasonal beer – Og Double Bock Wheat Beer.

The old blogger with Michael Giladi, Omri
Zilberman and Motti Barr at the launch of
Og Double Bock Wheat Beer.
(Photo:Mike Horton)
According to brewmaster Omri Zilberman, the new beer is a joining of two styles which the Golan Brewery currently makes: Bazelet Wheat and Bazelet Double Bock.  

The result, I believe, is better than the sum of its parts.

The new beer was launched at the Ilka Bar in Tel Aviv, and Golan Brewery Manager Michael Giladi was kind enough to invite me and photographer Mike Horton.  We joined some ten other journalists and bloggers from the online, print and radio world.

The new Og Double Bock
Wheat Beer, surrounded by
the four permanent Bazelet beers.
(Photo: Mike Horton)
Giladi gave us a brief overview of the Golan Brewery: They produce four permanent beers under the Bazelet label (Wheat Ale, Amber Ale, Double Bock lager, and Pilsner lager), as well as seasonal beers under the Og label.  (Og was a king in the ancient Bashan region on the Golan Heights.)      

"Og gives us the chance to get creative," added Motti Barr, the Golan Brewery production manager.  Previous Og beers have included summer ale (Og Keitzit), double bock (Og Alon), and even an earlier version of a double bock wheat in 2012, though with a different recipe from the new beer.  Only 3,000 to 5,000 liters of each version of Og seasonal beer are produced, and when these are sold out, so is the beer.  (Read my earlier post on Golan Brewery beers here.)

The launch of Og Double Bock Wheat Beer
at the Tel Aviv "press conference."
(Photo: Mike Horton)
Brewmaster Zilberman told us that double bocks have traditionally been made for winter drinking.  It is a dark beer, strong in alcohol, with an intense sweet malty taste.  The monks who first brewed it in Germany called it "liquid bread."

"By combining the two styles of wheat and double bock, we have brewed a unique wheat beer which boasts the strength and flavors of a double bock," said Zilberman.  "Alcoholic content is a hefty 8.4%.  Our malt mixture is 70% wheat and 30% barley.  The yeast is typical Bavarian wheat beer yeast."

The first pouring of 
Og Double Bock Wheat Beer.
(Photo: Mike Horton)
After we tasted Bazelet Wheat and Bazelet Double Bock to acquaint us with the two styles joined in the new beer, the journalists were served festive drafts of Og Double Bock Wheat.  Its color is a cloudy honey amber – right between the pale wheat beer and the brown double bock.  The aroma is faintly banana (typical for a wheat beer) and whisky alcohol.  The first thing you taste is the sweet malt and caramel, followed by dark fruits, coffee and chocolate.

Og Double Bock Wheat is truly a delicious strong ale, successfully combining the elements of two very different styles.  It is now arriving at liquor stores which sell Golan beers.  Since we have a few good weeks of winter left, it can still be enjoyed on the cold days for which good double bock beer was intended.

February 24, 2015

One more "winter holiday" ale

Winter is still here; there's no doubt about that.  Witness our last weekend: cold and rainy, and snowy in the hilly regions around Israel.  So it's not too late to mention one more Israeli "winter holiday" ale that arrived after I wrote my previous post.
Snowy Jerusalem from our window.

It's the Mabul Christmas Ale made by home-brewers Avi Riji and Oded Bahar in Kiryat Motzkin near Haifa.  (I mentioned Avi and his beers when I wrote about home-brewers, and you can read it here.)

Mabul Christmas Ale.
My drinking partner Moshe and I agreed that Mabul ("flood" in Hebrew) was the most flavorful holiday beer we tasted.  It pours dark copper with a reddish hue.  The aroma that hits you is strongly cinnamon and hops.  Quite a nice combination, really.  Cinnamon stays in the flavor, along with bitter chocolate, and ending with ginger in the aftertaste.  Avi and Oded brew their beer with cinnamon, ginger, honey and nutmeg.

Moshe commented that all of the flavors combine very nicely in Mabul, though he believes that the extreme flavors of this beer would be appreciated more by beer aficionados than the general public. So, kudos to Avi and Oded for creating a winter holiday ale worthy of its name.

The downside is that Mabul is a home-brew not available in any stores or restaurants.  Avi and Oded share it with their family and friends, of which I am happy to be one.

Maredsous Trippel abbey ale.
However, for this past snowy Shabbat in Jerusalem, when the temperature was close to freezing, I chose to open a bottle of beer widely available in Israel though not, unfortunately, from Israel.  It was a warming and strong (10% ABV) abbey ale from Belgium -- Maredsous Trippel.  It is brewed in the venerable tradition of the Benedictine monks, and undergoes a second fermentation in the bottle with the addition of sugar and yeast.

Maredsous Trippel can be kept in the bottle for three years without any change in taste and color.  I received mine as a birthday present from my son Aharon and his wife Melanie a-year-and-a-half ago.

Mardesous Trippel pours a bright amber color with a firm white head.  The aroma is fruity, citrus and banana.  Within the heavy malt and alcohol taste, I found beautiful notes of chocolate caramel, prunes and dried fruits.

The beer went very well with our lunch, which was a good, hearty vegetarian cholent and other vegetable stews.  The strong flavors of the Trippel added a contrasting sweetness to our hot stews.  And for dessert, the beer's caramel flavor perfectly complemented a tart apple strudel and peanut butter - granola cookies.          

Most people associate beer with the summertime; a cold, crisp thirst quencher.  But the more I learn about the charms of strong ales and winter beers, the more I appreciate beer as no less a great beverage for the cold weather.

January 28, 2015

Six "winter holiday" ales

Some Israeli brewers come right out and say "Christmas," which is probably not so politically correct.  Others say "Winter" or "Holiday" or even "Hanukka."  But all of them are talking about the heavier, darker and stronger ales which people have been drinking in the colder months of the year for centuries.

As we now face the icy blasts of winter. I must admit that I don't really understand the physiology of the matter.  Putting any cold beer down your gullet on a cold day isn't going to make you any warmer.  But, as any drinker can tell you, the heavy dose of alcohol does give you the "feeling" of warming up -- witness the St. Bernard dogs who were sent out to find lost travelers and hikers in the snow, with a cask of whisky (or was it a good strong German doppelbock lager?) around their necks. 

And so, it's perfectly natural this time of year, when days are short and nights are long and cold, to taste some Israeli winter holiday ales.  I chose six which were especially brewed for this season: four can be found on the shelves of select liquor stores and two were home-brewed to be enjoyed with a smaller circle of friends and family.

We'll begin with Chariton Abbey Ale, a seasonal winter beer produced by Negev Brewery in Kiryat Gat.  Chariton was the name of a monk who lived in the Judean Desert in the fourth century.  It's a good name for an abbey ale, those strong beers from the Belgian side of the family, brewed by monks for many centuries.

My neighbor Moshe joined me for the new 2014-2015 version.  At 8% alcohol by volume, this is indeed a strong beer.  It pours a dark amber color with a small head.  You notice that it's very carbonated, a result of added CO2.  The aroma is roasted caramel and spicy pepper.  Flavors included sweet fruits and chocolate malt.  The bottle says that it is made with "local spices" without naming them.  Moshe ventured that one of them was zaatar, otherwise known as biblical hyssop. 

We both thought that this was a delicious and warming beer, perfect for a cold evening.  It also was an excellent accompaniment to a piece of dark chocolate.  Yum!

Next up was Christmas Ale from the Samson Brewery on Kibbutz Tzora.  This was the not the first time that I tried it. That introduction was made when I visited the brewery a few months ago and met with Leon Solomon.  (You can read about that first encounter here.)  Samson beers are available only at the brewery.  

Now, drinking it again in the winter, we appreciated even more its taste and strength (7.5% ABV).  It pours very dark with a thin head.  The aromas that reach your nose ("like an Indian kitchen," is how Moshe put it) are ginger and cinnamon, which Solomon does indeed put into the brew, along with cloves, cardamon and orange peel.  These are all spices associated with the holiday, and they blend very well to give this beer a festive flavor.  We found it less sweet than the other winter beers, but with distinct notes of brown sugar and caramel.

The Zambish Hanukka Ale is arguably the best beer home-brewed by my neighbor Moshe Lifshitz himself.  The color is a beautiful dark copper with a reddish tinge. The head is a long-lasting red-tan.  What you smell first is citrusy hops, kind of surprising for such a dark beer, but it's well balanced by the brown sugar and berry sweetness which comes when you swallow.  In fact, it's the balance between the hops and the malt that makes this beer so interesting. Moshe used a Belgian yeast, so it's no mystery if this beer reminds you of a Belgian strong ale. Moshe surmises that the alcoholic content is in the 7-8% range -- about what a Hanukka beer should be.                

Embargo is the brand new beer from Herzl Brewery in Jerusalem.  It's a good strong porter (6% ABV) made with real Cuban tobacco leaves.  These are added during fermentation.  Aside from a small mention of a tobacco beer somewhere in Italy, I was unable to find reports of any other beer flavored with tobacco.  The subject has come up in home-brewing forums but as far as I can tell, has not been acted on - until now.        

The name Embargo is a nice allusion to the U.S. embargo on Cuban cigars that is only now being lifted after 54 years.  In Israel, Cuban cigars and tobacco have always been available.

Embargo pours very dark, close to black, and the aroma is heavily malt.  At first sip, I wondered, "where's the tobacco."  And then, at the end of the swallow, there it was.  (Funny how we perceive tastes like that.)  I'm not that much of an expert to identify the tobacco as "Cuban," but it was definitely cigarish.  Moshe and I also detected notes of chocolate and pepper.  We described Embargo as "surprising" and "special," and made notes to buy more.

For the past few years, I've been looking forward every winter to the appearance of Jack's Winter Ale from the Shapiro Brewery in Beit Shemesh.  And this year's (2015) edition is truly exceptional. Jack's is made with wood chips soaked in Jack Daniel's Tennessee Whiskey, which gives the beer a full and rich body, and smooth, buttery finish.

It pours a red-copper color with a scent of sweet malt and ripe fruits.  The flavor is bitter-sweet, with the hop bitterness preventing it from being cloying.

We detected tastes of banana, vanilla, burnt butter and bourbon.  You can feel the very high (8.2%) alcoholic content but it doesn't impose on the taste at all.  This is a great beer for any winter meal.  By itself, it's a beautiful warming dessert.

Downtown Brown from Dancing Camel in Tel Aviv has been around for a while as a traditional American brown ale.  But for the past two years or so, it's been brewed with the additional spices of nutmeg, cinnamon and ginger -- and this is what transforms it into a true winter holiday ale.

This strong bodied beer pours a very dark brown with a dark tan head.  The unmistakable smell of nutmeg hits you first, though Moshe's first reaction to the aroma was, "coca-cola."  The taste is well balanced with very low roasted malt sweetness and almost no hop bitterness.  Cinnamon is the strongest taste, overpowering the others, which we just detected as pepper, coffee and licorice.

The current version of Downtown Brown is a highly spiced winter ale which will get you into a flavorful holiday mood every time you open a bottle.
These six beers are good examples of Israeli winter ales, but there are more out there.  The time to best enjoy them is now, while the cold, rain and snow invade our shores.  Open a bottle and feel the warmth.