August 23, 2015

Results of the Israel Brews and Views -- Amber Ale Tasting Panel

Our very august and robust Israel Brews and Views Tasting Panel met on a recent summer night to taste and rate seven Israeli-brewed amber ales.  We are honored to bring the results to you -- the beer-loving public.

This time we had a full complement of ten judges, whom we can really say represented the tastes of the Israeli public -- masculine and feminine, young and old, urban and rural.  To have had a panel more representative, we would have had to hold elections.

Brilliant amber ale.
Amber ales are the duskier cousins of pale ales, or more accurately, American pale ales.  To get the amber color, which can appear in a range of shades, a darker malt is used.  Although amber ales can have strong hop tastes, they are usually better balanced with malt than pale ales.

When our Tasting Panel chose amber ales, I was concerned that this style would be a kind of nondescript way station between a pale ale and a porter, without real distinguishing characteristics.

I was wrong.  The amber ales we tasted had a variety of colors, aromas, tastes and bodies which made the judging quite enjoyable.  Speaking in the royal "we" (as they usually do), several of the judges told me afterwards that these beers were the best group of any of our tastings.

Four of the seven beers we tasted are from what I would call major craft breweries, available in stores throughout most of the country.  The other three breweries are smaller, not so readily available outside of their local area, but are seriously working on expanding their marketing and distribution.  

On a balmy Budapest evening, our judges
celebrate a successful Tasting Panel.

As with our past panels, our tastings were completely blind.  All glasses just had a number on them, corresponding to a beer which only the servers knew.  The judges recorded their impressions on a specially prepared page and when they were finished, gave each beer a ranking.  The best beer received seven points, number two got six points, and so on.  All the points given to each beer were counted to obtain the final rankings.

Unlike the results of our last tasting panel, for porter beers, this time there was a very clear winner . . . and a clear loser.  The middle five beers were separated by only seven points.  Eight judges gave the winner high points, and eight judges gave the loser low points.  To me, this indicates that the judges, in spite of their very different backgrounds and tastes, were basically on the same page in choosing their favorite, and their least favorite, amber ale.         

The old blogger himself
watches over the contenders.
Before we give the final comments and rankings -- what you're all waiting for -- please meet out esteemed judges.

Yitzchak from Orr Yehuda, computer programmer
Moshe from Jerusalem, office manager and app designer
Shoshana from Jerusalem, student, former bartender
Bob from Moshav Ramat Raziel, jeweler 
Mike from Jerusalem, photographer and graphic designer
Eitan from  Tekoa, tour guide
Ira from Jerusalem, risk management consultant
Batya from Shiloh, teacher and blogger 
Manny from Jerusalem, book retailer
Doug from Jerusalem, yours truly

Our beer servers bringing on the suds.

And here, without further ado, are the results of their judgment: 

Seventh Place:
Alexander Ambree -- This is a classic amber ale from the Alexander Brewery in Emek Hefer, with 5.7% alcohol by volume.  Several of the judges mentioned that they enjoyed this beer in the past either by itself or with food, but that in the head-to-head competition with other ambers, it just didn't make the grade.  

Some comments from the judges:  
Manny contemplating.
  • "Low hops, high malt sweetness.  Dank."
  • "Fruity taste.  Interesting, impressive and different.  Amber ale without exaggerated tastes."
  • "Very malty, almost like soda.  Spicy aftertaste. "
  • "Frothy, sour, bitter and dull flavor."
  • "Too light, lacks taste."
  • "Very thin, light body."
  • "Diluted flavor, disappointing."

Sixth Place:
Katzra Amber -- From the Arava Brewery in Tzukim, located in the Arava Valley of the Negev Desert.  "Katzra" is a stream in the Arava.  This is a small, local brewery which also makes a dark ale and a blond ale.  The alcoholic content of the amber is 4.6%.       
  • "Grassy and no hop aroma.  Sour."
  • "Strong aroma of spices, fruit and caraway.  Some cloves and banana."
  • "Dark color, fruity and hoppy, nice after-taste."
  • "Flat and cloudy with a mild taste."
  • "A bit bland, but good all-around taste."
  • "Bitter, light after-taste."
  • "No smell.  Diluted flavor, and later fruit."

Fifth Place:
Jem's Amber Ale -- From the Jem's Beer Factory in Petach Tikva.  The bottle label says that this is a 5.3% ABV "English Ale" made with Carafa malts.   
Batya deliberating.
  • "Almost no aroma.  Good for those who like mild amber ales."
  • "Gentle, sweet, light body."
  • "Lemony, bitter after-taste."
  • "Slight bitterness.  Balanced."
  • "Medium amber color.  Mid-bitterness.  Thick and smooth."
  • "No aroma and flat flavor."

Fourth Place:
Chuck's Amber Ale -- From Chuck's Brewery in Ra'anana, although the beer is brewed at the Mosco Brewery facilities on Moshav Zanuach.  Chuck's is a small brewery of four partners which has recently increased its commercial activities.  5.3% ABV.        
  • "Earthy aroma.  Very well balanced."
  • "Mild, pleasant aroma of hops.  Balanced."
  • "Light color.  A little sour."
  • "Strong on hops.  Closest to an IPA."
  • "Dark amber color, thick head.  Hoppy, strong initial bitterness, full body."
  • "Neutral taste.  Not overly bitter."
  • "Mild aroma, hoppy taste."

Third Place:
Amber Beer -- From the Vilde Chaya Brewery.  Vilde Chaya beer is made at the Mosco Brewery facilities on Moshav Zanuach by Itai Tzuker of Kibbutz Gvat and Hagai Gelman of Kiryat Tivon.  Their impressive showing in this tasting is indeed a compliment to Itai and Hagai's talent.  In addition to their Amber Ale (5.2% ABV), Vilde Chaya also makes a wheat beer, a stout, and a beet(!) beer.         
Eitan savoring.
  • "Sweet hop aroma.  Bitter chocolate taste."
  • "Very mild.  Strong hop presence and pleasant finish."
  • "Slightly sour and sweet.  Musty."
  • "Bitter and strong, with a hint of citron."
  • "Highly aromatic.  Nice balance between bitter and sweet."
  • "Darker color.  Strong fruity aroma and strong flavor."

Second Place:
Bazelet Amber Ale -- From the Golan Brewery in Katzrin.  At 6.4% ABV, this was the strongest amber ale in our tasting.    
  • "Fruity with a good malt taste."
  • "Excellent hop flavor and finish.  Balanced and tasty."
  • "Fruity, lightly bitter, malty."
  • "Strong hops flavor but not bitter."
  • "Not a good after-taste, but refreshing."
  • "Medium bitterness, sour and hoppy."
  • "Dark and sweet.  Bubbly in the mouth.  Taste of hops and schav (sorrel soup)."

First Place:
Amber Ale -- From the Negev Brewery in Kiryat Gat.  Our winner was 11 points above number two.  The judges, while not being unanimous in their praise, had several enthusiastic comments for this beer.  Alcohol by volume is a low 4.9%.   
Bob relishing.
  • "Strong but not exaggerated hops.  Excellent taste and clean finish."
  • "Good hop flavor.  Close to an IPA."
  • "Light color.  Balanced flavors of fruit, vanilla, malt."
  • "Nice aroma.  Good all-around beer.  Smooth mouthfeel."
  • "Light amber.  Citrus aroma and flavor.  Very nice."
  • "Sweet and fruity."

Congratulations to the folks at Negev Brewery, led by Sagiv Karlboim, for their first-place amber ale.

Amber waves of grain.
Our warm thanks to all of the brewers represented in the Tasting Panel for contributing their beers.  They came from near and far to put the amber ales on our table.

Thanks also to my wife Trudy for helping to make the Tasting Panel a culinary and social success.  She became a "beer maiden" for the night, making sure the beer was served cold and the snacks were plentiful.  

And extra-special thanks to Judge Mike Horton, the photographic magician who immortalized our Tasting Panel and transported us to exquisite realms in Budapest.   

August 10, 2015

Ashdod Beer Festival -- August 19-20

I just found out about the Ashdod Beer Festival, which will be held August 19-20 at the Mei-Ami Beach.  The only thing I was able to learn from the website and phone number was that this is the fifth Ashdod Beer Festival (though I was completely unaware of previous ones) and that tickets cost 35 shekels and do not include tastings.  The festival opens at 8:30 and there are big-name entertainers on both nights.  I couldn't find out which breweries will be represented nor how many beers will be available.

Ashdod on the Mediterranean.
If you live in the area and would like to attend, the phone number for tickets is 08-854-5833 and the municipal office for these events is 08-854-5141.  Maybe you'll have better luck getting information than I did.

By the way, the name of the beach, Mei-Ami, means "waters of my people" in Hebrew.  There are folks out there who believe that the name Miami (as in Florida) comes from the same source.

Just a reminder that the BEERS 2015 Festival in Tel Aviv will be held this coming Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday evenings (August 11-13) at the Train Station (HaTachana) in Neveh Tzedek.  Doors open at 6:00 pm.  The entrance fee is 70 shekels, which includes the first five tastings.  After that, you can buy five additional tasting coupons for 30 shekels.        

According to information on the BEERS website, if you print out and bring the coupon below (or display it on your smartphone), the entrance fee is reduced to 50 shekels.  What are you waiting for?

There are two beer festivals going on over August 26-27.  One of them is in Haifa (held on the Agritech Grounds, near the Convention Center) where entrance is free.  Since it is sponsored by Goldstar and Maccabee Beer, don't expect any Israeli craft breweries to be there -- but it should be a lot of fun anyway.

Last year's Jerusalem Beer Festival.
(Photo: Koby Sharvit)
The other one is the 11th "Ir Habira" Jerusalem Beer Festival, held in Independence Park (Gan HaAtzmaut).  Entrance costs 35-45 shekels, and does not include any beer tasting.  There will be food and entertainment, and if it maintains the level of past Jerusalem festivals, a great time should be had by all.    
Regarding the Mateh Yehuda Rustic Beer Festival, I have been informed by Chani Ben-Yehuda, who is responsible for festivals and events at the Tzlilei Hakesem company,   which organizers these events, that it doesn't appear as if there will be a festival this year.  This is a real shame, since the atmosphere, the music, the beer and the food at these festivals were always first-rate.  As they used to say in Brooklyn, "Wait'll next year!"   

August 7, 2015

Jerusalem Brewgarden: Lucky neighbors

Lucky is the person who lives near a home-brewer.  If you play your cards right, you shall not lack for good beer.

Ron Prigat (left) and Yair Uziel pumping their
home-brews at the sixth Brewgarden in Jerusalem.
Jerusalem's Givat Hamivtar neighborhood, near Ramat Eshkol, has a few such lucky people.  They live near Yair Uziel and Ron Prigat, two 27-year-old home-brewers who love to share their beer with friendly neighbors who appreciate it.  And once a year, sometimes more, Yair and Ron throw their famous Brewgarden party for family and friends.  I was fortunate to be invited to number six a few weeks ago.

The Prigat family garden is an ideal backdrop for a brew party, with grass, flowers and shade trees to set the scene.  Yair, who works in high-tech, and Ron, an artist, were in their element, pumping beer from a homemade refrigerated tap system while offering their guests inspired explanations.  

They were selling four kinds of beers that day, all solid styles.

Ron Prigat sharing secrets
with the old blogger.
Honey Wheat (4.5% ABV) -- Classic weissbier color and aroma, but the honey is very dominant to the taste.  It contrasts well with the sourness in the beer, so I guess it could be called sweet-and-sour.  Quite yummy, actually.

Belgian Trippel (8.5%) -- Another classic: Strong alcohol scent.  Taste of sweet malt and yeast cake.  Very weak hops.

Coffee Stout (4.5%) -- Made with Brazilian coffee, this has a delicious strong coffee taste, though the body is weak for a stout.  I had the feeling that a good spot of milk or cream would have been just right.

Rye IPA (7%) --  This was the only "non-classic" beer being served.  About 5% of the grain used is unmalted rye.  The beer is not as bitter as a regular IPA, perhaps because the rye imparts a fruity-nut flavor.  The hops, however, are very present, both in aroma and taste.  A very drinkable IPA -- avoiding extremes while keeping taste.

Ron and Yair have been making beer for about three years, brewing batches of 150 liters each time.

Beer and company at the Brewgarden. 
"Our Beergardens have become public events," says Ron, "attracting people from all over.  We get to share our beer with other people and get their feedback.  It shows that our brewing has meaning, that we're not just another small home-brewery."

I have found that many home-brewers have this need to reach out, to share their beer with others.  They may even go to the extent of giving their beer a brand name, a logo and a label -- even though they have no intention of going commercial.  It's as if their beer brewing is not just a generic hobby, but needs to have a name and a personality of its own.        

In the case of Ron and Yair, they call themselves the Yeasty Boys, but still do not have a brand name for their brewery.  There's already a Yeastie Boys Brewery somewhere in New Zealand, so they don't want to go with that.

They'd be happy to hear suggestions from readers, so if you have any bright ideas, please send them to me.

At any rate, take a tip from me and search your neighborhood for home-brewers.  If you find any, introduce yourself.  They'll probably be very friendly people, as home-brewers usually are.  Tell them how much you appreciate good craft beer.  You're sure to make a new friend -- and you shall not lack for good beer.         

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.