February 13, 2017

More "stouts plus"

We're on a roll here, people.  Doing a catch-up on Israeli stouts which didn't make it in to our Stout Beer Tasting Panel because they were brewed with special ingredients or processes.  Here are two more -- one an oldtimer, been with the brewery since the start, while the other has been out there for only a few months.

Shapiro Oatmeal Stout

This beer from the Shapiro Brewery in Beit Shemesh is one of their three core beers, along with the Wheat Beer and the Pale Ale.  The Oatmeal Stout is 5.2% alcohol by volume, and is made, as you would expect, with the addition of oatmeal during the brewing process.

The beer pours a very dark brown with thin tan foam.  There are light aromas of malt, chocolate and coffee, but nothing really dominant.  The taste is bitter chocolate, perhaps some licorice.  The carbonation was quite strong and it has a mid-thick creaminess and body.  After sitting in the glass for a few minutes at room temperature, the chocolate and astringency were enhanced.

I guess there are people for whom the words "Oatmeal Stout" on the bottle will stimulate their imagination to smell or taste oatmeal.  But I wasn't getting it.  The oatmeal was probably the ingredient that gave this beer its creamy texture, which was quite an accomplishment, thank you.

During my Friday morning get-togethers with members of the Machane Yehuda Market "parliament," we sit next to a bar selling Shapiro Oatmeal Stout on tap.  It is by far, the most popular beer among us decision makers, as well it should be.          

Black Jack Smoked Stout

This is the latest bottled beer from the Beer Bazaar Brewery in Kiryat Gat, for sale at the Beer Bazaar pubs in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, and other beer and liquor stores.  The delicate smoky taste comes from some of the malt which is smoked over an oak fire.  Alcohol by volume is 4.7%.

Black Jack is really black, with a medium beige head.  Strong aromas of sweet chocolate, roasted malt and espresso hit you right away -- a delicious combination.  The taste is mid-sweet, with notes of milk chocolate, caramel, and dried figs and dates.  It has a thin body, but a strong bittering aftertaste, and this is where you feel the gentle smoke.  Don't expect a very smoky experience.  This beer is well balanced between bitter and sweet, and also (in my opinion) with just the right amount of smoke.  A very enjoyable "stout plus."

To complete our exploration, my next post on stouts will include two Israeli home-brews -- one Imperial, the other merely regal -- and a surprise guest visitor from abroad.        

February 8, 2017

New "stouts plus"

Our recent Tasting Panel for Israeli stout beers (see here) in no way covered all of the stouts brewed in this country.  In fact, there are several new stouts out there now, but they didn't qualify for our Tasting Panel because they are what I call "stouts plus" -- stouts with something extra; maybe smoked, sweet, oatmeal, oak-aged, or imperially enhanced.  
Here, then, are reviews of two of them.  Stout beers are enjoyable throughout the year, though especially in the colder months, so now's a good time to try these.

Buster's Oak Aged Stout
Led by Master-of-Fermentation Denny Neilson, Buster's Beverage Company in Beit Shemesh started out making apple ciders and spiked lemonade.  But Denny was always a beer brewer at heart, and in fact was making and selling beers from his home in Mevasseret Zion even before Buster's was opened.  (One of these was the incomparable Chutzpah Double IPA which you can read about here.)  He also gives excellent courses in beer- and wine-making, and distilling.  

Buster's first venture into the commercial beer market is their Oak Aged Stout, a 5.8% alcohol stout aged with oak chips.  Denny says that this method is preferable to aging in oak barrels because the barrels would have to be disinfected with chemical sulfites, which would have an adverse effect on the beer.  "We don't like chemicals," he adds.

The beer is brewed at the contract brewery facilities, known as Abir Habar, of the Alexander Brewery in Emek Hefer.  Denny says that this is only until Buster's gets its own brewing system, hopefully by the end of the year.

The Oak Aged Stout pours out an opaque black-brown with a thin creamy head and aromas of coffee and bitter chocolate.  The taste opens with a sour astringency so appreciated in fine stouts, and develops into mild roasted coffee.  There's also a lovely chewiness and creaminess in the beer's texture, with a bitter ending.

My drinking partner Moshe and I felt that this was an excellent beer -- but where was the oak?  Perhaps the oak aging added to the tartness and the creamy mouthfeel.  As far as flavor goes, I must admit that I have never tasted oak wood, so I was not sure what I should be looking for.    Perhaps I owe it to my readers and myself to chew on some oak chips -- if I could just get over my fear of splinters between my teeth!

Alexander Imperial Stout

From the Alexander Brewery in Emek Hefer comes their newest seasonal beer, Imperial Stout.  Traditionally, imperial stouts are said to have originated in England in the 18th century for export to the court of the Russian czars and czarinas, who loved their beers black and strong.  For this reason, they are also known as Russian imperial stout.  Whatever the history, the style has become a popular craft beer brewed in the U.S. and Europe.  In effect, it is stout beer on steroids -- brewed with large amounts of roasted barley malt, highly complex flavor and high in alcohol.  These are beers meant for sipping, not gulping.

As the label says, Alexander Imperial Stout is made with added sugars, which boost the alcoholic content to a whopping 10.4%.  This is another dark brown to black beer with a thin tan head.  I loved the aroma: strong alcohol and with a wine-like essence.  A very thick and full-bodied beer, with tastes of roasted caramel, coffee, bittersweet chocolate, molasses and roasted malt.

Moshe thought it was "too alcoholic" -- that the alcohol got in the way of the other interesting flavors.   But I didn't find that a problem.  I enjoyed the warmth of the alcohol going down.  This is a fine winter beer: great by itself on cold days and nights, or with strong flavored foods, aged cheeses and dark chocolate desserts.    

We're not through with "stouts plus" yet.  Keep your eye on Israel Brews and Views for more reviews of these surprising beers.

February 1, 2017

Results of the Israel Brews and Views -- Stout Beer Tasting Panel

I know, the suspense must be terrible.  What were the results, you've been asking, of the Israeli Brews and Views Stout Beer Tasting Panel?  
Judge Ira.

Well, we recently met in convivial assembly to taste and rate six Israeli brewed stout beers.  We chose stouts which are produced by the most commercial of our micro-breweries, and are therefore available in bottle shops and beer specialty stores throughout the country.  We also chose stouts which had no added ingredients or extraordinary production methods, but were classic stouts in the British or Irish traditions.  

In the future, by the way, we hope to have separate reviews for those wonderful specialty stouts which are also being brewed in Israel -- oatmeal stouts, milk (or sweet) stouts, smoked stouts, Imperial stouts, oak aged stouts, and perhaps others.           

Our panel was expanded to 11 judges and, as you know, the more judges, the more truly representative are the results.  Our judges were men and women, young and old, urban and rural, sabras and immigrants, beer geeks and beer guzzlers.  Because we are not professional judges or tasters, I believe we encapsulated the tastes of the wider Israeli public.  

Judge Chaya.
Stouts are black-as-night beers, where you should expect full, roasty tastes, some astringency and a dry finish.  The hop character can be variable, but generally the bitterness comes from the roasted barley itself.  The distinctive flavors can be chocolate and/or coffee, of course, but also caramel, dark fruits like plums or prunes, and even licorice.

Chronologically, porter beer was developed before stout, in London, probably during the 1720s.  It became popular among the city's porters (from where it got its name, of course), who enjoyed its strong taste and high alcohol after a long day's work.  Porter was brewed in different strengths, and the strongest of these came to be called "stout porters," quaffed only by stout-hearted men, no doubt.  Before too long, "porter" was dropped from the name, and the beers were called simply "stouts."  

Today, porters and stouts are kind of interchangeable, but in general, stouts tend to be darker, roastier in taste, and drier than porters.            

Judge Bob.
We tasted our six stouts completely blind, as we've done in all of our past Tasting Panels.  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 six points, number two got five points, and so on.  All the points given to each beer were counted to obtain the final rankings.

The results were not a close field.  The highest ranking and the lowest ranking beers were separated by 22 points.  There was a pretty clear winner and a clear loser.  
Judge Batya.

The results also demonstrated something very interesting: Even though there were major differences in the individual tastes of our judges, we were basically on the same page in ranking the beers.  For example, the winner got five "6 point" votes (the highest) and three "2 points."  Number two got three "6 points" and one "1 point."  Number three got one "6 points" and a bunch of 5s, 4s and 3s -- a good middle position.  At the other end, the lowest ranking beer got four "1 point" and one "5 points."

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, travel industry start-up company
Shoshana from Givatayim, student, former bartender
Bob from Moshav Ramat Raziel, jeweler 
Mike from Jerusalem, photographer and graphic designer
Ephraim from Jerusalem, entrepreneur, home-brewer, educational activist.
Chaya from Jerusalem, MA graduate in Israel Studies from Hebrew University. 
Ira from Jerusalem, risk management consultant
Batya from Shiloh, teacher and blogger 
Manny from Jerusalem, book retailer
Doug from Jerusalem, yours truly

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

Sixth Place:
Judge Ephraim.

Jem's Stout -- This is a classic dry stout from Jem's Beer Factory in Petach Tikva. with 5% alcohol by volume.  Several of the judges mentioned that they normally enjoy this beer, but it did not do well in the head-to-head competition. 

Some comments from the judges:  
  • "Coffee notes, bit of bitterness."
  • "Too heavy on the malt.  Taste might have gone off."
  • "Bitter, kind of flat. "
  • "Light aroma.  Very bitter.  Lingering bitter aftertaste"
  • "Reminds me of soda."
  • "Creamy.  Underwhelming flavor."
  • "Roasty, sour.  Not much flavor."
  • "Good, all around taste.  What I look for in a beer."

Judge Shoshana.
Fifth Place:
Midnight Stout -- From the Dancing Camel Brewery in Tel Aviv, Israel's first commercial micro-brewery.  5% ABV.  
  • "Strong aroma of espresso coffee.  Tasty and mild.  Thin body."
  • "Weak carbonation, tastes flat."
  • "Creamy, light aroma, a little bland."
  • "No aroma.  Not much flavor."
  • "Roasty aroma."
  • "Thin head, smooth and weak."
  • "Toasty nose.  Mid-bitterness."

Fourth Place:
Judge Doug.

Vilde Chaye Stout -- Brewers Etay Tzuker (from Kibbutz Gvat) and Hagai Gelman (from Kiryat Tivon) make their Vilde Chaye beer at the Mosco Brewery on Moshav Zanuach.  Vilde Chaye uses Yiddish phrases and caricatures in it labeling and marketing.  The Stout is 6.1% ABV.        
  • "Light notes of coffee and bitter chocolate."
  • "Thick head.  Strong hoppy bitterness."
  • "Roast aroma with dried fruit.  Tart, fruity taste."
  • "Citrusy with chocolate finish."
  • "Smooth and sweet, flavorful."
  • "Burnt and rather tasteless."
  • "Classic stout with mid-bitterness."

Judge Mike.
Third Place:
Stout Mountain Beer -- From the Mosco Brewery on Moshav Zanuach.  4.8% ABV.    
  • "Chocolate aroma and taste, soapy.  Sweet finish."
  • "Sort of bland.  Slight coffee notes."
  • "Not a classic stout.  No presence of chocolate or coffee."
  • "Giant head.  A sweet (maybe caramel) hint, yet a bitter lingering taste."
  • "Sweet, hoppy aroma.  Nice fruity flavor."
  • "Lemony, almost soapy.  No roast or coffee.  Citrusy taste, bitter kick."
  • "Slight bitterness, heavy on the caramel."

Second Place:
Judge Moshe.

Malka Stout -- From the Malka Brewery on Kibbutz Yechiam in the Galilee.  An Irish-style stout, at 6% ABV. 
  • "Strong coffee taste.  Light, thin mouthfeel."
  • "Bitter, with a thin body.  Bitter finish."
  • "Very nutty aroma.  Thick and flavorful.  Light, lingering aftertaste."
  • "Bitter chocolate taste.  Lingers on the tongue."
  • "Some cherry aroma.  Roasty, light bitter taste.  Nice texture and finish."
  • "Velvety chocolate finish."
  • "Bitter, possible plum flavor."

Judge Manny.
First Place:
Lela Mild Stout -- From Lela Beers, brewed by Eli Bechar, with offices in Maccabim but brewed at the Mosco Brewery.  5.2% ABV.  While not unanimous, most judges gave Lela high marks, even though it beat the second place beer by only three points.      
  • "Love the aroma.  Hoppy and sweet flavor."
  • "Low on aroma and flavor.  Creamy, full mouthfeel and texture."
  • "No aroma, creamy head, full body."
  • "Great full-bodied stout."
  • "Lovely flavor, nice burnt aftertaste."
  • "Sweet dark chocolate and creamy."
  • "Thin head, watery, bit bitter."

Judge Yitzchak.
So congratulations are in order to Eli Bechar of Lela Beers.  His Wheat Beer came in First Place in a previous Israel Brews and Views Tasting Panel for Flavored Wheats.  Lela Beers are not widely distributed, but can be found in beer specialty stores in major cities, as well as in a number of bars and restaurants around the country.

Our warm thanks to all of the brewers represented in the Tasting Panel for contributing their beers.  Israeli craft brewers are truly a fraternity of colleagues, not competitors, and it's always an honor for us to cooperate with them. 

We would also like to thank the Beer Bazaar and Beerateinu in Jerusalem for facilitating the delivery of the beers from the brewers to us.  

Thanks also to my wife Trudy, whose attention to detail and good taste made the Tasting Panel a culinary and social success.  

And special thanks to Judge Mike Horton, photographer and graphic designer extraordinaire, whose magic camera transported the Esteemed Judges to the Roman Coliseum for a final "L'chayim!"

January 25, 2017

Brewing Jem's Black Beauty

"We're going to start brewing our black IPA, the 'Black Beauty,' someday next week.  Why don't you come over and join us?"

It isn't very often that I get invitations like this from breweries.  In fact, it's never that I get invitations like this.

Jeremy "Jem" Welfeld relaxes (for the moment)
at the Jem's Beer Factory cum restaurant
in Petach Tikva.

(Photo: Mike Horton)
So when Jeremy Welfeld, the eponymous partner of Jem's Beer Factory in Petach Tikva, called especially to invite me, I jumped at the chance.

A few days later, photographer Mike Horton and I rode to Petach Tikva so we could be at the start of the brewing.  We were greeted by Jeremy, who gave us a quick tour of the brewery before passing us over to Brewmaster Leiby Chapler.

As I joined in, we prepared a mash tun of pale malt, wheat malt, Caramunich T3 and Carafe T1.  Jeremy told me that the tradition at Jem's is to give the mash a blessing with each stir: "For health!"  "For a good year!"  "For the State of Israel!"  Et cetera.  I was happy to do so.  After the wort (pre-fermented liquid) was transferred to the kettle, we added Cascade, Citra and Equinox hops for a batch of 900 liters.

The old blogger stirring the mash tun for Black Beauty
under the watchful eye of Jem's Brewmaster Leiby Chapler.

(Photo: Mike Horton) 

Jeremy told me that he brewed a version of the Black Beauty several years ago, but that this was a different recipe.  It will not be bottled, but will be kegged for selling on tap.  (It may alternatively be called "Winter Special.")  He promised that I would get to taste some in Jerusalem when the beer is ready.  I have high expectations.

The hops, the yeast and the wort:
Mix them all together and out will come Black Beauty.

(Photo: Mike Horton)
The Black IPA will be sold in Jem's pubs and restaurants as a specialty beer, joining the IPA and Berry Ale.  In addition, Jem's brews six core beers: Amber Ale, Pils, Dark Lager, Stout, 8.8 (Belgian Ale), and Wheat Beer.  (For more background on Jem's, please read my previous post here.)

Jeremy also said that Jem's is continuing to expand its brewing and restaurant operations.  In addition to the current four restaurant locations in Petach Tikva, Ra'anana, Kfar Saba and Ramat Hachayal, Jem's is looking forward to open up three more this year: Modi'in, Caesarea and Netanya.  The brewery facilities are also undergoing expansion, and will reach the capability of brewing 450,000 liters of beer in 2017, up from 350,000 last year.

Lunchtime at the Jem's Beer Factory and Restaurant in Petach Tikva.
(Photo: Mike Horton)
Before Mike and I left, we were treated to a wonderful lunch with beer tastings at the restaurant.  No cigars, no pink champagne -- but delicious food and beer in a convivial atmosphere.  Jem's combination of craft beer and restaurants is a winner on the Israeli scene.  May they continue to grow, along with our thirst for craft beer.

And if you're ever in a place where someone mentions Jem's Black Beauty or Winter Special, tell 'em that the old blogger had a hand in it.              

January 8, 2017

Coming soon: Stout Beer Tasting Panel

After an embarrassingly long hiatus (or is it hibernation?), the Israeli Brews and Views Beer Tasting Panel is springing back to action.  Mobilization orders went out to our Esteemed Judges, some veteran and some new, and they all answered "Affirmative."

This time we will be tasting Stout beers from Israeli craft breweries.  Quite a few Israeli breweries have a stout in their repertoire.  The style's popularity was probably spurred by the easy availability of Guinness stout in Israel, exposing the locals to this dark and pungent beer for many years.  But if you ask me, Israeli stouts quickly surpassed Guinness, and we are looking forward to tasting and comparing the best of these on the market today.

We are bypassing "stouts plus," stouts with something extra such as oatmeal, smoked, milk sugar and imperial, which are also on the Israeli market.  In fact, we hope to get to those at a later date.  But for now, we are concentrating on regular stouts, also known as Irish or English stouts.  These are black-as-night beers, where you should expect full, roasty tastes, some astringency and a dry finish.  The hop character should be very low, while the bitterness comes from the roasted barley itself.  The distinctive flavors can be chocolate and/or coffee, of course, but also caramel, dark fruits like plums or prunes, and even licorice.

Our panel of judges, chosen to represent the tastes of people like you and me, will be trying six Israeli stouts 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.   

December 10, 2016

New Beers for the Winter

 (Photo: Mike Horton)                                           
With the colder weather closing in around us, it's time to think about beers which bring a warm glow to our hearts and bodies.  Winter beers are darker, fuller bodied, perhaps a bit sweeter and higher in alcohol than the beers we reach for on a hot, summer's day.     

Beer drinkers know that when the wind is howling and the thermometer falling, you might not want to reach for an ice-cold pale ale or a light lager which describes itself as "crisp and refreshing."  Choose instead a hearty bock beer, Belgian trippel or barley wine, a malty porter or stout, a spiced pumpkin, Oktoberfest or holiday ale, or even an alcohol-strong India pale ale (IPA). 

Now don't get me wrong.  You can happily drink any style beer any time of the year.  Pairing a beer with food, for example, doesn't depend on what the weather is doing outside.  But it's only natural that certain styles of beer, as with wine, lend themselves to the different seasons.

Laphroaig single malt Scotch whisky:
In the bottle and in the beer.

(Photo: Mike Horton)
There are a few new beers which are now available in liquor stores and beer specialty shops around the country which are especially suited for the coming winter season.  I suggest you take them out of the refrigerator 10-15 minutes before you drink them.  You certainly don't have to drink them ice cold, and their strong flavors will be enhanced as they warm up. 
Launching The Dictator
Whisky Beer, with two
of the three partners,
Yotam Baras (right) and
Tomer Goren (center).

(Photo: Mike Horton)

The Whisky Beer by The Dictator Brewery (using the facilities of the Mivshelet Ha'aretz in Kiryat Gat) is made with Laphroaig single malt Scotch whisky.  I was at the launch of this "special edition" beer in Tel Aviv, where Yotam Baras, one of The Dictator partners warned that we would "either love or hate" the smokiness which the whisky imparts to this beer.  He refused to reveal how much whisky is added to the Irish Red Ale base, but the final percentage of the beer is 6.9% -- strong but not extreme.

To tell the truth, I neither loved nor hated.  The Whisky Beer pours out a dark reddish-copper color with a thin head.  The aroma is of peaty smoke with some malt.  And of course, the smokiness is very distinct in the flavor, as you would find in a smoky single malt Scotch.  Yet, you don't really taste the whisky, just the smoke.  It's a very balanced and creamy beer; actually quite pleasant.  Like other smoky beers, this one pairs well with grilled food, including vegetables and mushrooms, and would be very interesting with caramel, chocolate or spicy desserts. 

I'm not sure how much longer this beer will be on the shelves, but I hope there will be some bottles left throughout the winter.  Be warned: Because of the added whisky, it costs around twice as much as regular craft beer, but it's worth it just to try. 

Herzl's new roggen weizen:
A Sort of Wheat.
Another beer for winter is aptly named A Sort of Wheat, from the Herzl Beer Workshop, the only commercial brewery in Jerusalem.  This is actually a wheat beer made with the addition of rye, and is known in German as roggen weizen.  The style itself is from the Middle Ages, and today it is very rarely brewed anywhere in the world.  (HeChalutz – "The Pioneer" – Brewery in Beersheva makes a delicious rye beer, but it is not a roggen weizen.  It's called HaTafsan – "The Catcher."  Can you guess why?)

The fancy bottle label was designed by Jerusalem tattoo artist Daniel Bulichev, and includes a hop flower and two stalks of grain -- rye and wheat. 

A Sort of Wheat is dark copper colored, darker than a typical wheat beer, and a bit stronger – 5.6% alcohol.  The aroma gives you some hops and sweet malt, but the flavors are very close to what you would expect from a wheat beer: banana-clove and some caramel.  Where's the rye?  I couldn't detect it in the flavor, but perhaps it makes itself felt in the fuller body, the wee sourness, and the dry finish. 

All-in-all, a good beer for those who want a wheat beer with a different twist.  A proud addition to the craft beers of the Start-Up Nation.   

The 2017 edition of
Jack's Winter Ale from Shapiro.
The newest winter beer is the 2017 version of Jack's Winter Ale from Shapiro Brewery in Beit Shemesh.  This beer gets its special taste and body by being aged with oak chips soaked in bourbon whisky.  This is the sixth year that Shapiro is bringing out its annual Winter Ale, and fans of Israeli craft beers wait for its appearance at the start of every winter.

"Our recipe hasn't changed," says Itzik Shapiro, one of the brewery's partner-brothers.  "But every version has been a little different.  This is a strong beer that can be aged for a few months and it will only get mellower and more mature.  At 8.5% alcohol, it's definitely a sipping beer, not one for long, multiple-beer drinking sessions."

The 2017 Jack's Winter Ale pours out a beautiful red amber color with a thin tan head.  The aroma had roasted malt and some caramel.  The taste is very malty with spices; we detected cloves and pepper and a little bit of the whisky.  The beer is full-bodied and the finish is nicely spiced.
This is a great beer for any winter meal, especially foods with intense or spicy tastes, as well as pizza, aged cheeses, and rich, semi-sweet desserts.  After the meal, it's a beautiful warming dessert by itself.

I can recommend three other new beers for the winter which are available commercially, but I'll just name them here because I wrote about them in earlier posts:

Grizzly -- a double IPA from HaDubim ("The Bears") Brewery [written up here]
Happy Hour in Sodom -- a salty caramel porter from the Dancing Camel Brewery [written up here]
Nelson -- a black IPA from the Basha-Flom Brewery [written up here]

So as you hunker down for the winter, don't forget to stock up on some of these fine beers which will be welcome companions, at least until next spring.

November 30, 2016

2nd Jerusalem Craft Beer Fair

Leon Shvartz and Shmuel Naky, the two organizers of the Jerusalem Craft Beer Fair, took a chance by holding their second Fair in early November.  The first Fair, back in July (see here), was a pleasant success for the brewers, the visitors, and the organizers.  But that was during the warm Jerusalem summer nights, when you could walk around free of excess clothing and when nothing beats drinking cold beer.

Fair organizer Shmuel Naky (right):
"More visitors than we expected."

(Photo: Mike Horton)
But what about November, with cool nights, sweaters and the threat of wind and rain.

Shmuel told me that he and Leon were satisfied with the turnout.  "There were actually more visitors than we expected," he said.  "Israelis generally stay home if there's even a hint of winter in the air, but we saw that their thirst for craft beer was even greater."

Shmuel added that the beer stands were laid out more conveniently than at the first Fair.  Admission was free, the prices for glasses and tastes of the beers was kept low, and brewers were encouraged to introduce versions of "winter beers" for the event.

Two of Israel's best:
Ofer Ronen (left) of Srigim Brewery and
Rotem Bar Ilan of HaDubim.

(Photo: Mike Horton)
As you already know, I truly appreciate reconnecting with brewers and beer-lovers (and meeting new ones) anyplace and anytime.  But my reporter's antennae begin to quiver only when I'm around new beers, such as the winter beers which Shmuel mentioned.

Well, I did taste some beers brewed for the colder months of the year, but the problem is, you probably won't be able to.  Most of them were brewed only for the Fair and will not be going on the market, at least any time soon.

Proud of Nelson:
Basha-Flom Brewery's Omer Basha.

(Photo: Mike Horton)
One of the beers that is already available commercially is Nelson from the Basha-Flom Brewery in Beersheva.  This is a black IPA, a beer style that has been popular for a while in spite of the oxymoronic name.  (How can a beer be "black" and "pale" at the same time?)  It's not an easy beer to brew.  Several Israeli home-brewers have experimented with black IPAs, but the only other commercial version I know is Dark Matter from HaShachen Brewery in Netanya.  (Beertzinut Brewery on Kibbutz Ketura makes Layla, but it is not marketed commercially.)

Omer Basha and Dvir Flom have been brewing Nelson for more than a year, but until now it has only been available at festivals and other events.  It's named after Nelson Mandela, and not only because of its color.  Omer and Dvir have great admiration for the man and wanted to name a beer in his memory.

Omer proudly poured me a tasting cup of Nelson, a very thick, dark brown beer with a creamy tan head.  The aroma and the taste indicate the two characteristics of this beer: Semi-sweet chocolate from the dark roasted de-bittered malts, and citrus and pine from the all-American hops used.  This balance is very well maintained in Nelson.  In fact, it's like having two parallel beers in one, while keeping the separate tastes of each.  The finish is hoppy, bitter and dry.  The alcoholic content is 5.5%, much toned down from the original, non-commercial version which was 9%.

Hagai Fass of the Fass Brewhouse:
Two new beers for the Fair.

(Photo: Mike Horton)
The Fass Brewhouse on Kibbutz Geshur in the Golan Heights has been brewing the same three beers for as far as I remember: Lager, Wheat and Porter.  Now at the Fair, Hagai Fass, one of the partner-brothers, introduced me to two new beers they are brewing just for special events and for trying out in the Brewhouse.

The Scotch Ale is a successful attempt at this style; a sweet and strong (7.7% ABV), malty and caramel ale.  It's very warming, and you can feel the alcohol going down your throat.  A good beer for the cold and brawny highlands, including the Golan Heights and Jerusalem!

The Hoppy Beer was less impressive.  It did have hop bitterness, with sour citrus being dominant, but it needed more defined tastes to compete on the India Pale Ale, or even on the Pale Ale, market.  ABV is 6.2%.  Hagai admitted it was a "work in progress."

It was a pleasant surprise to see new Fass beers, and I hope they keep on experimenting and adding the best to their commercial repertoire.

Neil Churgin (left) of Beertzinut Brewery and
his son Perry were serving their beers,
while getting out the message to
"Grab Something Serious!"

(Photo: Mike Horton) 
Another new beer was from Beertzinut Brewery of Kibbutz Ketura in the Arava Valley.  Brewer Neil Churgin was unveiling his Smoked beer, a smoked pilsner with flavors of fruity malt and toned-down smokiness.  I enjoyed it very much, and I am not a big fan of smoked beers.

Neil is also marketing three other permanent beers with the Beertzinut ("Seriously") label which show imagination and nerve.

Cool Medjool -- smoked ale with date honey, made from Medjool dates grown on the kibbutz
Layla -- black IPA
Shlishia -- IPA

Currently, Beertzinut beers are only available in the Arava region, on kibbutzim close to Ketura, and at various beer festivals and events.  In Jerusalem, you can find them at the Beerateinu specialty store.        

Another beer from the Negev, Sderot to be exact, was The Terminator, a 9% weizenbock brewed by Tomer Ronen from HaDag HaLavan ("The White Fish") Brewery.  This is a strong German wheat ale style, with a darker color, stronger tastes and higher alcohol than regular wheat beer.  Weizenbock combines the traditional aromas and tastes of German weissbier (wheat beer) -- banana, cloves, vanilla -- with a strong malt base.  The Terminator also has tastes of sweet caramel and dark fruits.  It is indeed a delicious winter beer, and the most talked-about beer at the Fair, but it was brewed only for this occasion.        

Samuel's Highland's Moish Rubinstein:
Less kumquats.

(Photo: Mike Horton)
I also tasted two beers that were not new, but were "re-formulated," perhaps due to feedback from the beer-drinking public.  After all, why try to fix it if it ain't broken?

Moish Rubinstein was serving his unique Samuel's Highland beer, brewed with kumquats.  The name harks back to Moish's city, Givat Shmuel ("Samuel's Hill"), as well as his Scottish roots.  [Read more about this beer here.]  Although Moish told me that his new recipe includes less kumquats, I could not detect much of a difference.  This is still a good beer to try, with the kumquats adding bitterness and a citrusy aroma and taste.

Barzel's Yair Alon (right):
Different hops and Crystal malt.

(Photo: Mike Horton)
Yair Alon, one of the brewers of Barzel Beer (brewed at the Mosco Brewery on Mosahav Zanoah near Beit Shemesh), also has changed his original recipe.  Different hop varieties and Crystal Malt are now being used.  I found that these gave the beer a sweeter and fuller flavor, but in a side-by-side taste-off, I preferred the original version.

In the end, I quite enjoyed trying new beers on this November evening.  I hope Leon Shvartz and Shmuel Naky will maintain their high standards and continue with more Jerusalem Craft Beer Fairs.