January 15, 2018

Yechiam: the fortress and the brewery

As I've written before, craft breweries are popping up all over Israel -- from the Lebanese border in the north to the southernmost city of Eilat.  So, Trudy and I have been able to combine our tours to different parts of the country with visits to nearby breweries.

The Miskins and the Greeners,
intrepid trekkers all, about to assault
the Yechiam Fortress.
We have done this several times with our friends Yitzchak and Pnina Miskin, he being a member of the Israel Brews and Views Tasting Panel.  [You can read about our trip to the Alexander Stream and the Alexander Brewery here.]

Recently we headed up to Israel's northwest corner on the Lebanese border, to Kibbutz Yechiam, home to a kosher salami factory, a Crusader fortress, and the Malka Beer brewery.  We visited all three, although let's make it clear that the meat factory was for the Miskins, who had forgotten to pack their sausage!

Related image
A beautiful view of the Galilee from
the top of the Yechiam Fortress.
The Yechiam Fortress, as it is known, was our first stop.  Originally built by the Crusaders in the 1240s, it was used to control travel and communication in the area and collect taxes from the local inhabitants.  It was conquered by the Mameluks under Sultan Baibars from Egypt  in 1265 and largely destroyed.  In the 18th century it was rebuilt and used as the palatial home of local leaders, including Mahd el-Hussein and Zahir al-Umar, who called it the Jiddin Castle.

We walked through the rooms and towers and climbed the ancient stairs to the roof, where you have stunning views of all the surrounding hills and countryside.

During Israel's War of Independence in 1948, residents of Kibbutz Yechiam used the ruins as a fortified position to fight off the invading Arab armies.  Signs around the fortress indicate locations where the Jewish forces had firing positions, command bunkers, and shielded areas for evacuating the wounded.

After our tour, we drove to the nearby border city of Ma'alot for a hummus lunch in a restaurant that Yitzchak had recommended.

The old blogger with Yaniv Katz,
the always busy manager of the
Malka Brewpub.
Lunch left us thirsty, so it was definitely time to head back to the kibbutz and the Malka Brewpub.     

A few days earlier, I had called Asaf Lavie, the owner of Malka Brewery, and told him we would like to visit on Friday, speak with him and maybe tour the brewery.

"What time?" he asked.  Around 12:30 to 1:00, I said.  "Oh, that's no problem.  After around 2:30, the place becomes packed and we're all too busy to talk."

Because our schedule was a little delayed, we arrived at the brewery around 2:45.  Every table and chair on the lawn, inside and around back was taken by happy, gregarious beer drinkers.

Restaurant manager Yaniv Katz greeted us and, even though he was being called away every two minutes with a question or emergency, found time to make us up a table and talk with us.

The Friday afternoon packed beer garden
at the Malka Brewpub on Kibbutz Yechiam.
Only 29 years old, Yaniv shoulders the responsibility of keeping the restaurant functioning smoothly.  Around 800 people come to eat and drink at the Malka Brewpub every weekend (Thursday, Friday and Saturday night).  Five hundred liters of Malka's five beers are consumed.

While they may not all be available all the time, Malka's regular beers are:

Pale Ale
Blond Ale
Hindi IPA
Wheat Ale

At the Brewpub, a third of a liter of beer costs 17 shekels, and a half-liter 22 shekels.  Bottles are available to take home for 12 shekels each, with a four-pack costing 44 shekels.

The food menu is kosher and more extensive than the usual pub grub.  In addition to the expected hamburgers, hot dogs, shnitzel nuggets, meat sandwiches and French fries, there are vegetarian options such as Portobello mushroom burgers, and fried cauliflower and broccoli nuggets.

Trudy and the old blogger enjoy
the ambiance at the Malka Brewpub.
Between the four of us, we ordered and shared almost all of Malka's beers.  I have always enjoyed their bottled beer, and fresh from the tap they were even more delicious.  The Hindi IPA and the Blond Ale were especially welcome.

Having a few beers with good friends in a rustic setting was a very cultured way to start the weekend.  Afterwards, we happily worked our way across the road to the kibbutz guest house, where we would be spending the Sabbath.

The Holy Day was delightful, nourishing and relaxing.  But since that's not the subject for a beer blog, this would be a good place to finish.  We can only heartily recommend the combination of touring Israel and visiting a craft brewery.  There's something for everybody and a brewery almost everywhere.   

January 10, 2018

1872 Baltic Porter launched: An Israeli-German collaboration

As 2017 ended, I went to the Dancing Camel Brewery in Tel Aviv for the first pouring of the 1872 Baltic Porter, an Israeli-German collaboration beer.

The beer had not two, but four collaborators: Dancing Camel and Oak & Ash in Tel Aviv, and Bierfabrik and Two Fellas in Berlin.

David Cohen, owner of Dancing Camel, has already brewed several beers in collaboration with German craft breweries.  "Why do we love collaboration beers?" he asks.  "Because beer holds no agenda, no political affinity, no religion and no cause more sacred than the freedom of the human spirit."  Who am I to disagree?     

Asher Zimble (left), owner and brewer of
Oak & Ash Beers, and David Cohen of
Dancing Camel (center), join the old blogger
for the launching of 1872 Baltic Porter. 
David explained that each of the brewers contributed something to the concept and recipe of 1872.  The German breweries suggested a Baltic porter, since northern Germany was one of the places where this style originated some 200 years ago, as well as the basic grain bill using German malt.

"The Dancing Camel brought up the idea of adding Israeli date honey -- silan -- and Oak & Ash was called upon to age the beer with oak," says David.  "The beer was brewed simultaneously in Tel Aviv and Berlin, and each brewery had leeway to choose the malts and hops.  The use of the date honey and the oak aging was required by all."

The name of the beer commemorates the tragic storm and flood of November 13, 1872, which devastated much of the Baltic Sea coast from Denmark to the German-Polish border. 

David Cohen at the Bierfabrik Brewery
with Sebastian Mergel (left) and
Andre Schabrackentapir (right).
The Baltic porter style developed when the British began exporting their popular porter beer to the Baltic countries (Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania) and also Sweden, Denmark, Poland, Finland, Russia and northern Germany.  These countries began brewing it for themselves, but according to their own tastes.  For example, they fermented it at lower temperatures with lager yeast, rather than ale yeast.  This tends to mellow out the flavors.         

Baltic porter was also somewhat heavier and stronger than its British progenitor. David adds: "Our 1872 is 8% alcohol by volume, just right for this style.  Also, Baltic porters are usually not oak aged, as ours is.  This adds a touch of oak taste and smoothness to the final beer."

Background explanations are nice, but it was time to taste 1872 for ourselves.  I had some on tap at the Dancing Camel pub with Israel Brews and Views Taster Yitzchak Miskin, and back at home from a bottle with Taster Moshe Lifshitz.

1872 is a clear, dark reddish-brown beverage with healthy carbonation.  With the first whiff, you would not be delusional if a Belgian dubbel came to mind: aromas of caramel, roasted malt, licorice and chocolate.  The body is full and thick, with flavors of caramel malt, a little smoke, date honey, dark fruits and vanilla.  The overall impression is sweet and mild to the palate, fading into a bitter finish.  The high alcoholic content stays in the background.

All of us agreed: This is a complex, flavorful and warming beer, especially suitable for the winter months.  It's excellent as a sipping beer on its own, or pair it with strong tasting foods such as chilies and stews, sweet potatoes, odorous cheeses like Camembert, Gouda and brie, and any chocolate desert, cheesecake or apple pie.         

Dancing Camel Deutschland

Alone among Israeli brewers, David Cohen started around three years ago to build bilateral relationships with German craft brewers.  He has been very successful.  Since then, the Dancing Camel has participated in several German-Israeli collaboration beers, including Happy Hour in Sodom, Two Cats on a Camel, Gates of Helles, and now 1872.  Dancing Camel beers are sold in pubs and stores in Berlin and other cities, and its Leche del Diablo chili pepper wheat beer and Doc's Green Leaf Party IPA  are brewed under license and sold in Germany.  David opened a Facebook page for his activities in Germany called Dancing Camel Deutschland.  (Read more about Dancing Camel and these collaboration beers here.) 

David explains that the initial impetus for cooperating with German breweries came from the Israeli Consul General in Munich.  David pursued it with visits to Berlin and other cities and admits struggling with "the ghosts of the past" when in Germany.  However, his contact with the German brewers led first to ties of professional appreciation, and then to feelings of friendship.  "One thing organically led to another," he says,"and today I feel very much at home when I visit Germany, which I do around once a month."

So kudos to David for setting his own path, as he did in 2006 when he opened Dancing Camel, Israel's first craft brewery.        

December 31, 2017

Four breweries and their new brews

"Churn" may be a good word to describe the Israeli craft beer industry today.  Always moving, new beers and exciting events, new faces and constant surprises.  Year's end is a good time to review some new beers and their breweries – some veteran, a newcomer, and even a merger.

Matt Neilson (left) and his father Denny
with their Buster's Apple Cider.
The Buster's Beverage Company on Moshav Naham near Beit Shemesh began originally in the home on Denny Neilson in Mevasserat Zion more than a decade ago.  Neilson is a true practitioner of what he calls, the "fermentation arts."  He makes – and teaches how to make – beer, wine and distilled spirits, and sells the necessary equipment and ingredients. 

Neilson first called his enterprise The Winemaker, then Isra-Ale, and today Buster's (after their recently deceased family dog).  The Buster's distillery-brewery turns out three kinds of hard apple cider and two kinds of alcoholic lemonade, all delicious.  They also distill and bottle a line of liquors under the Pioneer label: so far spiced rum, arak, vodka, moonshine and apple brandy.   This year, they also began to brew a new line of craft beers, which now includes a Pilsner, Oak-Aged Stout, India Pale Ale (IPA), and a Smoked Lager.

Neilson relates: "When we came on aliya around 15 years ago, and I told people what I want to do, they said, 'Nobody drinks beer.'  But we believed there was a market for people who wanted to make their own beer and wine.  We wanted to provide a one-stop service for all their needs."

Today, even though Neilson still give his home-brewing classes, Buster's concentrates on production rather than education.  Beer enthusiasts in Israel have a great appreciation for Neilson's brewing skills, and they welcomed the introduction of his craft beer line.      

Buster's new Smoked Lager,
brewed with hickory-smoked
malt from Traeger Grills.
The Smoked Lager is the most recent to appear.  In the past year, no less than three Israeli craft breweries have introduced smoked beer.  The very distinct taste is achieved by smoking the malted grain before it is used to brew the beer.

Buster's Beverage teamed up with Traeger Grills to smoke the malt.  Neilson's son Matt calls Traeger, "the Rolls-Royce of meat-smoking grills."  In this case, barley malt, not meat, was smoked in the grill by burning hickory wood.  "This took us a few days," Matt said.

What the hickory-smoked malt does is give the beer a rich barbecue taste – as if the beer itself had been hanging in a Traeger grill.

The aroma from this clear, golden amber liquid is unmistakably smoked meat, maybe sausage or pastrami (at least that's what I remember from the last time I had them about 40 years ago!), and smoked cheese, along with some sweet malt.  On the tongue, you get some spicy bitterness from the hops, but the dominant flavor is smoked malt.  Alcohol by volume is 5.5%.

Only one batch of this beer was brewed, so you might have trouble finding any bottles left in stores.  However, Matt Neilson tells me that by popular demand, they will probably be brewing more.  If you can't get enough of smoked meats, this is the beer for you.

Basel Massad (left) and
Amir Elouti of the
Nazareth Brewery.
The Nazareth Brewery went commercial last year with a lovely American Wheat beer.  For four years before that, partners Basel Massad and Amir Elouti, both 33, had been brewing beer at home and in a smaller facility for their own use and for very local distribution to family and friends. 

"We brewed a different beer every week," says Massad, "but the both of us loved this American Wheat and the reactions to it were very good.  So we decided to take the big step and brew it in commercial quantities.  The two of us, however, kept our day jobs, which are in high-tech."  
To produce the quantities they need, they contract brew at the Beer Bazaar Brewery in Kiryat Gat.  Nazareth American Wheat is now available in liquor and beer stores in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Haifa, Akko and of course, Nazareth. 

"In Nazareth, everybody drinks beer, including the Moslems," jokes Massad.  He and Elouti, however, are Christians.  Perhaps that explains why they allowed themselves to use a logo which some may say is sacrilegious: It's the face of Jesus the Nazarene in the shape of a hop cone, with a hop beard and a crown of hop leaves! 
The hop-shaped face of
Jesus the Nazarene, with a hop beard
and a crown of hop leaves.
In the West Bank, there are two other Christian-owned breweries:  The most veteran of these is the Taybeh Brewery in Taybeh, and Shepherd's Brewery in Birzeit near Ramallah.

As to the Nazareth beer itself, it is a fine example of the American wheat ale style.  Alcohol by volume is 4.5%.  The color is a slightly cloudy orange-gold with a frothy white head.  The aroma is sweet and hoppy, with none of the clove and banana notes you find in the older and more traditional German wheats.  The flavor has a gentle bitterness with citrus and yeast.  I found the body light and the finish refreshing – sort of like a pale lager but with much more taste.  I can see why Nazareth Brewery chose this to be its flagship beer.        
Massad and Elouti plan to bring out a second beer early next year.  Although they have not yet decided on the style, they say it will be something "different," like the American Wheat.

Jeremy Welfeld, founder and partner of the
Jem's Beer Factory, relaxing at the brewery
and restaurant in Petach Tikva. 
Another new wheat beer is named Hoppy Hanukka, brewed to commemorate this festive season by the Jem's Beer Factory in Petach Tikva.  It is not in the image of your other winter holiday ales, popular in Europe and the U.S., which are dark, sweet and alcohol-heavy.   
Hoppy Hanukka is a very moderate 5% alcohol.  The color is a medium amber with a thin head.  (Jem's founder and partner Jeremy Welfeld claims that the color is like "the light of Hanukka.")  You get some aroma of cloves from the wheat ale yeast, but mostly tropical and citrus fruits from the hops. 

Jem's Hoppy Hanukka beer against a
background of a beer bottle menorah.
The taste is a very clean and refreshing bitter, with notes of summer fruits and spice.  It's a very interesting beer.  I can say that I have not tasted this combination of flavors before.  Now, what that has to do with Hanukka, I cannot tell you, but it is a lovely experience.

Hoppy Hanukka is available (while it lasts) only at the Jem's restaurants in Petach Tikva, Ramat Hachayal, Ra'anana, Kfar Saba, Caesarea and Modi'in. 

Welfeld opened the Jem's Beer Factory and Brewpub in 2009 with partner Daniel Alon.  Today, with all six outlets pumping beer and with sales in stores and restaurants throughout Israel, Jem's has become a craft beer powerhouse.  The brewery produces seven core beers – Dark Lager, Pilsner, Wheat, Stout, 8.8 Belgian Strong, Amber Ale, and IPA – plus occasional seasonal beers like Hoppy Hanukka.

American-born Welfeld came to Israel and served in the IDF in 1984-87, before returning to the U.S. to study food management and brewing science.  He earned his wings working in restaurants, brewing and catering – including catering for the White House.

"I've always been a service guy," he says.  "That's what defines what I do.  Making the beer is easy.  The hard part is to sell it and to keep giving your customers excellent, personal service."

Gilad Ne-Eman, partner and brewer of the new
Tog Brewery in Beersheva, presents the first
six-pack of new beers to the old blogger.

(Photo: Mike Horton)
The Israeli south has not lagged behind in the craft beer renaissance.  With Beersheva as the hub, a number of small and not-so-small breweries have sprung up, in addition to an active home-brewing community.

Two breweries – Gilad Ne-Eman's HeChalutz ("The Pioneer") and Tomer Ronen's HaDag HaLavan ("The White Fish") – have recently merged to form Tog (rhymes with rogue).  They brew their beers at the Beer Bazaar Brewery in Kiryat Gat. 

Tog, the blue desert lizard,
logo-mascot of the
new Tog Brewery.  
"Tog is the name we gave to our new logo mascot, a blue desert lizard," explains Ne-Eman.  "His fearsome face is on every label, and on one label he's standing there holding the map of Israel like a surfboard!"

Ne-Eman and Ronen have worked together for two years on several projects promoting craft beer in the south.  For example, they organize Beersheva's only beer festival, known as the Beer7 Fest, which attracts dozens of brewers and hundreds of visitors.   They run the Brew Shop in Beersheva, a center for learning home brewing and purchasing equipment and ingredients; Israeli and foreign craft beers are also on sale.  They have founded a home-brewers' club which is among the biggest in Israel.  
Most recently, Ne-Eman and Ronen have organized a competition for home-brewers, known as Isra-Brew, which will award prizes for the best beers in several categories.  The winners will be announced at the end of February. 

"After working together on so many projects, it was only natural for the two of us to join together to brew our beers," adds Ne-Eman.  "We share the same philosophy about brewing beers that are different and creative, and that is what we pledge to continue doing under the Tog label."

The three new beers from the Tog Brewery
in Beersheva: Kimat Esser, HeChalutz,
and 40° in the Shade.

(Photo: Mike Horton)  
There are currently three Tog beers being marketed.  Two are versions of beers originally produced by the separate breweries:

40° in the Shade – A blond ale geared for summertime drinking.  4.7% alcohol.  Light, fruity hop aroma; mildly bitter taste with citrus, yeast and malt.  Dry and refreshing.  Brewed originally by HaDag HaLavan.

HeChalutz – A 5.5% American pale ale, with an aroma and taste of citrus and tropical fruits, herbs and grass.  Well balanced with hops and malt; moderately bitter.  This was originally brewed by HeChalutz and called Totzeret Ha'aretz ("Made in Israel").  After the merger, the name was changed to HeChalutz because it was the beer most associated with the brewery.

The Tog Brewery logo, including the
face of the blue desert lizard.  
The third beer is a new creation from Tog, called Kimat Esser ("Almost Ten"), referring to the high 9.8% alcohol by volume.  This is a beer in the Belgian tradition of strong ales: Dark, red amber color, sweet and high in alcohol.  The aroma is fruity and caramel.  On the tongue, you get more caramel, a strong alcohol taste (perhaps plum brandy), prune and other dark fruits. 

This is a beer that I associate with the winter holiday ales so popular at this time of year.  It is best enjoyed in front of a roaring fireplace while snow is gently falling all around.  Hey, where am I living?  Kimat Esser is a beautiful, full-flavored beer that will warm you through our Israeli winter months.  
Tog beers are available in bottles and on tap in many places in the south, including Beersheva, Sderot and Ofakim, as well as in Kfar Saba, Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.  "We are working very hard on expanding our distribution network so that craft beer drinkers everywhere will be able to have our beers," concludes Ne-Eman.  

A version of this article appeared in The Jerusalem Post Friday Magazine.

December 27, 2017

American breweries tour: Part Two -- Riverhead, New York

The next stop on my U.S. breweries tour was Riverhead, New York, located on the eastern end of Long Island, that fish-shaped isle which incorporates Brooklyn and Queens in the west, Nassau County in the center, and Suffolk County in the east.

In Nassau and Suffolk Counties alone,  there are today no less than 32 craft breweries.  According to many press reports, these breweries -- and all craft breweries across America -- are doing their part to revitalize their towns' economic fortunes.  "Build a craft brewery," the Associated Press wrote, "and urban revival will come."     

Len and Abigail at home in Westhampton.
I was visiting my friends Len and Abigail at their home in nearby Westhampton for the weekend, when Len said that Riverhead, a small, unexciting town of 33,500 souls, had three craft breweries.

"Wouldn't it be a good idea if we could visit all of them before the Sabbath?" Len wondered.

I was not inclined to decline.

We decided to bring some food to have with the many beers that were awaiting us.  We stopped in the Pera Bell Food Bar on Main Street to buy some sandwiches and pizza.  We told the Mixologist-Manager David Chiarella about our mission and he insisted we start having beers right there in his establishment.  After all, it was a dark and rainy afternoon with almost no one on the streets; perhaps he feared we would not find the breweries and end up empty handed.

David Chiarella welcomes the old blogger
at the Pera Bell Food Bar
in Riverhead, New York.
David offered us two local beers:

NOFO Farmhouse Ale, a saison style beer from the Long Ireland Brewery right there in Riverhead.  Typical saison yeast aromas of spice, some cloves, and malt.  The taste is sour apple, but also with a sweet note, maybe honey.  (Hey, Rosh Hashana!).  The finish is crisp and spicy.

Honey Robber Cream Ale from the Blue Point Brewery in Patchogue, Long Island.  This is a spring seasonal beer brewed with honey.  Starts with a lush aroma of cream soda (vanilla and caramel), and a vegetal, acerbic taste, also malt sweetness, honey and light spicy hops. 

Thus fortified, Len and I drove through the foggy streets of Riverhead to the Crooked Ladder Brewing Company.  We found the tasting room filled with warm, friendly people, but unheated.  Luckily, we knew how to drink with our coats on.

The brewmaster Stevie Czelatka welcomed us and invited us to spread out our feast at the bar while he served up his beers.  We took the $10 "Everything on Tap" flight, which included a souvenir pint glass.

First up was Southampton Light, a 3.6% ABV American light lager, which was perhaps a tastier version of the mass produced lager beers that Americans consume by the lakefull.  There was no problem with it clashing with the flavor of our food.

Next was the Southampton Keller Pilsner, a refreshing and hoppy German-style Pilsner lager with 5% alcohol.

Going up in strength, we then had the Southampton Double White, a Belgian witbier (7.2% ABV) with ample wheat flavors plus citrus.  Len found a note of banana in the mix as well.

The old blogger is dwarfed by Stevie Czelatka,
Brewmaster at the Crooked Ladder Brewing Co.
in Riverhead, New York. 
The Southampton Secret Ale was in the classic "altbier" style of a German brown ale.  Even the "Secret" in the name is a translation from the "Sticke" style of strong altbier.  It was a dark copper color, with a roasty or nutty malt flavor, smooth mouthfeel and crisp finish.  The hop presence was very low in this 5.2% beer.

Our next tasting, the Southampton Imperial Porter, had a full body and rich taste that I really appreciated.  It was a very dark brown with no head of foam and high in alcohol -- 7.2%.  The flavor was dominated by dark chocolate, but also with some caramel.

I asked Stevie why "Southampton," one of the neighboring Hampton towns, was in the name of all of these beers.  He said that the Southampton Brewery had recently purchased the Crooked Ladder, and the two breweries sold their beers in each other's taprooms.  As far as I can tell, however, the Crooked Ladder has maintained its independent operation, as has the Southampton Publick House, which is the brewpub of the Southampton Brewery.

Ashley and Amelia, the two lovely servers
at the Crooked Ladder.
At any rate, the next beer was a Crooked Ladder original -- "Outta My Vine" -- an out-of-season pumpkin ale.  This was full of the pumpkin pie taste that craft beer drinkers seem to love or hate.  Brewed with pumpkin, cinnamon and fresh ginger, it was brown in color, 5.7% alcohol, with a strong cinnamon aroma and tastes of cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger and roasted malt.  Like I said, pumpkin pie.

Our last tasting was an IPA -- "It Was All A Dream" -- a wheat IPA, hopped and dry hopped with Citra, Simcoe and Amarillo hops, mouth puckeringly bitter with citrus flavors.  5.5% ABV.

Another of Crooked Ladder's IPAs, the 70 West IPA, was apparently the most popular and not surprisingly, sold out.  We actually saw customers walk in, ask for the 70 West, and then walk out when told it was all gone.  Didn't even say, "Well, let's try something else as long as we're here."  Just walked out.  Talk about brand loyalty!

Len and I weren't suffering from jet lag after that flight, and in fact were still pretty thirsty.  So we thanked Stevie for his hospitality and commentary, and headed off to our second destination -- Moustache Brewing Co.  It was still chilly and rainy and also much darker, which we neglected to take into consideration.

The lights and gemütlichkeit in the Moustache taproom deflected our attention from the gathering dark outside.  We had every good intention of arriving back home to Abigail by the start of the Sabbath, but there was certainly time for one more beer.

We had eight.  Owner and brewer of Moustache, Matthew Spitz, and his wife Lauri greeted us on this, the third anniversary of the brewery's opening.  Matthew said he was very satisfied with Riverhead's reception.  "The town knew what to do with a brewery, what we needed, and what we could bring to the community."

Len and I were joined in our tastings by Lori Mills and Scott Zoldak, the self-crowned "Hoppy Couple," whose very excellent pastime is visiting breweries and taprooms and aiming to taste all the beers they can find.  Our paths crossed at the Moustache.
In the Moustache Brewing Co. taproom,
owner and brewer Matthew Spitz spent
some time with the old blogger from Israel.

Here again, we took the flight:

First up was Sailor Mouth, a 6.5% IPA double dry-hopped with Comet and Amarillo hops.  It had a strong citrus and spice aroma, and a bitter spice taste that stays with you at least until the next beer. 

And that was Rally Beard, a double IPA, 8.8% in strength, reddish amber, heavy on the full range of citrus flavors.  A thoroughly tasty and enjoyable drink, Len and I agreed.

With Wanderlust ESB (Extra Special Bitter), we figuratively crossed the nearby Atlantic to the style of British amber ales.  This was 6.3% alcohol, given a mildly bitter character with American hops, and whose taste was halfway towards being a porter. 

Sharing smiles and beer with the "Hoppy Couple,"
Lori Mills and Scott Zoldak (center) in the
Moustache Brewing Co. taproom.
"Get Up On Outta Here" was a strong (8.5%) IPA brewed with Hüll Melon, Mandarina Bavaria and Motueka hops.  It had an aroma of citrus, tropical fruits and fresh earth, and strong citrus tastes.

Number five was Milk & Honey, a brown ale (it's actual color was reddish amber) made with lactose (milk sugar) and honey.  I couldn't help comparing it to Israel's own Milk & Honey stout made at the Alexander Brewery in Emek Hefer.  

Life of Leisure was an American pale ale brewed with Glade hops, which had a nose-filling floral aroma.  5.7% ABV.

Everyman's Porter, 4.5% alcohol, was a tasty, solid porter, nothing special, with the requisite chocolate and coffee notes. 
Len and me toasting the weekend,
this time with coffee!

Patiently waiting for us at the end of the line was a super beer -- Blueberry Ginger Triple, brewed of course with fresh blueberries and ginger, and aged in barrels previously holding Woodland Reserve bourbon whisky.  The alcoholic strength (10.6%) only enhanced the powerful and enticing blueberry element in the aroma, and kept pace with the delicious tastes of blueberry and ginger.      

Len and I were savoring every sip of this one, when we noticed the night outside the windows.  We thought of Abigail waiting for us at home with growing impatience as the Sabbath meal she had prepared got colder and she got hungrier.  We felt like bad boys who had stayed out too late -- which we were.  

All plans to visit the third brewery -- Long Ireland -- dissolved in our guilty consciences.  That would have to wait until next time, which meant, as it turned out, my next visit to America.

It was already the Sabbath when Len and I arrived back home.  It took Abigail a long while to forgive us, not only for being late but for not having called her to let her know.  It would have been too easy to blame the beer.  Len and I were suitably embarrassed and ashamed.  

Eventually, we all gathered together around the festive table to celebrate the holy day.

Len and I would be visiting more micro-breweries, but these would henceforth never be scheduled for a Friday afternoon.  

Join me in the final installment, when we take a subway to a brewery in the Bronx, the borough where I was raised and hadn't been back to for maybe 50 years!  

December 24, 2017

More places to buy Israeli boutique beer on tap in Machane Yehuda

"Why does he only write about places in Machane Yehuda?" you may well be asking.  Well, I know there are restaurants and bars that have craft beers on tap in every city in Israel, and in some places that are much less than cities.  But I don't get to these locations very often, certainly not enough to do the kind of research that went into my previous posting and map.   [Read about the other establishments here and get the full pictorial map here.] 

Jerusalem is my city, and Machane Yehuda is my stomping ground -- and from what I can see every week, it's also a major attraction for people from all over the country and foreign visitors as well.

Two new eateries and drinkeries in the Machane Yehuda market in Jerusalem have begun to sell Israeli craft beer on draft.  We'll eventually add these to our map of such locations, but in the meantime, here's the info about them.

(If you know of any other bars in Machane Yehuda which are selling Israeli craft beer on tap, and are not on my map, please let me know.)

17 Afarsek
Daniel mans the taps selling
                      Alexander, Mosco, Jem's and Herzl beers.                                      

Sweet, savory and gluten-free crepes
47 Etz Chaim
Jem's 8.8 and Pils being served by Bosmat and Noa.

December 11, 2017

A sweet-and-sour Thanksgiving

Since we are a (sort of) traditional Jewish family living in Israel, but still with strong familial and cultural ties to the U.S. of A. (the "old country"), we try to celebrate Thanksgiving, but normally move our Thanksgiving meal from Thursday to Friday night, joining it to our Sabbath meal.

This year we actually did both.  And it gave me an opportunity to continue with my exploration and appreciation of sour or "wild" beers.  Here's what we did:

On Thanksgiving Thursday, I made a vegan Sweet 'n' Sticky Stirfry, about as far as you can get from the traditional turkey and stuffing and sweet potato pie.  (However, in a nod to tradition, Trudy made a beautiful pumpkin pie.) 

As the name says, the stirfry was indeed sweet.  Why not pair it, I thought, with something sour?  Since we are still waiting for an Israeli brewery to make a sour beer,  I had to use an import.  I was lucky enough to have a cold bottle of Lindemans Geuze Lambic Beer, imported from Belgium.

Geuze is a born-in-Belgium beer style in the lambic family, but not as sour and acidic as straight lambics.  It has traditionally been prepared by blending young and old lambic beers which have been fermenting in wooden barrels to achieve their sour character.  The younger beer is less sour than the older and still contains fermentable sugars.  When mixed with the older beers and bottled, you get a second fermentation and a beer that is complex, balanced, acidic and well carbonated -- geuze.

The Lindemans geuze (5% alcohol) uses a new technique which filters the beer and adds COand candy sugar to a year-old lambic, making it slightly sweeter and more carbonated than the traditional "old geuze" style. 

Nevertheless, it was still plenty sour for novices to this style, which I am.

But I must say it worked.  The sweetness and richness of the stirfry was cut by the carbonation and the sour fruit and apple taste of the beer.  I also detected some vanilla and caramel in the taste, which added to the mix.  Sweet and sour is a very acceptable combination of tastes for our western palates. My mouth enjoyed putting them together, even though they came from two different sources!  What an interesting way to do Thanksgiving.

The sour geuze was also not bad with the sweet pumpkin pie.

The next night, we had cholent, a traditional Sabbath stew made with beans, barley and potatoes.  Some people add meat, but in our vegetarian kitchen, Trudy uses soya chunks and veggie hot dogs.  Many people leave the cholent in a warm oven for the entire night, to make it even thicker and creamier for the Sabbath lunch.

We paired our cholent with the only commercial pumpkin beer made in Israel -- Pumpkin Ale from the Galil Brewery on Kibbutz Moran in the central Galilee.  In America, pumpkins are forever intertwined with Thanksgiving and the month-earlier holiday of Halloween. 

So the cholent-pumpkin ale combination was in some way the opposite of the stirfry-geuze.  The cholent was salty and spicy, eaten together with a pickle and mustard, while the pumpkin ale was fruity and malty with sweet spice.  It was not a perfect pairing, but an interesting one which still had echoes of the harvest holiday.     

It seems to me that the Galil Pumpkin Ale, which has been coming out every fall for at least five years, has become stronger in the taste of dla'at (which is the nearest Israeli gourd to the American pumpkin) and pumpkin pie spices.

The ale is a brown amber color with a thin head.  Alcohol by volume is 5.1%.  The aromas are not very pronounced, some spice, caramel and malt.  The label does not say which spices are used in the beer, but I was able to taste some cinnamon and nutmeg, in a sweet envelope -- the same as were in our pumpkin pie. 

There was still some beer left over to accompany my pumpkin pie, and in this case they complemented each other quite well.  A nice ending to the Greeners' two-day holiday of Thanksgiving.           

November 29, 2017

New beer roundup

The time has come to catch up with some new beers on the market.  I'm never going to be able to keep up with the pace at which new beers are being launched -- and that's a good thing.  It means that Israeli micro-breweries have reached a level of sustainability in creating new beers for the growing market which constantly demands new tastes and experiences.

We'll begin with two new Pilsners.

Pilsner lager beer was first introduced in the Czech city of Plzen in 1842 and quickly became the most popular beer style in Europe.  The Germans began to brew their own version of Pilsner, and today in America, craft breweries are doing the same.  In Israel, a number of craft breweries also make a Pilsner-style beer.   
Pilsner lagers are known for their clarity, golden color, spicy hop flavors, flavorful malt, light body and crisp, clean mouthfeel.  It's no wonder their popularity swept across the beer-drinking world.  

Pair your Pilsners with light appetizers and food, salads, mild cheeses, salsa and other dips, grain dishes, stir-fries, and light desserts (lemony or berry).

Lela Pilsner
From Eli Bechar of the Lela Brewery in Maccabim (brewed commercially at the Mosco Brewery) comes a "Gentle" Pilsner, an even lighter version of a light beer.  With only 3.8% alcohol, Lela Pilsner pours out clear and pale with very fine carbonation.  The aromas were very fresh, including lemon and hay (not unusual for a Pilsner), but there was also a note of something that I can only call "soft boiled egg whites."  
The body is very light, but there are excellent flavors: bitter citrus and raw wheat.  The carbonation tickles your tongue like the gas in soda.  A very interesting Pilsner, indeed.

Mosco Pilsner
Mosco is one of the veteran Israeli craft breweries and, as you read above, often contracts out its facilities to smaller and newer brewers.  Owners Amir Lev and Yaron Moscovich have recently added a Pilsner and a Smoked Beer to their repertoire. 

The Pilsner is as classic as you can get.  Clear and pale yellow with light carbonation and 3.8% alcohol, the aromas that hit you first are grass, yeast and fresh grain.  These are also in the mid-bitter taste, with the grain morphing into malt, and also citrus and vegetal.  The finish is crisp and astringent.

Even though Pilsner lagers are associated with summertime drinking, these are beers you can enjoy year-round, even during the cold and rainy months ahead of us.  Israeli breweries are becoming very adept at perfecting this styles, and there is no reason for us to choose imported beers in their place.  

Mosco Smoked Beer
The other new beer from Mosco is a Smoked Beer, which earlier this year took first place in the Flavored Beer category in the Golden Beer competition for Israeli commercial brewers.  (See the entire list of winners here.)     

Smoked beer is a style which has achieved a certain following abroad, with most beer drinkers either liking it a lot or the opposite.  

Just a few Israeli micro-breweries make a smoked beer.  I can think of Black Jack Smoked Stout from Beer Bazaar in Kiryat Gat, Cool Madjul from Beertzinut on Kibbutz Ketura, and Smoked Stout from LiBira Brewery in Haifa.  The beers get their smoky taste from the barley malt which is dried over an open flame.   

I personally find an extreme smoky taste hard to swallow -- which is why I enjoyed this new Mosco Smoked.   

The smokiness is not overpowering, just one of the taste-sensations among many.  The beer is a cloudy amber color with low carbonation.  Already in the aroma, the smoke is evident.  My drinking partner, Moshe, who is a carnivore, said that the smell was "smoked meat."  The taste is very rich and malty, with some smoke, caramel and yeast.  The smoke taste contributes to the long and dry finish.  Alcohol by volume is a hefty 7%.  

This is an enjoyable beer by itself, certainly with salty snacks, but would also pair well with foods that can be smoked, such as certain cheeses, vegetables and desserts.

Lela Date Ale

Another new beer from Lela is a Date Ale ("Tmarim"), brewed with silan (date syrup) instead of grain.  Since it is made at the Mosco Brewery, which does use wheat and barley in its equipment, the Date Ale cannot be called "gluten-free," but simply, "For people who avoid gluten."  Alcohol by volume is 5.4%.  The silan is made from premium dates grown in the Jordan Valley.

Lela Date Ale pours out with the color and look of Coca Cola, finely carbonated.  On the nose, you get chocolate-covered dates.  The tastes we picked up were sweet licorice, molasses, bitter dark chocolate, carob, burnt dates and Tamar Hindi (a Middle Eastern drink made with tamarind fruit).  With all these tastes, the finish is long and moderately bitter.  

This was a fresh bottle of beer, so the tastes were all quite distinct.  I think these would dissipate as the bottle ages, so I recommend you drink this beer as fresh as possible.

Even though hops are used in brewing Lela Date Ale, we found no presence in the aroma or taste.

Lela Date Ale is a tasty and interesting drink.  Even though I personally have a problem accepting as "beer" any beverage which gets its fermentable sugars from something other than grain, you may have a different opinion.  Taste it and let me know what you think.

Buster's IPA

After bringing out an Oak Aged Stout and a Pilsner (read about them here and here), the Buster's Brewing Company in Beit Shemesh has released an India Pale Ale.  Brewmaster Denny Neilson has pulled out all the stops and produced an IPA in the American (West Coast) style -- hoppy, fruity and bitter.  

A few years back, Denny was brewing a Double IPA called Chutzpah ("Insolence").  He sold it only at his store and a few other beer events, and never if it was over two weeks old.  After that, he said, the hop flavors would get too mellowed out -- in short, they would lose their chutzpah.  (Read more about the original Chutzpah here.)

The new Buster's IPA tips its hat to its predecessor by telling you on the label that it's "Beer with a little chutzpah," and "Very hoppy, do not age!"  It's also only 4.8% alcohol by volume, so you can easily enjoy more than one bottle at a time.  It's made with Cascade hops for the bitterness, and then hopped and dry-hopped with Columbus, Centennial and Simcoe hops for the flavors and aromatics.

Buster's IPA has a partly cloudy, golden orange color, and a thin white head.  The hop aromas are ripe pineapple, lemon zest and pine, with some peach as well.  The tastes continue with fruit and citrus, finishing with dry lemon, very hoppy and very bitter.  My drinking partner Moshe found the bitterness, "a bit exaggerated, like a punch in the face," but I had no problem with it.  As Israeli tastes go, this is one of the more "extreme" IPAs -- and one of the most enjoyable.