November 24, 2015

The old blogger's beer lecture

I think more people came to taste the beer than to listen to my lecture, but so what?  From the reaction of the crowd (all 30 of them), everybody had a good time, including me.

Drinking beer and listening to the old blogger:
What a treat!

(Photo: Mike Horton)
The lecture was given last week at the Conservative Center in Jerusalem.  (That's Conservative Judaism, not a local branch of the Tea Party.)  The event was a personal triumph for me, your old blogger.  My forte, such as it is, has always been in writing -- printed communication -- not speaking in public.

There's this scene from "Shakespeare in Love," just before the premiere of Romeo & Juliet.  The narrator is a stutterer who can't get a sentence out.

Will Shakespeare says, "We're lost."  The director answers him, "No, it'll work out."  Shakespeare asks, "How?"  The director says, "I don't know, but it always does."

Beer-drinking pharaohs.
(Photo: Mike Horton)
Well, it also worked out fine for me.  I quickly traced the origins of beer at the dawn of grain domestication, through the great civilizations of the Fertile Crescent and the Nile.  Beer was a necessity of life in those regions; less so in the Land of Canaan and Israel, where we had bountiful grapes and wine as well.  

I showed that beer ("sheichar" in Hebrew) is mentioned several times in the Bible and the Talmud, where the early rabbis discuss under what conditions it can be imbibed and for which religious ceremonies it can be used.  I then jumped to the modern period, when beer began to be brewed in the British Mandate of Palestine, and the consolidation of two huge industrial breweries in the State of Israel.

Pouring craft beer for the tasting.
(Photo: Mike Horton)
I concluded with the flowering of Israeli micro-breweries only in the last decade.  Although they account for only a minute proportion of all the beer consumed in Israel, they provide Israelis with the impressive range of aromas and tastes of quality craft beers.  And they provide me with all I need for writing this modest web log.

At the end of my lecture (which is why nobody left in the middle), we tasted four beers.  The first was an industrial beer, the Maccabee 7.9%, because I wanted the audience to experience the taste (or non-taste) of the big beers.  Well, they actually liked it!  And, to tell the truth, it is not at all bad, as far as industrial beers go.

Leading the tasting session.
(Photo: Mike Horton) 
We then tasted three very different craft beers, which had been generously donated by the brewers:

Bavarian Wheat from Emek Ha'ela (Srigim Brewery)
IPA . . vaZeh from Herzl Beer
Porter Alon from the Negev Brewery

I encouraged the audience members to shout out their reactions to the aromas and tastes of the new beers.  Many were tasting craft beers for the first time and registered their surprise and delight.  Others, conditioned for years by drinking only industrial lagers, found the flavors too intense.  That's what makes the world go round.    

Iron Age beer drinking jug.
(Slide: Mike Horton)
I would like to thank the esteemed graphic artist and photographer Mike Horton for preparing the 15 slides which accompanied my talk, and my son Aharon the archaeologist for borrowing an authentic early Iron Age Philistine beer jug which I displayed and demonstrated to the audience.  

Thanks also to my friend Bob Faber and my wife Trudy, who poured the cold beer and kept it flowing to the audience.  We gave out printed matter from the breweries, my own blog cards, and malted barley for people to eat so they would know where beer comes from.

Special thanks as well to Rabbi Ed Romm of the Conservative Center for including me in his Monday Evening Forum schedule.  

It was such a high, I may want to do it again. 

November 18, 2015

New beer specialty store opens in Jerusalem

It may be small in size, but for beer lovers and home-brewers in Jerusalem, it's a giant event.

The grand opening of Beerateinu.
(Photo: Mike Horton)
With the opening of Beerateinu at 3 Yanai Street, the city finally has an Israeli craft beer specialty shop where you can purchase close to 100 different kinds of Israeli craft beers from over 20 micro-breweries. 

The name is a play on words which means "our capital" and "our beer." 

The Israeli beers on display include: HaDubim, Sparrow, HeChatzer, Mosco, Dancing Camel, Buster's (cider), Negev, Alexander, Vilde Chaye, Fass, Lela, Herzl, Arava, Emek Ha'ela, HeChalutz, Jem's, Cabara, Malka, Bazelet, Shapiro, Ronen, Meadan and Beertzinut.   

In addition, selected imported beers are also on sale, as well as new lines of Israeli craft distilled spirits, which is a fancy way to say "liquor."  The new distilleries are Pioneer Spirits (from Isra-Ale, makers of Buster's Cider and Chutzpah Beer) and Golan Heights.

Leon Shvartz (left) and Shmuel Naky
pumping the taps at Beerateinu.

(Photo: Mike Horton)
"With all due modesty, Jerusalem has been waiting for a place like this," says Beerateinu partner Leon Shvartz, who is also the owner of the Glen Whisky Bar across the road on Shlomzion Hamalka Street.  "Tel Aviv has had at least three stores like this for several years, while Jerusalemites didn’t have any place to find the full range of Israeli craft beers, including some quite small but excellent micro-breweries."

The other partner, Shmuel Naky, a bartender at the Glen, adds that Beerateinu also sells cold beer in bottles and on tap.  "We have six taps where we will be pumping different Israeli craft beers on a rotational basis," he says.  "People can sit around and enjoy cold beer and light snacks right in the shop.  For the time being, we open at 11:00 a.m. and close at 8:00 p.m.  It's a very nice social atmosphere and we will be adding on later hours."

Leon Shvartz pours malted barley
into the miller.

(Photo: Mike Horton)
Beerateinu sells bottles of Israeli craft beers for 14-16 shekels per 330 ml bottle, which is somewhat lower than prices were even a year ago.  "Because of the recent reduction in tax on beer, we were able to lower our prices," Shvartz explains.  Prices for all beer on tap is 15 shekels for a quarter of a liter, 20 shekels for a third, and 25 shekels for a half.

The third role of Beerateinu is home-brewing, and the back of the store is devoted to selling equipment and ingredients, as well as giving courses in home-brewing. 

"Making your own beer at home is growing in popularity all over Israel," says Shvartz.  "You can brew beer in your own kitchen or garage very inexpensively, and get a much better product than buying from the big, industrial brewers.  Until now, home-brewers in Jerusalem – and there might be hundreds of them – had to travel outside of the city to buy their equipment and ingredients.  No more.  We offer them everything they need right here.

Shmuel Naky (left) and Leon Shvartz,
partners of Beerateinu.

(Photo: Mike Horton)
"And for those who want to begin home-brewing or improve their techniques, we are giving classes at all levels."

And here's more good news for Jerusalem beer aficionados: Within a short while, a branch of the Beer Bazaar, located in Tel Aviv's Carmel Market, will be opening in the Machane Yehuda Market.      

It's taken some time, but it looks like Jerusalem is finally on the craft beer map.

November 12, 2015

New foreign players

To tell the truth, I've never had any interest in following Israeli basketball, neither the local teams nor the national basketball team when it plays in the Euro league.  One of the reasons is that the teams are hardly Israeli.  Of the five players on the court at any one time, two or three are mercenaries -- mostly American basketball players, perhaps NBA rejects, who are hired by the Israeli teams to play for a season or two.

So having a winning team really comes down to being able to hire better foreign mercenaries than the foreign mercenaries hired by the other teams.  What does that have to do with "Israeli basketball"?

When I ask this, sport fans tell me, "well, bringing these guys over here to play in Israel is helping to raise the level of all Israeli basketball."

Yotam Baras presenting the new beers.
(Photo: Mike Horton)
If that's really true, maybe it works with craft beer too.  I was just at a launch in the Glen Whisky Bar in Jerusalem of two new foreign beer brands in Israel -- heavy hitters from Germany and Belgium which perhaps will raise the standard for our own brewers.

The first of these is the Riegele Brewery from Augsburg in Bavaria.  Riegele is a family brewery that has been making good, solid beers since 1386(!).  The current owner, Sebastian Priller-Riegele, is a world-famous beer sommelier (cicerone), who decided to add craft beers to the brewery's repertoire.  They now make eight different craft beers, six of which are imported into Israel, five of which we tasted.

Doing the presenting was Yotam Baras, formerly from The Dictator Brewery.  Yotam is now head of marketing for Protary's Craft Beers, the importers of Riegele.  All of these beers come in 660 ml bottles, that is, double the size of regular beer bottles.  "When you're dealing with such quality," Yotam told us, "it would be a shame to have it in small packages."      

And quality it was!  Starting at the lighter end of the spectrum, the first beer we tasted was called Simco 3, a very aromatic pale ale, rich in tropical fruit flavors.  There is a very hoppy aroma, caramel and citrus, and a pleasant bitter finish.  Alcohol by volume is 5%.  The "3" in the title refers to three different kinds of hops used in this beer.  One of them, as you might have guessed, is Simcoe from the U.S.
The Riegele line of craft beers from Bavaria.
(Photo: Mike Horton)

The second beer was Amaris 50, a pale Pilsner lager.  The "50" refers to the international bitterness units (IBUs), which make this a very bitter beer.  Yet there was also spicy hop aroma and tastes of lemon and pine.  ABV is 5%.

Beer number three was Ator 20, a 7.5% ABV double bock (doppelbock), the very heavy and strong lager beers originally brewed by German monks.  "-Ator" has become the suffix used for naming double bock beers, and the "20" refers to the Plato scale used to measure the amount of fermentable sugars to water.  The beer poured a dark reddish-brown with a thick cream-colored head.  I got tastes of licorice and prunes, with a caramel sweetness.  It was full-bodied and "chewy" -- no wonder the monks called double bock beer, "liquid bread."  Although the alcohol level is high, you hardly taste it.

Ator 20 has won the silver medal for double bock beers in this year's European Beer Star competition.

Next in line was Augustus 8, a weizenbock beer, in other words, a strong bock beer made with a good portion of malted wheat.  This adds a creaminess to the beer, as well as the distinctive characteristics of a wheat beer: ripe banana, orange, cloves and spice.  This is definitely a sweet beer, with tastes of fruits and hops.

Augustus was the Roman emperor who founded Augsburg, home of the Riegele Brewery, and the"8" refers to the 8% ABV.

Our last beer in the Riegele line was a big, bold imperial stout named Noctus 100.  This beer poured as black as night ("noctus" in Latin), measuring 100 on the SRM (standard reference method) for measuring the color of beer.  One hundred is way off the charts; nothing can be darker.

This is a beer you feel you can eat.  The dominant tastes are dark chocolate, espresso and roasted coffee, along with licorice, dried fruits and caramel.  This strong (10% ABV), beautiful beer was made to enjoy during the wintry days and nights that bless our globe.  It's also a perfect pairing for the strongest tasting, spiciest foods, the most powerful, smelliest cheeses, and the sweetest dark chocolate desserts.

The Gulden Draak beers from Belgium.
(Photo: Mike Horton)
After we finished the Riegele beers, Yotam popped the caps of two Gulden Draak (Golden Dragon) beers from the Van Steenberge Brewery in Ertvelde, Belgium -- also making their Israeli premiers.    

The first we tasted was Gulden Draak 9000, in the black bottle, a quadruple Belgian ale with 10.5% alcohol.  Yotam explained that the ABV was boosted by the use of wine yeast, which produces more alcohol.  This dark amber-colored beer had a delicious flavor of yeast, malt, dark fruits and bananas.  "Rich and round" is what came to mind.  The strong alcohol is unmistakable, giving you a warm feeling all the way down.

The Gulden Draak Dark Strong Ale, in the white label, is a darker brown color than the 9000 but with the same 10.5% alcoholic content.  I found it more balanced than the 9000. with similar tastes but sweeter, more intense flavors: brown sugar, caramel, bananas, espresso and spices.  This is a beer you sip and savor; something that the Belgians seem to do so right.

So in the end, I guess it's good to have these new players in Israel.  They present a standard to which Israeli brewers can aspire.  Certainly, nothing even close to the dark German and Belgian beers is made in Israel, and it's good that we have this choice when we buy beer.

Yet, I must add that it's difficult for me in good conscience to recommend that you buy these beers.  They are made in the same European Union which is requiring member states to label certain Israeli products from the West Bank (Judea and Samaria).  Google "territorial disputes" and you'll be amazed at how many countries on every continent have disagreements over borders with their neighbors, and consider the other side to be "occupying" their land.  Yet the EU, in its wisdom, has chosen to penalize only Israel with its labeled products.

Labeling of certain products, however, is left to the discretion of individual countries.  Germany has reacted strongly against the EU guidelines, but Belgium has been labeling Israeli products from the West Bank for years.

Those are the facts, and I leave it to my readers to decide what to buy and from where.  Personally, I feel ill at ease whenever I purchase anything which supports the European Union.  I would much rather choose a product from the good ole U.S.A.  

On the other hand, these are great beers. Maybe if we don't make too much of a habit about it . . .

November 10, 2015

My lecture on beer here in the Middle East

I am giving a lecture in English on the origins of beer brewing in the Middle East, including the flowering of Israeli craft beers during the last decade.  We will also taste three different styles of Israeli beers, generously donated by the breweries.

The lecture will be on Monday night, November 16 at 8:00 pm, at the Fuchsberg Center for Conservative Judaism, 8 Agron Street in Jerusalem.  Admission is 20 shekels.

If you're in the area, please come, enjoy the lecture and the beer, and say hello.  It should be a good time for all.

Doug Greener

P.S.  Please let me know if you're coming so we'll be sure to have enough beer.

November 1, 2015

Off-the-blog events

It's not healthy to spend too much time glued to the pages of Israel Brews and Views, so I'd like to direct your attention to an online article and an online video which have appeared recently and may be of interest to you all.

The article appeared on the website Breaking Israel News, and it was written by Raphael Poch on the subject of Israeli micro-breweries.  Yours truly, the old blogger, was quoted a few times in this round-up of the Israel craft brewing scene.

You can access the full article by clicking here.  

The video was posted by Conrad Seidl, the "Beer Pope" of Austria, as one of the weekly reviews of beer on his blog.  In this particular video, Conrad reviews Embargo Cuban Tobacco Leaf Porter from Herzl Beer in Jerusalem.  And -- no surprise here -- the Beer Pope loves it.  Conrad's enthusiasm and expressive gestures make him a great presenter.  After drinking Embargo, he wonders whether he should be called the "Beer Rabbi."

View Conrad's video in English by clicking here.  Once you're on his blog site, you can also access a German version of the same thing, if you find that easier to understand.  

I wrote about Conrad Seidl in an earlier post after he visited Israel this summer.  You can refresh your memory by clicking here.  

October 14, 2015

Three new Israeli beers

For the past two or three years, some of the established Israeli craft breweries have been unveiling new beers at the annual BEERS Festival in Tel Aviv.  This year, three of them did so, and by now you can buy them in most stores wherever the brands are sold.

Two of them are stouts – the dark, heavy, roasty tasting beers made famous by Guinness of Ireland.  There are several different stout styles: they can be dry or a little sweet (milk stout), full-bodied or thin, and relatively low in alcohol or high (imperial stout). 

Stout beers are popular all over the world (I hear especially in Africa), and here in Israel many of the established craft breweries make this style.

Carobbean Stout from Dancing Camel 
in Tel Aviv

Dancing Camel in Tel Aviv has been brewing their Midnight Stout for years.  Now, owner-brewer David Cohen has unveiled his new Carobbean Stout – a clever name since this beer is made with carob, not a very common additive in beers. 

Many stouts are, however, made with coffee and/or chocolate added to the brewing process to give the beer these rich, dark tastes.  So why wouldn't carob work just as well.

It does.  This is a strong stout that pours out a luscious dark brown with a tan creamy head.  Carob is noticeable even in the aroma, and the flavors include carob, chocolate and caramel sugar.  Even though this is a strong stout with 7.2% alcohol by volume, you don't feel the alcohol in the taste.

Choose this stout when you're eating rich and spicy foods, cheddar cheese or even dark chocolate desserts.

Mosco Stout from the Mosco Brewery 
on Moshav Zanuach

Mosco Brewery on Moshav Zanuach near Beit Shemesh has come out with its first stout, adding to its regular line of blond, red and wheat ales.  According to my humble judgement, this stout is their best beer yet.

It pours out very dark, though has a much lower alcohol level than Carobbean, only 4.8%, closer to the average ABV for stouts.  The dominant aroma and flavor here is coffee, roasted coffee to be exact, with some yeast.  Moshe, my trusty drinking buddy, called it "an aggressive beer, rough," but it has a dry, bitter finish which I especially liked.
If you're a lover of classical stouts, this is a good one for you.

"M" from the Alexander Brewery 
in Emek Hefer

The Alexander Brewery in Emek Hefer unveiled their new "M" Beer, a Belgian saison-style.  Not too many Israeli breweries are making saisons, a beer traditionally brewed in the rural areas of France and Belgium during the cold months for drinking in the spring and summer seasons – hence its name.  Saisons are noted for their intense flavors, whether fruity, yeasty or spicy.  They are usually highly carbonated and rather bitter.

Alexander owner Ori Sagi told me at the BEERS Festival that "M" is named for the variety of ancient emmer wheat which is used for brewing this beer.  But what really gives saison its distinguishing characteristics is the yeast used.  Alexander imports its saison yeast directly from a Belgian brewery.

The smell of spicy hops is apparent in this pale orange-colored ale, as is sour grass.  The traditional saison tastes are also there, like spice, citrus and a light sourness.  Moshe, with a bit too much exaggeration, compared this beer to a "vegetable shake."  I appreciated the dry, fruity finish.  Alcoholic content is a comfortable 5.2%.

Saisons are delicious by themselves and also go well with spicy foods like Thai or our own Middle Eastern dishes such as felafel, hummus and tehina.  They are also fine with fatty cheeses like brie.

These three beers are welcome additions to Israel's growing craft beer repertoire.  Look for them in liquor stores.  If they're not there, ask for them.  

October 13, 2015

A taste of the gold

The winners of the Sam Adams Longshot competition for home-brewers were announced on the last night of the BEERS Festival in Tel Aviv this past summer.

At the time, I promised my readers that I would do my best to get and taste the five gold medal winners and report on them.  Well, it's taken me a little while, but I have been able to round up almost all of the winning beers -- and here's what I have to say:

Best-in-Show and Best Lager:
Jamoos Pilsner

The three partners of the Jamoos Garage Brewery on Moshav Yarchiv near Kfar Saba, and their families, were whooping it up at the ceremony.  Their Pilsner beer had just won first prize in the Lager category and as all-around Best-in-Show . . . and their Garage Stout had taken the gold in the Dark Ale category.

The Jamoos Garage Brewery clan.
American-born Ami Prager, one of the partners, told me that the three of them had served in the army together and enjoyed drinking beer in pubs.  "We saw an ad about the Longshot competition back in 2007 and decided that's what we wanted to do."  So Ami, Bentzi Alexander and Garry Barak took brewing courses and began to make beer.  When one of them bought a private house on Moshav Yarchiv, they moved their equipment into the garage and named themselves the Jamoos (Buffalo) Garage Brewery.

"In 2011," says Ami, "we won our first award in the Longshot competition, and we've won a prize every year since.  We brew 80 liter batches of beer about once a month.  We have a cooling system and do lager beers as well as ales."

"Most of our beer is given away to friends," Ami continues. "All of us have our day jobs and we're not ready to go commercial.  But maybe in the few years . . . "

The Jamoos Pilsner I had is very pale colored and well carbonated, as a pilsner lager should be, 5.2% alcohol by volume.  But from there it takes off in a non-traditional direction.  The aroma is of spice, non-distinct but sweet.  The taste has notes of peach and bazooka bubble gum -- very nice -- and for the finish, there's a surprising pepper burn in the back of your throat.  The beer is a pleasant symphony of flavors and sensations.  

 Best Dark Ale:
Jamoos Garage Stout

This is a very dark, near black stout, highly carbonated with a long-lasting tan head.  The taste is burnt spicy chocolate with coffee and a little celery.  There's no mistaking this is a stout beer, yet its combination of flavors makes it very distinct.  ABV is 5.5%.  Jamoos is definitely a brewery to watch.  If and whenever they do decide to "reach out" to the public, I highly recommend you buy and enjoy their beers.  

 Best Pale Ale:
            Bounteous American Pale Ale  

Ephraim Greenblatt is a home-brewer in Jerusalem who loves "fermenting."  Wine, whisky, vinegar, kombucha, kimchi, soy sauce -- he's done it all.  But his real passion is saved for beer.  

"My goal is to make the very best beer," he declares.  "Sometimes I will spend hours changing the most minute details -- the percentages of the malts, the temperature of the water, the original gravity -- all to get the final beer just a little bit close to perfection."  Ephraim's fervency for brewing is palpable.

And Ephraim has only been brewing for a year-and-a-half.  He came to Israel from Lawrence, NY, three years ago, got married and now, at age 27, has two young children.

Ephraim has chosen the name Bounteous Brewing Co. for his beers, but he named his first prize-winning American pale ale "Vinnie is Boss," after the legendary brewmaster Vinnie Cilurzo of the Russian River Brewery in California.  His recipe is based on the Russian River menu for APA.  Although his award-winning beer used Simcoe, Amarillo and Cascade hops, the tap version I had with him used all Mosaic hops.  These are put in towards the end of the boil, as well as used in dry-hopping and "hop tea," which he makes in a French coffee press and then adds to the vat just before bottling.
Ephraim Greenblatt:
Excellent beer from very tight quarters! 

The result, at 6.7% alcohol by volume, is an explosively hoppy and fruity pale ale.  I detected some pineapple notes and other less distinct fruits, as well as a light body and a nice, dry finish.  To me, this APA tasted like a very spirited India pale ale.  Why it is not has more to so with technical details than with taste and sensation, and I leave that to those on a higher pay scale.

Even though he is only an amateur home-brewer, this talented and dedicated young man is certainly an asset to the Israeli craft beer scene.   

 Best Freestyle:
                 Gecko India Dark Ale                        

Betzalel Fialkoff (left) and Kevin Unger
enjoying their Longshot victory.
Kevin Unger and Betzalel Fialkoff of Gecko Brewery in Beit Shemesh took first place in the Freestyle category last year with their Whisky Chips beer.  They came back again this year with their India Dark Ale.  This 7.2% ABV beer is a darker version of India pale ale, known for its strong hops aroma and bitterness, and increased alcoholic content.

The winning beer pours out a very dark brown with a reddish tinge and a tan head.  It's not as hoppy or as bitter as a regular IPA.  Although it has a spicy hop aroma, the dominant taste is sweet and roasty, the result of roasted barley malt being used instead of pale.  There are flavors of burnt caramel and chocolate.  It is a very finely tuned beer.

Wheat Beer:
Alman Belgian Wheat

Daniel Alman presenting
his beers.
Daniel Alman is a home-brewer from Kfar Daniel near Modi'in.  I met him to get his winning Belgian Wheat beer when I attended a meeting of Modi'in home-brewers.  This is a classical Belgian witbier, pale and cloudy, which Alman makes with coriander and orange peel, and with Hallertau and Tettnanger hops, noble hops which are low in bitterness and high in aroma.  I found it to have a particularly fruity taste and was very crisp and refreshing, with a tart finish.  As I said, well-done and classic.

Alman shared the first prize for wheat beers with the Penta Brewery, which made a smoked wheat beer.  I have not been able to track them down to get my hands and my tongue on this beer.  If I ever succeed, I'll let you know.

While I congratulate all the winners, I'm left with the question: What makes these beers first-prize winners?  Granted, they are all fine brews, but would they make a special impression on me, or anyone, who was just drinking them without previous knowledge of their awards?  I don't think so.  I have tasted quite a few unsung home-brews which have impressed me no less than these winners.  

In the end, we are left with our own olfactory nerves and taste buds to make our own decisions.  When all these choices come together, beers that win awards and beers that win our admiration, the brewers will know of it -- and this is what will influence the direction and quality of Israeli craft beer.