July 23, 2014

Man in search of beer in America: Part Four -- New York

My first stop in the Big Apple was my friend Ben in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn.  I arrived late and hungry, so we went out to eat in a local Chinese restaurant.  I couldn't resist ordering a Chinese beer, of course, and the only one they had was Tsingtao from the Tsingtao Brewery in Qingdao, China.

Knowing the huge scale they do things in China, I'm guessing Tsingtao must be the mother of all mass-produced beers.  It was a perfectly nondescript Pilsner-style lager (4.8% ABV), brewed with as much rice as the American industrial beers.      

With Ben in Brooklyn.
On the way back to Ben's apartment, we stopped in a grocery store and bought cold bottles of Brooklyn Summer Ale from the Brooklyn Brewery (where else?) to have as a nightcap.

Lots of boutique breweries make a summer ale.  These are designed to be light and "crispy," low in alcohol so you can drink two or more on a hot summer's day -- and we were four days into summer.

Brooklyn Summer Ale fits this category perfectly.  Everything about it is light.  It's 5% ABV and pours a light gold color.  The hops are moderate, coming in second to the rich taste of the malt.  There is also a light yeastiness in the flavor, and if this beer were any crispier, it would break.    

I met friends all the next day, including two women I was with in Sierra Leone 51 years ago, through Operation Crossroads Africa.  Over dinner, we reminisced, as always with wine, a lot of wine -- so the only thing I can write is that we had a great time.

The next day, Thursday, I was taking the old Long Island Rail Road out to Westhampton to spend a long weekend with my old friend and drinking buddy Len and his girlfriend Abigail.

Westhampton gardeners:
Len and Abigail.
On the way, I stopped in to the incredible Fairway Market on the Upper West Side of Manhattan for some window shopping -- and lo and behold, they had mix and match six-packs of craft beers, a la Florida, for $10.99.  I chose six very different style beers to bring with me to Westhampton.  Here they are:

Purple Haze from Abita Brewery in Abita Spring, Louisiana
Finestkind IPA from Smuttynose Brewing Company in Hampton, New Hampshire
Wolaver's Fine Organic Oatmeal Stout from Otter Creek Brewing in Middlebury, Vermont
Independent Full Sail Amber from Full Sail Brewing Company in Hood River, Oregon
Sawtooth Nitro from Left Hand Brewing Company in Longmont, Colorado
2014 Summerfest from Sierra Nevada Brewing Company in Chico, California

Out in Westhampton, Len added Springfling Ale from the local Blue Point Brewing Company in Patchogue, New York.

Brewology Pub:
We were too early.
We got off at the Speonk station, got into Len's car and drove over to the new Brewology Pub.  With a name like that, we had high hopes that it would not lack craft beers.

Alas, the friendly owner greeted us and told us that Brewology would only be opening in five days.  He promised us 24 American craft beers on tap.  [Since I left, Len and Abigail have gone back to Brewology and report that the food and the beers are excellent.]

We ate instead in an "Asian fusion" restaurant which seemed to have blended Chinese, 
Japanese and Thai food.  As has been my wont, we ordered Japanese beer to accompany the food -- actually, two of them -- Sapporo and Kirin Ichiban.

Although I have never seen more lavish, creative, extravagant beer commercials than Sapporo's, the beer itself was quite uninspiring, in fact pretty bland, not much different from Tsingtao.

The Kirin Ichiban was better.  It was actually made with enough malts and hops to give the beer a rich taste, malty and sweety.  Kirin Ichban claims it is brewed without yeast, containing only hops, water and "100% malt."  They also claim that they only use "the first press of the wort: the liquid which flows naturally from the mash."

I asked Denny Neilson of Isra-Ale, brewer of Chutzpah beer, what this strange wording meant.  Denny ventured that it probably refers to the malt mash being used only once, for a single quantity of wort.  "There may be some brewers," he said, "who reuse the mash to make second and third worts.  It's like reusing a tea bag; each time the brew gets weaker and lighter." I thank Denny for his expert assistance, and for letting me know what Kirin Ichiban doesn't do.

With Len at The Hampton Synagogue.
I settled into Len and Abigail's lovely home.  On Friday, Len and I went to morning services at The Hampton Synagogue, did some shopping for our Shabbat meals, and had a light lunch with the first of my mix-and-match beers.

It was Purple Haze, a beer I had read about and been wanting to try.  Purple Haze is a wheat lager, with only 4.2% ABV, with a balanced flavor of wheat malts and citrusy hops.  It had a very faint purple hue, caused by real raspberries which are added to the beer after filtration.  But this is not a "fruit beer" in the usual sense of the Belgian sweeter fruit beers, like Framboise.  Rather, it goes back to the time when fruit beers were less sweet, when the fruit contributed a tart taste.  Purple Haze is a good example of how craft beers can introduce innovation in brewing and change consumer tastes.  It is one of Abita's flagship beers.   

Afterwards, I prepared my contribution to the Shabbat meal: a pasta penne dish with asparagus, mushrooms and other vegetables.  Len and Abigail made a white bean soup.  As we cooked, we imbibed a small bottle of tsipouro, a potent Greek liquor distilled from grape skins and pits after they are pressed for wine.

As Shabbat came in, Len and I had the 2014 Summerfest, another low alcohol (5%) beer made for summertime drinking.  This one was a pilsner-style lager with almost no hop aroma.  Flowers and malt were dominant.  The taste, too, was sweet and malty, crisp and refreshing.  I imagined the flavors flowing across my tongue, floral hops to one side, sweet malt to the other.

Len gave this beer a thumbs-down because of the "weak nose" and a certain "dustiness," but I thought it was a drinkable summer beer.
Tsipouro is a Greek traditional distillation product from the pomace of grapes (the residue of the wine press) particularly brewed in  Thessaly (Tsipouro Tyrnavou,) Epirus, Macedonia, Mani Peninsula and the island of Crete, where Cretans call it tsikoudia. Tsipouro is a strong distilled spirit containing approximately 45 percent alcohol. Other areas of Greece use the name raki.
According to tradition, the first production of tsipouro was the work of Greek Orthodox monks. This occurred during the 14th Century on Mount Athos in Macedonia. The idea of using the pomace left over from the wine-making process produce a distilled spirit was passed to viticulturists in poorer regions across the country.
Depending on the time of year, tsipouro is used either as refreshment or as a hot beverage, and depending on the time of day, it replaces for many the drinking of coffee or wine. It is usually served in shot glasses, with ice, often with delicious meze including feta, ham, olives, tomatoes, halva or other desserts in restaurants.
- See more at: http://greece.greekreporter.com/2012/11/18/a-guide-to-greek-drinks-and-drinking/#sthash.m7u3Wv6d.dpuf
Tsipouro is a Greek traditional distillation product from the pomace of grapes (the residue of the wine press) particularly brewed in  Thessaly (Tsipouro Tyrnavou,) Epirus, Macedonia, Mani Peninsula and the island of Crete, where Cretans call it tsikoudia. Tsipouro is a strong distilled spirit containing approximately 45 percent alcohol. Other areas of Greece use the name raki.
According to tradition, the first production of tsipouro was the work of Greek Orthodox monks. This occurred during the 14th Century on Mount Athos in Macedonia. The idea of using the pomace left over from the wine-making process produce a distilled spirit was passed to viticulturists in poorer regions across the country.
Depending on the time of year, tsipouro is used either as refreshment or as a hot beverage, and depending on the time of day, it replaces for many the drinking of coffee or wine. It is usually served in shot glasses, with ice, often with delicious meze including feta, ham, olives, tomatoes, halva or other desserts in restaurants.
- See more at: http://greece.greekreporter.com/2012/11/18/a-guide-to-greek-drinks-and-drinking/#sthash.m7u3Wv6d.dpuf
Tsipouro is a Greek traditional distillation product from the pomace of grapes (the residue of the wine press) particularly brewed in  Thessaly (Tsipouro Tyrnavou,) Epirus, Macedonia, Mani Peninsula and the island of Crete, where Cretans call it tsikoudia. Tsipouro is a strong distilled spirit containing approximately 45 percent alcohol. Other areas of Greece use the name raki.
According to tradition, the first production of tsipouro was the work of Greek Orthodox monks. This occurred during the 14th Century on Mount Athos in Macedonia. The idea of using the pomace left over from the wine-making process produce a distilled spirit was passed to viticulturists in poorer regions across the country.
Depending on the time of year, tsipouro is used either as refreshment or as a hot beverage, and depending on the time of day, it replaces for many the drinking of coffee or wine. It is usually served in shot glasses, with ice, often with delicious meze including feta, ham, olives, tomatoes, halva or other desserts in restaurants.
- See more at: http://greece.greekreporter.com/2012/11/18/a-guide-to-greek-drinks-and-drinking/#sthash.m7u3Wv6d.dpuf
In the morning, we walked to services at The Hampton Synagogue, perhaps the main Jewish attraction in this part of Long Island.  The congregation is Orthodox, decorous, influential and very wealthy.  Under the watchful eyes of Rabbi Marc Schneier, the synagogue has a very full summer season with panels, lectures, fundraising events, shows and films.

Not least, the Hampton Synagogue is known for its Shabbat morning kiddushes, apres-prayer repasts.  These could put most wedding receptions to shame.  The "bar table" alone is a groaning board of expensive bourbons, single-malt Scotch whiskeys and premium vodkas.

But no beer.

Len and I arrived back home after a long walk in the sun, stuffed and slightly inebriated, but also hot and thirsty.  It was time for more beer.  (Or, as Secretary of State John Kerry put it on April 3, 2014, "Now is the time to drink.")

We started with the Independent Full Sail Amber ale.  Okay, you may say, when you're dying of thirst, any beer tastes great.  True, but this amber ale surpassed all expectations.  I loved the color (a cooling red amber), the aroma (strong hops and fresh bready -- 6% ABV) and the taste (a complex blend of floral spice and sweet malt).  I try not to chug my beers, but the way I felt and the way this tasted, I couldn't stop.       
Next we had the Springfling Ale, which was also amber-copper colored, but lighter than the Full Sail, in color, body and alcohol strength (5.2%).  It was also sweeter, and we noted a delicious taste of vanilla.  Springfling is meant to be a light, post-winter beer, but it had more taste than others of its kind.  These beers put a strong emphasis on "balance," and Springfling did that all right, with the barley malt flavor in perfect alignment with the spicy hops.   

These were two good beers but I would rather have had them with the kiddush than after it.  Maybe by my next visit, Len will have convinced the powers-that-be to add a keg or two of craft beer to the bar table.

Left Hand's nitro beers.
A little later we chose the Sawtooth Nitro to help us compensate for the exit of Shabbat.  It was the first time either of us had tried a nitrogen beer, which uses nitrogen gas instead of carbon dioxide for carbonation.  The first thing we noticed is that it has almost no head and low carbonation.  "It enters your mouth flat," is how Len put it.

But the flavor was great -- nutty malts balanced by herbal hops.  I can also vouch that the reputed smoothness of nitro beers is completely true.  The smaller bubbles -- for so they seemed to us -- make the beer smooth and creamy.  "It soothes your mouth," is how Len put it.

The Left Hand Brewing Co. claims that they were the first to put nitro beer in bottles, in 2011.  This is not a panacea for all beers.  You can't use nitrogen carbonation to disguise a bad beer.  But if you start with a good base, a good tasting beer, nitrogen adds a surprising dimension to the drinking pleasure.  

Finestkind IPA:
Two old guys on the label.
The next day, Sunday, we had the final two beers.  The first was the Finestkind IPA.  Len noted that it had these two old guys on the label, so it was kind of meant for us.  This is a good, balanced "American-style" IPA, bitter to a fault with 75 bitterness units and 6.9% alcohol.  But the aroma has less hops than other IPAs I've had, and the malt taste is stronger.  The verdict: A perfectly enjoyable IPA.

Then we had the Wolaver's Fine Organic Oatmeal Stout.  Made with organic oats and dark roasted malts, this ale pours out so black that it frightened Len and me.  We are not great admirers of stout beers.  But . . . this was different.  It had the creamiest head and was sweet "without being cloying like Guiness" (thus Len), with tastes of coffee and chocolate.  The dust of the waving oats and herbal hops were there, too, but very unobtrusive.  Alcohol by volume was a moderate 5.4%. 

"It's called a stout, but has more of a porter feel to it," is how Len put it.  "You know, this is actually pretty good.  Thanks for introducing me to it."

New York craft beers in Taste NY.
That evening, I said goodbye to Len and Abigail and headed back to Brooklyn.  My days in America and drinking American craft beers were coming to an end.  The next day I flew home to Israel, but before take-off, as I was walking around the airport, I noticed an attractive shop named Taste NY.  They advertised made-in-New York food and gift items.  And there, taking up a whole wall of shelves, were craft beers.  Most of the breweries I had never heard of, including -- are you ready for this -- The Bronx Brewery

With a slogan like "Our Borough, Your Beer," how could yours truly, born and bred in the Bronx, resist?  So I bought a can of Bronx Pale Ale.  (Now, to be fair, the can says that the beer was brewed in La Crosse, Wisconsin, but it was for The Bronx Brewery.  Their website says that they do have a small craft brewery in the Port Morris section of the South Bronx, so I guess they do some brewing there.  Someday, we hope, all the brewing will be done in the Bronx.  It is a fact that more and more micro-breweries are opening in New York City.)

I took the can home with me and will soon enjoy it in Jerusalem.  Sort of like two streams of my life coming together.  But that's a story for another day.                                 
The Bronx Brewery is a small, craft brewery in the Port Morris section of the South Bronx. It was launched in 2011 by a small team with two things in common: a maniacal focus on creating high-quality beer and a passion for the Bronx and New York City. Its traditionally-crafted pales ales use only premium and minimally-processed materials to create fresh, bold beer from a borough known for its own uniquely bold character. The team is enthused to bring a rich brewing tradition back to the Bronx and craft a beer that the people of the Bronx and New York City can be proud to call their own. You can find their beers throughout New York. - See more at: http://www.thebronxbrewery.com/brewery/#sthash.q0MQ933Z.dpuf

July 14, 2014

Man in search of beer in America: Part Three -- New Jersey

After Washington, DC, Trudy and I parted company; she flying to her brother Danny in Cleveland and I taking a bus north to Atlantic City, New Jersey.  I was going to meet my friend Delia who has a home on Long Beach Island in central New Jersey with her husband Dr. John Edoga, a surgeon and medical equipment developer.  Our friendship goes back almost 50 years.

The Atlantic City boardwalk.
I met Delia on the boardwalk, which for me was a nostalgic stroll back to Rockaway, New York, where my family spent our summers in the 1950s.

Blue Point's Toasted Lager.
We went to have lunch in the middle of all the casino-hotels.  The restaurant had a pretty weak list of craft beers and I think I chose the best -- Toasted Lager from the aforementioned Blue Point Brewing Company in Patchogue, New York.  My friend and drinking buddy Len (more of whom later) says it's one of his favorite beers.  I thought it was a perfectly refreshing beer for such a hot day, while Delia and I caught up on what was going on in our lives.

Toasted Lager gets its name from the "toastiness" of the six malts used in the brewing.  It was hard for me to pick out a toasted flavor, but I was impressed by the nice balance between hops and malt.  At 5.5% ABV, it was an easy beer to enjoy on a hot day, and went surprisingly well with our salads.           

Delia's house was well stocked with wine and booze, but alas, no beer around.  We spent the day talking like we always do and staying mellow in and out of the sun.

Delia and the old beer blogger on
Long Beach Island, New Jersey.
The next morning we took a long walk along the beautiful beach on the eastern side of the island, drinking . . . coffee.

Before I continued north by bus, we had lunch in a lovely restaurant along the island's one main road.  They had some interesting craft beers on tap, which were described by the friendly waiter.

I chose the Route 113 IPA from the Sly Fox Brewing Company in Pottstown, Pennsylvania.  I found out later that the name is derived from the bitterness units (IBUs) which are an outrageous 113!

But as soon as I took my first sip, I was sure that something was wrong.  The IBUs weren't even 30 -- and this was not an IPA, certainly not one with 7% alcohol and advertised as "big, flavorful, bold and spicy."

Route 113 IPA -- NOT!
I called over the waiter and told him (without sounding like a beer snob, I hope) that there must have been a mistake; perhaps this was drawn from the wrong tap.  He assured me it wasn't and that I could go up to the bar and see for myself.  Delia told the waiter, "You don't want to argue with him.  He writes a beer blog."  That felt good.

Of course I went up to the bar.  The tender gave me a taste from the Sly Fox tap and it was the same.

"Nope," I said.  "They must have mixed up the kegs.  This is not an IPA."

I asked the bartender to let me have a taste of the one-tap-over Torpedo IPA (7.2% ABV, 65 IBUs) from Sierra Nevada Brewery in Chico, California.

"Now that's an IPA," I told him.  "Have a sip and you'll see the difference."

"Yeah.  You're right," he said.  That felt good too.

After we finished eating, Delia got me over to the New York City bus one-and-a-half minutes before it left.  You could say we either planned it perfectly, or got lost and were just lucky.  Either way, I was soon on the road to my final destination -- the Big Apple, New York City.
All of our Nitro beers both contain the same ingredients as their classic CO2 equivalents and are meant to be highly similar. The main difference is mouthfeel. Traditional CO2 beers have a much greater carbonic bite compared to the much smoother Nitro series. The addition of Nitrogen to a beer gives way to much smaller bubbles, creating a smoother, creamier experience. Beyond mouthfeel, there are variances in appearance and smell as well. Take Classic Milk Stout and Milk Stout Nitro. Visually, you will notice that as you pour Classic Milk Stout, it behaves like a normal beer with an instantaneous mahogany body and receding taupe head. As you hard pour Milk Stout Nitro, the beer will immediately begin to cascade, settling to reveal the body and developing a thick, billowy, off white head on top. In regards to smell and taste, Classic Milk Stout overall has a greater nose, as well as a more roasty character and a very slight hop bitterness. Milk Stout Nitro has a more creamy mocha essence throughout the beer, with no noticeable hop element.
Which is the best? That is entirely up to you and we encourage everyone to try Sawtooth Nitro and Wake Up Dead Nitro alongside their CO2 editions as well! As our VP of Brewing Operations, Joe Schiraldi says, “It’s a great exercise in how changing one parameter can affect the flavor of the beer.” Cheers and enjoy!
- See more at: http://lefthandbrewing.com/about/nitro/#sthash.DD6kQVrj.dpuf

  • Collection: Perennial
  • Style: All-American Ale
  • Color: Amber, 16 SRM
  • Body: Medium
  • ABV: 5.3%
  • IBU's: 27
  • PLATO: 12°
  • PKG: 6-Pack, Keg
  • Malt: Pale 2-row, Crystal, Munich Wheat and Black Malt
  • Hops: Magnum, US Goldings, Willamette and Cascade
  • - See more at: http://lefthandbrewing.com/beers/sawtooth-nitro/#sthash.UeX9ZyHh.dpuf

    July 13, 2014

    Dizengoff Center Beer Fair -- July 17-18

    This may be of interest to some readers: 

    The Dizengoff Center shopping mall in Tel Aviv has been having "food fairs" for its shoppers every Thursday and Friday for the past 17 years. This week there will also be a "boutique beer fair" so the shoppers will be able to have some great beer while they eat.

    The boutique beer fair will take place:
    Thursday, July 17, 4:00 to 9:00 pm
    Friday, July 18, 10:00 am to 4:00 pm

    Naama Polak, who is responsible for the Dizengoff Center fairs, told me that this is the third boutique beer fair being held there.  Entrance is free.  The following breweries will have booths: Mosco, Alexander, Meadan Gluten-Free, Shapiro, Golan (Bazelet), Jem's, Lela and Gopher's.
    In addition, there will be workshops on home-brewing going on at the same time. For more information, you can call Naama at 057-239-2491.

    I'm not going because, well, it's a bit of a shlepp for me and there's really nothing new. But if you're in the area and would like to have a nice choice of some good Israeli craft beers along with some interesting food (I guess), you might want to stop in. Let me know how you like it.

    June 30, 2014

    Man in search of beer in America: Part Two -- Washington, DC

    Leaving my mother in good hands, Trudy and I flew up to Washington DC to spend a few days with our son Ami, who's been living in this city since 2007.  Ami's apartment is in the dynamic and trendy Adams Morgan neighborhood, filled with little specialty shops and all kinds of restaurants and pubs.  Some have impressive craft beer menus, but since it was close to Shabbat, we went out to a local liquor store to bring home a few bottles.   
    "Sorry!  No single-bottle sales."
    The store, De Vinos, had more than 100 different beers -- but we hit a hurdle right off.

    "We don't sell the small single bottles," said the attendant.  "You have to buy the whole six-pack."

    "But these are craft beers," I responded.  "What if you want to try a few different ones?"


    Only in America.  You have to buy six bottles of a beer you don't know and may not even like!  I began to miss the super supermarket in Florida, with its single bottle mixing and matching.  Don't retailers realize that this may be a better way to sell craft beers?

    The one way out was to buy the bigger bottles, those of one pint (473 milliliters) or more.  We chose the Whiter Shade of Pale Ale White IPA from Starr Hill Brewery in Crozlet, Virginia, and Red Wheelbarrow Ale from the Maine Beer Company in Freeport, Maine.     
    We come for the beer:
    Doug, Trudy and Ami in the nation's capital.
    The Whiter Shade accompanied our Shabbat lunch, and once again it was a great choice.  This beer is a very successful fusion of a Belgian wit wheat ale and an Indian pale ale, with 7.5% alcohol.  It's massively hopped and has strong citrus and pine aromas.  I imagined that the beautiful white head smelled just like the fields or forests where the fresh hop clusters grow.  Belgian wheat beer adds the very dramatic fruity and spicy flavors.  If you're any kind of an IPA fan, this beer should be on your "must try" list.

    The Red Wheelbarrow Ale is also a beauty.  Although it's called a red ale and not an IPA, it comes awfully close.  The deep red-copper color and red-tinged head are not indicative of IPA's, true, but the hop-heavy aroma and taste, and the 7% ABV certainly are.  There is also a chocolaty sweetness that I found different and delicious.

    The Maine Beer Company does a lot or ecological-friendly activities, to their credit, and their slogan is "Do it right."  In this case, they certainly have.

    Ami with his pale wheat;
    me with my dark rye IPA.
    On Saturday night, we took Ami out to eat at a so-called "small plate" Italian restaurant.  "Skimpy portions" is more like it.  Getting into the spirit of things, we ordered small glasses (10 ounces or 295 milliliters) of beer.

    I chose the Rowdy Rye IPA from the local Atlas Brew Works in Washington, DC.  It poured very dark and tasted very bitter as an IPA should be, with a 6.2% ABV.  The hoppiness was also there but the rye replaces the floral scents and spice you expect in an IPA.  It's almost as if there isn't room for both.  This was a pleasant change for me, since I thoroughly enjoy the taste of rye whisky -- not to mention rye bread.

    Ami had Optimal Wit from Port City Brewery in nearby Alexandria, Virginia.  It was as pale and transparent as Rowdy IPA was dark and opaque.  This is beer in the Belgian wit style, and brewed with the prerequisite coriander, orange peel and peppery grains of paradise.  It had a distinctively lemony taste alongside clove and grassy tones.  It's a wheat beer that flaunts its wheatiness, but I don't think I would have ordered it with pasta.

    Ethiopia's St. George:
    rich and tasty brew.
    Before we left Washington, we took Ami and Trudy's niece Marcia out to one of the many Ethiopian restaurants in the city.  I find Ethiopian food to be a lot like Indian, and we ordered a large vegetarian platter.  It was served with mounds of the flat and spongy injera bread made from teff, which you use like a scoop to eat the food. 

    What better way to accompany Ethiopian food than with Ethiopian beer?  We ordered a bottle of St. George.  Although it is an industrial beer from somewhere in Ethiopia (most of the label was in Amharic), it was actually a rich and tasty brew, going well with our strong, spicy food.

    If Ethiopia could do it, why couldn't American "big beer" like Budweiser and Coor's be this good?  St. George was actually closer to Israeli-made Goldstar and Tuborg.  Maybe that's why I was getting a little bit homesick.  But I had two more states to cross before heading back to Israel.

    June 24, 2014

    Man in search of beer in America: Part One -- Southern Florida

    Your intrepid Israeli beer seeker flew towards the western skies on June 8.  The trip was planned for a while but it took on urgency when my 96-year-old mother in southern Florida suffered a very minor stroke around a month ago.  It left her needing round-the-clock assistance, which Trudy and I were able to arrange.

    The shelves of American craft beers:
    Mix and match six-packs for $9.99.
    Anyway, in between interviewing aid-givers and keeping house, I was able to get out and see some of the effects of the craft beer upsurge in America.

    One of the super supermarkets had an entire wall of single bottles of craft beers, and a huge refrigerated section of beers in six-packs and twelve-packs.  Beers from the four corners of America and beyond.  The single-bottle wall let you pick any six beers for $9.99!

    I chose three different style beers to drink at home -- my mother's home, that is.

    The first was Shiner FM 966 Farmhouse Ale from Spoetzl Brewery in Shiner, Texas.  The interesting label informed me that farmhouse ale is from a European tradition of brewing beers in the winter for drinking in the spring.

    I think I might have missed the right spring by several years.  FM 966 had the color and fizz of ginger ale.  The aromas were hoppy, spicy and grassy -- but the dominant taste was sour. The bitterness of the hops -- listed on the label as Golding, Sterling and Meridian -- just weren't able to counteract the sourness.  This is a beer I did not enjoy.

    Things got better with the second beer, which we drank with Shabbat lunch: Hoptical Illusion from the Blue Point Brewing Co. in Patchogue, Long Island, New York.  I visited Blue Point several years ago on a visit to the U.S.  They have a beautiful Friday afternoon beer party (which we called a kabbalat Shabbat, a welcoming of the Sabbath), when you can drink three of their great beers for free and then buy some more.

    Hoptical Illusion is a classical India Pale Ale (no ABV was given), with a delicious balance of hops and floral spicyness.  It enhanced the taste of our food, and of the entire day.

    Ice cold six- and twelve- and 
    I tried to imagine the British soldiers in 19th century India enjoying beer this good, but I couldn't do it. No way.  Hoptical Illusion is IPA which has evolved in the New World, spurred on by American ingenuity and magnitude.

    My third bottle was Southern Pecan, "the original pecan nut brown ale," from the Lazy Magnolia Brewing Co. in Kiln, Mississippi.  The label claims it's the first beer made with whole, roasted pecans.

    Southern Pecan pours out dark copper with a thin head and, really, a nutty aroma.  I found it to be a bit on the sweet side but a delicious beer.  I couldn't find any pecan taste; I guess the pecans ferment into a neutral nuttiness.  But it was a truly interesting and awareness enhancing beer drinking experience.

    When we visited my cousin Debi, her husband Jerry served us Sam Adams Summer Ale and Boston Lager.  I preferred the latter, a rich and satisfying dark amber which to my mind redeems the "lager" appellation from the indignity caused by the mega macro brewers of American pale lagers.

    The Summer Ale tries too hard to suit itself to the season.  This wheat ale has nothing special to say, even though it it's made with added lemon peel and grains of paradise, a kind of African pepper.  I found it a little acrid.

    I had one more beer before leaving Florida.  When we ate at the California Pizza Kitchen, the Blue Moon Brewing Company's flagship beer, their Belgian White wheat ale, was offered as a draft choice.  It was just one more nondescript wheat ale that I drank along the way -- though it did go well with the salad and pizza we had.

    My search for American craft beer would now have to continue at my next stop, Washington DC.          

    June 8, 2014

    2014 Israel beer festivals -- Update

    As June busts out all over, we decided it was time to take another look at what this summer holds for us faithful followers of beer festivals.  Since I last wrote on the subject back at the start of the year, some dates have been confirmed, though still not all.

    Let's begin close to home, in Jerusalem.

    The ghosts of beer festivals past.
    Jerusalem Beer Festival - "Ir Habira" -- August 27-28 in Independence Park.  Organizer/Producer Eli Giladi says that this will be the tenth festival in Jerusalem, and it will be bigger and better than ever.  "We are investing a lot of money to make this the greatest," says Eli, including food and music.  Jerusalem bars and restaurants will be offering specials during the week of the festival.  All of the bigger names on the Israeli beer scene -- industrial brewers, craft brewers and imports -- are already signed on, according to Eli, and the newer and smaller brewers will also have a chance to display and offer their wares.  He promises that over 120 beers from Israel and abroad will be available.

    Eli said that if any smaller or home brewer still wants to join, they can send him an e-mail at giladi007@gmail.com

    Tel Aviv "BEERS 2014" Exhibit -- September 9-11 at the Train Station (HaTachana) in Neve Tzedek. 
    This location is a great improvement over the Nokia Center, where previous BEERS exhibits have been held.  It was more like a stuffy trade show than a beer festival.  Moving it from the dead of winter to the end of summer is also a great idea.  The information came from the Ben-Ami Studio which produces the BEERS exhibits.   
    Mateh Yehuda Rustic Beer Festival -- Still no final date yet, but Chani Ben-Yehuda, who is responsible for festivals and events at the Tzlilei Hakesem company, which is organizing the event, says that it will take place at the Mini Israel Park in Latrun at the end of August or the start of September.  This will also be a new venue, as the festival has been held until now at the crossroads of Srigim and Givat Yeshayahu.

    With Ofer Ronen of Srigim Brewery
    at Zman Amiti.
    Beer City Festival in Haifa -- August 21-22 at Students Beach.  After getting the run around from a number of offices in Haifa, I was finally able to obtain the information from Polina Charnovelsky from the "Customer Relations" Office in the Cultural Department of the Haifa Municipality.  This one is the biggest festival with free admission and first-string musical performers, but it's sponsored by Goldstar and Maccabi beer, so don't expect any Israeli craft beers to be served.              
    In addition to these major festivals, there will probably be some smaller, local ones going on later this year.  If I hear about any, I will let you know.

    The Zman Amiti mini beer festival.
    I myself attended two in recent months.  The first was the Fifth Zman Amiti Beer Festival, held at the Zman Amiti bar tending school in Tel Aviv just before Passover.  It was a small affair, held inside the building.  I enjoyed meeting or re-meeting some of the bigger brewers, as well as some of the smaller ones like Baron (Lior Degabli), HaChatzer (Yochai Meytal) and Lanner (Boaz Lanner).  I hope to write about them all.

    A few weeks ago, I went out to Modi'in where my son Aharon lives with his family, for an even smaller "brewers festival" held just outside the More Than Pub in the new Ligad Center.

    There were no more than a dozen exhibitors, most of them on the smaller end of the spectrum.  I finally met home brewer Noam Shalev who lives in Modi'in and makes sour beers under the Shibolet label.  Alas, because of my failure to communicate, Noam didn't bring any of his beers with him, so I'll have to wait until next time to get to drink them.

    With Noam Shalev in Modi'in:
    Next time I get to taste his beers.
    Boaz Harel, from Three Cats Brewery in Ramat Gan, brought me two bottles of a British porter which he brewed according to a recipe from 1834!  One was brewed as it would have been at that time, and the other as a porter is brewed today.  I will do a comparison tasting of the two and report on that.  I thank Boaz for his gifts and his patience.  

    I also met Levi Fried, a physician whose passion is home brewing.  He served me his Chocolate Porter, which was made with real cocoa nibs and had the most creamy chocolate taste I have ever experienced in a beer.

    A few steps away, Roni Waldman of Ruth Brewery (named after his wife) served me his Coffee Break Porter, made with roasted coffee beans.  Here too, the coffee taste didn't have to be imagined.  It was real and bitter, yet beautifully balanced by the malt sweetness.

    I'm going to do my best to attend all the festivals I can.  If you notice me walking around, step up and say hello.  That's what beer festivals are for.

    Tonight, Trudy and I are flying to the U.S. for some family and friends visits over the next three weeks or so.  It's also a great chance for us to try some American craft beers.  If I can do some writing from there, I will.  If not, it will wait until I return.  In the meantime -- A wonderful summer to all!

    June 3, 2014

    Chuck's Place on Teverya Street

    Chuck's home is his bar.

    Well, so is mine, sometimes.  But he can open the front gate, hang up a shingle, and it becomes a public house.  I still can't do that.

    Chuck and me at his "home & bar."
    Chuck Paz has set up a few eclectic tables, chairs and sofas in his front yard, makes burgers and fries in his kitchen, and pumps beer out of a tap in his refrigerator.  Different chefs in the neighborhood may add pizza and soft pretzels.  Meat ands dairy are not served on the same night. 

    "We call this place a 'home & bar,'" chuckles Chuck.  "Most of my customers are friends and neighbors," he says, referring to his Nachlaot neighborhood in Jerusalem.  "During the warmer months, I'm open on Thursday nights, my 'Thirsty Thursdays.'  I also open on special holidays like Lag BaOmer and Jerusalem Day. . . ."

    Above the bar is a notice that Chuck's Place is "under rabbinical supervision."  "That would be me," he says.  "Years ago, when I was living in Efrat, I was ordained a rabbi."  

    Chuck came to Israel from Chicago 13 years ago and started home brewing because he didn't like any of the standard Israeli beers that were available at the time.   

    Baruch Berabooah
    He began working at his current location (17 Teverya Street) five years ago, making sushi and brewing beer for a friend's establishment.  The friend's name was Baruch, which is also Chuck's Hebrew name, so people began calling them Baruch BeRabooah ("Baruch Squared") and the name stuck.  It's now his Facebook name and logo.      

    "The first two beers I brewed were a honey lager and a red ale," Chuck continued.  As luck would have it, those were two of the beers Chuck was serving when I visited.

    The honey lager was one of two that he makes, this one called Honey Bru.  It was less sweet and less hoppy than the other beers.  Chuck adds the honey right after flame-out, just when the fermentation process begins, so it has a long time to become food for the yeast.  The alcohol goes up (6.7%), but not the sweetness.  I found it a pleasant summer drink, not very hoppy, maybe some light spice and fruits to keep in interesting, but the honey is all gone.

    Chuck's brand: Teverya Street Beer.
    Honey is a popular ingredient with home brewers, since it is full or pollens and nectars from the flowers, which can add subtle aromas to the beer.  Even President Obama has been brewing a honey ale in the White House since 2011!  (Look up White House Honey Ale if you think I'm joking.)  Opinions vary on when the honey should be added to the mix, but that's another story.

    The red ale I thought was less defined, although somewhat sweeter than the honey lager.  It fits in the category of American amber and red ales very comfortably.  The malts and hops are well matched, with the malts winning by a nose.      

    Chuck was also pumping a third beer that day -- a pilsner, which was my favorite, with the classic pils crispness, extensive fruity and hoppy aromas, and the taste of blended citrus fruits.  At 4.5% ABV, I can see myself drinking a lot of this stuff on a hot summer's day.

    Chuck also brews a stronger honey lager (Honey Blaze at 7% ABV), an amber ale, and a bock. 

    Chuck hopes that he will soon be taking his talents to a restaurant, where he will, in effect, turn it into a brew pub with his beers.  He is working on developing several new beers for the restaurant, one of which is a "Mexican-type beer," though it's not clear exactly what that means.
    The view from Chuck's gate.
    When I asked Chuck to be more specific about his beers, he answered with what is probably his "mission statement" as a home brewer: 

    "With all my beers, I am trying to make an American-style beer that I grew up with. I really don't do anything that special when I brew. Put all the ingredients in the pot and cook them. Then once it is cooled I put it in the fermenter, add the yeast, and God takes over from there.  Walla, 16 days later the beer is ready to drink.
    "I am just a simple man who likes making beer and drinking it. The beers speak for themselves; you just have to drink them. Maybe the one special thing I put in to my beers is love and caring for the beer I am producing."

    Nothing wrong with that.  If you'd like to drink some different home brews on a hot Thursday night, drop into Chuck's Place.  (Check first on his Facebook page: Baruch BeRabooah Fan Page.)  Tell him I sent you.