April 26, 2015

Last beers before Passover -- Florida 2015

I think that in our 44 years of living in Israel, my wife Trudy and I have spent Passover back in the U.S. only twice.

This year was one of them.

The chalkboard at the Kapow Bar and Pub.
And so it was that I found myself having my last beer before Passover in the Kapow Bar and Pub in the Mizner Park section of Boca Raton in southern Florida.  We had come over to have the Passover seder (holiday meal) with my mother and our son Ami who lives in Washington, DC.  My mother is very sensitive about her age being known, so the most specific I can be is to say that it is approaching three digits.

In the days before we went to Kapow, I had the chance to taste two different American craft beers.

The first was Wild Blue, my first "premium blueberry lager," from Blue Dawg Brewery in Baldwinsville, New York.  Brewed with real blueberry juice, this beer poured a dark ruby red with a purple head -- something I've never seen before.

The aroma was slightly indistinct fruity, but the taste was unmistakably bitter blueberry.  Rather nice.  The fruit blended very well with the malt, and then faded into a strong alcohol taste -- not surprising for a beer with 8% alcohol by volume.

Fruit-flavored beers are not my cup of tea, but this Wild Blue Lager was not at all bad.

I also had a 312 Urban Wheat Ale from Goose Island Brewery in Chicago, Illinois.

I'm not a great fan of wheat beers either, but I was intrigued by the "Urban" in the title.  Apparently, "urban" means "something different," since it tastes like no other wheat beer I've had.  Hazy and the color of pale straw, 312 Urban had little of the characteristic clove and banana aromas and tastes of a wheat beer.  Rather, it was refreshing and fruity with a very mild sweetness.  At only 4.2% ABV, it was very easy to drink and the light taste went well with my spaghetti dinner.

And then, on the night before Passover, we drove to Kapow for our final meal containing leavened grain.  This is what is prohibited during the seven-day holiday, and it includes all bread, pastries, pasta, etc. -- and, of course, beer.

Danny Murphy served the old blogger
his last beer before Passover.
Our friendly waiter understood our situation.  His name was Danny Murphy ("A nice Jewish name, right?") and he had been in Israel last summer on a Birthright program which brings young Jews on free ten-day visits to Israel

I asked Danny if there were any local craft beers on tap which warrant being my last beer before Passover.  He offered me two to taste.



The first was the Vanilla Oak Dry-Hopped South End from SaltWater Brewery in Delray Beach, Florida -- very close to where my mother lives.  It was a very light-colored American pale ale with a strong hop aroma -- not less than any aggressive IPA.  It had a citrus taste which was mild and fruity, probably closest to red grapefruit with drops of vanilla.  I learned later that this beer is aged on "high vanilla American oak" staves (whatever those are) and with an experimental hop numbered 05256.  How very James Bond-ish.  








The other beer was the OP Porter, an American milk porter from the Funky Buddha Brewery in Oakland Park, Florida.  This one came to my table full black with no head and very little carbonation.  Although I am not a great porter fan, I loved this beer's taste combo of coffee, chocolate and sour cherry, along with the full roasty body of a strong porter.  OP Porter is brewed with added milk sugar and has a 6.3% alcoholic content.  This is beer I chose to have with my spicy rice and vegetables.
 
I discovered that instead of extinguishing the fire of my food, the OP Porter was spreading it.  The burning sensation rippled across my sensitized tongue.  I don't recommend this for everybody, but I found that this heightened pain actually intensified the taste of the food.  Maybe I'm just a foodie masochist!

After wishing Danny a Happy Passover, I left Kapow feeling ready for the seven-day beer fast.
             
Wine replaces beer for a week:
with my mom before
the Passover seder.







Passover began on a Friday night. For my ageless mom, it was the first time she was at a seder in our family setting in over 20 years.  She enjoyed everything about it: the special foods, the historical narrative and the traditional songs.    

Trudy and I also enjoyed being in southern Florida for the holiday: the days were sunny and pleasant and we visited the magnificent Everglades National Park and Key Largo.

But we also missed being in Jerusalem, where you really feel the holiday everywhere and at all time: in the stores and restaurants, on TV and radio, on the streets full of kids off from school, tourists visiting the Holy Land, and Israeli families enjoying a week-long vacation.

It was good to get back home and catch up with our excellent Israeli craft beers.  They definitely hold their own against the beers I tasted in the U.S. -- including those from a local Miami brewery we visited.

But more on that later.






March 28, 2015

Podcast on four Israeli beers


Those Brew-Drink-Run guys are at it again.  This time they put up a podcast where they sit around, drinking four Israeli craft beers and commenting on them.  These are some of the beers that Lee Heidel brought back to Savannah, Georgia, from his visit to Israel.

The beers are Herzl Embargo, Negev Passiflora, Dancing Camel Midnight Stout and  Shapiro's Jack's Winter Ale.

The only thing they can read on the labels are the English names.

Enjoy listening to them here.

http://brewdrinkrun.com/2015/03/episode-65-shekles-on-shekles/


March 27, 2015

The Mateh Yehuda beer event

There was nothing new at the Mateh Yehuda beer event held March 19-20 on Kibbutz Netiv Halamed Hey.  Seven booths for seven brewers, all from the Mateh Yehuda region, plus a few food vendors selling hot dogs and hummus.  Suitable for this time of year, the booths were indoors, in a kind of warehouse structure.  Not very festive.

But it did give me a chance to renew old acquaintances with the brewers there:

Shapiro and Buster's:
Before the imbibers arrived. 
Itzik Shapiro from Shapiro Brewery (Beit Shemesh)

Itzik told me that his brewery's Purim charity project, with customers buying cases of 24 beer bottles with personal labels, was a big success.  More than 100 cases were sold, with the profits going to the Shekel charitable organization, providing community services for people with special needs.

He also said that Shapiro was bringing out a new, as yet unnamed beer later this year.

Denny Neilson from Isra-Ale and Buster's (Mevasseret Zion and Noham)

It was a great pleasure to taste Denny's double IPA, Chutzpah, which is normally available only at his brewery and store.  (Read more about Denny and his Chutzpah here.)

Amir Lev from Mosco (Moshav Zanoach)

I tried Amir's new Pilsner lager, which will probably not be brought to the market anytime soon.  It's very light and mild, only 3.8% alcohol by volume, and I found it quite taste deficient.  (You can read the story behind Mosco Beers here.)

Home-brewer Mark Markish by the
Hashahar Brewery booth,
with Ronnie Calderon.
Ronnie Calderon from Hashahar (Mevasseret Zion)

I re-acquainted myself with his IPA, a flavorful and refreshing beer, though not as hops-forward as other IPAs.  (Read about Ronnie and Sharon Calderon and their home brewery here.)

Aram Dekel from Abeer Ha'ela (Kibbbutz Tzafririm)

My friends and I paused to sip and savor his "Crispy," a delicious honey-wheat beer that Aram told me would pair well with any strong cheese.


Leon Solomon from Samson (Kibbutz Tzora)

Harriet and Leon Solomon at the
Samson Brewery booth.
Leon and his wife Harriet were pouring beer and selling soft pretzels in what may be Samson's final event.  Leon recently closed his pub on the kibbutz.  The good news is that he's not going to stop
brewing, if only for his family and friends.

I tried his stout, which was missing when I visited him a few months ago (read about it here), and found it creamy and delicious, with a nice roasted malt taste well balanced with the hops.  

Ofer Ronen from Srigim Brewery -- Ronen and Emek Ha'ela (Moshav Srigim)

Ofer told me that the brewery is expanding and that he is looking into the possibility of exporting his beers.  I wish him much luck.  Alexander and Malka are already in the U.S. and selling well in a number of states.

Afterwards, Barak Katz, one of the event's organizers from the Mateh Yehuda Regional Council, told me that the local beer festival is usually held twice a year, though there was none this past summer.

"This one was put at the last weekend of our Rural Food Festival, and is intended more for local area residents," he added.  "We are already planning our big beer festival for the end of June or the end of August.  I'll keep you informed.  That's my job."

And I'll keep all of you informed -- on this and all the other 2015 beer festivals that are coming our way.

March 24, 2015

Here for the beer, here for the run

Lee and Ginger Heidel with
their Israeli craft beer.
Lee and Ginger Heidel from Savannah, Georgia, came to Israel to run in the Jerusalem Marathon -- or at least in the shorter versions.  He for the 10 kilometer; she for the five.  They came as guests of the Israel Ministry of Tourism, along with other journalists, who were invited to write about their experiences in the marathon.  

But Lee is also a colleague of mine, a well-known beer blogger writing for Brew Drink Run and The Manual, The Essential Guide for Men.  



Choosing Israeli craft beer
in Hamisameach.
Lee found me via Israel Brews and Views and asked if I could help acquaint him and Ginger with the local craft beer scene during this, their first visit to Israel.  In the short time we had during their very tight schedule, I took them to the Hamisameach liquor store in Jerusalem's Machane Yehuda market, where I actually surprised myself by being able to describe almost all of the Israeli craft beers on display.  Lee bought some dozen bottles of the beers to enjoy back in Georgia and hopefully to write about them on his blog.

Savannah beer to Israel;
Israeli beer to Savannah.
Lee and Ginger presented me with a bottle of Rally Point Bohemian Style Pilsner from the Service Brewing Co. in Savannah, with the instruction to wait until a nice warm day to drink it.  I will.

I'm happy that I was able to play a small role in the success of the Heidels' visit to Israel, where they continued their quest for craft beers around the world.

You can read about what Lee had to say in The Manual here, and in Brew Drink Run here.

Lee wrote yet another article on his visit to Jerusalem in Connect Savannah.  You can read that one here.


March 23, 2015

An evening at the Frieds -- delicious food, excellent beer

By day, Dr. Levi Fried is a medical intern doing research on drug discovery.

By night, he turns into an driven home-brewer, pushing the envelope into strong flavors and little-known beer styles not attempted by more timid souls.

I've met Levi Fried once or twice before, but I've never had the chance to visit him in his home in Modi'in and try his beer, which he bottles under the Righteous Brew label.  He is an excellent brewer: knowledgeable, curious and adventurous.
Dr. Levi and Harmony Fried in Modi'in:
our hosts for the beer-and-food pairing dinner.

So I was extraordinarily pleased to receive his invitation to a six-course beer-and-food pairing dinner at his home.  I was also pleased to learn that it would be a meatless dinner, since Levi's wife Harmony, who will be preparing the courses, is a vegetarian, as I am.  She is also, I learned, a professional chef who once worked in the Ritz Carlton Hotel in Atlanta, Georgia.

This evening had definite possibilities.

I arrived at the Fried home on time -- which is actually early by Israeli standards.  While we waited for the other guests, Levi asked me if I would like to try his new Bourbon Barrel Stout, made with a few shots of American bourbon whiskey.  Would I?

Levi Fried introduces his guests to the
world of beer-and-food pairing.
The BB Stout was almost black with a roasty aroma.  It had a wonderful creamy smoothness and the rich, complex taste was fortified by the bourbon.  Levi said that he prepares all of his stouts by adding the liquid of cold-soaked roasted malt.  "This is what helps achieve the creaminess and avoids the 'soy-sauce taste' that many stouts have," he added.

It was certainly true.  This was a real "sipping beer" and made a perfect aperitif to our meal.

Before Harmony began arranging and serving the courses, Levi briefly explained to the guests the principles of beer-and-food pairing.

"Beer is a better partner for food than wine," he declared, "because its range of flavors is wider and more complex than wine.  What we're looking for are flavors that support each other because of their similarities, or complement each other because they are different -- like, for example, sweet and sour or sweet and salty."

All interesting stuff, I'm sure, but I was getting hungry.

First course.
The first course was served not a minute too soon.  It was a piece of brie cheese with tomato chutney and a homemade black sesame seed cracker, paired with a very pale blonde lager, also known as helles in German.

Levi brews the beer with Hallertau hops from Germany and Carlsberg yeast, and then ages it for four months.  The beer had pleasant floral aromas and notes of caramel and cherries in the taste.  Levi explained that the mild taste and low alcoholic content (4.5%) go well with the delicate flavors of the course.  A stronger beer would have overwhelmed them.

Second course.
Our second beer was a French biere de garde, a 7.5% ABV farmhouse-style ale.  The name alludes to the fact that these beers were brewed in the winter and then "guarded" until the spring, when they were enjoyed.  It was served to us fresh.

The biere de garde was paired with grilled zucchini with Swiss cheese and a spicy roasted red pepper relish with a Swiss cheese tuile (a crisp, thin wafer).  The note of fresh pepper in the beer was a beautiful complement to the cheese in the dish, once again without overpowering it.

Third course.
The third course was fresh fettuccine with Thai basil pesto and an egg yolk in the middle.  Sounds strange, but it was truly delicious, with the yolk adding both smoothness and flavor.

This was paired with a French saison beer, a lighter version (6.5% ABV) of biere de garde. This beer also had a peppery tang, but was maltier than the biere de garde and more aged.




Fourth course.


A curried arancini (rice ball) stuffed with mild goat cheese in a coconut cream infused sauce was the fourth course.  Levi paired it with his German maibock, a very strong lager (9% ABV) which held its own against the rich flavors of the food.  Like the previous two beer styles, maibock has also traditionally been brewed in the winter months for springtime drinking (hence its name!).

It poured a middle amber color and had a yeasty aroma which, Levi explained, was the lager (bottom fermenting) yeast coming through.  The beer's powerful sweetness complemented the rich, acidic flavors of the food.  Added CO2 refreshes your taste buds from the strong cheese and curry.

Fifth course.
For the next course, dessert number one, we went in a completely different direction -- a sour lambic beer which Levi had brewed together with his friend Noam Shalev.

"Actually, this is a pseudo-lambic," Levi explained to us, "since true lambic beer can only come from Belgium."  Similarly, only sparkling wine from the Champagne region of France can be called "champagne," and only whisky from Kentucky can be labeled "bourbon."

We poured this very sour beer to accompany sweet lemon cake with a soft meringue and tart cherries.  It was an intriguing choice, with  the sourness of the beer cutting the extreme sweetness of the dessert.  Alcohol was a low 4%.  The beer was accompanied by a jigger of cherry syrup, which is often added to lambic beers in Belgium to cut the sourness and add a different taste.  I found this tasty, but actually preferred the "raw" lambic with our cake.

Beers are rarely paired with sweet desserts, and this bold move by Levi and Harmony demonstrated the reservoir of possibilities involving food-and-beer pairings.

Sixth course.
Our last course was homemade vanilla ice cream with caramel sauce and salty pecans.  It was delicious, but the flavor was heightened even more by the paired beer: an English spiced barley wine, 18% alcohol, brewed with silan (date honey) and pumpkin spice (ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves).  It had strong notes of what I describe as chocolate and prunes.

Barley wines are strong ales, so called because the alcoholic content is similar to wine.  This was another courageous pairing that succeeded in ending the meal with exquisite, complex flavors.

A wonderful evening at the Frieds came to an end, an evening for people who appreciate delicious food and great beer -- and what connects them.  I hope the Frieds do it again sometime.  Hell, I hope every home-brewer does it sometime.  What a great way to introduce neighbors and friends to craft beer's contribution to our quality of life.        

March 10, 2015

Golan Brewery launches new Og Double Bock Wheat Beer

The Golan Brewery in Katzrin, one of Israel's most established craft breweries, recently launched a new seasonal beer – Og Double Bock Wheat Beer.

The old blogger with Michael Giladi, Omri
Zilberman and Motti Barr at the launch of
Og Double Bock Wheat Beer.
(Photo:Mike Horton)
According to brewmaster Omri Zilberman, the new beer is a joining of two styles which the Golan Brewery currently makes: Bazelet Wheat and Bazelet Double Bock.  

The result, I believe, is better than the sum of its parts.

The new beer was launched at the Ilka Bar in Tel Aviv, and Golan Brewery Manager Michael Giladi was kind enough to invite me and photographer Mike Horton.  We joined some ten other journalists and bloggers from the online, print and radio world.

The new Og Double Bock
Wheat Beer, surrounded by
the four permanent Bazelet beers.
(Photo: Mike Horton)
Giladi gave us a brief overview of the Golan Brewery: They produce four permanent beers under the Bazelet label (Wheat Ale, Amber Ale, Double Bock lager, and Pilsner lager), as well as seasonal beers under the Og label.  (Og was a king in the ancient Bashan region on the Golan Heights.)      

"Og gives us the chance to get creative," added Motti Barr, the Golan Brewery production manager.  Previous Og beers have included summer ale (Og Keitzit), double bock (Og Alon), and even an earlier version of a double bock wheat in 2012, though with a different recipe from the new beer.  Only 3,000 to 5,000 liters of each version of Og seasonal beer are produced, and when these are sold out, so is the beer.  (Read my earlier post on Golan Brewery beers here.)


The launch of Og Double Bock Wheat Beer
at the Tel Aviv "press conference."
(Photo: Mike Horton)
Brewmaster Zilberman told us that double bocks have traditionally been made for winter drinking.  It is a dark beer, strong in alcohol, with an intense sweet malty taste.  The monks who first brewed it in Germany called it "liquid bread."

"By combining the two styles of wheat and double bock, we have brewed a unique wheat beer which boasts the strength and flavors of a double bock," said Zilberman.  "Alcoholic content is a hefty 8.4%.  Our malt mixture is 70% wheat and 30% barley.  The yeast is typical Bavarian wheat beer yeast."

The first pouring of 
Og Double Bock Wheat Beer.
(Photo: Mike Horton)
After we tasted Bazelet Wheat and Bazelet Double Bock to acquaint us with the two styles joined in the new beer, the journalists were served festive drafts of Og Double Bock Wheat.  Its color is a cloudy honey amber – right between the pale wheat beer and the brown double bock.  The aroma is faintly banana (typical for a wheat beer) and whisky alcohol.  The first thing you taste is the sweet malt and caramel, followed by dark fruits, coffee and chocolate.

Og Double Bock Wheat is truly a delicious strong ale, successfully combining the elements of two very different styles.  It is now arriving at liquor stores which sell Golan beers.  Since we have a few good weeks of winter left, it can still be enjoyed on the cold days for which good double bock beer was intended.

February 24, 2015

One more "winter holiday" ale

Winter is still here; there's no doubt about that.  Witness our last weekend: cold and rainy, and snowy in the hilly regions around Israel.  So it's not too late to mention one more Israeli "winter holiday" ale that arrived after I wrote my previous post.
Snowy Jerusalem from our window.

It's the Mabul Christmas Ale made by home-brewers Avi Riji and Oded Bahar in Kiryat Motzkin near Haifa.  (I mentioned Avi and his beers when I wrote about home-brewers, and you can read it here.)

Mabul Christmas Ale.
My drinking partner Moshe and I agreed that Mabul ("flood" in Hebrew) was the most flavorful holiday beer we tasted.  It pours dark copper with a reddish hue.  The aroma that hits you is strongly cinnamon and hops.  Quite a nice combination, really.  Cinnamon stays in the flavor, along with bitter chocolate, and ending with ginger in the aftertaste.  Avi and Oded brew their beer with cinnamon, ginger, honey and nutmeg.

Moshe commented that all of the flavors combine very nicely in Mabul, though he believes that the extreme flavors of this beer would be appreciated more by beer aficionados than the general public. So, kudos to Avi and Oded for creating a winter holiday ale worthy of its name.

The downside is that Mabul is a home-brew not available in any stores or restaurants.  Avi and Oded share it with their family and friends, of which I am happy to be one.

Maredsous Trippel abbey ale.
However, for this past snowy Shabbat in Jerusalem, when the temperature was close to freezing, I chose to open a bottle of beer widely available in Israel though not, unfortunately, from Israel.  It was a warming and strong (10% ABV) abbey ale from Belgium -- Maredsous Trippel.  It is brewed in the venerable tradition of the Benedictine monks, and undergoes a second fermentation in the bottle with the addition of sugar and yeast.

Maredsous Trippel can be kept in the bottle for three years without any change in taste and color.  I received mine as a birthday present from my son Aharon and his wife Melanie a-year-and-a-half ago.

Mardesous Trippel pours a bright amber color with a firm white head.  The aroma is fruity, citrus and banana.  Within the heavy malt and alcohol taste, I found beautiful notes of chocolate caramel, prunes and dried fruits.

The beer went very well with our lunch, which was a good, hearty vegetarian cholent and other vegetable stews.  The strong flavors of the Trippel added a contrasting sweetness to our hot stews.  And for dessert, the beer's caramel flavor perfectly complemented a tart apple strudel and peanut butter - granola cookies.          

Most people associate beer with the summertime; a cold, crisp thirst quencher.  But the more I learn about the charms of strong ales and winter beers, the more I appreciate beer as no less a great beverage for the cold weather.