May 10, 2016

The people have spoken: "We want beer on Passover."

Even before Passover ended, I was getting signals that the kosher-for-Passover Date Ale from the Meadan Brewery was going to be a success.

It started at my own Seder holiday meal, when I proudly served bottles of the beer.  Two of my guests who appreciate beer, drank it and proclaimed their admiration.  Hmm.

A day later, I called a friend, one of the judges on our Israel Brews and Views Tasting Panel, and he told me how much he enjoyed the beer at his own Seder.  But even more significant: His son who dislikes beer intensely, took a hesitant sip and screwed up his face: "Ugh!  This is terrible.  It tastes just like beer!"  Could there be a more heartfelt, back-handed compliment?

Now, I have already written (here) my opinion that the taste of Meadan Date Ale is compromised by the lack of malted grain.  However, since grain would make this beer unfit for Passover, it was difficult for me to envision a happy solution.

But, if I am an anything, I am deferential to the voice of the people.  And the people were telling me, they like this beer!

But there's more.

During Passover, we went out to eat in a restaurant that had a chalkboard by the door: "Meadan Date Ale - Kosher for Passover."  Well, here was a chance to have more beer, so we sat down, ordered our food and beer, and the waiter said: "Oh, we ran out of that beer on the first day.  We ordered some more from our distributor, but he also didn't have any left."  Hmm.

Then, just before the last days of Passover, I went to one of my favorite liquor stores in Jerusalem, Hamisameach near the Machane Yehuda market, to buy some more of the Date Ale.  When I got there, there were two bottles left in a cut open carton.  "Are there any more?", I asked.  "No, that's the last of it," the salesman answered.  "I think we had 30 cartons and they're all gone."

Meanwhile, at the brewery in Carmiel, owner Bryan Meadan was able to feel in macro what I was hearing in the field.                  

"Almost all of our 40,000 bottles were sold out," Bryan told me.  "People visited our brewery and bought our beer all of Passover week, and the feedback was very positive.

"Unfortunately, stores and distributors ran out of our beer and we didn't have enough to re-supply them."

Bryan hopes to solve this problem next year by doubling the production and by filling orders in advance so that all stores have enough beer for the holiday.

Bryan is also negotiating the possibility of exporting his Passover beer next year to the unquenchable American Jewish market.

After Meadan has proven how much the public really thirsts for kosher-for-Passover beer, it's likely that other brewers will try to get into this market in 2017.  However, they face the daunting task of cleansing their breweries of all leavened grain.  Though possible, it's probably prohibitively expensive.

Being gluten-free, the Meadan Brewery never uses leavened grain and therefore, in effect, remains kosher-for-Passover year round.

"We are now returning to brew our regular gluten-free beers, but with improvements," Bryan said.  "For example, we will have two Date Ales: One with the same recipe as our Passover Date Ale, and a Bitter Date Ale, with a higher alcoholic content.  Our Buckwheat Beer will have a fuller body, and our Hummus (Chickpea) Beer will be less sour, while staying very hoppy."

April 15, 2016

Kosher for Passover beer -- this year!

Is that the footsteps of the messiah we hear? 

Ever since Jews have refrained from eating leavened grain on Passover, they have been suffering without beer for the entire seven-day holiday.  Modern food technology has created Passover substitutes for almost everything else: rolls, pastry, noodles, even pizza!  But beer has remained the forbidden fruit.

That is, until this very Passover.  Now, the Meadan Brewery in Carmiel, a microbrewery specializing in producing gluten-free beer, has brewed Israel's (and maybe the world's) first certified kosher-for-Passover beer. 

"We are doing our distribution now," says Bryan Meadan, the owner and brewmaster of Meadan Brewery, "and we hope to be in as many stores as possible before Passover.  During Passover, we should be the only beer on the shelves!"

Meadan's beer is kosher-for-Passover because the fermentation comes not from grain, as it does in almost all other beers, but from date syrup, or silan.  The other ingredients, which are the same as in all beers – water, yeast and hops – are not intrinsically forbidden during Passover. 

"However," Meadan adds, "the rabbis insisted that our yeast be fresh and not be taken from any previously brewed beer.  This was no problem.  They also didn’t really know what hops were, and we had to show them that these are actually little flowers, or seed cones, with no relation to grain.  At any rate, all the hops we used were imported from the U.S., and they already had kosher-for-Passover certification."

Bryan Meadan at work in his brewery.
The other thing Meadan had to do was to ensure that leavened grain was never used in his brewing facility.  "This was not possible while we were doing contract brewing in someone else's facility," he explains.  "But we were able to find investors and open up our own brewery here in Carmiel around six months ago.  Since we have to keep our brewery stringently gluten-free, it is also in effect kosher-for-Passover year round."  
Meadan's Date Ale is certified kosher-for-Passover by the Chief Rabbinate of Carmiel and the Badatz Beit Yosef.

Without getting overly technical, in regular beers, the sugars which are digested by the yeast to produce carbon dioxide and alcohol, come from malted grain, in most instances barley or wheat.  In Meadan's kosher-for-Passover ale, the yeast feed on silan and added brown sugar.

For the yeast, the results are the same: CO2 and alcohol. 

Coming to a Seder table near you!
But for the taste, I missed the malty character that I associate with beer.  In fact, many beer drinkers appreciate the balance between the sweetness of the malt and the bitterness of the hops which defines most beers.  With Meadan's Date Ale, this complexity is missing. 

Still, the Date Ale is a historic response for those who dread the thought of going through another Passover without beer.

Meadan's Date Ale pours out a dark copper color with a frothy head.  The aroma is slightly spicy hops, wet grass and dried dates.  With the first swallow, you get a dark bitterness against a slight background of chocolate.  The body is very light and the aftertaste is not hoppy.      
In addition to the Date Ale, Meadan also brews two other gluten-free beers year round: a buckwheat beer and a hummus (chickpea) beer.

"These beers could also have received a kosher-for-Passover certificate," says Meadan.  "But because buckwheat and hummus are considered legumes, they would be forbidden to those who do not eat legumes during Passover – that is, almost all of the Ashkenazi communities. 

"By brewing a beer based on silan, we avoided the fractious problems of kitniyot altogether," explains Meadan, using the Hebrew word for 'legumes.'

Meadan Brewery produced around 15,000 liters of the Passover Date Ale, a quantity which Bryan Medan doesn't think will be enough to meet the heavy demand.

"People love the concept of being able to drink beer on Passover, and they love our beer," he says.  "By next year, we hope to expand our brewing facilities to meet the demands of the local market, and to even be able to export our beer."

But for this year, let Israeli beer lovers not quibble over nuances of aroma and taste.  We have a Passover beverage that will quench your thirst as only a beer can.  Enjoy it at your Seder and all the days of our Feast of Liberation.

This article originally appeared in The Jerusalem Post Magazine.

March 23, 2016

Collaboration Beer brewed in Munich

Late last month, Maor Helfman and Itai Gutman of Herzl Beer in Jerusalem, flew to Munich to brew a collaborative beer with their German counterparts at the Crew Republic Brewery.  (To get more background information, please read my previous post here.) 
Itai Gutman (left), Maor Helfman and Timm Schnigula
get together to brew their collaborative beer.

© Jewish Museum Munich (photo: Vivi d'Angelo)

The as-yet-unnamed beer will be unveiled to the public on April 13 at the opening of an exhibit at the Munich Jewish Museum, called "Beer is the Wine of this Land: Jewish Brewing Tales."  

The exhibit marks the 500th anniversary of the Reinheitsgebot, the famous Bavarian beer purity decree.

"Some 2,500 liters of our beer is now fermenting and conditioning at the Craft Republic Brewery," Maor Helfman told me after he returned to Israel.  

"When we planned our joint Israeli-German beer, we knew we had to obey the Reinheitsgebot, which demands that beer only contain grain, water, hops and yeast.  So we couldn't add an 'Israeli ingredient' like oranges, date honey, pomegranates, etc.
Side one of the new beer
coaster shows the
logos of the Crew
Republic and Herzl . . .

© Jewish Museum Munich

"We decided to make a 'steam beer,' which would take a typical German lager, normally fermented at 8-12 degrees centigrade (46-540 F) and ferment it at a higher temperature associated with Israel -- in this case, 14-18 degrees centigrade (57-640 F)."   

This is called a "steam beer" or a "California common beer" since the style was made popular in California beginning in the mid-1800s.  Modern refrigeration was not available, and in order to cool the wort quickly before fermentation, it was poured into large, shallow trays to catch the breezes coming from the Pacific Ocean.  The "steam" refers to the mist which hovered over the open trays of beer while it was fermenting.
 . . . and side two has the
name of the exhibit:
"Beer is the Wine of
this Land."

© Jewish Museum Munich

Steam beers are normally characterized by assertive hoppiness together with a strong malty character and fruit tastes.  Since it combines lager yeast with ale fermentation temperatures, steam beer is generally clear and crisp like a lager, but also full-bodied like an ale.  I should add that the expectations for this beer are high.

The collaborative beer was brewed with German Pilsner malts, Hallertau and East Kent Golding hops, and fresh yeast from the famous Weihenstephan Brewery in Germany.

Maor and Itai worked on the beer with the two partners of the Crew Republic Brewery, Timm Schnigula and Mario Hanl.  
The new labels of the
collaborative beer.

© Jewish Museum Munich
(photo: Vivi d'Angelo)

"They just moved into a new brewery which is amazing," Maor said.  "All the equipment is the most modern and completely automated.  It was wonderful to work with such dedicated brewers and I can say we learned a lot."

The new labels for the collaborative beer have already been printed up, and here is the translation from the German:

Collaboration Brew: Inspired by the Jewish Museum in Munich and on the occasion of the exhibition "Beer is the Wine of this Land," we have brewed this special beer together with the Herzl Brewery from Jerusalem.  This amber colored steam beer is fermented with a traditional bottom fermenting yeast from Bavaria at warm temperatures that are typical for Israel.  And of course we did not forget to add a nice hoppy note.  Brewed and bottled by us for you at the Crew Republic Brewery, Andreas Danzer Weg 30, UnterschleiƟheim.

Maor won't reveal anything more about the beer, so I guess I'll just have to wait unti the Grand Exhibit Opening and the Grand Collaborative Beer Launch on April 12, when I plan to be there in Munich.
Conrad Seidl, the "Beer Pope," takes his
first taste of the wort.  What is he thinking?

© Jewish Museum Munich (photo: Vivi d'Angelo)

Maor and Itai will be joining my wife Trudy and me there, as will those two fervent champions of Israel craft beer, Bernhard Purin, the museum director, and Conrad Seidl, the "Beer Pope" from Vienna.

Stay tuned.         

March 7, 2016

Jem's IPA and Herzl Krembo arrive on the scene

Two new beers from Israeli craft breweries have come to market recently – both representing strong, bold styles, but with a twist.

The first is an IPA (India Pale Ale) from Jem's Beer Factory in Petach Tikva. 

Regular beer didn't last the four-six
month trip from England to India.
IPA is probably the most popular craft beer style in the world today.  Some beer historians believe that the style evolved in 18th century Britain, when the regular pale ales being shipped to British soldiers and civilians in colonial India spoiled during the long sea voyage.  Brewers found that by adding a lot more hops to the recipe, as well as extra yeast and sugars, the stronger beer arrived fit for consumption.

The style also caught on in England, where beer drinkers appreciated the spicy and refreshing bitterness of IPAs.  The extra portion of hops, which are little green flowers or "seed cones," add bitterness to the aroma and flavor of the beer, along with citrusy, fruity, spicy or piney tastes.

"We thought that the Israeli market has become mature enough for the taste of an IPA," says Jeremy Welfeld, one of the partners of Jem's Beer Factory.  "Still, in deference to the Israeli palate, we kept away from the extreme bitter taste you get in some American and European IPAs." 

Welfeld added that his IPA is made with six different hops from all over the world, and with Cara Pils malted barley from Wisconsin, known for adding body and head retention to beer.  Alcohol by volume is 6%.

Around seven of the larger, commercial Israeli craft breweries now make an IPA, proving the growing popularity of this style.  Several of the smaller, local breweries also have their versions of India pale ale.

Although I have never tasted the draft version of Jem's IPA, I was told it's very different from the bottled beer.  My short review below refers only to the bottles of beer with a "Best By" date of August 3, 2017 (this is what's written, but it probably is a mistake and should be 2016).     

Jem's IPA pours out of the bottle very pale and cloudy, the color you may expect from a wheat beer, with a thin creamy head.  There's an aroma of grapefruit and grass, but not of hops.  Even in the taste, the hop bitterness is very understated, but you do get tropical fruits, perhaps pineapple and banana, and floral spices.

In short, this beer is not really an IPA by the hopped-up standards of today, but more like a pale ale or even a wheat beer with some extra hops.  It's a dry beer, light and very carbonated.  

Looks like a crembo,
tastes like a crembo . . . 
The second new beer is from the Herzl Brewery in Jerusalem, and it's intended for the colder months of the year.  It's named Crembo -- after the iconic Israeli confection which is eaten only in the winter, probably because it would melt down to a gummy syrup in the summer months.  This Israeli contribution to the culinary arts is basically a chocolate-covered fluffy marshmallow on a biscuit base.  Israeli kids, and not a few adults, devour them in huge numbers every winter.    

Herzl's Crembo beer is called a "milk stout" (also known as "cream stout" or "sweet stout") because it is made with lactose, a sugar derived from milk.  Since lactose is not fermentable by beer yeast, which means the yeast cannot digest it, it stays sweet in the beer and adds body, creaminess – and calories.  In fact, beginning a hundred years ago, milk stouts were believed to be beneficial to nursing mothers because of their nutritious ingredients.  

Crembo: Herzl's winter beer.
For those concerned that the addition of lactose would make Crembo beer a dairy product, you should know that most rabbinic authorities do not consider lactose as dairy, even though it is derived from milk.  This is because it undergoes a process during its extraction from milk which renders it unfit for consumption.      

Maor Helfman, a partner in the Herzl Brewery, explains: "We got the idea for Crembo beer by asking ourselves, 'What is the quintessential Israeli delicacy in the winter?'  The answer is the crembo confection.  So we built a beer around the same flavors which was serious but with a wink towards the fun of a crembo.  Even the blue foil at the top of the bottle duplicates the packaging of a crembo."

To achieve the other flavors, Crembo beer is made with cocoa beans and Madagascar vanilla beans during the fermentation.  At 7.7% alcohol, it's a strong beer.

Crembo pours out black like a good stout should, with a long-lasting tan head.  The dominant aromas are coffee and vanilla, with a whiff of bread.  The chocolate hits you when you take a taste, as does the vanilla.  Those two popular flavors blend together in a very creamy mouthfeel.  Other stouts may have a bitter chocolate taste, but with Crembo it's definitely milk chocolate.  At the bottom of the glass, I noticed flakes of either vanilla or chocolate beans, or maybe both.

My drinking partner exclaimed: "It's as close as a beer can get to ice cream!"

Crembo is a beer experience you don't want to miss, but I'm sorry to say that Herzl has already discontinued brewing it.  There may be a few bottles still on the shelves at your favorite liquor store, so I suggest you get over there and buy them while you still can.

January 26, 2016

Gift-bearing visitor from Chicago

One of the nicest results of this web log is getting to know fellow beer enthusiasts from all over the world.  Sometimes I even meet them.  Sometimes they even bring me gifts.

Nick Hawkins (right) and the old blogger
with Chicago beer and Jerusalem pizza.
So it was that several weeks ago, I met a faithful reader who was visiting Jerusalem and was kind enough to attend my lecture and bring me beer.  Ah, it's good to be famous.

Nick Hawkins came all the way from Chicago to enjoy a vacation in Israel and drink some of our craft beers.  In fact, he's been doing the same thing all over the world.

"That's what I do," says Nick.  I travel around the world to drink local beers: Myanmar, China, Norway, Poland, even Kuwait.  You name it."

Nick feels a little guilty that it's been 20 years since he was last in Israel.  As someone who thinks deeply about his Jewishness, he is very interested in how Israel fits into the equation.

"Many American Jews try to separate Israel from their Judaism," he declares, "but I don't see how you can do that."

If you're wondering about the "Hawkins," it's because Nick's father is Irish and his mother is Jewish.  "I was given the freedom to go either way," he explains, "and I chose my Jewish side.  Still, if you're Irish and Jewish, you can't help but love beer."

What a gift to shlepp all the way from Chicago:
Six beautiful craft beers.
At any rate, this is a blog about beer, not religion.  So when I met Nick at the new branch of the Bardak pub near the Machane Yehuda market (4 Beit Yaakov Street), he told me how impressed he was with Israeli craft beers.

"Even though I search out good beer all around the world, I'm not a beer geek," Nick told me.  "I don't use the jargon: 'flavor notes,' 'hoppy to the nose,' 'mouthfeel' -- none of that.  Beer for me is 'good' or 'bad,' and most of the Israeli crafts have been good."

Oh yes, what about the gift-bearing visitor?  Nick had carried six different beers from craft breweries in Chicago, so that he could give them to me.  Certainly an unexpected and delightful gift.

Troublesome (wheat beer brewed with coriander) from Off Color Brewing
Daisy Cutter Pale Ale from Half Acre Beer Company
Gringolandia Magnifica Wheat from 5 Rabbit Brewery
Matilda (Belgian style pale ale) from Goose Island Beer Company
Eugene Porter from Revolution Brewing
Fist City Chicago Pale Ale from Revolution Brewing

I've had some already, but I'm not drinking them all at once.  I'm making them last.

It was a rare pleasure to meet and chat with Nick.  I never met anyone whose hobby is to visit foreign countries and drink their beers!  I checked the list of "50 most popular hobbies" and it's not there, but it should be.  Long may Nick continue his travels -- but I hope he doesn't wait another 20 years before coming to Israel again!          

January 25, 2016

The elusive quest for a Passover beer

Jeremy (Yossi) Sulzbacher came from Antwerp, Belgium, to present me with some of his home-brewed, gluten-free beer.  (Well, he was also visiting his three sons who live here, but I was on the short list.)

Jeremy Sulzbacher gave me a bottle
of his Ginger Tipple while we both
enjoyed a glass of regular beer,
not on Passover.

Jeremy was born in the UK but has been living in Antwerp with his Belgian-born wife for 12 years.  He took a course in brewing several years ago and got hooked.

But, he says, "I've never brewed regular beer."  Indeed, he gave me a bottle of his Ginger Tipple, a beer brewed without grain at all.    

"We use non-white sugars and grated ginger in the mash," Jeremy explained.  "We ferment with wine yeast and dry-hop during fermentation for four weeks.  Just before bottling, we add lemon juice and rind, and honey.

"Although it says 7% alcohol on the label, it's really closer to 9% -- a really strong brew."

Jeremy also gave me a second bottle of Ginger Tipple with added organic apple juice.

"Wait!  You can't have beer!"
Now here's the thing about Ginger Tipple: Since it has no grain of any kind, it is 100% gluten-free.  It can also be Kosher for Passover even for people who don't eat legumes (kitniyot), since it has none of those either.

"I found rabbinical authorities in Belgium who will certify this for me," Jeremy adds.  "This includes the hops, which are not grain at all, but you must prove that they never come into contact with leavened grain.

"My plan is to sell this beer for Passover to the major Jewish communities in America, Israel and Britain.  I will be able to brew the quantity I need by using the facilities of large kosher wineries, where the equipment is kosher for Passover all through the year."

So do we finally have a beer we can serve at our Passover table which will be kosher by all accounts?  This could be big news.  With this in mind, I eagerly popped open my bottle of Ginger Tipple to have a taste.

They didn't have beer at their seder table.
Why should we?
Well, the good news is, it's a curiously refreshing beverage which would grace any table.  The interplay of the ginger, lemon and hops is a very successful blend of flavors.  Although it has a light body and is highly carbonated, this is very much an adult drink.  I think it would be especially suitable as an aperitif (before the meal) or a digestif (afterwards).  I would be happy to serve Ginger Tipple at my Passover seder meal.

But . . . beer, as we know it, it is not.  Although "beer" has a wide range of styles, colors, aromas and flavors, there is also a connecting thread which we can identify almost immediately.  Even those beers which tend strongly towards sour and salty can still find a place under the tent.  But in my humble opinion, Ginger Tipple is not there.  

So, hearty kudos to Jeremy Sulzbacher for giving us a wonderful alternative beverage to serve during Passover.  I certainly hope to see it on sale in Israel and will buy a few bottles for my own holiday table and as gifts.

But the search for a kosher for Passover beer still continues.      

January 14, 2016

2016 Jack's Winter Ale is here

Just in time for the first blasts of winter, the Shapiro Brewery in Beit Shemesh has brought out the 2016 version of Jack's Winter Ale.  This is a strong and dark Belgian-style ale which is perfect for drinking in the coldest weather.

The 2016 version of Jack's Winter Ale.
This is the fifth year that Shapiro has brewed this unique seasonal beer.  Itzik Shapiro, one of the partner-brothers in the brewery, told me that the recipe has remained basically unchanged through the years, though minor tweaks here and there could have effects on the aroma and taste.

"One of the major changes has been that the beer has become more alcoholic," Shapiro disclosed.  "In the early versions, our alcohol by volume was about 6.5%.  Now it's 8.5%.  This may change the perception of how people experience the beer, but our brewmaster Yochai Kudler has made no drastic changes in the original recipe."

From the start, Jack's Winter Ale has been aged with wood chips soaked in Jack Daniel's Tennessee Whiskey – which is how it got its name.  The whisky chips give the beer a full and rich body, and smooth, buttery finish, but have little effect on the alcoholic content.

To get the complete winter experience, I poured myself a bottle of Jack's 2016 on a particularly cold and blustery afternoon.  Like most heavy winter or "holiday" beers, it should not be drunk ice cold, so I took it out of the refrigerator about 20 minutes before I opened it.
Itzik Shapiro in the brewery.

It poured out a dark chestnut brown color with a thin tan head.  The aroma was strongly chocolate and caramel.  The first sip continued with the caramel theme, though a bitter caramel, along with the taste of red fruits.  The beer is quite full bodied; you can even say "chewy."  There was a nice spiciness in the aftertaste, perhaps cloves or pepper.  If there was any whisky in the taste, it was very understated.  
This is a great beer for any winter meal, especially foods with intense or spicy tastes, as well as pizza, aged cheeses, and rich, semi-sweet desserts.  After the meal, it's a beautiful warming dessert by itself.

Leave the "crisp" and "refreshing" beers for the steamy days of summer.  Now is the time to enjoy a bottle of hearty Jack's Winter Ale, before the spring thaw sets in.