April 16, 2014

Kosher for Passover beer? -- Maybe for next year.

Passover, the joyous festival of spring and redemption, casts an ominous cloud over beer lovers who keep the dietary laws.  For beer, that delicious potion which depends on the fermentation of barley or wheat, is the granddaddy of chametz, leavened grain, which is strictly forbidden for the seven (or eight) days of Passover.

What if . . . ?
But what if there could be a beer that is Kosher for Passover?  Ah, not only would it sell like hot matza around the world, but the Jews would have light and gladness, joy and feasting.

If it were up to Bryan Meadan of Har Halutz near Carmiel, we would all be enjoying Kosher for Passover beer by next Passover.

Born in Montreal, Bryan spent some time in southern California before immigrating to Israel in 1982.  He is married with one son and three daughters.  He works as a computer programmer, building websites and doing consulting, most recently for his own company, Cyber Steps.  

Bryan and his brew.
But our story starts when Bryan was diagnosed with celiac disease eight years ago.  This is an immune response to gluten -- a substance found in wheat, barley, rye and other grains -- which can cause serious damage to the intestine.

Bryan was able to find adequate substitutes for breads, pastries and pastas -- but the thing he missed the most was beer.

"I love beer," he declares, "and the very few gluten-free beers available in Israel were all imported, expensive and not very good."

So he did what any beer lover would do: he started to brew his own.

Brewing with buckwheat.
Bryan worked with buckwheat (koosemet in Hebrew), a grain which does not contain gluten.  After a period of experimentation (including using quinoa and honey), he developed a recipe which satisfied his own demands for beer.

"We use buckwheat and silan (date syrup)," he explains, "and lots of hops.  The result is a gluten-free beer that I love."

Apparently, other beer drinkers -- and not only celiac patients -- loved the beer as well.  Bryan began selling the beer, and eventually moved his brewing to the Mivshelet Ha'am shared facility in Even Yehuda..

Meadan Gluten-Free
Buckwheat Malt Ale.
"We malt our own organic buckwheat," Bryan says, "which takes around two weeks to make enough for a batch of 200 liters of beer.  We can't make enough beer to meet the demand."  Today, Meadan Gluten-Free Buckwheat Malt Ale is sold in several restaurants and stores in the Galilee and the Central Region, and in Olam HaTeva near the Machane Yehuda market in Jerusalem.   

I tried the beer and found it had a very hoppy aroma (which I like), and a gentle bitter aftertaste.  Not being used to the flavor of malted buckwheat, my first impressions were of bitterness without the "taste" of beer.  I can understand where some beer drinkers would find this a bit of a hurdle.  Still, Meadan Beer has its own unique style which would appeal to people who appreciate strong hops with a very malty taste.   

By now, you're probably asking: "What does this have to do with Kosher for Passover beer?"

The thing is, the same qualities which make a beer gluten-free have the potential for making it Kosher for Passover.

The rabbis have decided that only fermentation in the following grains can make food chametz, or unfit for Passover: Wheat, barley, rye, spelt and oats.  And these are the same grains which contain gluten!  (Note: Even though oats are inherently gluten-free, they are usually contaminated with wheat gluten during growing and processing.)

Therefore, if a food item is gluten free, it probably cannot be chametz, and is therefore Kosher for Passover.

"Not so fast there," Bryan warns me.  "There are other factors as well.

"In the first place, even though buckwheat cannot become chametz, it is considered a legume (kitniya), which means that many Ashkenazi Jews do not eat it on Passover.  There is also the problem that my beer looks like any other beer, and the rabbis may withhold certification because: 'People will see observant Jews drinking Meadan beer on Passover and think it's okay to drink any beer.'

"But the biggest obstacle," continues Bryan, "is that I need a brewing facility which is free from any wheat and barley in order to get Kosher for Passover certification.  The Mivshelet Ha'am facility, where I brew now, certainly does not qualify.  There is no alternative: I have to open my own brewery."  

Bryan has crunched some numbers and believes that demand for Kosher for Passover beer would be huge.  "Our own poll shows that some 40% of Israelis would drink Kosher for Passover beer if it were available.  For one week a year, we will be the only beer on the shelf.  Even people who don't care about the kashrut will drink it -- and they will continue to buy it year-round because it's good beer.  The export potential to major Jewish centers is also there."

But everything depends on Bryan getting his own brewing facility.  "I am looking for investors who will also be able to work as partners.  Not only will our own facility enable us to approach the Kosher for Passover market, but we will also be able to meet the daily demand for a quality gluten-free, celiac-friendly beer.  Believe me, most people who are limited to drinking gluten-free brews rarely get the opportunity to taste something like this."        

If you are in a position to join Bryan in this amazing business adventure, or if you know someone who is, you can contact him through his website: www.meadan.com/

 . . . . or should that "Hoppy"?
Who knows?  If Bryan is able to achieve his dream, beers lovers at this time next year will be looking forward to Passover with glee rather than trepidation.

April 14, 2014

Last beer before Passover

Sort of like "the last exit before Brooklyn," I have to get off the beer train before we cross into forbidden territory. 

To celebrate the end of eating leavened grain for seven days, Trudy and I ate a veggie hot dog dinner last night, with mustardy buns and beans and pickles and potato chips.  All great stuff for we two American-born and -bred Israelis.

I eased it down with sips of Sparrow Brewery's new Zythos Wheat IPA.  I haven't seen any Sparrow beer in Jerusalem.  I bought a bottle when I visited Beer & Beyond in Tel Aviv a few weeks ago.      

It was an excellent choice.  Using wheat in an IPA is not very common, and in this case it adds a little of the sweetness and crispness of a wheat beer to the IPA hoppiness.  And these are not just any hops.  As the name says, these are Zythos hops, a special blend of West Coast U.S. hops which was formulated to enhance the aroma and flavor of IPAs.  Wow, does it ever!   

I got strong notes of citrus, particularly red grapefruit (how delicious was that!), and a little bit of pine and spice.  It ends with the bitterness you expect from a good IPA.  In short, a thoroughly enjoyable ale which would go well by itself on a hot day, or with any strong, spicy dish -- or even American-style hot dogs and beans.

This is a new brew from Sparrow -- I think just two months old -- and I would like to find out more about their other beers and the brewery itself.  I will make this my mission after Pesach some time.  The owner of Sparrow Brewery is Dror Sapir from Moshav Magshimim and the beer is brewed at Mivshelet Ha'am in Even Yehuda.

Sparrow's Zythos Wheat IPA was a good last beer to have before Passover.  Now it's a week of apple cider, arak and slivovitz.  Not especially bad -- but not beer.  Maybe by next year, we will have a Kosher for Passover beer.  Stay tuned.

With Passover and Easter upon us, I want to wish a very happy holiday to all my readers.  
!חג כשר ושמח  

April 2, 2014

"Guest Curator of Artisanal Beer" -- Hey, that's me!

With absolutely no fanfare, I was recently named the "Guest Curator of Artisanal Beer" on the Curated Israel website.  This is a New York-based site specializing in Israeli design -- jewelry, fashion and accessories, judaica, art, and food.  

Diane Kaston, Head Curator
Curated Israel

When I was asked by the Head Curator and webmaster, Diane Kaston, to recommend Israeli beers to go with their recipes (in other words, food and beer pairings), I humbly accepted.  It is a task that I enjoy and will hopefully grow into. 

You can read my first attempt here.

I think it could be very frustrating for readers outside of Israel, since only very few of our craft beers are available abroad, and that is only in major cities.  In fact, many of our excellent craft beers are not even available everywhere in Israel!
Here's hoping that changes soon, and beer lovers all around the world will be able to buy Israeli craft beers in their stores and restaurants as easily as they buy European and American imports.  

March 31, 2014

Coming soon: Wheat Beer Tasting Panel

Another great Israel Brews and Views tasting panel will be held this week.  Your favorite gang of beer tasters will be commenting on and ranking Israeli wheat beers -- also known as hefeweizen and weissbiers -- made with malted wheat replacing a good part of the barley.

These light-bodied ales are cloudy, highly carbonated and not very bitter.  They generally have low alcoholic content and may be graced wth citrusy and spicy flavors.   

Just from eyeballing the shelves, I get the impression that more Israeli craft breweries brew a wheat beer than any other style.

We count around 20 Israeli wheat beers out there.  If we tasted them all in one sitting, you would have to carry the judges home in plastic bags.  So we're picking a nice variety of about eight beers from a representative cross section of Israeli craft breweries.

If you're not yet a subscriber, sign up now so as not to miss it.  Just type your e-mail in the little box in the right-hand column where it says, "Sign up for updates" and press "Submit."

You want to be here for the final verdicts.  

March 24, 2014

Another voice from Taybeh

My post of December 8, 2013, titled "My problem with Taybeh beer" has had the highest number of readers on my blog.  I can only guess that people are interested in the intersection of beer brewing and politics -- politics within the heavily-Moslem West Bank, and Taybeh beer's use of confrontation and anti-Israel rhetoric in its marketing.

Today, over three months after I posted the article, I can see that people are still reading "My problem with Taybeh beer" as the page views continue to climb.  I want to share with you a new comment from a reader in Taybeh (such is the power of the internet!) which sheds additional light on the Taybeh beer phenomenon, a side that is never included in press reports about Taybeh beer or its Oktoberfest. 

"I am a Palestinian Christian living in Taybeh and I agree with your post.  What you must know however is that the so-called Taybeh Oktoberfest is not an event in which the people of Taybeh participate, whether as attendees, hosts, etc.  This is largely a one man...I mean family...show.  The people of Taybeh are intentionally left out of the picture altogether.  The event does absolutely nothing in terms of "boosting the local economy" or "promoting Taybeh businesses" as the Khourys often recite to those who would listen.  We do however incur the costs of clean-up after the event each year which puts a heavy burden on a weak municipality which is already strapped for cash and is barely alive.

"David Khoury was the former mayor of Taybeh...for eight years no less...on account of the Palestinian Authority government freezing all elections until they could hammer out a national plan that unites all the parties.  We still don't have a unified government and the legislative council is still missing in action.  Most current policies are deployed through Abbas' "presidential decrees" or by one of his un-elected cronies.  Khoury leveraged his role as the mayor of Taybeh to boost his family's business, led by his brother Nadim, at the expense of Taybeh's common folk.

"As for why the Taybeh Oktoberfest wasn't held in Taybeh last year? Well, it was because the municipality had the nerve to ask the organizers of the festival to cover rental and clean-up costs for the event on municipal land since they were tired of footing the bill every year and being forced to cut costs of more important civil services.  Additionally, security was lax prior to moving the event to a Ramallah hotel.  The organizers did very little to protect the properties of local villagers or to remove drunken violent attendees who damaged property, cars, or started fights.  Of course these are things that are not mentioned in the media because no one has ever come to Taybeh to ask the people living here what they think of the event.

"Finally, most of the villagers do not hold the beer company in high regard.  The Khourys are thoroughly corrupt and are exploiting the village and its people for their own wealth.  As far as drinking Taybeh beer, many of us don't even buy or drink it.  The more popular brands here are your usual mainstream beers with Heineken taking the top spot.

"By the way, Maria Khoury is the wife of former mayor David Khoury and she is also the primary PR/Marketing brain behind the event and the company.  She is also a well-documented extremist in terms of her religious beliefs.  Many of us in Taybeh are sick of her hateful falsehoods.  Sadly, all you have to do is Google her and you'll see that she digs her claws into every available channel to recite her tired nonsense.  It's sickening and frankly it gives us, the people of Taybeh, a very bad name.  Taybeh is a biblical village.  It has been around for centuries. It is the home of ancient ruins that date back thousands of years but does anyone know that?  No.  We've been reduced to "that town that makes the beer."

"On a final note, let me say that I know that our two sides are locked in this perpetual conflict but I truly do hope that one day we can put aside our differences and live like neighbors.  I wish you all peace."

~ Rami from Taybeh
I would like to thank Rami for these interesting and, ultimately, quite brave comments.  There is always more going on beneath the surface than we are aware of and it's up to the people of Taybeh themselves to set their own agenda and decide what kind of a city they want to be. I also look forward to the day when we can live as neighbors and, as I wrote, if it's over a glass of beer, that would be even better.

March 17, 2014

Tel Aviv in Jerusalem

My search for comfortable watering holes in Jerusalem -- especially those which feature Israeli craft beers -- led me to the Tel Aviv Kitchen & Bar at 2 Ben-Shetach Street.

It's a dark and cozy place; a few tables and a bar inside, a few tables outside.  "We were the first ones to put tables on Ben-Shetach Street," says co-owner Gilad Levy.  That was about six years ago, soon after the restaurant opened.

"We wanted a place where students and young Jerusalemites could come and feel at home, with familiar food and good drinks," Gilad continues.  "We also wanted to keep the prices lower than the surrounding bars and restaurants so that students would be attracted.  My partner Itai Alter and I weren't much older than students at the time and we understood their situation."   

Itai Alter (left) and Gilad Levy,
owners of the Tel Aviv Kitchen & Bar in Jerusalem
Gilad calls their kitchen "American-style," which I guess is because the menu is top-heavy with hamburgers.  In fact, hamburgers and beer are why you come to the Tel Aviv Kitchen & Bar.  There are eight different kinds of hamburgers available in four different sizes -- plus a very delicious veggie burger for those who prefer not to chew cow.  There are also a few salads and all the side dishes you would expect in a burger restaurant.

The Israeli beers on tap are plain and unfiltered Goldstar and Shapiro Stout (24-28 shekels for an "Israeli pint").  In bottled beer, there are the three kinds of Herzl, Shapiro Pale Ale, Malka Blond, and Negev Oasis and Passion Fruit.  Prices range from 26 to 30 shekels. 

There is also a lovely selection of imported bottled beer, mostly Belgian strong blond ales, but also Monster Ale from Brooklyn and Fuller's IPA from England, which is definitely worth a taste.  Prices for these bottles are 26 to 33 shekels.   

The Tel Aviv Kitchen & Bar is also known for its home-made flavored arak(!), including peanut butter, banana, lotus, apple, cinnamon, and dried fruit.

There's a happy hour with 1 + 1 on all alcohol from 4:00 to 9:00 p.m.

The Tel Aviv Kitchen & Bar in Jerusalem is the place for a night out with familiar pub food and a good choice of Israeli craft beers.

Shushan Purim Sameach! 

March 10, 2014

Strange partners for new beers

Two major craft breweries have teamed up with some unusual partners to produce new beers.  One you can buy almost anywhere, but the other you can only get in the Negev town of Mitzpe Ramon.

A beer for a men's magazine

Alexander Blazer
The first unlikely brewing partner is Blazer, a Hebrew men's magazine, kind of like Esquire was in its heyday -- a mix of scantily clad young ladies, politics, culture and social commentary.  The editors of Blazer approached the Alexander Brewery in Emek Hefer with a proposal that they produce a beer which captures the experience of reading Blazer magazine.

They defined this as including articles which can be critical or inspiring ("bitter-sweet" if you will), not overly weighty, approachable and social, but which leave you with a strong taste long after you finish.

Sounds like a beer.

Ori Sagy and his brewing team at Alexander put their heads together and came up with Alexander Blazer, a beer which they call a golden strong ale.  I found it thoroughly enjoyable (with a nice hot lunch).  It's a cloudy beer with a thin head, but the sweetness of the malt and the bitterness of the hops are in perfect balance, so that neither really dominates.  I guess you can call this "bitter-sweet," though I've never heard this term used for a beer before.  The 8% alcohol by volume makes itself felt after the second swallow or so, as you enjoy the long, dry finish.  Another flavor I detected in there was, surprisingly, sour.  Now, this is definitely not a "sour beer" -- if there are any available in Israel, they're probably lambics from Belgium.  But I know what I tasted, and I liked it.

Alexander Blazer is sold in stores that carry other Alexander beers, so I recommend you try a bottle the next time you're looking for something new and different.

Think what could happen if this trend continues and other periodicals decide to sponsor new brews.  Maybe Ha'aretz will partner for a new IPA -- an Israel-Palestine Amalgamation.  Or Yediot Achronot will sponsor Bibi's Wicked Ale, a dark doppelbock dumkopf with no redeeming qualities.

A desert hotel brews a beer

Negev Beresheet
The other unusual brewing partner is a hotel -- in this case, the Beresheet Hotel in Mitzpe Ramon, a member of the Isrotel chain.  The hotel administration prides itself on cooperating with local craftsmen and businesses in the Negev.  In conversations with the Negev Brewery in Kiryat Gat, the hotel brought up the idea of a unique beer which would only be served at the hotel.  Of course, the beer's characteristics would have to reflect the ambiance of the hotel and the desert environment.

Beresheet Hotel
Mitzpe Ramon
Sagiv Karlboim, the head of Negev Brewery, told me that his brewers worked together with the hotel management to produce a beer which was suitable for the desert climate, a golden ale, "balanced between a delicate sweetness and bitterness, not heavy, with hops adding a flavor of tropical and citrus fruits."

The result was Negev Beresheet, with 4.7% alcohol.  Since I haven't been to the hotel, I haven't tasted the beer, but it sounds like a good summertime drink.  Even if Negev Brewery cannot sell it in regular stores, maybe they'll be able to serve it at beer festivals where they participate.  The hotel will benefit from the publicity and the name recognition that's generated.

Hey Juniper Boy

While we're on the subject of new beers, I should mention, well, a semi-new beer from Dancing Camel in Tel Aviv -- Hey Ju-Boy.

Yeah, you heard that right.  If this was a beer from a non-Jewish brewer, it certainly wouldn't pass quietly.  But brewmaster David Cohen has no problem with this provocative name.  The "Ju" refers to juniper berries, he told me, which are used in brewing this beer.  Juniper berries are best known for making gin, which they give its unique taste.  In Finland, they make a beer called sahti which is flavored with rye and juniper.

Fresh juniper berries
"Hey Ju-Boy is a light blond ale, at 5.6% ABV" says David.  "We brewed it once before with a higher alcoholic content.  Only ten kegs were brewed of this current batch.  One keg went to the Bodega in Efrat, one to the Beer Market in the Jaffa Port, and the others were served at the Dancing Camel's brewery and our pub in Florentine, Tel Aviv."

By the end of February, they were sold out.  Alas, I had this horrible cold and cough just then, so I missed tasting the Ju-Boy.  I'm going to have to wait until the next batch, whenever.  But by then, I hope we'll have other new Israeli beers to add to our national repertoire -- and I don't care if it takes some strange partners to make them.