December 10, 2014

Home-brewing heroes

A curious thing about some home-brewers is this: They may have no intention of going commercial but they want to share their beers with as wide a public as possible.  So they keep active on social media, make fancy labels for their bottles, and spend money to participate in beer fairs and festivals.

A short while ago, I went over to a home-brewers fair at the Abraham Hostel in central Jerusalem.  Eight brewers had signed up to come and sell their beers.  Big disappointment: only three showed up.

Appel and Bernstein in the foreground,
with Castel in the back.
The first ones I met there were Daniel Bernstein and Yair Appel, two students at Hebrew University.  They have no name yet for their beers, no cards, no labels.  They took a home-brewing course at Beer & Beyond in Tel Aviv and started brewing around six months ago.

Their India pale ale was already gone by the time I got there, so I tried their wheat beer.  It tasted like a wheat beer should.  Classic, nothing special.

Next in line was Tom Castel, a bartender at the Glen Whisky Bar on Shlomzion Hamalka Street.  His beers carry the Cast-Ale label.  Cute.

Tom Castel pumping his Cast-Ale beer.
I first tried Castel's American Pale Ale, a delicious example of this style.  It poured cloudy and
the color of light copper, with a large creamy head.  Powerful in hops like the "American" moniker suggests, it had a citrus bitterness with the taste of pineapple and grapefruit.  The finish was long and bitter.  This is a beer I can keep on drinking.

The Cast-Ale IPA, on the other hand, lacked the flavors of the APA.  The impression I got was just hoppy bitterness, which was too much for me -- and I love hop-heavy beer. 

Next I tried Castel's Saison beer, which won second place in the Betsisa Home-Brewing Competition.  It was a refreshing change of pace -- very spicy, sour and dry, with complex flavors -- a fine example of the saison style.

The final offering was a Brown Ale, called "Utopia," which Castel makes jointly with Rehavya Beer (more on them later).  This is a very light-bodied beer, with 4.6% alcohol.  Brown ales have a wide range of sweetness, maltyness and strength.  This one was moderate in alcohol, malty, with a taste in the direction of stoutness. 

Roi and Yamit Krispin at the Rehavya Beer table:
The poster couple for Israeli home-brewing.
On the next table over, I met Roi Krispin and his fiance Yamit (by now his wife) serving their Rahavya Beer in matching logo T-shirts.  Roi is a third-year student in Biology at Hebrew University and wants to continue in Veterinary Medicine.  He loves brewing beers that he likes to drink, and his favorite is Belgian Wit, which he brews with coriander seeds, bitter orange and lager yeast.

So that was what we started with.  It's a very passable Wheat Beer, pale with a nice foamy head, very little bitterness and hop flavor.  There was also none of the banana or clove tastes so prevalent in wheat beers.  Instead, I tasted malt and citrus.

Rehavya's Irish Red was dry and full-bodied, with lots of good bitterness but without the hops.  The Blond Ale and the American Pale Ale were both uncomplex beers; "made with love," I'm sure, but nothing special.

A short while after the home-brewers fair, I re-met Avi Riji from Kiryat Motzkin near Haifa.  He came with his wife and one of his daughters to visit Jerusalem, and I met him at the Machane Yehuda market.

Avi Riji with his wife Nela and daughter Rivka
at the Machane Yehuda market in Jerusalem.
Riji's label is Avir Beer, but he has no interest in selling his beers commercially.  "I brew my beer in my kitchen because I love doing it and to share it with my friends," says Riji.  He began brewing around four years ago and regularly shares his knowledge with home-brewers who are just getting started.

Riji currently makes seven beers:

Bavarian Wheat 
American Pale Ale
Black IPA
Single Hop IPA
Smoked Porter
American Pale Ale
Christmas Ale     

The Smoked Porter was excellent.  It was full and rich, sweet and malty like a porter should be.  The kicker was the smoky taste which comes from smoked malt.  I am not a big fan of smoked beers, but this was very well balanced with the smoky taste well understated.  It would go very well with grilled vegetables and mushrooms, strong cheeses, and even sweet deserts like apple pie and gingerbread.

Moshe Lifshitz with son Ze'ev,
looking on while his namesake
Zambish Beer is made.

At the Jerusalem Beer Festival this past summer, I met Riji for the first time and tasted the last of his Christmas Ale.  I thoroughly enjoyed it: a spicy and strong (12% ABV) holiday ale made with cinnamon, ginger, honey and nutmeg.

It's the kind of innovative beer that home-brewers can take chances on, hoping that some of them will come out right.

Riji has this year's batch of Christmas Ale under fermentation now -- and it should be ready for the holiday season.  I want some on my table.

And while we're on the subject of holiday ales, another 50 bottles or so are fermenting at my neighbor's Moshe Lifshitz.  He's been home-brewing for about three years, and from time to time I have the honor of helping him bottle and cap his beer.  His label name is Zambish, the nickname of his two-year-old son Ze'ev.

Lifshitz's latest batch is a rich and dark, double malted brew, which is now taking a late autumn snooze to be ready for drinking at Hanukka time.  We tasted it just before bottling and it had the sweet promise of becoming an excellent holiday ale, though without any added spices.
The Zambish label.

Lifshitz learned his brewing skills at a course from Beer & Beyond which was given in Jerusalem.  He purchases his equipment and ingredients from Denny Neilson of The Winemaker.  (The name is a little misleading: Denny also teaches home-brewing and makes excellent beer himself.)  Lifshitz has already brewed India pale ale, wheat beer, porter and stout.

Like most home-brewers in this country, he thoroughly enjoys making his own beer, while reaping the benefits of drinking higher-quality than store-bought beer, for a fraction of the cost.  May our home-brewers multiply and prosper!  

1 comment:

  1. Yum, beer is just what I want now...
    Great post!


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