December 22, 2014

Samson at Tzora

"The spirit of the Lord first moved him [Samson] in the encampment of Dan, between Tzora and Eshtaol."              (Judges 13:25)
If the Bible says that Samson grew up near Tzora, what could be more natural than the Samson Brewery being on Kibbutz Tzora, about 20 kilometers (12  miles) from Jerusalem.

Samson in action, a few years after he left Tzora.
I rode out to the kibbutz with photographer Mike Horton to speak with Leon Solomon, the founder and owner of Samson Beer.  Solomon brews nine different beers and, as we sat on the patio of the little pub that adjoins his brewery, we tasted most of them.

Solomon was born in Vereeniging, South Africa, where (as it says on the bottle), "We don't talk about beer; we drink it."  He immigrated to Israel in 1966 and has been a member of Kibbutz Tzora ever since.  Now retired, he's been brewing for about seven years.  His beer is not sold anywhere else than his brewpub.

"People come from a wide area to drink and buy my beer right here," he smiles.  "Eighty percent are returning customers."

Leon Solomon talking
about his favorite beers.

(Photo: Mike Horton)
Samson Brewery is small but is constantly active.  "Each batch is between 100 to 120 liters," Solomon explains.  "I put 20-40 liters in barrels for serving here at the bar, and the rest I bottle."  Solomon was bottling his popular dark India Pale Ale when we visited.

As we sat on the patio, Solomon began serving Mike and me his beers, along with smoked cheese and herring.

We started with the Blonde Ale.  The freshness was very welcome; Leon told me it was only two weeks old.  The beer was suitably crisp and and dry, with subdued hops, and a little bit sour.

The sour meter shot up with the next beer: Sorgum Ale.  This is made with sorgum grain instead of the traditional barley, wheat or rye.  It is naturally gluten-free.  Solomon says the beer became popular among blacks in South Africa who sold home-made sorgum beer in illegal pubs.  This beer reminded me of an amber ale, with sour fruits very dominant.

"Why is my glass empty?"
(Photo: Mike Horton)
The Christmas Ale, which we had next, couldn't have been more different.  It was full-bodied and sweet (brown sugar and caramel) and high in alcohol (7.5% ABV) like a winter/holiday ale should be.  To this yeasty mixture, Solomon adds cinnamon, cloves, cardamon, ginger and orange peel.  For those with the proper memories, close your eyes and dream of the December holiday season.

The Samson Porter, which did not participate in our recent Porter Beer Tasting Panel (read about it here), was a delicious classic porter, at 5% ABV.  It had a strong malt character and moderate coffee bitterness, with no smokiness.

Next on tap was Samson's dark India Pale Ale.  This style beer is growing in popularity in the U.S., but to me a "dark" pale ale is an oxymoron.

Bottling IPA at Samson Brewery.
(Photo: Mike Horton)
Like so many other things in life, Samson's dark IPA began as a mistake.  Solomon simply used too much dark malt when he was brewing his IPA.  It came out very dark, but his friends and customers liked it that way, so he continued with the recipe.

Solomon uses Citra hops for a strong citrus flavor, and strengthens the aroma with dry hopping.  This is a moderately strong (6% ABV) and refreshing IPA, with grapefruit by far the dominant taste.  I brought home of few of his new bottles and promised to let them mature for at least two more weeks.

At this point, we still had some sobriety left, so we moved on to Samson's most popular beer -- the Belgian Ale.  Solomon said that this beer has the "Belgian taste" that Israelis seem to love, and I can confirm that.  Sweet and very malty, with dark fruit flavors and a full body.  A beer for a Jerusalem winter's day.  Solomon uses 10 kilograms (22 pounds) more malt per 100 liters in this beer than any other.            

We closed with a new beer that Solomon poured just for us -- "Beer X" he called it.  It starts as his regular Belgian Ale, but then sits for a week with oak chips soaked in Jack Daniel's Tennessee Whisky, and then spends two more months in the bottle.

I found that the strength and maltiness was the same as the Belgian Ale, but the added taste was oak -- or at least how I imagine oak to taste.  It was definitely not the taste of Tennessee whisky, which I do know well. 

Leon Solomon and his beers.
(Photo: Mike Horton)
Solomon also brews three more beers which we didn't taste that day:

Witbier -- A Dutch-style wheat beer.
Extra Special Ale -- Based on the British extra special bitter style (which is not very bitter at all).

After a few lovely hours talking, eating and drinking with Leon Solomon, Mike and I rode home while holding on to the mellow feeling.  It's a shame that Samson Beer is not available outside of the brewpub, but I can certainly say that it's well worth a visit to enjoy the beer, the food and the atmosphere.  You should give Solomon a call to arrange a visit: 054-775-5948.   

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