November 19, 2019

Israeli za'atar beer from the Nomads

Jacob Mogerman (right) and
Yonah Rubin in their formative
days of home-brewing.
When Yonah Rubin and Jacob Mogerman, two thirty-somethings, met a few years ago, they were brewing for other people.

"We were young kids looking to advance ourselves, and we both knew how to make beer," explains Yonah.  "So it was natural for us to think about brewing together."

Yonah had grown up in Sharon, Massachusetts (though he lived in Jerusalem as a young child) and returned to Israel in 2005.  Jacob, from St. Louis, Missouri, came to Israel in 2010.

The result of that partnership is the newest Israeli craft beer on the block -- Nomads (which they contract brew at the Beer Bazaar Brewery in Kiryat Gat).  Their first beer is made with za'atar, a Middle Eastern plant used to spice many dishes and baked goods.  It normally is not used straight, but mixed with other spices.

My internet search turned up only five other beers in the world that have been brewed with za'atar (which may or may not even exist anymore): Three in the U.S., one in Lebanon, and one from the Taybeh Brewery in the West Bank.

The za'atar plant, a protected species in Israel,
and the blended spice which is made from it.
"The both of us thought about using za'atar at the same time," Jacob continues.  "It was amazing.  We wanted to use local ingredients in our beers, and za'atar is such an iconic and ubiquitous spice in Israel that we couldn't ignore it."

Yonah thanks David Cohen, owner of Israel's first craft brewery, Dancing Camel in Tel Aviv, for introducing him to the possibilities of using local ingredients in beer.   

"When I worked at the Dancing Camel as head brewer," he recalls, "we made some of our beers more 'Israeli' by using local products."

Beers from the Dancing Camel have included date honey (silan), etrog (citron), mint, honey, chili pepper, pomegranate, anise, carob, even salt from the Dead Sea!

Using za'atar, however, turned out to be a challenge.

"Za'atar's oils and compounds are a lot like hops," explains Yonah.  "The flavor will dissipate if you add it during the boiling process, and all you're left with is the bitterness.  So we steep the za'atar in the beer during the fermentation stage, a process known as 'dry-hopping' -- even though we're using za'atar and not hops.  It took us three or four attempts before we got what we wanted."

This would be a good time for me to tell you about Nomads Saison de Zion (Za'atar Beer), so I will.

It pours out of the bottle a light amber color, quite clear, with strong carbonation and a large white head.  The za'atar is very present in the aroma, along with hay or grass, and yeast.  (The aroma and flavor of za'atar is something you can't mistake.)  In the taste, you get the za'atar and the typical spice from the Saison yeast -- spicy enough so that I actually felt a tingling over my tongue.  The sweet hints of the za'atar and the spice balance each other very nicely.  The beer is medium bodied and a little dry in the finish.

Hummus and za'atar:
Made for each other.
Since I am a big fan of za'atar on my salads and on my bread, I enjoyed this beer no end.  It begs to be drunk with foods which are enhanced by the za'atar spice -- especially hummus. 

Yonah and Jacob plan to introduce more beers under the Nomad's label in 2020, also using local products, herbs and spices.

"In our age of instant and constant communication, you find the same beer styles being brewed all over the world," insists Jacob.  "We don't want to just take a foreign beer style and make it with Israeli ingredients.  We believe we are in a unique situation with all of our different immigrant groups bringing something to the table, combined with the native agricultural products that have always symbolized the Land of Israel.  We want to use this to develop a truly Israeli beer." 

November 14, 2019

The BJCP in Israel: Serious beer judging and what it means

If there is one standard in the world to which all good and true craft beers can repair, it is the Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP).

Begun in the U.S. in 1985 but now accepted and adhered to internationally, the BJCP seeks to ensure that all beers are judged by the same style criteria no matter where they are brewed.  A prize-winning IPA in California, for example, should finish in the money in Tokyo.  And a stout brewed in Cape Town which matches the flavor profile of one made in Tel Aviv, should score about the same in competition.

Today in Israel, almost all of the home-brew competitions adhere to the BJCP guidelines and use BJCP judges -- Mevshalim, B'tsisa, BeerYamina and Isra-Brew, to name a few.  To handle this task, and others, Israel now boasts about 40 home-grown BJCP judges.

Back when he was brewing with Basha-Flom,
Omer Basha (left) shared some of
his beers with the old blogger.

(Photo: Mike Horton)
The one person most responsible for bringing the program to Israel is Omer Basha of Beersheva, former partner (along with Dvir Flom) in what was the Basha-Flom Brewery, and a Ph.D. in Bioinformatics.

Omer was recently awarded the highest rank in the BJCP -- a Master Judge.  There are only about 160 of such in the entire world!

"We were able to get the BJCP to send two proctors to Israel in 2017 to give the first exam," explains Omer, sharing the credit with fellow brewer Ephraim Greenblatt.

The old blogger tries to make a point
while Omer Basha explains the details
of the BJCP program in Israel.

(Photo: Mike Horton)
"In February 2017, the first exam was given in Israel to 18 persons, and most of them were certified."

In order to become a BJCP judge you have to contend with not one, but three examinations.  The first is the online entrance exam, where you have to answer 180 questions in 60 minutes.

Then comes the tasting exam -- 90 minutes during which you have to taste and judge six beers, while filling out score sheets.

The final written exam is 90 minutes and consists of 20 true-or-false questions and five essays.

Only 160 in the world:
Omer Basha's Master Beer Judge certificate.
Omer explains:  "The examiners are looking for your abilities in perception, description, and feedback on how to improve the beer.  They also score your evaluation skills and completeness in answering."

Whew!  This is obviously not a test you can breeze by.  It takes studying and memorizing a vast amount of material; Topics such as beer styles, characteristics and ingredients; BJCP ethics and procedures; recipes, brewing processes and trouble shooting.

Here are some examples of questions you might come up against:

True or false:  Light malt sweetness is part of the flavor profile of Belgian Blond Ale.
                       Diacetyl in a British Brown Ale is acceptable due to the yeast strain.

The hops most appropriate for a Strong Bitter are:
a) Kent Goldings and Fuggles
b) Styrian Goldings and Saaz
c) Cascade
d) Hallertauer and Tettnanger
e) Any low alpha acid varieties

How did you do?

Certified beer judges judging, vs. . . . 
Omer continues:  "The judging rank you get is determined by your grade.  To become a Recognized Judge, you have to get a score of at least 60 in the tasting exam, and it's enough to take the entrance exam and the tasting exam.  If you get at least 70 in the tasting exam plus five experience points (you get a half-point each time you participate in a judging), you become a Certified Judge.   

"Scoring over 80 as a composite score in the tasting and written exams gets you the rank of a National Judge, and over 90 makes you a Master."

 . . . amateur beer tasters tasting.
(Photo: Mike Horton)
The 40 or so BJCP judges in Israel are in high demand for local competitions, and some even get invited to judge in overseas competitions.  I asked Omer if personal tastes can interfere with beer judging.  For example, I pointed out, a critic can give a movie or a restaurant a glowing review, while another person with different tastes can find them atrocious.

"It's not the same as judging," Omer answered.  "We evaluate a beer by the way it adheres to its style guidelines, not by our personal tastes.  I may love a beer that's called an amber ale, for example, but if its color, aroma, taste and/or some other characteristics are not what an amber ale should be, I have to take  off points and give it a lower score."

In the Israeli and foreign competitions that accept the BJCP guidelines, each beer entry is tasted and scored by two to four judges.

The BJCP Beer Score Sheet:
Not an easy task!
"Then we discuss the beer and explain our scoring," adds Omer.  "All the scores have to be within a certain number of points of each other to be valid.  It's normally three, five or seven points, depending on the competition.  If the spread is greater than that, the judges discuss it until they reach an agreement.  They almost always do this without difficulty."

What is difficult is the judging itself.  As Omer puts it: "It's hard work to break down a beverage and evaluate each of its aroma and flavor attributes -- and do it again and again!  We call this 'palate fatigue.'"

My take-away from all of this is that beer judges, whether BJCP-certified or not, are very dedicated volunteers who are working for the good of the "craft beer community," if you can call it that.  The judging sessions can easily stretch into hours, involving dozens of beers.  You have to stay focused, you have to treat each beer like it was the first, and you have to fill out the score sheet so it has value to the brewer who gets to read it.

This, Omer emphasizes, is perhaps the most important element in certified beer judging: Giving the brewer a chance to read what expert judges have to say about his or her beer and how to make it better suited to the style guidelines.  "In the long run," says Omer, "it is this feedback that will result in the overall improvement of craft beer in Israel.  This includes home-brewers as well as commercial micro-breweries.  Everybody benefits from expert and fair judging."

November 2, 2019

Beer Market brings "take-home draft beer" to Jerusalem

The new Beer Market
in Machane Yehuda, Jerusalem.

(Photo: Mike Horton)
The concept is not a new one.  It's been in cities around the world for several years, and even in some Israeli cities since 2017.  But it's just arrived in Jerusalem.

We're talking about draft beer you can take-away and drink at home, or wherever else you want to.  Yes, the same draft beer that you drink from a tap in your neighborhood bar or restaurant.

"I don't know why no one else opened a place like this in Jerusalem before now," ponders Yuri Volman, one of the partners of Beer Market in the Machane Yehuda market (3 HeCharuv Street), which opened two months ago.  "I and my partner, Alex Lobanov, thought that the time was right to bring this idea to Jerusalem.  There are a large number of tourists in this city who want especially to try Israeli craft beers.  Jerusalemites too appreciate Israeli craft beers more than other cities.  Now they can bring the beer home fresh from the tap."

Partner Alex Lobanov mans the taps
at the new Beer Market in
Jerusalem's Machane Yehuda.

(Photo: Mike Horton)
It works like this: Beer Market has three sizes of clean, empty, brown plastic bottles – half-liter, liter, and liter-and-a-half.  You pick the size you want and one of the 15 beers on tap.  The taps were custom-made in Russia and include a special apparatus for filling bottles.  The opening is sealed tight to keep air from touching the beer as it is filled, and to keep the amount of foam to a minimum.  The bottle is then sealed with an airtight screw cap.

"The unopened draft beer will stay fresh for about a week in the refrigerator," explains Yuri.  "After it's opened, you should finish it as soon as possible, since oxidation is a great enemy of beer."

The Beer Market's custom-made taps for
filling bottles with fresh draft beer.

(Photo: Mike Horton)
The Beer Market charges NIS 25 for a half-liter, NIS 39 for the liter, and NIS 59 for the liter-and-a-half.  You can also buy glasses of beer to drink there for the same prices, which are quite reasonable.  A tasting "flight" of four different beers (each cup 150 milliliters) costs NIS 34.
 
There are draft beers from Ronen, Emek Ha'ela, Malka, Negev, Jem's, Buster's Hard Lemonade, and Shoshana (an "Israeli" beer brewed with mint in Belgium).  There is also one rotating tap for special or seasonal beers which currently holds Alexander's new Saison.  You can also have liquors and cocktails at the bar.  Light snacks such as nacho chips and edamame are available.

Although Beer Market is the first to bring take-away draft beer to the greater Jerusalem area, two chains have been operating in other Israeli cities since 2017.  They carry both Israeli craft beers and foreign imports, while Beer Market sells Israeli craft beers exclusively.  There's Beer Station (with stores in Tel Aviv, Haifa, Beersheva, Ashdod, Rishon L'Tzion, Bat Yam and Petach Tikva) and Beer Point (Beersheva, Ashkelon, Ashdod, Bat Yam and Rishon L'Tzion).  Bira Nekuda has a similar store in Rechovot.      

Jerusalemites have always known that the best beer you can have is fresh from the tap.  Now they can bring it home with them to share with family and friends. 

A version of this article appeared Friday, November 1, in 
The Jerusalem Post local weekly, In Jerusalem.

October 30, 2019

Mevshalim 2019 home-brew competition winners

Another home-brew contest was held recently in Israel -- the fourth Mevshalim Competition, arranged by the Home-Brewers Guild of Beersheva.

The head organizer this year was Ohad Boxerman, who home-brews (with partners Maor  Pallivatikal, Yaron Berger, Michal Shelly and Yoni Goren) under the name of The Excuse Brewery (HaTirutz).

"We had 104 entries which we divided into nine categories for judging," Ohad told me.  "Seven were for beers, plus ciders and meads.  We devised the categories after the entries were submitted, based on similarities of style, flavor and aroma profiles, and strength."

There were all kinds of prizes, of course, given to the winners, as well as certificates.  But Ohad said that the best prize was the feedback that every entrant received for his beer.  These were the comments made by the judges on the scoring sheets.

Some of the beer judges at their work
for the Mevshalim home-brew competition.
All of the judges were qualified by the
Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP). 
"All of our judges have been qualified by the internationally recognized Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP)," explained Ohad.  "They are used to writing their comments in English, and in this case they each made a decision whether to use Hebrew or English.

"With our limited manpower, we translated as many of the English comments as we could into Hebrew, and gave them to the entrants.  Each form also had the contact information for the judge, and the entrants were encouraged to direct any questions or comments directly to the judge.  They appreciated this as the best way to improve the quality of their brewing."

In addition to Ohad, the members of the organizing committee included Zvi Sharon, Certified BJCP Judge, in charge of Information Technology, Yonatan Goren, Certified BJCP Judge, marketing and design, and Omer Basha, Master BJCP Judge, Head Judge.

Ohad Boxerman (right), head organizer of
this year's Mevshalim home-brew competition,
presents the Best Of Show award to
Nitai Leffler of the Sabresa Brewery.

(Photo: Ariel Behar Kent)  
Here is the list of the 2019 Mevshalim winners, with the authorized English spelling of their names:

Best Of Show (chosen from all of the first-place winners)
Sabresa Brewery -- Nitai Leffler, Yogev Nathan and Ofer Pekerman

Champion Brewer (Amassing the most points for all of his ranked entries.  All five of his entries won awards!)
Alex Fux (The Three-Legged Crow Brewery)

IPAs
First:  Sabresa Brewery -- Tiger Phoney, Specialty IPA
Second: Tom Arad -- Fearsome Cadence, American IPA
Third: Danny Perets -- Hugeness IPA, American IPA

Rafi Kent (left), winner of the first prize
for Specialty Beers at the
Mevshalim home-brew competition,
accepts his award from Ohad Boxerman.

(Photo: Ariel Behar Kent)
Belgians and Sours
First:  Zvi Sharon -- Sour Lady, Mixed Fermentation
Second:  Tomer Avramovitch -- Gose

Dark Beers
First:  Alex Fux -- Cowboy's Breakfast, Oatmeal Stout

Lagers and Wheat Beers
First:  Alex Fux -- Better Beer Fest, Cream Ale
Second:  Assaf Friedman, Kupe, New Zealand Pilsner
Third: Boaz Lanner -- Weizen, Weissbier 

Strong Ales
First:  Murat Nepesov -- Theo's First Steps, Imperial Stout
Second: Alex Fux -- Cowboy's Breakfast, Smoked Beer
Third: Gilad Ne-Eman -- They Have Walked the Fields, Old Ale

Specialty Beers
First:  Rafi Kent -- Kataleen Bebe, Spice, Herb or Vegetable Beer
Second: Alex Fux  -- Wanna Turn Up the Heat, Fruit Beer
Third: Alex Fux -- Red Heads Revenge, Fruit Beer
Honorable Mention: Boaz Lanner -- Gruit, Spice, Herb or Vegetable Beer 

Light Ales
No winners were chosen

Meads
First:  Gilad Ne-Eman -- Mead Me, Dry Mead
Second: Talor Turjeman -- Melomel

Ciders
First:  Akiva Amiel -- Ginger Ale, Herb or Spice Cider
Second: Ohad Boxerman (The Excuse Brewery) -- Just Cider, New World Cider

Congratulations to all the winners -- and to all of the entrants!  As I've written before, home-brewing is the wide base of the pyramid that supports the Israel craft beer revival.    

October 23, 2019

Two nights at the Jerusalem Beer Festival


The 15th annual Jerusalem Beer Festival ("Ir HaBira") went on for two nights at the end of the summer.  So did I.

Good beer with good friends:
(From right) Yishay Maguri of Ifshy Brewery,
Ofer Ronen of Ronen Beer (Srigim Brewery),
and IBAV Taster Batya Medad.

(Photo: Mike Horton)
The first night I went with photographer Mike Horton and members of the Israel Brews and Views Tasting Team to press some flesh, seek out some new beers (while not ignoring the old) and simply have a good time.

Our thanks to Eli Giladi of Giladi Productions for facilitating our attendance.

For people who were offered (and accepted) beer at every booth, the team really got around.  We visited and tasted beers from:

Ifshy, Six-Pack (Super Heroes), Barzel, Oak & Ash, Lela, Isis, Negev, Malka, Shapiro, Alexander, Beer Bazaar and perhaps others.

With so much good Israeli beer on tap, we gave our livers a break and steered away from the many imported brews which were also being offered.

We found a few new local beers which held our attention, at least as long as we were drinking them.

With Gilad Dror (left), Beer Brands Manager
at Hacarem Spirits, Ltd., and
Moshe Lifshitz, IBAV Taster.

(Photo: Mike Horton) 
Oak & Ash led off with their two latest beers, served with pride by owner/brewer Asher Zimble.  (Asher now contract brews his beer at the HaGibor Brewery in Carmiel.)  These are the New England IPA (NEIPA) and Coco Porter, now available in bottles at beer specialty stores.

The Alexander Brewery debuted their new Saison with a label reflecting Rene Magritte's famous Son of Man painting, but with a hop cone instead of a green apple obstructing the man's face.

I drink out of a cup.  They drink out of their hats.
(Photo: Mike Horton)
 [You can read my recent reviews of the Oak & Ash beers and the Alexander Saison, including fascinating background information, here.]

If you want to taste the new Negev Lemongrass, you have to have it on tap at the brewery in Tefen or at some branches of Beer Bazaar.  It's basically Negev's Oasis beer infused with lemongrass, making it spicy and refreshing.  The lemongrass flavor is not the same as lemon, but brings in elements of grass, lemon zest, citrus, spice and even ginger.  It's on the bitter side of the spectrum, but not by much.

The Beer Bazaar mobile pub:
The Gypsy Beer Truck.

(Photo: Mike Horton)
The only other new beer we tasted at the festival was a Cherry Beer from Ronen (Srigim Brewery).  Made with cherry extract, it's a deep red color with the aroma and flavor of  . . . cherries.

Brewery owner Ofer Ronen was on hand, and he explained to me that the trick here is to keep the cherry presence while having enough malt and hop backbone so there's no doubt that you're actually drinking a beer.  If "fruit beers" lose this balance you can end up with a kind of a sweet, fruity beverage.
Rotem Bar Ilan (right) of the Hadubim Brewery
and Maor Helfman of Herzl Brewery
were just visiting.

(Photo: Mike Horton)
Ronen's Cherry Beer seems to handle this balance very well, but I personally am not a big fan of fruited beers -- unless they're in the sour spectrum.

If you notice a pattern here -- fruit juice, coconut, lemon, cherry -- so did we.   

Our tongue-wearied Tasters were getting frustrated: "Enough with the fruit.  Where's the beer?"

With Jeremy Welfeld of the Jem's Beer Factory.
(Photo: Mike Horton)
In point of fact, we did drink some fine "traditional" beers, both ales and lagers, but these were not among the new launches.

On the second night of the festival, I was there again.  This time with Jerusalem Post journalist and editor Erica Schachne and cameraman Dennis Zinn to make a video of the festival for The Jerusalem Post online edition.

Erica Schachne of The Jerusalem Post
speaks on camera while Dennis Zinn rolls 'em.

(Photo: Manny Samuels)
I shepherded Erica and Dennis around to the interesting beers and brewers, and also appeared a little bit on camera myself.  We had a great time -- I must say especially Erica, who was new to the world of craft beers.

We filmed for almost three hours and the edited, final video was all of three minutes!  I'm told this is
quite the norm for such video reports.

If you haven't yet seen it, please click on the link below.  You'll get some idea of what makes the Jerusalem Beer Festival such an remarkable annual event.

Jerusalem Post video

October 10, 2019

Four beers for the record

I've recently tasted four beers which are not exactly new (anymore), but which have managed to fall under my radar.  Here are a few words about each. 

Image may contain: drink and textThe Alexander Brewery in Emek Hefer, one of Israel's largest micro-breweries, has introduced a new Saison beer, with a label reflecting Rene Magritte's famous Son of Man painting, but with a hop cone instead of a green apple obstructing the man's face.

Saison means "season" in French, and this style of beer might have first been brewed in Belgium during the "brewing season," November to March, in home and small breweries for drinking during the summer months.

Regardless of its origins, the Saison style has come to mean a beer with fruity and spicy aromas and flavors, not very bitter, with a very dry finish.  The beer's uniqueness comes from the special Saison yeast.  A few Israeli brewers have introduced Saison-style beers, even if all of them weren't called by that name.

The Alexander Saison is made with unmalted wheat, in addition to the regular malted barley.  It pours out crystal clear, the color of ginger ale, with a small but foamy head.  The aromas are yeast, sweet malt and black pepper.  The taste is sweeter than what you would expect from a Saison, along with yeast, spice and some fruitiness.  Alcohol is 7%.  It's a very refreshing and enjoyable beer, perfect for hot days and a variety of cheeses and light dishes.


Neta and Jean Torgovitsky,
owners of the Sheeta Brewery in Arad.
The Sheeta Brewery in Arad has introduced a new SMASH Pilsner, brewed with noble Saaz hops from Europe.  These hops are traditionally used in brewing Pilsner lager, giving the beer its distinctive spicy aroma and taste.  Originating in the Czech town of Plzen in 1842, Pilsners have become the most popular and widely imitated beer style in the world.  Purists say that nothing compares to the taste of fresh Pilsner beer, straight from the fermentation tank in Plzen.

The Sheeta SMASH may not have that pedigree, but it has a wonderful fresh lemony aroma coming off of the foamy, long-lasting head.  The taste is bitter fruit (maybe red grapefruit), very refreshing, with a peppery finish.  In fact, I felt the heat on my tongue as the beer washed down my bite of hummus.  Sheeta SMASH has a dry Pilsner finish that makes you want to keep drinking.  With only 5% alcohol, you can go right ahead and do that. 
                    

Oak & Ash is a gypsy brewery that started out under the auspices of Dancing Camel in Tel Aviv, but has recently moved to the Hagibor Brewery in Carmiel because it needs larger facilities.  Owner and brewer Asher Zimble chose the name because his first beers were aged with oak.  His two recent offerings, however, are not.

The Oak & Ash NEIPA (New England IPA) is an attempt to replicate this popular American beer style – characterized by a very hazy to opaque color, massive fruit aroma and flavors from the hops (tropical fruits are favorites), juicy, creamy mouthfeel and low bitterness.

This Oak & Ash version is not as opaque as the American NEIPAs I've seen (it's only semi-hazy) nor as strong (only 4.5% ABV), but it is full of the juicy goodness you expect.  I detected flavors of grapefruit, passion fruit, mango, and some guava.  It tastes like a tropical fruit cocktail, creamier and much less bitter than a regular IPA.

If you're an admirer of the NEIPA style, this beer's for you.  And if you've never tried it, this is your chance.  Tasting new styles is one of the true pleasures of drinking craft beer.

Also from Oak & Ash is the new Coco Porter – a Porter-style dark and roasty beer brewed with desiccated shredded coconut.  (Zimble, quite rightly, will not reveal at which stage the coconut is added.)

In the glass, Coco Porter looks like Coca Cola: the same color and the same fizz.  The aromas are rather subdued – brown sugar, toffee and slight coconut.  But the tastes are what bring the beer alive: rich coconut and dark chocolate, semi-sweet, with some dried fruits in the background. 

Since I'm a fan of coconut, and especially coconut with chocolate, I found this to be a delicious beer, but one to be savored, not gulped down on a hot day!         

September 12, 2019

ARTBEERFEST -- Alexander Beer puts Caminha on the map!

Nighttime festivities at the
ARTBEERFEST in Caminha:
Packed like Portuguese sardines.
A big beer festival in a tiny town.  Over 30,000 visitors came to the ARTBEERFEST in Caminha in northern Portugal, population pushing 18,000.

This year's ARTBEERFEST is the sixth -- and they just keep growing every year.  Most of the visitors come from Portugal and neighboring Spain, but also from all over Europe and even America.

And of course, this year there were Mr. & Mrs. Old Blogger from Israel.

The festival did not cover a huge area; just over two compact courtyards in the center of town.  But that was enough space to have 50 craft brewers pouring their beers; brewers from Portugal and Spain, Greece and Scotland, Norway and the U.S.  For the first time, there was also an Israeli beer -- Alexander.

The old blogger joins Filipe Macieira (left)
of the Letra Brewery, and Octavio Costa,
ARTBEERFEST impresario,
for a stroll through Caminha.
Portuguese whom we met in our Lisbon hotel never heard of Caminha.  The woman in the Portuguese Tourist Office never heard of Caminha.  Caminha wasn't even mentioned in the popular Lonely Planet guide book, for heaven's sake (though it does appear on the map).

"We picked Caminha for the ARTBEERFEST because that's where I live," says Octavio Costa, the head of OG & Associados, responsible for organizing the ARTBEERFEST and more than a dozen other beer festivals and Portugal and Europe.

"Beer festivals bring people together," gushes Octavio, "and this is a cool place to do it."

Caminha welcomes visitors
to the ARTBEERFEST.
Octavio recalls that launching the first ARTBEERFEST six years ago was, "like planting a tree in a desert.  Portugal is a wine country, and craft brewing here was in its infancy.  We attracted just 16 brewers from Portugal.  Little by little, we gained recognition across Europe and more brewers joined every year.  Last year, we had the first beers from the U.S. and Brazil.  This year we have 50 breweries represented."

Octavio has been interested in bringing an Israeli brewer to the ARTBEERFEST for several years.  "I'm half-Jewish," he announces, "and I want Israeli beers to have visibility here."

[Many Portuguese will tell you that they can trace Jewish roots back to the forced conversions and the Inquisition in the 15th and 16th centuries.]

A couple of years ago, Octavio approached the old blogger to help him find an Israeli brewer who would exhibit at the ARTBEERFEST and consider making a collaboration beer in Portugal.  I tried, but without success.

The collaboration team that almost was:
Ori Sagy of Alexander and
Gonçalo Faustino of Maldita (center),

joined by Alexander brewers
Sahar Nevo and Elad Gassner.
In the end, it was Mikkel Borg, who brews beers all over the world under the Mikkeller label, who
introduced Octavio to Ori Sagy, owner of the Alexander Brewery in Emek Hefer.  Ori did not have to be persuaded very much to agree.

For the future, Octavio is thinking big.  "I would like to bring Portuguese and other brewers to Israel.  Yes, I think we can arrange a beer festival in Israel on a par with those we are organizing in Europe.  That would really put Israeli beers on the map."

"As we say," I told Octavio, "'If you will it, it's no dream.'" 
           
In Caminha, I met Ori Sagy on the last day of the festival with two of his brewers, Sahar Nevo and Elad Gassner.  He had completely sold out all of his beers except the Amber Ale, so that's what we drank.

All the participating brewers arrive for
the ARTBEERFEST in Caminha.
"We sold about 300 liters over three nights at the festival," Ori told me.  "How do I know people liked our beer?  Well, because quite a few asked for tastes and then came back and bought three, four or five more beers."

The best laid plan for Ori bringing Alexander to the ARTBEERFEST was to have been a collaboration beer -- the first collab in fact between an Israeli and a Portuguese brewery.

A promotion for Portuguese
craft beer awaited us at the hotel.
The Portuguese brewer was already picked out: Maldita, a seven-year-old craft brewery in Aveiro that has won over 40 European awards for its beers.  I even met the owner, Gonçalo Faustino, at the festival.

I was dreaming of drinking a great beer and writing a great story.

My dear readers, I have to disappoint you -- about the beer that is.  The story may still be worth reading.

A technical hitch prevented the beer from being brewed on the day after the festival, and since Ori Sagy had to leave right after that, the collab beer was put on hold indefinitely.

However, Trudy and I did get to drink some fine beers at the ARTBEERFEST.  Here are a few of them:

Ruben from the Dos Santos Brewery
offered some specialty beers on tap.
The first Portuguese brewer I met was Ruben from the Dos Santos Brewery in the Algarve region.  I toasted with two of their specialty beers: Groselha, a pale ale infused with red currants, and Burguesa, a Rauch (smoked) Bock.  Both were firsts for me.

Daniel Ramiro, head brewer at the Mean Sardine,
didn't let me say, "Enough!"

From Ericeira came beers from a brewery named Mean Sardine.  Sardines are the closest thing to a "national fish" in Portugal, being served in many dishes and sold in decorative cans to tourists.  Mean Sardine's head brewer Daniel Ramiro was pouring two Imperial Stouts: Ginja Ninja, brewed with cherries, and Portucale, made with dried figs steeped in port wine, another famous Portuguese product.  Both were delicious, delicate and balanced.

Daniel insisted that I try three other Mean Sardine beers -- a Barley Wine made with mazcal, and two very piney IPAs: a Black IPA (Voragem), and a West Coast IPA (Tormenta).

Seven Island brewer Costa Pougatsias (left)
welcomed visitors under the Caminha full moon.
The Letra Brewery in Vila Verde Braga is six-years-old, and according to partner Filipe Macieira, that qualifies it to be one of the first craft breweries in Portugal!  Their Letra F, an American IPA, was the only beer I tasted.  It was indeed an American IPA, made with American hops, full of citrus and tropical fruit flavors.

A one-man band kept visitors entertained.
Moving on to other countries, we found the best sour beers in the festival at the Seven Island Brewery booth.  "We're still gypsy brewers," said owner Costantin (Costa) Pougatsias, "but next year, we're opening up our own brewery on Corfu (Greece)."

The Bahama Papa contains coconut, pineapple and passion fruit, while the Very Berry is brewed with raspberries and blackberries.  I have never tasted more enjoyable kettle-soured beers, with an excellent blending of fruit flavors, a sour level that lets them shine through, and a malt backbone that never lets you forget you're drinking beer.

Andrew Pearson (left), founder of the
Scottish group Beer Without Borders,
cut an inspiring highlandish figure in his kilt.
I washed these babies down with a Mango Double IPA that was fruity and ultra-bitter and 8.5% ABV.

It was no surprise when Costa told me that Seven Island has won eight awards in European competitions -- and that's before they even have their own brewery!

I also met some U.S. brewers who had come to the ARTBEERFEST.

Just being tourists:  The old blogger and Trudy
near the famous Sintra Castle.
Stillwater Artisanal from Brooklyn offered me their Insetto, a sour ale brewed with plums and dry-hopped.  From the 18th Street Brewery, also in Brooklyn, I downed a short glass of The Fox and The Hunted Porter.

Gigantic Brewery from Portland, Oregon, a city known for its many excellent craft breweries, honored me with a Double IPA aged in gin barrels, another first for me and a literal eye-opener.

On a touring break, drinking fine
Portuguese wine:
Keep that a secret! 
Lastly, the Thin Man Brewery in upstate Buffalo, New York, wet my whistle with their flagship IPA, Three Prong Spear.  Owner Jack McAuliffe told me that the three-year-old brewery sells its beers along the east coast and Canada, has just opened their second brewhouse in Buffalo, and has brewed a collab beer with Seven Islands.  Shame it wasn't around for me to taste.

I thought I had one too many when I saw these guys walking around in kilts, which I was sure were not the Portuguese national costume.  I blinked a few times but they were still there, so I went up and introduced myself.  Andrew Pearson, friendly and loquacious, shook my hand and told me the story of Beer Without Borders, an organization he founded to forge close links between Scottish and European craft brewers. 

"We participate in festivals, encourage collaboration beers, and support exporting into each other's market," Andrew said.  "This is our first time at the ARTBEERFEST and we brought four Scottish breweries with us.   We won't let Brexit separate us from Europe!"       

Trudy and I enjoyed meeting the people, drinking the beers and absorbing the ambiance at ARTBEERFEST.

As is usually the case with me at beer festivals, friendly brewers insist that I try another beer, and another taste of this, and a sip of that.  And I was raised too polite to refuse.

Mass-brewed beer, but very pleasant:
Super Bock and 1927 beer on tap in
a Lisbon restaurant.
When the time came for us to walk back to our hotel -- a 15-minute walk along the Minho River with Spain on the opposite bank -- Trudy was kind enough to hold my hand and lead me in the right direction.  I managed to put one foot in front of the other all the way back to the hotel.

It was a great ending to a beer-centered festival.  The music and the food stayed in the background and the beer stayed in our bellies.

Enjoying Sovina Amber Ale, a widely available
Portuguese craft beer. 
We drank other beers while in Portugal (Lisbon and Porto), but they were mostly from the industrial brewing duopoly: Sagres and Sagres Bohemia Original (owned by Heineken), and Super Bock and 1927 (owned by Carlsberg).  The only other craft beer we had was Sovina, enjoying the Amber Ale (bière de garde) and IPA in Lisbon.

We thoroughly enjoyed visiting Portugal, a country that is becoming one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world.  And the ARTBEERFEST in Caminha was the cherry on the whipped cream -- or as we prefer to say, the foam on the beer.                 

August 28, 2019

500 Bottles of Israeli Beers on the Wall

A couple of years ago, I wrote about Yitzhak Berman, a collector of beer bottles whose home in Bet El is lined with shelves upon shelves holding empty beer bottles -- over 1,500 to be more specific.  Yitzhak recently informed me that he has reached his 500th bottle of Israeli beer.  "Why don't you write about it," I asked.  And so he did.  Yitzhak's article follows.  By the way, I also learned that there is a special word for Yitzhak's hobby: labeorphilist.

(Read the earlier article here.) 

Part of Yitzhak Berman's collection of
over 500 Israeli beer bottles.
A workman came into my home in Bet El and looked at my collection of beer bottles.  I asked him: which beer do you drink?  His reply: Goldstar.  So I asked him which Goldstar?  He looked at me confused.

The Israeli public is not aware of the massive variety of Israeli beers that exist, including six different Goldstar beers.  I am into beer bottle collecting, not beer tasting.

How many can you identify?
More Israeli beer bottles in
Yitzhak Berman's collection. 
Israeli beers come from several sources:

🔴 Large breweries that produce their own beers or brew beer for others on order.

🔴 Small breweries that have proliferated throughout the country over the last
decade or two.

🔴 Home breweries that come and go.

Of the 502 Israeli beer bottles that I have today, many are no longer made.  Also, I still do not have all the Israeli beers that were made or are in stores.  For example, I am looking for a bottle of Alef-Alef which was produced in the 1950s.  If you know where I can find a bottle of Alef-Alef beer, please let me know.
Beer 48: Beer of the Brave.
Honoring Israel's
War of Independence. 

Many of the beers I have tell an interesting story. Let's look at one.

Beer 48 tells a story of the War of Independence.  On the label is written (my free translation):

When the British mandate came to an end, the soldier Mike Flanagan, an Irishman who loved beer, was told to pack his equipment in order to go home. Flanagan and his tank commander, the Scot Harry McDonald, stole two British Cromwell tanks and drove them to a Haganah military base. This was the beginning of the Israeli army armored corps. Flanagan stayed on in Israel and now his grandchildren produce Beer 48 in his honor. 

A picture of a tank is shown on the bottle with the slogan: Beer of the Brave.

The first Tel Aviv streets on
Achuzat Bayit beer labels:
Rothschild, Shenkin, Allenby, Bialik, Dizengoff. 
There is a series of beers about 
Tel Aviv from the defunct brewery Achuzat Bayit.  The labels show us pictures of Tel Aviv in its earliest days.  We can see the following Tel Aviv streets (left to right): Rothschild, Shenkin, Allenby, Bialik and Dizengoff.

Naming streets after the "founding fathers" is a common phenomenon in Israel.  But, how about naming a beer after one of the early settlers? Samuel's Highland beer is named after Samuel Pineles.  He was a Zionist activist and helped organize the immigration of Jews to the towns of Rosh Pina and Zichron Yaacov.  The city of Givat Shmuel in central Israel was named in his honor.

The Alexander Brewery in Emek Hefer recreated the beer and the label of Max Brau Pilsner from the beer brewed by the Rosenberg Brothers in Akko in the year 1927.

Left: Samuel's Highland beer,
named after Zionist pioneer,
Samuel Pineles.
Right: A recreation of the
1927 Max Brau Pilsner
label and beer from
the Alexander Brewery. 
Football (soccer) and basketball are the favorite sports in Israel, so we expect this to be reflected in our beers. I found three beers that are directly tied to sports.

🔴 The Mosco Brewery on Moshav Zanoach came out with a beer called Gol.

🔴 Herzl Brewery in Jerusalem brought back the memory of the first and last time Israel was in the Mondial with a beer appropriately named Mexico 1970.

🔴 Jem's Brewery in Petach Tikva came out with a very limited edition of a beer called MTA in honor of the Macabbi Tel Aviv basketball team.

The Golan has been active in beer production. I have 22 beers from the Golan heights mainly from the Golan Brewery (Bazelet) in Katzrin, but there is also Fass Beer from Kibbutz Geshur.  Fass Beer changed their labels over time.  (This phenomenon is quite prevalent and can be confusing to labeorphilists.)  Other examples of breweries which have changed their labels are: Negev, Galil and the Lone Tree Brewery in Gush Etzion. . 
Beer labels honoring Israeli soccer (from left):
Gol Beer from Mosco, Mexico 70 from Herzl,
MTA from Jem's.

I also collect theme series bottles where the label is different 
but the beer content is the same.  For example:

Negev Brewery's series on Eurovision 2019. 

Herzl Brewery's Shenkar series where students of the Shenkar College of Design designed the labels on the bottles

Bazelet's dedication to Israel's 70th anniversary with beer bottles having the names Happiness, Friendship, Love, Luck, and Peace on them.

I wish all of you the above blessings for the New Year, and may we never have to face cenosillicaphobia -- the fear of an empty glass!