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!

August 25, 2019

Meadan Brewing to continue without Bryan; production moves to Beer Bazaar Brewery in Kiryat Gat

Bryan Meadan, the founder of a gluten-free and kosher-for-Passover brewery in Carmiel, has left the brewing industry.  Meadan beers will continue to be made at the Beer Bazaar Brewery in Kiryat Gat, with Bryan maintaining some involvement.

Better days: Bryan Meadan in his gluten-free,
kosher-for-Passover brewery in Carmiel.

(Photo: Mike Horton) 
"It was strictly a business decision," Bryan told me.  "I started brewing gluten-free beers 11 years ago and was able to open up my own brewery in Carmiel five years ago.  We brewed beer using malted chickpeas (hummus) and buckwheat instead of wheat, barley and rye -- grains which contain gluten.  Our date beer was certified kosher-for-Passover in 2016.  We even exported it for the holiday to Jewish communities in the U.S.

"But in the end, we just could not keep it going economically."

Because the Beer Bazaar Brewery uses grains containing gluten for all of its other beers, the Meadan beers from there cannot legally be called "gluten-free," but, according to Bryan, it will be clear from the label that people who are gluten-intolerant and gluten-sensitive can drink the beer without ill effects.
Gluten-free and kosher-for-Passover
Date Ale from the Meadan Brewery.

"Concerning the kosher-for-Passover beer," Bryan explains, "it depends on whether the brewery wants to take the time and trouble to thoroughly clean out all of the grain from the equipment and from the premises before Passover.  That's an economic decision they'll have to make."

Bryan himself is now looking to become involved in a subject that he feels passionately about (after  beer, of course): the problem of climate change.

"I wasn't too successful in making money," he sighs, "so now I have decided to save the planet.  It should be much easier."

Read more about the Meadan Brewery and kosher-for-Passover beers here (2016), here (2016), here (2017) and here (2018)

August 23, 2019

The 15th Jerusalem Beer Festival -- August 28-29

This is meant for all of you who love beer festivals – AND for those who have never been to one.

Related image
If you live close enough to attend the Jerusalem Beer Festival ("Ir Habira") on August 28 or 29,  this is your golden opportunity to try something new.

You say you don't like beer?  That's no excuse.  Beer festivals are so much more than beer – at least this one is.  You get the music, the food, the ambiance of Independence Park, the beautiful people, the smiles of a summer night in Jerusalem.

And you get beer completely unlike the beer you don't like.  That is, craft beer, micro-brewed with quality ingredients and the personal touch that give it far more and far better taste than the lagers made by Israel's two industrial brewers. 

Among the 120 beers that you can taste at the festival, there will be bitter ones and sweet ones, dark and light, strong and mild, sour and fruity, citrusy, spicy, and some made with vanilla, chocolate, coffee, fruits and other natural ingredients.

For example, the Oak & Ash Brewery in Tel Aviv will be pouring their new Coco Porter, a strong, dark and roasty beer brewed with coconut.  Ifshi (Aramaic for "I can do it") is a new brewing venture by two young men from Kochav Hashachar.  They will be offering their Oatmeal Stout, made with tequila and honey.  Don't pass it up.

The Malka Brewery is also presenting a new beer: Smokin, a pale ale with a light smoky aroma and taste achieved by using smoked malt.  Lemongrass is the name of a new beer from the Negev Brewery which will be available at the festival.  It is Negev's Oasis beer infused with lemongrass to give it a lemony, spicy touch. 

The Emek Ha'ela Brewery from Srigim is bringing a keg of their excellent Belgian Tripel beer, racked up to 11% alcohol from its usual 9.2%.  Belgian tripels are strong beers, a bit sweet from the malt and low on hop bitterness. 

There will be other Israeli craft breweries at the festival as well.  Look for Shapiro, Ronen, Jem's, Six-Pack (Super Heroes), Isis (which took its name from the Egyptian goddess long before the Islamic State was on the scene), Barzel, HaDubim, Lela, HaGibur, and others.  The Beer Bazaar, a brewery and chain of six pubs, will be selling beers from its new Gypsy beer truck, a mobile pub.

Foreign beers will not be lacking at the festival, as the major importers will take the opportunity to introduce their beers to the Jerusalem public.  Dozens of foreign brands will be flowing, including of course beers from Germany, Belgium and Britain.  But there will also be Chang Beer from Thailand, Kirin from Japan, Cesu from Latvia, Blanc, a citrusy wheat beer from France, and the original Budweiser from the Czech Republic. 

By the way, Budweiser will be using a new tap system for the first time in Israel, the Antoine Speedtap from Belgium.  This amazing invention utilizes four spigots and can fill 48 glasses of beer a minute!  It's good to know it's around when the crowd begins to clamor for their beer.      
   
If you want to try something different with a flavor kick, look for beers brewed with fruit and fruit juices.  For example, the Stiegl Brewery from Austria will be serving its Stiegl Radler Grapefruit, low in alcohol but high in tangy fruit flavor.

From the Belgian De Brabandere Brewery comes Petrus Aged Red, a sweet and slightly tart beer made with ripe cherries.  Another cherry beer from Belgium is Barbe Ruby, made by the Verhaeghe Brewery.  This one has the tastes of almonds and light sour cherries.   
         
A beer festival also has to have food and music, and in Independence Park there will be food trucks and stands with meat, vegetarian and vegan dishes, including, I'm told, vegan hamburgers. 

Live bands will provide the music on both nights.  Wednesday will feature Liron Amram and the Panthers, Arutz Hakibud, and Tuna.  On Thursday, Tal Friedman and the Fat Cats, Adi Ulmanski, and Hatikva 6 will take the stage.  Music helps set the scene at any beer festival, but in my experience, once it starts (at around 9:00 p.m. or so), the volume makes polite conversation very difficult.

Eli Giladi of Giladi Productions, the organizers of the festival, said that this will be the 15th annual Jerusalem Beer Festival.  "Since 2004, more than a quarter of a million people have attended our festival.  Our unique mix of incredible beers, excellent live music, the special air of Jerusalem, and a great crowd of people you can't find anywhere else in Israel – have given us an international reputation."

In fact, recent online research of major beer festivals around the world revealed that the Jerusalem Beer Festival is in the top 20 in terms of attendance.
 
If you are attending the festival for the first time – or for the 15th time or any number in between – here are a few tips to make your experience even better.

● Get there and go home by public transportation or with a designated driver.  Even little tastes of beer can add up and leave you unfit to drive.


● Drink water and eat before and during the festival.  Food in your belly slows the absorption of alcohol and staying hydrated is very important while you're consuming alcohol.  It also helps your taste buds to have a sip of water between beers.

● Spend a few minutes reconnoitering before you start imbibing.  Walk around and see which beers and other products look interesting, and then start slow and stay slow.  Talk to the brewers or the servers about the beer you're having.  They kind of like that.  You're not here to guzzle down your beers, but to enjoy them.

● You don't have to drink everything you see – but this is a great opportunity to try styles you've never had before, not just the beers you know and like.

● And finally, if you are a newcomer testing the water, here are some tips to beers you might like, based on your own taste preferences:

          If you like strong, black coffee – try hoppy and bitter beers like India Pale Ale (IPA).

          If you go for roasted marshmallows – then dark and roasty beers like stouts, porters and brown ale may be just right for you.

          If you're a fan of butterscotch and sweet candies – you'll probably like malty and sweet beers like Belgian pale ales, dark lagers, Irish Red ale and Scottish ale.

          If you prefer any smoked food – you're a natural for smoky beers or Rauchbier, as they are known.

          Those of you who love desserts with fruit – should choose a beer in the fruity or spicy category, like Belgian blonde or dark ale, or a wheat beer (Hefeweizen, Dunkelweizen or Weizenbock).   

          If you're a wine lover – you'll probably prefer beers which are tart or sour, like a fruit lambic, Berliner Weisse, Flanders Red or Saison.

Enjoy the festival, drink responsibly and get home happy.

The Jerusalem Beer Festival (Ir Habira) will take place Wednesday and Thursday, August 28 and 29, at Independence Park, starting at 6:00 p.m. each night.  The entrance fee is NIS 70 if you buy your ticket at the gate, but you can buy it online for NIS 65 or NIS 55 (for soldiers, National Service, students or Yerushalmi card holders) at https://www.jerusalembeer.com/en 


A version of this article is appearing today, Friday, August 23, in 
The Jerusalem Post local weekly, In Jerusalem.

August 12, 2019

August beer festivals

There are simply too many local beer festivals coming up this month for me to report on all of them individually, so with thanks to the Bira B'Yisrael Hebrew Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/groups/beerisrael/), I am giving below just the names and the dates of the upcoming festivals, and their Facebook pages where you should be able to get more information, most likely in Hebrew. 

This is a good thing, people.  We should be glad there are so many for us to choose from.     

Gomeh Intersection Israeli Beer Festival -- August 13-14:

Big Beer Festival, Beersheva -- August 14-15:
(No other information available.)

Ashkelon Beer Festival -- August 14-15:

Petach Tikva Beer Festival -- August 17:


Hadera Beer Festival -- August 21-22: 


Nahariya Beer Festival -- August 21-22:

Givat Shmuel Beer Festival -- August 22


Jerusalem Beer Festival ("Ir HaBira") -- August 28-29      www.facebook.com/events/2321195038134685/?event_time_id=2321195044801351?ti=icl


Givatayim Beer Festival -- August 28-29

July 9, 2019

Shevet Brewery comes out of the shadows

I first heard of a new brewery being built in Pardes Hanna about a year ago.  People were whispering, "major investment," "ultra-modern," "nothing like it in Israel."  Curious, I tried to track it down but didn't get very far.

The old blogger tours the new
Shevet "brewstillery" with partners
Lior Balmas (center) and Neil Wasserman.

(Photo: Mike Horton) 
Then, around seven months ago, I began seeing notices on social media about a new beer brand – Shevet (Hebrew for "Tribe") – being sold in a few locations in the north of Israel.  I was able to make contact with one of the partners, Neil Wasserman, but every time I suggested that I write about the brewery, he politely told me, "Not yet.  We're still not ready." 

Well, they just became without a doubt ready.  After Wasserman told me the time has come, I rode to Pardes Hanna with Mike ("Have camera, will travel") Horton and found a brewery that lived up to all the rumors about it.

It could be a work of modern art,
but it's the twin stills at the
Shevet brewstillery in Pardes Hanna.

(Photo: Mike Horton)
Only, it's not just a brewery.  Wasserman's background (in addition to being a retired NYC police officer) is distilling.  He is a whisky collector and connoisseur, with a wide knowledge of the distilling sciences.  A few years back, even before he came on Aliya in 2015, Wasserman thought that if countries like Japan, Denmark and India could make quality whiskies, there's no reason Israel could not be doing the same.  This idea has motivated him until today.    
  
The whisky barrels that will be used
for aging beer, which will then be used
for aging whisky.  Clear?

(Photo: Mike Horton)
"You're standing in Israel's first 'brewstillery,'" he proudly told Mike and me.  "We brew beer and distill whisky under one roof – and benefit from the synergy they generate.  For example, after we finish with wooden barrels for aging our whisky, we can use them for barrel-aging some of our beers.  The beer picks up added layers of aromas and flavors from the whisky and the oak.  Then these same barrels can be used to give some of our whiskies the delicious notes of quality beer.  It's a two-way street."

Lior Balmas (right), Brewmaster at the
Shevet brewstillery, keeps the old blogger
entranced with his tales of fermentation,
while partner Neil Wasserman looks on.

(Photo: Mike Horton)
Wasserman introduced us to his partner Lior Balmas, a 17-year veteran of craft brewing abroad and in Israel, with a brewing diploma from Germany.  The brewstillery is the natural result of the two partners' expertise.

We admired the custom-made copper stills which were works of art in themselves, but the first aged whisky, under the Ruach label, won't be ready until at least September – and anyway, we were here for the beer.

The old blogger strains to see the tops
of the giant fermentation tanks at the
Shevet brewstillery in Pardes Hanna.

(Photo: Mike Horton)
The Shevet Brewery is visually stunning, shiny, modern and fully automated.  From the time the malted grain arrives in one-ton sacks until the beer bottles are packed, hands are only needed to press the buttons.  Conveyor tubes and piping suck the malt to the mash tun, to the kettle, mixing in the hops, to the centrifuge, to the fermentation tanks where the yeast is added and the wort magically becomes beer.

All of the tanks and equipment are self-cleaning.  The bottling line can fill and cap 5,000 bottles an hour.  I thought I heard that wrong, but Balmas repeated it: "Yes, 5,000."
A view of the automated high-speed
bottling line at the Shevet brewstillery:
5,000 bottles an hour!

(Photo: Mike Horton) 

The automated keg filler cleans and fills 30 twenty-liter kegs every hour.

There are cold storage rooms for the hops and yeast, and for holding the full bottles and kegs before they are shipped out.

Balmas didn’t want to reveal the brewing output or the total capacity of the fermentation tanks, but my impression was that Shevet is now the largest and most modern craft brewery in Israel. 

Shevet partners Lior Balmas (left) and
Neil Wasserman treat their guests to cold glasses
of their wonderful beer.

(Photo: Mike Horton)
Building a brewstillery of this size and quality took a major investment in property and equipment.  Wasserman was able to obtain this from a U.S.-based investment group which has other real estate interests in Israel.

"Our business plan was very calculated and methodical," Wasserman says, explaining why I and other Israeli beer lovers had to wait such a long time for Shevet to reach us.

"We introduced our beers first in stores and restaurants around Pardes Hanna," he continues, "gradually expanding the area of distribution."  Balmas adds: "We wanted to make sure everything was running well before we rolled out." 

Shevet partner and Brewmaster Lior Balmas
inspects a brewing kettle.

(Photo: Mike Horton)
Overseeing this plan is Yotam Baras, the former owner and brewer of The Dictator beer, now in charge of marketing and sales for Shevet.        

Wasserman himself gave special attention to branding the Shevet beers.  The labels are similar in typeface and style, though each beer has its own color, logo and symbol.  The first two beers are The Wee Laddie, a Scottish Ale, symbolized by a strong Scotsman in a kilt with a puppy on his shoulder, and The Ice Mann, a Helles Lager, with a hipster speed skater.  All labels share a sketch of a tandem bicycle, but each beer has its symbol interacting with the bicycle differently.

I noticed that the logo, symbols and slogans have no Jewish or Israeli associations, though there is Hebrew on the label.  This was done deliberately to give the labels an international look and feel, something that could facilitate plans to export their beers in the future.     

"Our slogan is 'Hop On,'" Wasserman explains.  "There's room on our bicycle for all the tribe – and everyone can be a member of it."

After our tour of the brewery, we sat down for the serious business of tasting Shevet's two beers.  Both of them are styles which, as far as I know, are not made by other Israeli craft breweries.  "We want to highlight original beer styles that exist around the world," Balmas said.  "We can produce in Israel any beer style from any country."

The Ice Mann, at 5.2% alcohol by volume, is a Helles lager beer that pours out a clear light amber color with a foamy but fast dissipating head.  The noble German hops, in the case Hallertauer, give the beer a sparkling aroma of spice and grass.  There are flavors of grain, malt and honey, and the finish is bitter and peppery on the tongue and in the throat. 

The differences between a Helles and a Pilsner lager are very subtle.  Helles tend to be less hoppy, while stronger on the malty taste and a bit sweeter.  Obviously, there is a lot of overlapping. 

(Several Israeli craft breweries make a Pilsner beer, and we reviewed some of them here.)

The Wee Laddie Scottish Ale (5.5% ABV) is in a different league altogether.  Its clear, dark amber color reminds you of whisky.  Malt predominates in the aroma, along with caramel.  It has a full, rich taste – sweet malt, caramel and vanilla.  As the beer warms up, the flavors are enhanced, yet remain balanced between bitter and sweet.  A very enjoyable drink.

Scotch Ale is also known as "Wee Heavy," and the name Wee Laddie was chosen to show that, although it's in the same family, it's not as strong as its big cousin.

For the future, Wasserman says that Shevet will slowly expand its distribution throughout Israel, as well as add more beers to its repertoire.  "These may be more of our flagship beers," he explains, "or seasonal beers, limited edition beers, and premium barrel-aged beers.  In addition, our first Ruach whiskies should be hitting the market later this year.  We're also developing our facilities to include a Visitors' Center, and a separate building for barrel storage and whisky tasting. 

"Wait until we're done.  There will be no other place like this in Israel."

There's no doubt that Shevet is out of the shadows for good.


A version of this article is appearing Friday, August 2, in 
The Jerusalem Post Magazine.