December 25, 2013

Ass-kickin' Chutzpah

Denny Neilson and his son Matt at The Winemaker
shop in Mevasseret Zion.
Going out to see Denny Neilson in Mevasseret Zion is a nostalgic trip.

My diploma.
I took Denny's beer-making course in 2008 and in all humility, that's when I went from beer-lover to beer aficionado.  Denny made it official by awarding me an MBA certificate (Master of Beer Appreciation).

Denny welcomed me in his little shop, "The Winemaker," at 99 Shimon Swissa Street.  "I'm afraid we have to talk here," he apologized, "because these are the hours that I have to man the store."

Denny is a true expert in what he calls the "fermentation arts."  He might have gotten in on the crest of the Israeli wine and beer boom -- or he might have helped create it.  At any rate, "The Winemaker" is today a very active enterprise, and is engaged in four distinct activities:

1) Teaching -- Wine-making, home-brewing, and, most recently, home-distillation.

2) Selling equipment and ingredients for making beer, wine and liquor at home.

3) Fermenting and marketing apple cider under the Buster's label.

4) Brewing and marketing Chutzpah IPA under the Isra-Ale label.  This is what got me out here -- but more later.

Buster's apple cider and Chutzpah IPA.
Denny has been teaching home brewing and wine-making for years.  He has provided the knowledge and wherewithal for a generation of home-fermenters.

He explains: "When we came on aliya ten years ago and I told people what I want to do, they said, 'Nobody drinks beer.'  But we believed there was a market for people who wanted to make their own beer and wine.  We wanted to provide a one-stop service for all of their needs.  Our motto is, 'If we don't have it, you don't need it.'"

In addition to continuing courses in beer- and wine-making, Denny is introducing classes in distillation next month.  "So many people applied," he says, "that we had to add on two additional groups."  During the course of six months, the classes will make their own single malt whiskey, "moonshine," vodka and fruit brandy.

Denny believes part of the interest in home distillation is due to the high tax on liquors.  "People can make their own hard drinks at a fraction of the cost," he says, "but distillation can be very dangerous -- the liquids are very flammable and can even explode.  And if you don't know what you're doing, you can end up with the poisonous methyl alcohol instead of the drinkable stuff, ethyl alcohol.

"We're starting the classes to teach people how to home-distill safely."

In the area of apple cider, Denny recently opened a fermenting plant in Beit Shemesh, and is now the third largest cider producer in Israel.  ("Don't get too excited," he admits. "There might only be three real cider producers in Israel anyway.")

If you've ever tried Buster's cider at a beer festival or pub, or bought it at a retail store, you know it's a delicious drink.  I'm not much a cider fancier, but for me, apple cider is intimately linked with the North American autumn: outdoor sports, powdered donuts, fireplaces.  But Buster's is definitely a year-round drink.  Denny said that the "kosher for Passover" apple cider is in high demand over Passover, when beer is forbidden.  Buster's is available in the sweet variety (4.8% alcohol) or the dry (6.7% alcohol).                    

Now it's time for a little Chutzpah, what you've all been waiting for.  This is the only beer currently being brewed at The Winemaker.  "We call it an 'ass-kickin' IPA,' a beer drinker's beer," says Denny.  "We make only 100 bottles a week, and most of the time, we're sold out in advance."

Denny poured me a glass of Chutzpah and, so help me, you can smell the hops as soon as he popped the cap.  Chutzpah is made with six different expensive hops, and in quantities five to seven times the amount used in most Israeli beers.  It is dry-hopped twice; once in a glass demijohn during regular fermentation, and then again seven days later in a different demijohn.

All told, it takes 3-4 weeks to prepare each batch of Chutzpah.  All the beer is then kegged before being bottled under pressure.  The carbonation is kept low by strictly controlling the level of CO2 introduced into the beer.  There is no second fermentation in the bottle so that there is no sediment on the bottom.  "We understand that customers want the beer to have a certain eye appeal," says Denny, "and we achieve that without giving up on quality."

There is no doubt that Chutzpah is not a beer for everybody. (Denny says that he always asks first-time drinkers, "Are you sure?" before he draws them a pint of Chutzpah.)  The intense aroma and taste of hops, the bitterness that floods over your tongue, the citrusy undertone -- all this will wallop the taste buds of anybody used to drinking tamer beers.

Because of the huge quantity of fresh hops used in making Chutzpah, it must be drunk fresh.  "After about two weeks, the taste of the hops begins the dissipate and the malt becomes dominant," says Denny.  "If we happen to have any Chutzpah in the shop which passes the two-week mark, I drink it myself."

That's the main reason you won't find Chutzpah in your local liquor store.  With a shelf-life of only two weeks, Denny will only sell it at his own shop in Mevasseret Zion.  The other reason is that Chutzpah doesn't fit into the commercial model for retail beers.  With the extra time and expense needed to brew it, and the extensive labor, Chutzpah would have to sell at a cost higher than most retailers will allow.  "Liquor stores don't really care about the quality or the ingredients of the beers they sell," Denny explains.  "They just want the price to be low enough for quick sales.  They don't think they could sell Chutzpah at the price we would need."

I respectfully disagreed with Denny, arguing that in my experience, there exists a niche market of Israelis who are willing to pay more for quality products, be it cars, clothing or alcohol.
 I don't think I convinced Denny about retail stores, but he did reveal that Chutzpah may soon be available in draught at selected pubs and restaurants, since kegs have to be finished anyway within a few days.

Denny also told me that, in addition to Buster's cider and Chutzpah beer, The Winemaker will be unveiling a third alcoholic beverage in the spring.  He would only call it "Product X," and promised that it would be special.  "Start getting thirsty," he said.

I will be sure to let all of my readers know about Product X; Denny promised to invite me to the inaugural event!  In the meantime, take it from this certified MBA that it is worth a trip to The Winemaker to bring home a six-pack (or more) of Chutzpah IPA.  You won't find its like anywhere else in Israel.     

December 18, 2013

Say it ain't so, Ben!

A little ways down on the right side of this web log, you will notice a famous quote by Benjamin Frankin, to wit,
"Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy."
Beer blogs and websites, brewers large and small, and beer lovers everywhere are fond of that quote.  You can see it on posters, mugs and t-shirts and lots of other beer paraphernalia.  It's popular because it sums up our own feelings, especially those of us with some connection to American history and culture.  Ben Franklin's intellect, wit and personality helped shape the American revolution and the society that it built.  His sayings are as much a part of the American heritage as Bible quotations are of Israel's.  

Only, Ben never said that one about beer.

In the Urban Legends section of, the brewing historian (why don't I remember that  being a career option when I was in college?) Bob Skilnik, debunks the notion that Ben Franklin ever said that.  Skilnik says that the closest Ben came to that sentiment is in a letter he wrote to Andre Morellet, the French economist and philosopher, in 1779:
"Behold the rain which descends from heaven upon our vineyards, there it enters the roots of the vines, to be changed into wine, a constant proof that God loves us, and loves to see us happy."
So there you have it.  Ben Franklin, that admirer of all things French, was writing about wine.

No matter.  I'm going to keep that beer quote on my blog, because even if Ben didn't say it, he could have.  And after all, no matter who said it first, we can still believe it's true.    

December 16, 2013

Snowy Jerusalem, strong beer -- epilogue

Shabbat (December 14) in Jerusalem was cold and snowy. People are calling it the worst storm in Israel in 150 years! Nothing moved. Walking along the icy streets was dangerous. Certain neighborhoods spent the day, and beyond, without electricity.

Fortunately, we had light and heat -- and a delicious lunch. Trudy made a winter-vegetable shepherd's pie which was scrumptious and just right for the stormy day. It was complemented by a 75 centiliter (25 1/2 ounce) bottle of Kasteel Cuvee du Chateau 2012, a strong Belgian ale, 11% alcohol by volume, and brewed only since 2010 by the famous Castle Brewery Van Honsebrouck in West Flanders, Belgium. 

Since this is not a beer to be quaffed ice-cold (especially on this kind of a day), I took it out of the refigerator a half-hour before we ate. This is a beer that not only has a printed vintage, but you open it like a bottle of champagne, with a wire net and a pop cork. That only added to the festivities.

Cuvee du Chateau pours out the darkest of browns and has a rich, creamy head like an egg cream (for those of you who remember such things). The taste is heavily roasted malt, that fills your mouth with flavor, leaving just a little room for the bitterness of the (British) hops.

Cuvee du Chateau can be classified as an English-style "barley wine," which simply refers to a dark and strong ale, not very hoppy, which has the same alcoholic content as wine, that is, 8% - 12% by volume. Barley wines are often sold with a vintage, as is Cuvee du Chateau, and may even be aged like fine wines.

I'm not one to tell you about the "nose" and the "finish" and the "hints" of blackberry or wet grass or kiwi or whatever. I'll leave that to the many beer rating and tasting sites. These make sense when you're tasting beer by itself, with nothing else in your mouth. But Cuvee du Chateau is a great beer whose taste and alcohol strength are perfect when part of a flavorful winter meal. One-on-one, I may prefer the hoppier, bitterer pale ales and IPAs, but Cuvee du Chateau is meant for food and should not be separated from what it adds to a meal.

Trudy, not a great beer drinker, didn't want her own glass, but couldn't resist reaching over and taking sips from mine.

All in all, it was a lovely and delicious Shabbat lunch, and I'm pleased to share it vicariously with all of you. Since my web log is primarily concerned with Israeli boutique beers, I will continue my search for the Israeli beers which can accompany a winter meal as perfectly as Cuvee du Chateau.

December 14, 2013

What makes a beer "kosher"?

Being neither a rabbi nor the son of a rabbi (hah!), I don't intend to tell people how they should approach the kashrut of beer; whether this or that beer, or any beer, needs a certification that it conforms to Jewish dietary laws before we can drink it.

However, by popular demand, I have spoken with some Orthodox rabbis, studied with them, and done some research on the internet. Although this is far from comprehensive, I hope that what I have learned will help clarify this situation.

Ancient beer ingredients included emmer
wheat, wild yeast, chamomile,
thyme and oregano.
To begin at the beginning, the Talmud (discussions which took place in Babylon over 1,500 years ago) actually relates to the kashrut of beer, specifically beer which is brewed by a non-Jew.  In the tractate of Avodah Zarah, 31B, the rabbis never question whether beer (shechar in Hebrew) is non-kosher because of its ingredients.  Rather, they ask whether Jews can drink the product of non-Jewish brewers.  The consensus is definitely yes, although some hold reservations about whether it should be drunk in the home, shop or pub of the non-Jew.  For example, Rav Papa, a famous Jewish beer brewer, would drink the beer of a non-Jew, but only when it was brought out to him to the door of the shop.  Rabbi Ahai went even further, insisting that the beer of the non-Jews be brought all the way to his home.  The problem here is not whether the beer is kosher, but whether such "socializing" will lead to intermarriage.

There is also a mention of hops (keeshoot in Hebrew), which I had no idea were present in the Middle East at that time.  I thought that other ingredients were added to ancient beers for flavor and bitterness, while hops I associated with more modern times and northern climes.  But the Talmud clearly says that hops were part of the brewing process, and the bitterness they produce protects the drinker from even snake venom which may be in the beer!  Health food addicts take note.

Elsewhere in the Talmud, Rabbi Zeira relates that when he grew weary from too much studying(!), he would take a pitcher of beer to the entrance of Rabbi Yehuda Bar Ami's yeshiva and pour a mug for each Torah scholar as he left the building.  That way, he said, even though he was not keeping the commandment of studying Torah, he was keeping the commandment of honoring Torah scholars.    

This has remained the decision of later Jewish legal commentators as well: beer does not present any problems of kashrut, but just don't drink it in social situations with non-Jews, or you'll end up marrying their daughters.  As the old joke says, if you drink enough beer, all women begin to look beautiful.

Moving into modern times, almost all of the internet sites which give rabbinic decisions agree that all un-flavored beer, made from the traditional ingredients of water, grain, hops and yeast, is generically kosher and does not need any certification.  For beer drinkers who care about such things, that's good news.  It puts the world of beer into our glasses.

There are no oysters in
Marston's Oyster Stout.

However, concerns arise when the beer has additives or flavorings.  These days, some brewers are adding anything and everything to beers -- fruits, herbs, honey, chocolate, coffee, tea, wine, spirits, chicken, oysters, clam juice, milk or cream, pizza, bacon, peanut butter -- you name it.  Although beer purists would probably forswear such indecencies, flavored beers are growing in popularity.  (As are flavored vodkas and, probably, flavored anything else.)

These additives and flavorings might cause kashrut problems, and therefore, kosher-only eaters and drinkers would want to look for certification on the bottle.  Many beers in the U.S. and Europe, and as far as I know, all Israeli beers, are certified kosher by some rabbinical authority, so finding good beers with kosher certification should be no problem.

One of my neighborhood rabbis, remembering like me the old days in New York, said that no observant Jew then even thought of the kashrut question when drinking beer.  Ditto for any booze except wine, which has its own more strict laws.  These days, he continued, there has been a shift towards more and more stringency among religious Jews, and this has led them to look for kosher certification even on beer.

Another neighborhood rabbi, a respected writer and scholar not only in the field of Talmud and Jewish law,  said very straightforward:        
"Although halachic [Jewish law] problems regarding beer are a possibility, they are rather rare. Therefore, beer doesn't need a hechsher [kosher certification]."
So there you have have it, my fellow beer lovers.  If you thought I would give you an easy answer, I'm sorry.  As with most things in life, the choice is yours.

I am perhaps not a good example of someone who listens to all rabbinical authority, but there is one decision that I refuse to even consider.  It is reported that the founder of Hassidic Judaism, Rabbi Yisrael ben Eliezer (born 1698), often called the Baal Shem Tov or the Besht, taught that one should not say "L'chaim" over beer.  Perhaps one of my readers could tell me the reason.

At any rate, I will continue to raise my beer glass with friends and family, over good food, bad food or no food, at quiet meetings or riotous celebrations, and say out loud, "L'chaim!"   

December 13, 2013

Snowy Jerusalem, strong beer

Snow began falling in Jerusalem yesterday, Thursday, December 12, and continued last night.  This morning we woke up to a city beautiful in white but at a standstill.  Few cars, no busses, no light rail, no newspapers, no school, most stores closed. We've heard reports that this is a record snowstorm for December, and perhaps for all time.      

View from my rear window, Friday, December 13, 7:30 a.m.

Yesterday, Trudy and I walked through the "blizzard" to the supermarket to buy ingredients for a winter vegetable shepherd's pie that she is now making for Shabbat.  I put one of the bottles of Belgian beer that I got as a birthday present from my children into the fridge for Shabbat lunch.  I have chosen Kasteel Cuvee du Chateau 2012, a beer with a vintage and 11% alcohol by volume, for this occasion.  I hope to write a review of it afterwards.  I have been saving these ales, strong in malt and alcohol, for such wintry days.  I'm sure there are Israeli beers with similar attributes and I will try to find them.  But for tomorrow, we're giving the Belgians a chance. 
Shabbat Shalom,

December 8, 2013

My problem with Taybeh Beer.

On the face of it, we should be happy that Taybeh Beer is sold in Israel.

You've got to hand it to them.  The spunky Khoury brothers, David and Nadim, returned to their West Bank village of Taybeh after the 1993 signing of the Oslo Accords.  The Christian brothers had been businessmen in the U.S. for 35 years.  And what did they do?  They invested the family money and their considerable talents in opening a brewery in the heart of a Moslem population.  This is akin to opening a pork sausage factory in Mea Shearim!

Now as far as I know, Christians and Jews have been making arak and other distilled spirits in Lebanon, Iraq, Syria and Jordan for generations -- but I've never heard of any beer brewers.

So not only is the Khoury family a ground breaker in the Islamic world, but they were also the first craft brewery between the Mediterranean and the Jordan to challenge Israel's industrial beer makers.
Taybeh means "delicious" in Arabic.

And . . . they make good beer.  I remember tasting Taybeh shortly after they began brewing  in 1995, and licking my lips.  Today, the Taybeh brewery produces 600,000 liters of beer a year(!), selling half of that to Palestinians, 40% to Israelis, and 10% abroad, including  Europe and Japan.  The beer is also brewed and bottled under license in Germany. They are no longer a microbrewery.

Taybeh makes five beers, each labeled according to its color.  There's a Golden, a Dark, an Amber, a Light, and a non-alcoholic beer (something to keep religious Moslems happy, I guess).  There is nothing especially "Palestinian" or even Middle Eastern about these beers.  They are all brewed in the tried and true German traditional style.  But they are all very drinkable; excellent alternatives to our industrially brewed beer.  We should be celebrating.

But yet . . .

The Khoury family has chosen confrontation over fermentation.  Although the Taybeh website is free of politics (except for the press clippings), the Khourys never miss an opportunity to attack Israel, the "occupation," the "settlers" around Taybeh.  If their company isn't growing fast enough, its the fault of the Israeli security checks and bureaucracy.  If shipping their export beer takes too long, it's because Israel discriminates against them.  "Anti-Israel" has become as much a part of the Taybeh Beer brand as the "pure brewing" and "building Palestine" narratives.

"Drink Taybeh and taste the revolution" is one of their slogans.  Which "revolution" is that?  Is that the one that Yasser Arafat started out of the barrel of his gun?  Or is that the one that the Khourys started by brewing beer in a hostile Moslem environment?  "This is our resistance to occupation," is what Nadim Khoury says in one of their videos, while he takes part in another titled, "Palestine, Beer and Oktoberfest -- Under Occupation."

 His sister-in-law, Dr. Maria Khoury, the wife of David, is particularly vicious, blaming Israel not only for all the family's problems but also for the emigration of Christians from the West Bank, as if Islamic extremism plays no role.
Fermentation . . . or confrontation?

I understand the need for the Christian minority living under PLO rule to show that they are no less nationalistic than the Moslems.  They are a community under constant harrassment and attack.  Young Christians are leaving the West Bank as Moslem rule becomes less and less bearable.  The Palestinians who had come back to invest in their homeland following the Oslo Accords were caught by surprise when Arafat started his 2000 intifada.  Almost all of them fled back to where they came from.  But the Khourys had invested too much to flee.  They stayed and today feel beleaguered.  I understand.

But show some balance, some humility.  The Israeli security measures are not aimed at keeping the brewery business small, but at keeping Israelis alive.  Before Arafat's intifada there were no problems with security checks.  The Khoury brothers know this.              

The truth is that the Palestinian Authority frowns on all private initiative that it does not control, that does not stream money towards its corrupt officials.  [See:]

Another thing:  Since 2005, the Taybeh Brewery has been hosting a beer festival known as the Oktoberfest in Taybeh village.  (Since the only beer served is Taybeh, it's not much a beer festival, but that's another story.)  Thousands of people come from Israel, the West Bank and even foreign countries to drink beer, buy Palestinian handicrafts and eat felafel.

Oktoberfest: Kicked 
out of Taybeh.
This year, for the first time, the Taybeh city council refused to allow the festival to take place.  Nadim Khoury himself was shot at and his car was destroyed by a Molotov cocktail.  The council demanded an exorbitant sum from Khoury, but that's not the only reason he decided to relocate the Oktoberfest to a hotel in Ramallah.  The growing Islamic extremism in the Palestinian territories simply could not tolerate a festival where the sexes mingle and people drink alcohol in public.

The independent Palestinian state that the Khourys give lip service to, will not be tolerant and democratic, any more than the Palestinian Authority is today.  If Hamas and other Islamist parties take control, as many commentators say they might, the alcohol-marketing Khoury family may end up as the fifth ingredient in their beer kettles.      

After the Oktoberfest was cancelled in Taybeh, Nadim Khoury himself admitted  that Palestinian culture "is not one of working hard and making wealth.  The culture here is . . . one of jealousy, corruption and blackmail."  So maybe everything isn't Israel's fault after all.

I call on Nadim Khoury and his family to end the anti-Israel double talk, to get out of politics altogether and just brew beer.  Not for the glory of Palestine or for "resisting occupation," but for the taste and the pleasure it brings.  Chill out.  Sit back and pour a beer and try to dissipate some of the hate you harbor for those Jewish neighbors on the hill.  You'll find they may be important allies in your fight for religious tolerance, minority rights, private initiative and government reform in your homeland.  They may even turn out to be your best customers in all of Judea and Samaria -- even if it's one day called "Palestine."        


November 29, 2013

Mosco on the Mediterranean

Amir and Yaron: Brought back together by Mosco Beer!
In the year since the Mosco Brewery began production, it has been the subject of at least three Hebrew articles in print and on the internet.

Certainly, it doesn't hurt that the beer is good stuff.

But it's the personal story that has grabbed the journalists and the bloggers.

Two childhood friends in Rishon LeZion, Amir Lev and Yaron Moscovich, gradually drifted apart and went their separate ways over the years.  Amir became an ultra-Orthodox Jew, got married, moved to Ramat Beit Shemesh and had four kids.  He worked as an agronomist in hydroponic agriculture.  Yaron stayed single, secular and in Rishon.  Eventually, the two lost contact all together.

About seven years later, Yaron called Amir out of the blue.  "I just brewed some home-made beer," he announced, "and you have to taste it."  Amir was happy to renew the friendship and agreed immediately.

From that meeting, the two began to see each other again and began to experiment with different beer recipes which they shared with the families and friends.  After two years, they decided to make a business out of it.  The found a place for their brewery on Moshav Zanuach, close to Amir's home in Beit Shemesh.  They called their new enterprise "Mosco," which is Yaron Moscovich's nickname.

The old label . . .
The Mosco Brewery began production in November 2012.  Since then, the two partners, now both 38, have put time and effort into producing high-quality beers and into marketing them.  They almost immediately took part in the big Beers 2012 exhibit in Tel Aviv, and in regional beer festivals such as Jerusalem and Mateh Yehuda (Srigim).  In an effort to modernize the branding, they recently introduced a new logo and labels for the beer.

I first met Amir when he was giving out tastes of his new beer on Friday morning at the HaMisameach liquor store near Machane Yehuda Market in Jerusalem.  He remembered me when we met again at the brewery a few days ago.

. . . and the new!
We tasted the Mosco Blond, which is a delicious, full-flavored pale ale, just a little short of the hops and alcohol needed to make it an IPA.

The Mosco Red (sounds like a throw back to the Cold War days!) is a little darker ale taking its first steps towards the flavor of stout, with nice coffee tones.

Amir admitted that Mosco's two beers reflect the partners' own taste.  "We have to like the beers we brew," he said.  Amir and Yaron generally do not like, for example, wheat beers.  But recently Yaron developed a wheat beer recipe which changed their minds.

"We hope to be brewing and marketing our wheat beer in the near future," Amir revealed to me.  "Yaron is getting married in two months, and his fiance wants the first batch of our wheat beer to served at their wedding.  That can be your scoop."

The Mosco Brewery has a sparkling set of new, modern equipment -- mash tun, kettle and four fermenters -- made in China by an Israeli company.  "We are very satisfied," said Amir.  No artificial carbonation is ever used in Mosco Beer, and a second fermentation takes place in the bottle.  They are currently producing around 1,500 to 2,000 liters a month.

As with other breweries, Mosco imports all ingredients, but Amir, the agronomist, dreams of Israel one day growing barley and hops to supply its own domestic beer industry.  "Why not?" he asks innocently.   
Mosco Beer is now available in select liquor stores in Jerusalem and in the Tel Aviv area north to Netanya, as well as in bars and restaurants. 

I loved the Blond at first sip -- and that was before I knew that she had brought two old friends back together again.         

November 24, 2013

Where's the Wild Blond?

Do you remember Asif Beer?  It was a standard fixture at almost every beer festival for many years and was readily available in liquor stores.  It had a catchy label of an old-time sower of seeds against a background of a swaying field of barley.

I enjoyed their four regular beers and I also appreciated their names:

Wild Blond -- a citrusy wheat beer.

Enticing Redhead -- a fruity amber ale.

Flaming Brunette -- a very strong (8.5% ABV) dark beer.

Surprising Dark Haired Female (there's no word for that in English, is there?) -- a smoky porter.

As I was going through my contacts, I noticed that the Asif Brewery Facebook page hadn't been updated for about two years.  They had been using that in lieu of a website.

I called the owner and brewmaster, Shimon Osher, at Moshav Ramot Naftali in the Upper Galilee, and he confirmed: Asif has not been brewing beer commercially for more than a year.  Shimon has been brewing at home for his own family and neighbors.  His medium-term plans are to open a pub and to brew beer for the moshav and the region.

When I told him that I enjoyed Asif Beer and would like to see it back, he said, "So would we."

November 16, 2013

Dancing Camel's olde-new beers

I have found that the best selection of Israeli boutique beers in Jerusalem is at HaMisameach, an inviting liquor store on Rehov Agrippas near the Machane Yehuda shuk. One entire four-meter-long shelf is filled with over 50 different kinds of Israeli craft beers from 15 breweries. Trust me: I really counted.

A few weeks ago, I saw what to me were four new beers from Tel Aviv’s Dancing Camel, Israel’s first microbrewery, owner of two brewpubs, an active and creative marketer, and a brewer of a wide assortment of year-round and seasonal beers.

The four new beers were:

Patriot – A pale ale beautifully hoppy with a twinge of sweetness to balance the bitter, and a dose of citrus.

Eve Blond Ale – A very light blond ale with the malt and hops in the background. This is a beer for a hot day, when you can’t just have one.

Midnight Stout – I’m not a stout fan, but I enjoyed this more than its famous Irish cousin. And there really is a chocolaty taste in there.

Olde Papa Babylonian Olde Ale – This is the heartiest of the four. Full of hops and sweetness and high in alcohol (7.5%).

I wanted to know more so I called up David Cohen, the owner and brewmaster of Dancing Camel.

“They’re not new,” was David’s surprised reply. “You’re just seeing them for the first time in the store.

“Midnight Stout is one of our standards, as is Eve Blond Ale. They’ve been around for years. You can read about them on our website.

“Patriot is just a new name we gave to our American Pale Ale. That’s also been around for along time.”

I liked that. I think beers should have personal names rather than just descriptions. After all, they are so complex and individual – or should be – so why not give them real names?

“But the interesting story,” David continued, “is the Olde Papa Ale.

“You know, for several years we have been tweaking our India Pale Ale to accommodate Israeli tastes. We found Israelis prefer a sweeter, heavier beer with more alcohol. So over the years, we have been bumping up the sweetness of our IPA with date honey and darker, caramel malts.

“Just recently, we decided to push the beer out of the IPA category entirely by 1) revving up the alcohol from 7.2% to 7.5%, 2) changing from English to German malts, and 3) changing from American hops to British hops.

“So now we had what was in effect a new beer and we needed a name for it.”

David went on to explain that brewers often look for inspiration and ingredients in their own area and culture.

“There aren’t too many illustrious Jewish brewers,” he said, “but one of the earliest we know of is Rav Papa, a rabbi from the Talmud who lived in Babylon. He had ten sons, founded a famous yeshiva in Neres, and apparently became quite wealthy from brewing and selling beer.”

Rav Papa brewed a beer called “sudny” which was made with date honey. Since that ingredient was already being used in the Dancing Camel “revised” IPA, they decided to name the new beer in memory of Rav Papa.

All my questions were answered.

“However,” added David, “you should have also seen a fifth beer in HaMisameach – Golem.”

He was right. Bottles of Golem were on the top shelf. This is a super beer. I tried it last summer after my friend Bob Faber bought me a bottle at the Mateh Yehuda Beer Festival. At HaMisameach, a 750 milliliter bottle costs a hefty NIS 49, but it’s worth it. Golem is a beer to savor. I call it IPA on steroids. It’s dark and strongly hopped, 11% alcohol with rich flavors that put most other beers in its dark shadow. My neighbor Moshe Lifshitz says, “it’s like drinking two beers at once.” I was happy to learn that Golem is on sale in stores and not just at beer fairs. If you see it, and you love strong beer, buy a bottle and give yourself a treat.

November 6, 2013

Welcome to the Beer Revolution

If you’re a beer lover (like me) and if you live in Israel (like me), you must have noticed that the last five or so years have been kind to us.

The Israeli beer culture is booming.  Stores and restaurants and pubs now offer the beer-drinking public a heady assortment of local and imported beers of all types and variations: ales and lagers, stouts and wheats, dubbels and tripels, fruits and bitters.  Go into almost any liquor store and you can’t help but notice that more and more shelf space is taken up by a rainbow choice of beers from all over the world.

 Home brewing is also taking off.  There are more places to buy equipment and ingredients to begin brewing beer in your own kitchen.  It’s a serious hobby in which, like stamp collecting or playing golf, you can invest as much time, interest and money as you want.  And the end result is not a lower handicap, but 19 liters of delicious and inexpensive beer. 

Amitai seems more interested
in the beer than in grandpa.

My neighbor here in Pisgat Ze’ev is an avid home brewer, and he boils up his wort and mixes in the malt extract, hops and yeast (and maybe some secret ingredients) right in his own kitchen.  Less than three weeks later, he has excellent beer – which he generously shares with favored neighbors who appreciate the quality!  

But most of all, boutique breweries (also known as craft breweries) have been springing up all over the country, liberating Israeli brew-quaffers from the duopoly of industrially-brewed, flavor-deficient beers.  No more is the choice between Tempo Beer Industries (Goldstar, Nesher and Maccabee) or Israel Beer Breweries Ltd. (Carlsberg and Tuborg).  They may hold the major share of the market, but not of the taste.  Independent small breweries are changing the way Israelis think about beer.  People who have been saying, “No, I don’t drink beer” all of their lives, are now saying, “Hmm. That one’s good!”  Just ask my wife Trudy.  

Today, there are over 20 licensed commercial boutique breweries in Israel.  The first one was probably Dancing Camel in Tel Aviv, opened in 2006 by American immigrant David Cohen.  David’s bandanaed head is a familiar sight at beer festivals and other social events, and his beautiful beers are readily available at many liquor stores and bars. 

The most recent boutique brewery may be Herzl Beers in Jerusalem – but I really can’t say because another one may be opening somewhere in Israel as I write these words.

Unfortunately, at the same time, others may be closing.  Which brings me to my last point for this posting: As the competition among craft beers heats up, sadly there will be casualties.  In order to survive, brewers will need more than an excellent product and a presence at beer and food fairs.  They have to be skilled marketers who get their beers into shops, restaurants and pubs.  Price is important too, but, as whiskey and wine sellers will tell you, Israelis are ready to pay for quality.  The sales tax on beer in Israel is quite high.  Although it affects all beer sales, it hits the small craft brewers harder, since the industrial brewers have the volume to absorb part of the tax. 

I recently noticed six packs of Butterfly beer (brewed in the Ramat Dalton industrial estate in the Upper Galilee) on sale near the Machane Yehuda shuk for only NIS 30!  I tried to contact Butterfly to find out how they could sell their beer at such a ridiculously low price – not that I was opposed at all!  I became suspicious when the phone number and the website both weren’t working.  I did some research and discovered (without much surprise) that Butterfly had gone out of business a few months earlier.  The remaining beer was obviously being dumped on the market to be sold at any price. 

Butterfly had its fans, but I found only the Sunset (dark ale) swallowable.  That may help to explain why Butterfly went belly up.  I don’t know.  But our craft breweries must remember that they are now competing against each other, and not only against the big guys.  They will have to give us, the beer drinkers, the best beer at the best price.  It’s a jungle out there.            

Jerusalem has a brewery!

Itai Gutman (left) and Maor Helfman with their beautiful Herzl Beers.
For some years, Canaan Beer has been calling itself the “Beer of Jerusalem,” but it’s brewed in Mishor Adumim. Shapiro Beer proudly calls itself “Jerusalem Beer” on its label. But it’s brewed in Beit Shemesh.

But now, finally, the craft beer revolution has really reached Jerusalem.

Last week I visited the first commercial brewery to open in the city: Herzl Beer, owned and operated by two 30-year-old Jerusalemites, Maor Helfman and Itai Gutman. The brewery is located in the Talpiot industrial area, right between the small stores and grimy workshops. But the beer, the beer is heavenly.

“We dreamed about opening a brewery together for about two years,” says Maor, “and we finally did around three months ago, after going through all the bureaucracy, the approvals, and the bank loans.” Maor and Itai both did internships in  beer brewing in Scotland.  Itai had previously studied beer brewing in Berlin. It didn’t take long after they met in Israel to decide that this is what they wanted to do with their lives: to earn a livelihood by brewing great beer.

Helfman and Gutman decided that they didn’t want to go mainstream. Most other boutique breweries in Israel will typically make a pale ale, a red ale, a stout (or porter), and a wheat beer. Herzl produces three different ales, and the names are inspired more by Jerusalem slang than by descriptive categories.

“Shesh Achuz Kapara” – A mild, red, British-inspired ale, with a nice aroma of fruit and hops. At 6% alcohol by volume, it’s a beer that makes a powerful, malty impression.

“Dulce de Asal” – The Spanish and Arabic name means “the sweetness of honey,” and this strong ale (8% ABV) doesn’t disappoint. This is for drinkers who don’t like their beer very bitter. Brewmaster Gutman says the beer is in the family of heavy Scottish ales, and influenced by the fermented honey drink of mead. Mead producing actually goes back 4,000 years, but Gutman looked at old medieval recipes and puts in the same exotic spices.

“IPA . . . v’Zeh” – My favorite. (I guess India Pale Ales will always be my favorite.) Helfman and Gutman say that very few other Israeli breweries make India Pale Ale.  In my opinion, this is a great beer. The taste and aroma of hops is massive (hops are added both during the boiling of the wort and after, during the fermentation process, known as “dry hopping”), the resultant bitterness is unbelievably refreshing, and the strength (7% ABV) lets you know that this is real beer.

Helfman is the marketing maven at Herzl Brewery, and he has big plans for getting his beer into the Israeli bloodstream. In the meantime, Herzl is available at pubs and restaurants only in Jerusalem, including Bardak (where I discovered it), Chakra, Adom, Colony, Shanti, Bourla, Tel Aviv, and Jabotinsky, and at the SOS convenience stores.

Today, the brewery produces around 7,000 bottles a month, a very respectable number, but Helfman and Gutman are always aiming higher. “Brewing beer is something we both enjoy,” concludes Helfman. “We just want to continue what we love doing – and perhaps make some money from it as well.”

Thanks to Herzl, Jerusalem is on the beer map, and we’re going to stay on the beer map.