January 26, 2014

Results of the first Israel Brews and Views Tasting Panel - Israeli IPAs

The results are in for the first Beer Tasting Panel held under the auspices of Israel Brews and Views.  The panel judges tasted and ranked eight India Pale Ales (or near IPAs) made by Israeli craft breweries.  Two sessions were held during the week of January 19-23, 2014.

Before we get to the results, some introductory remarks:

We apologize for the delay in publicizing the results.  The panel was twice delayed because of judges' illnesses. 

Doug and Ira
looking good.

The judges were amateur and the results were unscientific.  We are just a collection of eight beer lovers who know what we like and can make relatively intelligent comments on it.  Who are we?

Yitzchak from Orr Yehuda, computer programmer
Moshe from Jerusalem, office manager and app designer
Shoshana from Jerusalem, student, former bartender
Ira from Jerusalem, financial advisor
Eitan from Tekoa, tour guide
Mike from Jerusalem, photographer and graphic designer
Andy from Ma'ale Adumim, press officer
Doug from Jerusalem, yours truly

Three of the beers were not officially IPAs.  We simply used them to beef up the number, and the brewers told us they could compete in the IPA category.  One was right.
Andy and Mike
hard at work.

Our tastings were completely blind.  All glasses just had a number on them, corresponding to a beer which only the server knew.  The judges recorded their impressions on a specially prepared page and when they were finished with all eight beers, gave each a ranking.  The best beer received eight points, number two got seven points, and so on.  All the points given to each beer were counted to obtain the final rankings.  
The contenders!

Here then are the results of the first Israel Brews and Views Beer Tasting Panel:

First Place:  
IPA . . . v'Zeh -- The clear winner from the new kid on the block, Herzl Brewery in Jerusalem.  Comments included: "fruity," "good bitterness," "hops to the nose, but not the taste," "refreshing," "good for summer," "excellent IPA."

Tie for Second Place:
Patriot -- From the Dancing Camel in Tel Aviv, this is an American Pale Ale, with less hops and alcohol than an IPA, but the judges felt it could stand up with the best.  Comments: "moderate body, not much hops," "hoppy, light IPA(!)," "flavor difficult to fathom," "excellent, not too shy, not too light."        

Chutzpah -- The hoppy champion from Isra-Ale in Mevasseret Zion.  My guess is that the judges didn't know what to make of all those hops.  Comments: "crazy hops, very bitter, long finish," "startling first impression," "unusual, high alcohol, bittersweet," "smoky, hoppy, flavorful."

A study in concentration.

Tie for Third Place: 
Alexander Green --The judges were more divided on this beer from Alexander Brewery in Emek Hefer, but it received some consistent high scores.  Comments: "smooth, creamy," "watery, sweetish," "a refreshing ale," "ordinary," "very tasty, strong finish." 

The Ugly Indian -- The IPA entry from the Ronen division of Srigim Brewery.  This beer won a gold medal in the 2011 Beer International Recognition Awards.  Comments: "full of flavor, drinkable," "malty, slightly sweet," bitter nutty aftertaste, great flavor," "creamy head, hoppy aroma."       

Fourth Place:
Shoshana and Yitzchak:
A labor of love.

Mosco Blond -- From the new Mosco Brewery on Moshav Zanoach.  Not a true IPA, but brewer Amir Lev allowed it to compete.  Some comments: "bitter, weird aftertaste," flat, bitter," "good flavor, little weak," "bitter, little hops -- not IPA."

Tie for Last Place:
Eitan IPA -- From Hashahar Brewery in Mevasseret Zion.  Comments: "very fruity, strong aromas," "continually bitter," "very malty, good but not IPA."

Pavo Israeli Pale Ale -- Although "Israeli" instead of "India," it is alphabetically an "IPA," isn't it?  The Pavo Brewery in Zichron Yaakov says that this is an IPA made for the Israeli "palate and climate."  Some comments: "strong, bitter & pleasant hoppy," "thin experience," "flat, undeveloped taste, no fruit," "soapy," "light bitterness." 

Nothing gets by Eitan.
The beers we tasted do not include every Israeli micro-brewed IPA.  They are the ones we could get easily in Jerusalem and Mevasseret Zion.  We hope to have a second IPA panel in the future which will include the other Israeli IPAs.  

I call now on all the Israeli craft breweries to let me know now if you make an IPA.  We will take steps to obtain it, be you in Metulla or Eilat!  Readers should also let me know about other Israeli IPAs. 

I would like to publicly thank Ofer Ronen of Srigim Brewery for donating Ronen's "The Ugly Indian" IPA to our tasting panel and for making an extra effort to deliver the beer to us when it was not available in Jerusalem stores.
Here's to the next Tasting Panel!

Future tasting panels will deal with other categories of Israeli beers, for example, wheat beers, brown ales, porters and stouts, etc. 

Before I close, let me say that it was not our intention to tell our readers which beers to like, or even to drink.  Taste is amazingly individual, as it should be.  I myself would not argue with the old saying: "There are no bad beers; some beers are just better than others."  

Just as food on Shabbat does not taste the same as on a weekday, so is our appreciation of beer influenced by the subjective situation we find ourselves in.       

There is a list of "The Top Five Beers in the World" which I just read on the Blog About Beer.  It is a good way to close our first Beer Tasting Panel.  

1. The Beer That’s In Your Hand

2. The Beer You’re Having Next 

3. The Best Beer You Can Remember 

4. The Beer That’s Free 

5. The Beer You Made

January 23, 2014

Mom & Pop -- and all the kids

Hashahar Brewery in Mevasseret Zion is a true "mom & pop" business -- and all the kids too, if you count the names of the beers.

The family that brews together . . .
Ronnie and Sharon Calderon
Ronnie and Sharon Calderon make the beer in their house.  They boil the wort in the kitchen; their fermentation barrels and bottling equipment is in the living room; and the storage area is in the basement.

The beers are named after Ronnie's three children (Tamara, Alon and Omer). their little son Naveh, and mother, father, brothers and even brother-in-law.  It's a cute marketing device, and I personally believe that beers should have names.

Sharon explains how she and Ronnie came to home-brewing:

"The both of us come from a food background -- Ronnie is a trained chef and I was the owner of food stores in Jerusalem.  In 2006, when we were going together, I sent Ronnie to a beer-making course as a birthday present.  It not only hooked him, but me as well.

"We started out making three beers -- a stout, a brown ale and a Belgian trippel, and we named them after Ronnie's children.  In 2008, we served the beers at our wedding, and our guests raved about them."

The Calderons began brewing more seriously, adding more beers to their repertoire.  Today, Hashahar makes seven ales:

Naveh smoked ale is too new to
even be in the family portrait.
Tamara --  A strong Belgian trippel (7% alcohol by volume), with the characteristic sweetness and fruitiness of these beers.  Made with barley only, two kinds of hops and fresh Belgian ale yeast.

Alon -- A brown ale (5.5%), made with maximally roasted barley, flavored with French oak chips.

Omer -- A strong stout (6.5%) that I found especially pleasing.  It's less sweet than others of its kind, nicely bitter with traces of coffee and chocolate (a good imagination helps).  Omer won the gold medal for stouts in the 2011 Beer International Recognition Awards.  

Yosef -- A bavarian wheat ale, 6%.

Eitan -- A traditional IPA, with strong hoppiness (it's dry hopped after the initial fermentation) and alcohol (6%).  French oak chips are also added during fermentation.

Mazal -- At 10% ABV, this is a very strong dark ale.  Additional flavorings include cinnamon and cloves.

Naveh -- Their newest, a smoked ale, which I really like.  The addition of sage leaves adds a different twist to the bitterness.  As far as I know this is the only smoked ale made in Israel.  (Readers may correct me.)  Known in German as rauchbier, it gets its smoky flavor from malted barley which is dried over an open flame.  The Schlenkerla smoked beer from Bamberg is (or was) sold in Israel.

Hashahar means
"The Dawn"
Unfortunately, all of these fine Hashahar beers are available only from the Calderon household and at the Mateh Yehuda Beer Festival, but that's only once a year.  Sharon and Ronnie also have tasting parties at their house, along with food that they prepare themselves, including bread made from left-over barley after brewing the beer.  These are mostly on the weekends and you have to reserve places.

"People come from all over the area to buy our beer," says Sharon, "and in the meantime that's enough for us."  Today, Hashahar brews about 120 liters a month.  Sharon and Ronnie love brewing beer, but they are keeping their day jobs -- she runs a day care center and he works in the field of communications.

To expand into a real business would take a considerable investment in facilities and equipment.   Sharon adds: "Of course, we wouldn't mind taking the next step and expanding sales into stores and restaurants.  Perhaps you know of a possible investor . ."             

January 17, 2014

Selling boutique beer: Mission Impossible?

I'm partial to Mike's Place in Jerusalem.  It has a great atmosphere, nice selection of draft beers, friendly waitresses, and you can always find a quiet place for real conversation.  There are tables outside for the summer months, and although the menu is top-heavy with meat, the vegetarian Tex-Mex selections go great with beer.

Only, the beer is not Israeli micro-brewed.  There is one line in the list of bottled beers which says, "Selection of Israeli boutique beer."  And the price for the bottle: 32 shekels!

Udi Kaniel and Reuben Beiser of Mike's Place.
I made an appointment with the two very amiable owner-managers, Udi Kaniel and Reuben Beiser, to find out what was going on.  Their explanations help shed light on the problems faced by Israeli craft beers in the real world of pubs and restaurants.

I put the first question to Udi: "Why 32 shekels for a bottle of beer?"

"You have to understand that our business model is built around beers from the major brewers like Goldstar," Udi explained.  "I'm actually making less profit on a bottle of Israeli craft beer for 32 shekels than I do for a bottle of another beer at 27 shekels, or for a pint of draft beer at 30 shekels.  If I sell the Israeli craft beer for less, it means I don't sell another beer that brings me greater profit.

"We are running a business and that is our calculation."

It's hard to argue with that.  Only a restaurant that's profitable will continue to sell any beer at all.

"What about selling boutique beers on draft," I asked.  "Surely that would bring the price down." 

Mike's Place in Jerusalem: Great atmosphere . . .
"That's another problem," said Reuben.  "We have three very sophisticated refrigeration systems for beer which were paid for and installed by the two big brewers -- Tempo Beer Industries and Israel Beer Breweries -- and the Radex importing company, to be used only for their beers.  It would be unethical if we hooked up kegs of other brewers to their systems."

Udi and Reuben took me to see these refrigeration systems, worth tens of thousands of shekels.  They are located in the kitchen, far from the beer taps at the bars.  Gas propels the beer from the kegs through many meters of micro-tubing in frigid water, where the beer is cooled instantly, and from their through "pythons," thick insulated pipes, to the taps.

So if bottled craft beer is expensive and draft beer is not possible, what can be done?

Udi and Reuben say that Mike's Place does what it can to encourage patrons to buy Israeli craft beers.  "There are customers, mostly tourists, who ask us if we sell any Israeli boutique beers.  We point out what it says on our menu and we tell them about all the beers we have on stock.  We encourage them to try the beers.  We even have our 'six-pack special,' where you order any five bottles of Israeli craft beers and get the sixth one free.  Tourists really like that."    

Mike's Place keeps a changing line-up of Israeli craft beers on stock, depending on which beers are selling the best, and which breweries are offering special discounts and promotions.  When I met with Udi and Reuben, they were selling four kinds of Shapiro beer, two kinds of Jem's, and Alexander Green.

 . . .  and a great bar!
But more must be done by the micro-breweries themselves.    

"They have to do something to get their prices down," says Udi.  "Maybe they can join together in their marketing activities, or to pressure the government for more support and incentives.  The high tax on alcohol has hit the micro-breweries the hardest, while the big beer companies have ways to alleviate the tax hike."

Reuben adds: "The government should be encouraging small businesses like the craft breweries, not try to limit their sales.  They are being treated unfairly."

"Another problem with the micro-brews," says Udi, "is that they can't always supply us with the quantities we need.  Although the bigger of the micro-breweries -- and I'm talking about, for example, Jem's, Alexander, Dancing Camel, Pavo and Shapiro -- are making decent efforts to improve their marketing and production, they still have serious shortcomings.  For example, we recently placed an order with a boutique brewer and when he had to make the delivery, a week later, he was out of that beer!

"The micro-breweries have to do a better job if they're serious about selling their beers."

January 11, 2014

Coming soon: First Israel Brews and Views tasting panel

The first Israel Brews and Views tasting panel will be held this week.  Our judges will be tasting and commenting on seven Israeli boutique India Pale Ales (and near IPAs).  This historic post will be appearing right here on the web log within a few days.  If you're not yet a subscriber, sign up now so as not to miss it.  Just type your e-mail in the little box in the right-hand column where it says, "Sign up for updates" and press "Submit."

Thanks to all my readers for your support,


January 8, 2014

One-man chamber of commerce

I was in a fine liquor store last week near the Machane Yehuda market in Jerusalem, looking at the beer selection to see if there were any new Israeli beers (there weren't).  A young man was studying the shelves of imported beers, picking up one bottle at a time and looking at the price.

"Do you know about the Israeli boutique beers?" I asked patriotically.  "Yes," he replied, "they're good and I want to buy Israeli beer, but they're so expensive."

 "Look," I said, "the prices are about the same as these European beers."

He was not convinced.  "Right," he answered, "but for the same price for the European beer, you get a big bottle, up to a half-liter.  The Israeli beers are all these little 330 milliliter [one-third of a liter] bottles."

He was right.  It's hard to argue on the basis of price for Israeli craft beers.  Suddenly, my eyes shifted to big 750 milliliter [three-quarters of a liter] bottles of Bazelet Beer from the Golan Brewery for only 28 shekels, or two bottles for 50 shekels.  That comes to about 11 shekels for the equivalent of a 330 milliliter bottle.  "Look at this," I crowed, "this works out cheaper than any of the European and American stuff.  And it's great beer."

He held the big bottle in his hand a few moments.  "You're right.  Thanks a lot," he exclaimed, as he walked towards the cashier.

I felt good.  Another victory for Israeli micro-breweries!

I say "another" because a few weeks earlier, in that same store, at that same beer shelf, I saw another guy holding two bottles of Herzl Beer in his hands, the 6% Kapara and the Dulce de Asal.  It looked like he could use some help to make up his mind.

"Both of them are good beers," I volunteered.  "The 6% is milder, with good hops and fruity aroma.  The Dulce has a stronger alcoholic content and is sweeter."

He looked at me with a smile and said, "In that case, I'll buy both."  And he did.

Now what all of this means is that our home-grown micro-breweries can be doing a better job with advertising and marketing.  They have to educate the public to the fact that their beer is not only many times better than the industrial brews, but also their prices are in some cases competitive with imported beers of lower quality.  

It's true; they can be working to bring their costs down, and I know for a fact that some breweries are.  Maybe most beer consumers are looking for the cheapest liquid to fill their bellies, the biggest buzz for the buck.  But there always is a market for a higher priced but better product.             

Israeli craft breweries have to find a way to reach their potential customers, to educate them about the difference between industrial beer and boutique beer, to entice them into trying a beverage that has nothing in common with "big beer" except a name, and to engage them and keep them coming back for more.

January 2, 2014

Beer Festivals for 2014

Israeli beer festivals are great fun.  Not only do you get to taste a lot of different beers, but the whole atmosphere becomes one of a big party, including music and food.  Everyone becomes friendly; introverts offer you advice without being asked; conversations with strangers begin naturally and easily.  If you think the beer has anything to do with it, you're right.  Beer has been the socializing drink for, what, over 6,000 years.

Bringing friends together for 6,000 years:
Babylonian beer drinkers.

What about wine?  Also a social drink, but wine is polite conversation, quiet laughter, dainty sips, holding your wine glass up high so others can see it.  Beer is letting your hair down with real friends, using the malt and hops to help you pry out discussions that really matter.  I'm generalizing here, of course, but wine interacts with people; beer connects them.   

And so it is with beer festivals.  Not only are they great social events, but they also give beer lovers an opportunity to try all the new (and some old) Israeli craft beers in one place.   

I wanted to tell you what to expect in 2014, like, "you read it here first."  Even though I found out it's still too early for the actual dates, this is what I do know about the four major public events.

TA Beer Festival in the winter vs. . . .
Tel Aviv "BEERS 2014" Exhibit -- These have been held in the Nokia Stadium in the winter, the last one being in January 2013.  However, the next one has been postponed until September 2014.  Write that in your calendar.  I agree with this decision by the organizers, the Ben Ami Studio.  Beer festivals should be in the summer.  It was terrible showing up at Nokia with a heavy, soaked winter coat that I had to carry around from stand to stand.  Beer festivals should also be outside -- but I understand that might be a problem in Tel Aviv.

Jerusalem Beer Festival - "Ir Habira" -- The last one was in Independence Park, a great improvement over the parking lot of the First Train Station!  Eli the organizer told me that this year's will also be in Independence Park, sometime in August. He said that this will be the tenth year of the Jerusalem Beer Festival and, to celebrate, a number of the city's bars and restaurants will be offering specials.
 . . . Jerusalem Beer Festival in the summer.

One other note: Last summer's Jerusalem Festival divided the brewers into two groups, with the "bigger" ones on the high ground, and the start-ups bunched together and sharing tables in the lower area.  I understand they had to pay very little, if anything, for their space.  For the major brewers, you had to pay for the beer, but the start-ups were giving it away for free.  As you can imagine, these new guys were inundated by mobs of people and it was difficult to even reach their tables.  Their supplies of beer soon ran out.  Although I think it's a good idea to give new breweries exposure to the public, and it should be continued, I would hope there's a way to avoid the mob scenes in the future.  Don't ask me how.                        

Beer buddies are the best kind.
Mateh Yehuda Rustic Beer Festival  -- I must admit: this is my favorite.  They have struck just the right balance between location, atmosphere, food, music and beer.  It's held at the intersection near Srigim and Givat Yeshayahu, in a lovely wooded area.  Last summer, they hosted nine breweries from the Mateh Yehuda region (an impressive number of craft breweries in such a concentrated area) and five "guest" breweries from elsewhere in the country.  The Mateh Yehuda tourist organization told me that the next festival will also be in August.    

Beer City Festival in Haifa -- Don't look for Israeli boutique beers at this festival.  It's sponsored by Tempo Beer Industries, brewers of Goldstar and Maccabi, and those, along with some foreign beers which Tempo imports (such as Heineken, Paulaner, Murphy's and Samuel Adams), are the only brews available.  There is good music, though, since with Goldstar as its backer, it has the budget to get some of the biggest names in Israeli popular music.   It takes place on the Students Beach and, alone among beer festivals, entrance is free.  This helps explain why it draws the largest crowds by far of any Israeli beer festival. 

By the way, the Beer Festival in Haifa started out 20 years ago as the Goldstar Beer Festival, opening at the Tel Aviv Port.  It moved over to Charles Clore Park near Jaffa (where I attended it a couple of times), and then after the Second Lebanon War in 2006, moved to Haifa as a show of solidarity with the residents of the North.             

The secretary at the Haifa Tourism Board laughed when I asked for the exact date.  "That's all the way off in the summer," she said.

Paying for tickets at the Jerusalem Beer Festival.
One more word about beer festivals.  The best ones, in my opinion, may charge a fee for admission -- but then you get all the tastes you want for free, or for a token charge for each.  At the last Jerusalem Beer Festival, you had the absurd situation of having to pay an entrance fee and then found that the big brewery stands were forbidden to sell tastes.  You had to buy, in most instances, full glasses of beer.  This is kind of stupid since it negates the reason most of us go to beer festivals in the first place -- to sample many different beers, rather than just to get smashed.  So festival organizers, please take note: Let us have our tastes.

So, as 2014 begins and with the summer festivals only eight or so months away, I wish everyone a Happy Brew Year!