November 20, 2014

Our first year

Earlier this month, Israel Brews and Views celebrated anniversary number one.  If you look up a little bit, you'll see we made a new masthead banner for the occasion.  Unfortunately, it's the same face as on the previous banner -- only a year older.  You can't have everything.     

We've published over 50 posts and passed 22,000 page views.  We have readers on every continent except South America (I wonder why?).  Israel and the U.S., quite naturally, have the most readership, but they are followed by China, France, the Ukraine, Russia, Great Britain, Turkey, Germany and Canada.  Go figure.

In our first year, we've seen the bigger brewers grow even more, bringing out new and interesting beers, expanding their local markets and exporting to the U.S. and Europe (nothing major - yet), and winning medals in international beer competitions.

We've seen home-brewers go commercial, bringing us beers which tingle taste buds we didn't even know we had.  And we've seen more people begin home-brewing with a real passion, making efforts to bring their beers to the appreciative public even though they may have no intention to begin commercial brewing.       

We've had fun attending beer shows and festivals around the country, noting with pleasure how the crowds are getting bigger and the beers are getting better.

We've met brewers and tasted their beers in breweries, pubs and restaurants, in their homes, and at beer gatherings and festivals -- and we've shared these experiences with you, our dear readers, so you can better appreciate the quality and scope of Israeli craft beers, and the fascinating people who make them.

We've given you a heads-up on what's happening on the Israeli beer scene -- festivals and events, competitions, new beers, new ideas.  We've traveled the seas together, seeking out and tasting craft beers in foreign lands.  (Okay, so it was the U.S., but still.)

Our popular Beer Tasting Panels have given you our unbiased and wildly divergent opinions of beers.  You learned, together with us, how individual a thing is taste and how difficult it is to "rank" most beers.  Israel Brews and Views is not the blog-of-choice for beer snobs.

During the coming year, and I hope even thereafter, we're going to continue to keep you informed about Israeli beers and the people who make them, sell them, serve them and enjoy them.  There might be a few surprises along the way as well.

The best way not to miss anything is to sign up as a subscriber and receive all new posts right in your e-mail inbox.  See that little box over there on the right, the one that says, "Sign up for updates"?  Just type your e-mail address in it and press "Submit."  No money down; no money ever.  

If you like beer on the one hand, and you like Israel on the other, then put your hands together and stay with us.  The best is yet to come!  

November 19, 2014

Talman -- the friendly face of brewing

An American beer journalist once wrote that the craft beer industry in the U.S. is "99% asshole-free."

I get the feeling that's also true in Israel.  I have found that brewers here are pretty free of jealousy and animosity towards their competitors.  In fact, they would probably hesitate to even use the word "competitors," viewing other brewers instead as "friends" and "colleagues."

Avinoam Talman must be one of the nicest of this friendly group.

Avinoam & Shiri Talman.
I met Avinoam and his wife Shiri at the wonderful Bardak pub in Jerusalem.  They had come up from their home in Jaffa especially to talk with me -- and to give me some of his beer.

"I went commercial with my Old Ale in January after it was so well received by my family and friends," Talman told me.  He believes his beer is popular because he takes the middle road and avoids extremes in taste.  "We worked on the original recipe for about a year before we went commercial.  A frequent comment from customers is, 'My wife likes it.'  And the wives normally don't like beer!"

Talman describes his Old Ale as, "close to a bitter, but more malty and sweet.  Alcohol content is 5.5% and the bitterness level is a moderate 20 IBUs."  The Old Ale is fermented five to six weeks before bottling.  Talman makes his Old Ale at the Mivshelet Ha'am contract brewery in Even Yehuda, brewing batches of 200 liters about once a month.

As a style, old ale originated in England as a dark, malty beer, which was aged somewhat and usually underwent a secondary fermentation.  It was called "old" because it was matured for a longer time than the mild ales which were also available.

I found Talman's Old Ale very balanced indeed, neither very bitter nor very sweet.  The big foamy head projected a light hoppy aroma and protected a complex flavor of hops, molasses, dark fruit and caramel candy.

Talman has done a good job in marketing his beer, with a very professional label and packaging and an active presence on Facebook and at beer fairs and festivals.  His beer is on sale in Tel Aviv at Beer & Beyond, Beer Market, Beer Bazaar and Eretz Ir, in Ramat Gan at Yenot ve'Teamim, and in Givatayim at the Urban Garden.  When is it coming to Jerusalem, I wonder?

A lot of his marketing is aimed at educating the Israeli public about beer.  "It's actually better that the level of beer knowledge is low," he says, "because it's easier to educate the uneducated than to educate the already educated."

While his beer business grows, Talman is keeping his day job: Selling hydroponic equipment to farmers.

"Our products are at the cutting edge of 21st century technology," he says, "feeding plants custom-designed nutrients without electricity.  The plants themselves decide when they want to drink."

Come to think of it, that's what his beer customers do. .       

November 18, 2014

Alexander Beer wins two European gold medals

Hearty kudos to Israel's own Alexander Brewery, which last week won two gold medals in the very prestigious 11th European Beer Star Competition in  Nuremberg, Germany.  This is a great honor for Israel, and it proves that nice guys sometimes finish first.  (Leo Durocher, can you hear me?)

All in all, 1,613 beers from 42 countries competed for 156 medals in 52 categories.  Most of the other Israeli craft breweries competed, but only Alexander took home medals.  

The two Gold Prize winners:
Alexander Blonde (left) and Alexander Black.
For the second year in a row, the Alexander Black won first place in the Baltic-Style Porter category.  This is a sub-category of porter beer which developed when English porters met Russian imperial stouts in the Baltic countries and East Europe in the 18th century.  It's sweeter, maltier and more alcoholic than the British version.  We noticed this when Alexander Black was judged on our recent Porter Beer Tasting Panel (read it here).  Some of the judges' comments included "sweet" (three times), "chocolate" (three times) and "malty."  At 7% ABV, it was the strongest porter we tasted. 

The Alexander Blonde won first place in the English-Style Golden Ale (Summer Ale) category.  Golden ale, or blonde ale, is a very light-colored and moderately alcoholic style, crisp tasting and well balanced between hops and malt.  We mentioned this beer when we reviewed the Alexander Organic Blonde earlier this year (read it here).  Alcohol by volume is 5.3%.

Ori Sagi (second from left),
accepting the Gold Prize in Nuremberg.
The Alexander Brewery was founded in 2008 and is located in the Emek Hefer industrial park between Hadera and Netanya.  Their beers have won prizes in other international competitions, as have a few other Israeli craft breweries.       

Ori Sagi, founder and owner of the Alexander Brewery told me that he's "proud and happy to make Israeli beer that stands in the same line with some of the best craft breweries in the world."

We all should be.  Now go out and buy some Alexander beer.  It isn't often you can find an international prize winner right here at home.

November 9, 2014

Results of the Israel Brews and Views -- Porter Beer Tasting Panel

The Israel Brews and Views panel of judges met in not-so-solemn assembly recently to taste and rank Israeli-brewed porter beers.  The results have been tallied and we are happy to bring them to the beer-loving public's attention.

Dark and hearty
porter beer.
Not too many Israeli craft breweries make a porter.  We got six from more-or-less commercial brewers, and one from a home-brewer whom I met at the Jerusalem Beer Festival.  As I said more than once, beer levels the playing field.  Someone who boils up a ten-liter pot on his kitchen stove can produce a beer as good or better than a professional brewery bottling 20,000 liters a month.                

Porter is an interesting beer.  Most beer historians will tell you that it started in London in the 18th century.  Workingmen wanted a stronger and heartier beer than the pale ales and brown ales they were getting in the pubs.  So some of the publicans blended different ales together to make something stronger.  This blend became very popular with the transportation workers, or porters, and its new name was born.

A toast to porters -- born and bred in London,
now brewed in Israel.
Porters are a dark beer, malty and sweet with very little hop flavor, and light- to medium-bodied.  Alcohol by volume is not over 6%.  It doesn't have the roasted barley taste of its younger cousin, stout beer.

Israeli porters which we tasted.
Though England is the homeland of porters, today American craft breweries are doing it best.  And Israeli craft brewers seem to be picking up on this style as well.        

As with our past panels, 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, gave each beer a ranking.  The best beer received seven points, number two got six points, and so on.  All the points given to each beer were counted to obtain the final rankings.   

Three of our judges: A cross-section of
the drinking public.
Before we get to the rankings, I want to say that the point spread was very small for the seven beers: Only ten points separated first place from last.  There was no unanimity of tastes.  For example, the beer that came in first place was awarded the most number of points by only one judge -- whereas one of the second place beers received the most points from four judges, while the other judges gave it only one or two points!  So you can safely say that our judges truly represented a cross-section of the drinking public and, it seems, of different tastes as well.

Our judges were a collection of nine beer lovers who know what we like and can make relatively intelligent comments on it.  Who are we?

Judge Shoshana.
Yitzchak from Orr Yehuda, computer programmer
Moshe from Jerusalem, office manager and app designer
Shoshana from Jerusalem, student, former bartender
Bob from Moshav Ramat Raziel, jeweler
Mike from Jerusalem, photographer and graphic designer
Eitan from  Tekoa, tour guide
Gary from Jerusalem, chef
Batya from Shiloh, teacher and blogger
Doug from Jerusalem, yours truly

So without further ado . . .  (drum roll):

Sixth Place:
Avodah Shchorah ("Dirty Work") -- From HeChatzer Brewery (Back Yard Beer) in Ra'anana, this beer is a 4.5% ABV brown porter made, as the bottle says, "for the worker and for labor."  So in this, it stays true to porter's roots.
Some comments from the judges: 
  • "Coffee flavor.  Sharp and acerbic aftertaste."
  • "Mild chocolate and coffee taste.  Lacking depth."
  • "Dark color, very little head.  Coffee flavor, lingering after-taste."
  • "Rather flat."
  • "Chocolaty, nice and thick."
  • "Tasteless, weak body, bitter."

Fifth Place:
The fine art of judging beer.
Oak Porter -- From Negev Brewery in Kiryat Gat.  This 5% ABV beer is aged with oak chips.
  • "Red color.  Lots of malty flavor.  Sour like shav."
  • "Sour and dry.  Towards a barley wine."
  • "Coffee aroma.  Pleasant initial and after-taste."
  • "Tastes of cloves and coriander.  Smoky."
  • "Medium head, slightly bitter."    
  • "Lots of head, very dark.  Strong aroma and smoky taste."
  • "Chocolaty, a bit sour."

Fourth Place:
Wiesenfelder Porter -- Home-brewed by Mano Peled in Moshav Talmei Yaffe near Ashkelon, at 6.3% ABV.  It made a good account for itself.   
  • "Sweet and sour.  Malty."
  • "Well balanced.  Delicate tastes of coffee."  
  • "Mild bitterness.  No after-taste."
  • "Needs more flavor."
  • "Heavy body.  Slight sour and coffee taste."

Third Place:
Alexander Black -- From Alexander Brewery in Emek Hefer.  At 7% ABV, this was the strongest of the porters we tasted.  It is a seasonal beer, brewed only in the winter.
  • "Sweet caramel and coffee."
  • "Sweet, pleasant aroma.  Hints of caramel." 
  • "Less hoppy and very malty.  Bitter chocolate."
  • "No long taste after mild bitterness and chocolate."
  • "Chocolaty and sweet.  Moderate thickness"
Judge Gary.

Tie for Second Place:
FassPorter -- From the Fass Brewhouse on Kibbutz Geshur on the Golan Heights.  This 4.8% ABV classic porter is brewed with malted wheat in addition to malted barley.
  • "Yeasty and sour.  Thin body."
  • "Coffee aroma, bitter after-taste."
  • "Too delicate.  Needs more malt and depth." 
  • "Heavy taste, not bitter.  Real beer!"
  • "Goes down smooth, not so bitter, nutty flavor.". 
  • "My taste: rounded, roasted flavor."
  • "Strong and bitter.  Creamy head, not very sweet."

Chatzot ("Midnight") Dark Porter -- From HaDubim Brewery in Even Yehuda (Mivshelet Ha'am), At 5% ABV, the brewer calls this an "English porter style."  Made with added sugar.
  • "Dark.  Watery taste."
  • "Classic porter.  Very dry, dark chocolate taste."
  • "Too delicate.  Lacks presence."
  • "Slightly sweet.  Basically a good beer."
  • "Dark brown.  Chocolatey, nutty flavor, not bitter."
  • "Nicely bitter, a bit watery."
Our new Israel Brews and Views apron:
Only for serving beer.

First Place:
Maibeerovicz Porter -- From the home brewery of the Maierovicz family in Moshav Olesh near Nachal Alexander, at 6% ABV.  Though small, they brew many different kinds of beer! 
  • "Lemony and sweet.  Dark fruits and chocolate."
  • "Poor aroma.  Pleasant after-taste."
  • "Hoppy and bitter chocolate.  Very flavorful.  Loved it."
  • "Coffee essence.  Sweet start, bitter after-taste."
  • "Quite effervescent.  This one I enjoy."
  • "Intensely chocolate, a bit sour."  

So, congratulations to Enrique Maierovicz and Niva Hermoni for their excellent porter.  

Porters Old and Modern

Porter brewer Boaz Harel.
And while we're on the subject, I want to mention two other porters which were not in the competition.  These were made by home-brewer Boaz Harel of Tel Mond, who bottles his beers under the Three Cats Brewery label ("Beer with Claws").  

Earlier this year, Boaz took part in the International Home Brew Project, originating in Britain.  Participants were sent a recipe for porter beer which was first brewed in 1834 in Norwich, when porter had become about the most popular beer around.  It contained three kinds of malts -- pale, brown and black -- Fuggles hops, and ale yeast from Britain.

"I started brewing the original batch according to the old recipe," explains Boaz.  "Since brown malt is not readily available, I had to make my own from the pale malt.  After the wort was boiled, I took half of the batch and began to treat it like a modern porter -- meaning I added more wort with chocolate malt and more base malt, and fermented it at a lower temperature."
The result was two porters separated, as it were, by 180 years of brewing development.  

I started with the 1834 porter.  It poured very dark, with a frothy tan head which dissipated rapidly.  The aroma was of cut hay, and the taste was roasty (not really expected in modern porters) with sour licorice and coffee.  It was a very bitter drink (82 IBUs!), acidic and dry, and it made my mouth pucker like when eating unripe fruit.  The alcoholic content is a strong 5.8%.

Boaz told me that the actual 1834 porter would have been even more bitter and drier than his reproduction.  This is because of the rougher kilning methods and longer hop boils used in those days.       

I remembered what a wise musicologist told me a few years ago: When we listen to Mozart, we are hearing him with our modern ears, but that's not how people heard him in the 18th century.  So I tried to imagine myself as a city porter in London 200 years ago.  During my 12-hour working days in a dirty, grimy city, bone-chilling in the winter, hot and stinky in the summer, no quick snacks, no fast food, body aching and maybe racked with pain -- I'd be ready for a strong, tasty, filling ale, with enough alcohol to cut the ache but not flip me horizontal.  In that imagination, Boaz's porter would be just about right.              

On the other hand, the modern porter that Boaz brewed was even darker, but less bitter ("only" 70 IBUs) and less hoppy.  There were more dark fruits in the aroma and the taste.  This beer was even stronger -- 7% ABV -- but the alcohol was harder to detect.  All in all, I think it was an excellent porter, just right for 2014.  

However, to tell the truth, I preferred the straight 1834 drink.  To keep the musical metaphor, it had a symphony of complex flavors which were very enjoyable.  But I've always been old-fashioned.

My congratulations and thanks to Boaz Harel for taking up the challenge of the International Home Brew Project and allowing me to share in the results.  It gives historical perspective and a sheen of class to our Porter Beer Tasting Panel.           

Tamir Bunny (left) at the Beer Market.

Our warm thanks to all the brewers who contributed beers for our Porter Beer Tasting Panel:

Negev Brewery
Fass Brewhouse
Mano Peled (Weisenfelder)
HaDubim Brewery
HeChatzer Brewery
 . . . .and to Three Cats Brewery for their historical and modern porter.

We would also like to thank Tamir Bunny of the Beer Market, and Shachar Hertz and Alex Filimonov of the Beer & Beyond store, both in Tel Aviv, for their assistance in choosing the beers.  Their expertise was invaluable.

Shachar Hertz (left) and Alex Filimonov (right)
at Beer & Beyond.
I would also like to thank my wife Trudy for seeing to all the accouterments needed to keep the Tasting Panel on course.  She may not share my taste for beer, but she is committed to the success of Israel Brews and Views.

And special thanks to Judge Mike Horton, photographer and graphic designer extraordinaire, for photographing our panel and transporting us to exotic locales.