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.  


  1. Doug, it was great fun and great beer and great company. Thanks

  2. Anonymous11/10/2014

    Sounds like great fun. Enjoyed reading your lively comments.

  3. Hey, Doug. I echo Batya's comments. It was great fun, great beer, great company, AND I must admit it - great snacks between the beers (to clear out the taste of the previous beer of course :-) ). Looking forward to the next taste test.

  4. This blog has been included in "Haveil Havalim"

  5. Wow, I had no idea this was going on in Israel. Stopping by from haveil havalim, and I've also added you to the blogroll at my own aliyah blog, Adventures in AliyahLand. Have a great week!

    1. Thank you, Tzivia. Unfortunately, many people are unaware of the thriving craft beer scene in Israel. I'm happy you can help spread the word. (By the way, I haven't been able toi find Israel Brews and Views on your blogroll. Where should I look?)

  6. I really want to check out these brews sometime.How do I find them. I of course have the same transportation challenges as Batya.

    1. Dear Rebbe, Thanks for your comments. The only places I can talk about with authority are Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. Tel Aviv has the three best stores for craft beers: Beers & Beyond on Yigal Allon Street, Beer Market at the Jaffa Port, and Beer Bazaar in the Carmel Market. Jerusalem has Hamisameach on Agrippas Street near the Machane Yehuda market, and a few other liquor stores along Agrippas in the same area. Super Hamoshava on Emek Refaim Street also carries some Israeli craft beers. Good luck!


Thanks for your comment. L'chayim!