November 24, 2015

The old blogger's beer lecture

I think more people came to taste the beer than to listen to my lecture, but so what?  From the reaction of the crowd (all 30 of them), everybody had a good time, including me.

Drinking beer and listening to the old blogger:
What a treat!

(Photo: Mike Horton)
The lecture was given last week at the Conservative Center in Jerusalem.  (That's Conservative Judaism, not a local branch of the Tea Party.)  The event was a personal triumph for me, your old blogger.  My forte, such as it is, has always been in writing -- printed communication -- not speaking in public.

There's this scene from "Shakespeare in Love," just before the premiere of Romeo & Juliet.  The narrator is a stutterer who can't get a sentence out.

Will Shakespeare says, "We're lost."  The director answers him, "No, it'll work out."  Shakespeare asks, "How?"  The director says, "I don't know, but it always does."

Beer-drinking pharaohs.
(Photo: Mike Horton)
Well, it also worked out fine for me.  I quickly traced the origins of beer at the dawn of grain domestication, through the great civilizations of the Fertile Crescent and the Nile.  Beer was a necessity of life in those regions; less so in the Land of Canaan and Israel, where we had bountiful grapes and wine as well.  

I showed that beer ("sheichar" in Hebrew) is mentioned several times in the Bible and the Talmud, where the early rabbis discuss under what conditions it can be imbibed and for which religious ceremonies it can be used.  I then jumped to the modern period, when beer began to be brewed in the British Mandate of Palestine, and the consolidation of two huge industrial breweries in the State of Israel.

Pouring craft beer for the tasting.
(Photo: Mike Horton)
I concluded with the flowering of Israeli micro-breweries only in the last decade.  Although they account for only a minute proportion of all the beer consumed in Israel, they provide Israelis with the impressive range of aromas and tastes of quality craft beers.  And they provide me with all I need for writing this modest web log.

At the end of my lecture (which is why nobody left in the middle), we tasted four beers.  The first was an industrial beer, the Maccabee 7.9%, because I wanted the audience to experience the taste (or non-taste) of the big beers.  Well, they actually liked it!  And, to tell the truth, it is not at all bad, as far as industrial beers go.

Leading the tasting session.
(Photo: Mike Horton) 
We then tasted three very different craft beers, which had been generously donated by the brewers:

Bavarian Wheat from Emek Ha'ela (Srigim Brewery)
IPA . . vaZeh from Herzl Beer
Porter Alon from the Negev Brewery

I encouraged the audience members to shout out their reactions to the aromas and tastes of the new beers.  Many were tasting craft beers for the first time and registered their surprise and delight.  Others, conditioned for years by drinking only industrial lagers, found the flavors too intense.  That's what makes the world go round.    

Iron Age beer drinking jug.
(Slide: Mike Horton)
I would like to thank the esteemed graphic artist and photographer Mike Horton for preparing the 15 slides which accompanied my talk, and my son Aharon the archaeologist for borrowing an authentic early Iron Age Philistine beer jug which I displayed and demonstrated to the audience.  

Thanks also to my friend Bob Faber and my wife Trudy, who poured the cold beer and kept it flowing to the audience.  We gave out printed matter from the breweries, my own blog cards, and malted barley for people to eat so they would know where beer comes from.

Special thanks as well to Rabbi Ed Romm of the Conservative Center for including me in his Monday Evening Forum schedule.  

It was such a high, I may want to do it again. 

November 18, 2015

New beer specialty store opens in Jerusalem

It may be small in size, but for beer lovers and home-brewers in Jerusalem, it's a giant event.

The grand opening of Beerateinu.
(Photo: Mike Horton)
With the opening of Beerateinu at 3 Yanai Street, the city finally has an Israeli craft beer specialty shop where you can purchase close to 100 different kinds of Israeli craft beers from over 20 micro-breweries. 

The name is a play on words which means "our capital" and "our beer." 

The Israeli beers on display include: HaDubim, Sparrow, HeChatzer, Mosco, Dancing Camel, Buster's (cider), Negev, Alexander, Vilde Chaye, Fass, Lela, Herzl, Arava, Emek Ha'ela, HeChalutz, Jem's, Cabara, Malka, Bazelet, Shapiro, Ronen, Meadan and Beertzinut.   

In addition, selected imported beers are also on sale, as well as new lines of Israeli craft distilled spirits, which is a fancy way to say "liquor."  The new distilleries are Pioneer Spirits (from Isra-Ale, makers of Buster's Cider and Chutzpah Beer) and Golan Heights.

Leon Shvartz (left) and Shmuel Naky
pumping the taps at Beerateinu.

(Photo: Mike Horton)
"With all due modesty, Jerusalem has been waiting for a place like this," says Beerateinu partner Leon Shvartz, who is also the owner of the Glen Whisky Bar across the road on Shlomzion Hamalka Street.  "Tel Aviv has had at least three stores like this for several years, while Jerusalemites didn’t have any place to find the full range of Israeli craft beers, including some quite small but excellent micro-breweries."

The other partner, Shmuel Naky, a bartender at the Glen, adds that Beerateinu also sells cold beer in bottles and on tap.  "We have six taps where we will be pumping different Israeli craft beers on a rotational basis," he says.  "People can sit around and enjoy cold beer and light snacks right in the shop.  For the time being, we open at 11:00 a.m. and close at 8:00 p.m.  It's a very nice social atmosphere and we will be adding on later hours."

Leon Shvartz pours malted barley
into the miller.

(Photo: Mike Horton)
Beerateinu sells bottles of Israeli craft beers for 14-16 shekels per 330 ml bottle, which is somewhat lower than prices were even a year ago.  "Because of the recent reduction in tax on beer, we were able to lower our prices," Shvartz explains.  Prices for all beer on tap is 15 shekels for a quarter of a liter, 20 shekels for a third, and 25 shekels for a half.

The third role of Beerateinu is home-brewing, and the back of the store is devoted to selling equipment and ingredients, as well as giving courses in home-brewing. 

"Making your own beer at home is growing in popularity all over Israel," says Shvartz.  "You can brew beer in your own kitchen or garage very inexpensively, and get a much better product than buying from the big, industrial brewers.  Until now, home-brewers in Jerusalem – and there might be hundreds of them – had to travel outside of the city to buy their equipment and ingredients.  No more.  We offer them everything they need right here.

Shmuel Naky (left) and Leon Shvartz,
partners of Beerateinu.

(Photo: Mike Horton)
"And for those who want to begin home-brewing or improve their techniques, we are giving classes at all levels."

And here's more good news for Jerusalem beer aficionados: Within a short while, a branch of the Beer Bazaar, located in Tel Aviv's Carmel Market, will be opening in the Machane Yehuda Market.      

It's taken some time, but it looks like Jerusalem is finally on the craft beer map.

November 12, 2015

New foreign players

To tell the truth, I've never had any interest in following Israeli basketball, neither the local teams nor the national basketball team when it plays in the Euro league.  One of the reasons is that the teams are hardly Israeli.  Of the five players on the court at any one time, two or three are mercenaries -- mostly American basketball players, perhaps NBA rejects, who are hired by the Israeli teams to play for a season or two.

So having a winning team really comes down to being able to hire better foreign mercenaries than the foreign mercenaries hired by the other teams.  What does that have to do with "Israeli basketball"?

When I ask this, sport fans tell me, "well, bringing these guys over here to play in Israel is helping to raise the level of all Israeli basketball."

Yotam Baras presenting the new beers.
(Photo: Mike Horton)
If that's really true, maybe it works with craft beer too.  I was just at a launch in the Glen Whisky Bar in Jerusalem of two new foreign beer brands in Israel -- heavy hitters from Germany and Belgium which perhaps will raise the standard for our own brewers.

The first of these is the Riegele Brewery from Augsburg in Bavaria.  Riegele is a family brewery that has been making good, solid beers since 1386(!).  The current owner, Sebastian Priller-Riegele, is a world-famous beer sommelier (cicerone), who decided to add craft beers to the brewery's repertoire.  They now make eight different craft beers, six of which are imported into Israel, five of which we tasted.

Doing the presenting was Yotam Baras, formerly from The Dictator Brewery.  Yotam is now head of marketing for Protary's Craft Beers, the importers of Riegele.  All of these beers come in 660 ml bottles, that is, double the size of regular beer bottles.  "When you're dealing with such quality," Yotam told us, "it would be a shame to have it in small packages."      

And quality it was!  Starting at the lighter end of the spectrum, the first beer we tasted was called Simco 3, a very aromatic pale ale, rich in tropical fruit flavors.  There is a very hoppy aroma, caramel and citrus, and a pleasant bitter finish.  Alcohol by volume is 5%.  The "3" in the title refers to three different kinds of hops used in this beer.  One of them, as you might have guessed, is Simcoe from the U.S.
The Riegele line of craft beers from Bavaria.
(Photo: Mike Horton)

The second beer was Amaris 50, a pale Pilsner lager.  The "50" refers to the international bitterness units (IBUs), which make this a very bitter beer.  Yet there was also spicy hop aroma and tastes of lemon and pine.  ABV is 5%.

Beer number three was Ator 20, a 7.5% ABV double bock (doppelbock), the very heavy and strong lager beers originally brewed by German monks.  "-Ator" has become the suffix used for naming double bock beers, and the "20" refers to the Plato scale used to measure the amount of fermentable sugars to water.  The beer poured a dark reddish-brown with a thick cream-colored head.  I got tastes of licorice and prunes, with a caramel sweetness.  It was full-bodied and "chewy" -- no wonder the monks called double bock beer, "liquid bread."  Although the alcohol level is high, you hardly taste it.

Ator 20 has won the silver medal for double bock beers in this year's European Beer Star competition.

Next in line was Augustus 8, a weizenbock beer, in other words, a strong bock beer made with a good portion of malted wheat.  This adds a creaminess to the beer, as well as the distinctive characteristics of a wheat beer: ripe banana, orange, cloves and spice.  This is definitely a sweet beer, with tastes of fruits and hops.

Augustus was the Roman emperor who founded Augsburg, home of the Riegele Brewery, and the"8" refers to the 8% ABV.

Our last beer in the Riegele line was a big, bold imperial stout named Noctus 100.  This beer poured as black as night ("noctus" in Latin), measuring 100 on the SRM (standard reference method) for measuring the color of beer.  One hundred is way off the charts; nothing can be darker.

This is a beer you feel you can eat.  The dominant tastes are dark chocolate, espresso and roasted coffee, along with licorice, dried fruits and caramel.  This strong (10% ABV), beautiful beer was made to enjoy during the wintry days and nights that bless our globe.  It's also a perfect pairing for the strongest tasting, spiciest foods, the most powerful, smelliest cheeses, and the sweetest dark chocolate desserts.

The Gulden Draak beers from Belgium.
(Photo: Mike Horton)
After we finished the Riegele beers, Yotam popped the caps of two Gulden Draak (Golden Dragon) beers from the Van Steenberge Brewery in Ertvelde, Belgium -- also making their Israeli premiers.    

The first we tasted was Gulden Draak 9000, in the black bottle, a quadruple Belgian ale with 10.5% alcohol.  Yotam explained that the ABV was boosted by the use of wine yeast, which produces more alcohol.  This dark amber-colored beer had a delicious flavor of yeast, malt, dark fruits and bananas.  "Rich and round" is what came to mind.  The strong alcohol is unmistakable, giving you a warm feeling all the way down.

The Gulden Draak Dark Strong Ale, in the white label, is a darker brown color than the 9000 but with the same 10.5% alcoholic content.  I found it more balanced than the 9000. with similar tastes but sweeter, more intense flavors: brown sugar, caramel, bananas, espresso and spices.  This is a beer you sip and savor; something that the Belgians seem to do so right.

So in the end, I guess it's good to have these new players in Israel.  They present a standard to which Israeli brewers can aspire.  Certainly, nothing even close to the dark German and Belgian beers is made in Israel, and it's good that we have this choice when we buy beer.

Yet, I must add that it's difficult for me in good conscience to recommend that you buy these beers.  They are made in the same European Union which is requiring member states to label certain Israeli products from the West Bank (Judea and Samaria).  Google "territorial disputes" and you'll be amazed at how many countries on every continent have disagreements over borders with their neighbors, and consider the other side to be "occupying" their land.  Yet the EU, in its wisdom, has chosen to penalize only Israel with its labeled products.

Labeling of certain products, however, is left to the discretion of individual countries.  Germany has reacted strongly against the EU guidelines, but Belgium has been labeling Israeli products from the West Bank for years.

Those are the facts, and I leave it to my readers to decide what to buy and from where.  Personally, I feel ill at ease whenever I purchase anything which supports the European Union.  I would much rather choose a product from the good ole U.S.A.  

On the other hand, these are great beers. Maybe if we don't make too much of a habit about it . . .

November 10, 2015

My lecture on beer here in the Middle East

I am giving a lecture in English on the origins of beer brewing in the Middle East, including the flowering of Israeli craft beers during the last decade.  We will also taste three different styles of Israeli beers, generously donated by the breweries.

The lecture will be on Monday night, November 16 at 8:00 pm, at the Fuchsberg Center for Conservative Judaism, 8 Agron Street in Jerusalem.  Admission is 20 shekels.

If you're in the area, please come, enjoy the lecture and the beer, and say hello.  It should be a good time for all.

Doug Greener

P.S.  Please let me know if you're coming so we'll be sure to have enough beer.

November 1, 2015

Off-the-blog events

It's not healthy to spend too much time glued to the pages of Israel Brews and Views, so I'd like to direct your attention to an online article and an online video which have appeared recently and may be of interest to you all.

The article appeared on the website Breaking Israel News, and it was written by Raphael Poch on the subject of Israeli micro-breweries.  Yours truly, the old blogger, was quoted a few times in this round-up of the Israel craft brewing scene.

You can access the full article by clicking here.  

The video was posted by Conrad Seidl, the "Beer Pope" of Austria, as one of the weekly reviews of beer on his blog.  In this particular video, Conrad reviews Embargo Cuban Tobacco Leaf Porter from Herzl Beer in Jerusalem.  And -- no surprise here -- the Beer Pope loves it.  Conrad's enthusiasm and expressive gestures make him a great presenter.  After drinking Embargo, he wonders whether he should be called the "Beer Rabbi."

View Conrad's video in English by clicking here.  Once you're on his blog site, you can also access a German version of the same thing, if you find that easier to understand.  

I wrote about Conrad Seidl in an earlier post after he visited Israel this summer.  You can refresh your memory by clicking here.