January 26, 2016

Gift-bearing visitor from Chicago

One of the nicest results of this web log is getting to know fellow beer enthusiasts from all over the world.  Sometimes I even meet them.  Sometimes they even bring me gifts.

Nick Hawkins (right) and the old blogger
with Chicago beer and Jerusalem pizza.
So it was that several weeks ago, I met a faithful reader who was visiting Jerusalem and was kind enough to attend my lecture and bring me beer.  Ah, it's good to be famous.

Nick Hawkins came all the way from Chicago to enjoy a vacation in Israel and drink some of our craft beers.  In fact, he's been doing the same thing all over the world.

"That's what I do," says Nick.  I travel around the world to drink local beers: Myanmar, China, Norway, Poland, even Kuwait.  You name it."

Nick feels a little guilty that it's been 20 years since he was last in Israel.  As someone who thinks deeply about his Jewishness, he is very interested in how Israel fits into the equation.

"Many American Jews try to separate Israel from their Judaism," he declares, "but I don't see how you can do that."

If you're wondering about the "Hawkins," it's because Nick's father is Irish and his mother is Jewish.  "I was given the freedom to go either way," he explains, "and I chose my Jewish side.  Still, if you're Irish and Jewish, you can't help but love beer."

What a gift to shlepp all the way from Chicago:
Six beautiful craft beers.
At any rate, this is a blog about beer, not religion.  So when I met Nick at the new branch of the Bardak pub near the Machane Yehuda market (4 Beit Yaakov Street), he told me how impressed he was with Israeli craft beers.

"Even though I search out good beer all around the world, I'm not a beer geek," Nick told me.  "I don't use the jargon: 'flavor notes,' 'hoppy to the nose,' 'mouthfeel' -- none of that.  Beer for me is 'good' or 'bad,' and most of the Israeli crafts have been good."

Oh yes, what about the gift-bearing visitor?  Nick had carried six different beers from craft breweries in Chicago, so that he could give them to me.  Certainly an unexpected and delightful gift.

Troublesome (wheat beer brewed with coriander) from Off Color Brewing
Daisy Cutter Pale Ale from Half Acre Beer Company
Gringolandia Magnifica Wheat from 5 Rabbit Brewery
Matilda (Belgian style pale ale) from Goose Island Beer Company
Eugene Porter from Revolution Brewing
Fist City Chicago Pale Ale from Revolution Brewing

I've had some already, but I'm not drinking them all at once.  I'm making them last.

It was a rare pleasure to meet and chat with Nick.  I never met anyone whose hobby is to visit foreign countries and drink their beers!  I checked the list of "50 most popular hobbies" and it's not there, but it should be.  Long may Nick continue his travels -- but I hope he doesn't wait another 20 years before coming to Israel again!          

January 25, 2016

The elusive quest for a Passover beer

Jeremy (Yossi) Sulzbacher came from Antwerp, Belgium, to present me with some of his home-brewed, gluten-free beer.  (Well, he was also visiting his three sons who live here, but I was on the short list.)

Jeremy Sulzbacher gave me a bottle
of his Ginger Tipple while we both
enjoyed a glass of regular beer,
not on Passover.

Jeremy was born in the UK but has been living in Antwerp with his Belgian-born wife for 12 years.  He took a course in brewing several years ago and got hooked.

But, he says, "I've never brewed regular beer."  Indeed, he gave me a bottle of his Ginger Tipple, a beer brewed without grain at all.    

"We use non-white sugars and grated ginger in the mash," Jeremy explained.  "We ferment with wine yeast and dry-hop during fermentation for four weeks.  Just before bottling, we add lemon juice and rind, and honey.

"Although it says 7% alcohol on the label, it's really closer to 9% -- a really strong brew."

Jeremy also gave me a second bottle of Ginger Tipple with added organic apple juice.

"Wait!  You can't have beer!"
Now here's the thing about Ginger Tipple: Since it has no grain of any kind, it is 100% gluten-free.  It can also be Kosher for Passover even for people who don't eat legumes (kitniyot), since it has none of those either.

"I found rabbinical authorities in Belgium who will certify this for me," Jeremy adds.  "This includes the hops, which are not grain at all, but you must prove that they never come into contact with leavened grain.

"My plan is to sell this beer for Passover to the major Jewish communities in America, Israel and Britain.  I will be able to brew the quantity I need by using the facilities of large kosher wineries, where the equipment is kosher for Passover all through the year."

So do we finally have a beer we can serve at our Passover table which will be kosher by all accounts?  This could be big news.  With this in mind, I eagerly popped open my bottle of Ginger Tipple to have a taste.

They didn't have beer at their seder table.
Why should we?
Well, the good news is, it's a curiously refreshing beverage which would grace any table.  The interplay of the ginger, lemon and hops is a very successful blend of flavors.  Although it has a light body and is highly carbonated, this is very much an adult drink.  I think it would be especially suitable as an aperitif (before the meal) or a digestif (afterwards).  I would be happy to serve Ginger Tipple at my Passover seder meal.

But . . . beer, as we know it, it is not.  Although "beer" has a wide range of styles, colors, aromas and flavors, there is also a connecting thread which we can identify almost immediately.  Even those beers which tend strongly towards sour and salty can still find a place under the tent.  But in my humble opinion, Ginger Tipple is not there.  

So, hearty kudos to Jeremy Sulzbacher for giving us a wonderful alternative beverage to serve during Passover.  I certainly hope to see it on sale in Israel and will buy a few bottles for my own holiday table and as gifts.

But the search for a kosher for Passover beer still continues.      

January 14, 2016

2016 Jack's Winter Ale is here

Just in time for the first blasts of winter, the Shapiro Brewery in Beit Shemesh has brought out the 2016 version of Jack's Winter Ale.  This is a strong and dark Belgian-style ale which is perfect for drinking in the coldest weather.

The 2016 version of Jack's Winter Ale.
This is the fifth year that Shapiro has brewed this unique seasonal beer.  Itzik Shapiro, one of the partner-brothers in the brewery, told me that the recipe has remained basically unchanged through the years, though minor tweaks here and there could have effects on the aroma and taste.

"One of the major changes has been that the beer has become more alcoholic," Shapiro disclosed.  "In the early versions, our alcohol by volume was about 6.5%.  Now it's 8.5%.  This may change the perception of how people experience the beer, but our brewmaster Yochai Kudler has made no drastic changes in the original recipe."

From the start, Jack's Winter Ale has been aged with wood chips soaked in Jack Daniel's Tennessee Whiskey – which is how it got its name.  The whisky chips give the beer a full and rich body, and smooth, buttery finish, but have little effect on the alcoholic content.

To get the complete winter experience, I poured myself a bottle of Jack's 2016 on a particularly cold and blustery afternoon.  Like most heavy winter or "holiday" beers, it should not be drunk ice cold, so I took it out of the refrigerator about 20 minutes before I opened it.
Itzik Shapiro in the brewery.
(Photo: RonenGoldman.com)

It poured out a dark chestnut brown color with a thin tan head.  The aroma was strongly chocolate and caramel.  The first sip continued with the caramel theme, though a bitter caramel, along with the taste of red fruits.  The beer is quite full bodied; you can even say "chewy."  There was a nice spiciness in the aftertaste, perhaps cloves or pepper.  If there was any whisky in the taste, it was very understated.  
This is a great beer for any winter meal, especially foods with intense or spicy tastes, as well as pizza, aged cheeses, and rich, semi-sweet desserts.  After the meal, it's a beautiful warming dessert by itself.

Leave the "crisp" and "refreshing" beers for the steamy days of summer.  Now is the time to enjoy a bottle of hearty Jack's Winter Ale, before the spring thaw sets in.       

January 10, 2016

Beer7 Festival

Somehow or other, I never knew about the "First Annual Beersheva Beer Fest," but I couldn't miss the chatter about the second.  I got invitations by e-mail, on Facebook and probably other social media that I don't even know about.

The three judges at the Beer7 Fest in Beersheva.
Organizer Gilad Ne-Eman, owner of the HeChalutz ("The Pioneer") craft brewery, promised me some interesting old and new beers from southern brewers.  Since Beersheva was new to me as an Israeli beer destination, I decided to make the effort and attend the Beer7 Fest.  (Remember that 7 in Hebrew is "sheva.")

So one sort-of-recent Friday morning saw me riding down to the capital of the Negev with my friends and fellow beer judges Mike Horton and Bob Faber.  We were welcomed by Gilad into the courtyard of the Chalutz 33 bar and restaurant -- no connection to Gilad's HeChalutz brewery.

There were eight brewers along the walls of the courtyard.  We decided to go counter-clockwise.

The very light-hearted and
enjoyable Hippopotamus beer.

(Photo: Mike Horton)

Eitan Rabinovich and Ran Dach give their home-brewed beers the Hippopotamus label, a heavy animal but a light-hearted name.  

I tried their Senor Mandarin, a pale ale heavy with citrusy spice flavors, as you might guess from the name.  The Pacifas wheat beer was an enjoyable classic wheat.  

I brought home a bottle of their Hyper-Caheh ("Ultra-Dark") Oatmeal Stout, which paired very well with my soya cutlet, French fries and green beans.  It pours out a dark amber brown with a creamy tan head.  The body is somewhat thin, but the flavors of chocolate spice and sweet roasted coffee are robust.  The sharp contrast between salty food and a sweet beer made for a very enjoyable meal.  
Yulia and Aleksey Radionov.
(Photo: Mike Horton)


Aleksey and Yulia Radionov are a home-brewing couple.  I tried their American pale ale, which was full of fruity aromas and tastes.  The Radionovs were also serving a wheat beer and an oatmeal stout.


Alex Fux is a taekwondo martial arts expert who also home-brews.  Or is it the other way around?  In either case, Alex is not a stranger to beer festivals further north, though Beersheva is his home turf.
Alex Fux and Garry Shteinberg
serving their Taekwonbeer.

(Photo: Mike Horton)

Alex was pouring four of his very original beers, plus a 10% alcohol Cinnamon Mead.  For a change, I tried his Peanut Butter Stout (or as he calls it, the Drunken Master on peanut butter).  I thought it was a real treat.  Think of Reese's Pieces with dark, bitter chocolate instead of sweet.  Alex was also serving The Great Pretender (a blond stout -- you have to be a virtuoso to pull this off), Field of Hops (an American pale ale), and Fire Storm (a wheat beer made with chilies).  Kudos to Alex Fux for keeping on pushing the envelope.
Maxim Shain and his beers.


Maxim Shain is the eponymous brewer of Maxshain beers.  He was serving bottles of IPA, brown ale and porter.  I tasted his porter, which I found to be mild and sweet.


Next in line was Raz Hechter and his lady friend Liron Chirky, whom I had met in Jerusalem at the Glen Whisky Bar one Friday morning.

Raz was serving different beers from then, including Florale Pomegranate-Hibiscus and Scarborough Fair Saison, made with parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme.  I tried his private recipe Belgian Triple, called Thrice as Special.  He brews it with oats in the malt mixture (mash), and then adds honey and spices.  The result is a strong Belgian ale with a very smooth texture and rich, sweet flavor.  I thoroughly enjoyed it.
Raz Hechter and Liron Chirky
getting cuddly.

I had to pace myself with drinking beer before the long ride home, so I stopped after this one beer from Hechter and purchased a bottle of his Intercontinental Smash IPA -- single malt (Vienna from Europe) and single hop (Sarachi Ace from Japan) -- to bring home.  A few days later, I popped the bottle and poured out this opaque amber beer with an off-white, ivory head.  The aroma was strongly fruity, and the taste narrowed it down to bitter citrus, notably orange and lime.  The bitterness was very strong, overpowering the fruit, and this continued in the aftertaste.     
Zvi Sharon serving and enjoying
his Desert Brewery beer.

(Photo: Mike Horton)

Desert Brewery

Zvi Sharon has been home-brewing for just one year and has chosen the name Desert Brewery for his beers.  He was serving his Double Bee -- which he calls a double Belgian ale -- and Darken, a dark wheat beer, which I tasted.  He uses chocolate malt to achieve the dark color, as well as wheat and Pilsner malts.  


I said shalom to Omer Basha and Dvir Flom, whom I first met at the Brew Party in Tel Aviv earlier this spring.  These are two very innovative and enthusiastic brewers whose beers can be found in specialty shops in major cities.
Dvir Flom and Omer Basha greet
the old blogger.

(Photo: Mike Horton)

They had bottles of their Saison du Boff (a French saison), Nelson (an oxymoronic black India pale ale named after Mandela), and Avi Bitter (an extra special bitter).

The saison and the bitter were excellent, two beer styles not made by many Israeli craft brewers.  The "bitter" ale is not really bitter by today's standards of pumped up IBUs.  It got its name in Britain when at the time of its appearance, it was bitter-er than the pale ales and porters being served.      
Omer told me to be sure and try the Nelson, but by the time I asked it was all sold out.  

It's a pity that the Basha-Flom beers are not available at more locations, and I hope this is soon remedied.  Good beer all around.
Gilad Ne-Eman at the
Beersheva Brew Shop.


At the end of the line was the host -- Gilad Ne-Eman's HeChalutz beers.  Even though there was nothing new from HaChalutz, their regular brews are always welcome by beer-lovers:

Totzeret Ha'aretz ("Made in Israel"), their award-winning American pale ale; HaTafsan ("The Catcher"), a rye beer; and two India pale ales -- Avoda Ivrit ("Hebrew Labor"), an American IPA, and Hodgson Traditional, a British IPA.
Tomer Ronen.

In addition to brewing his beer, Gilad and his partner Tomer Ronen have opened up the Brew Shop to sell brewing equipment and ingredients to home-brewers in the Beersheva and southern region.  You can also shop through their website at: http://www.brewshop.co.il/   They also give courses in home-brewing, and organize beer events and festivals -- including, of course, the Beer7 Fest that I'm so glad I attended.   

It was great to see our southern citizens enjoying craft beer and the togetherness it creates.  In that wonderful crowd of visitors, we saw young and old, Israeli-born and immigrants.  It gave proof the the new craft beer culture is not just for a few cities in central Israel, but for the whole country.