May 31, 2016

The winners of B'tsisa

It's a funny name for English speakers to pronounce, but the B'tsisa home-brewing competition is quite prestigious here in Israel.  Winning first place, or even a lesser medal, has been the impetus for some hesitant home-brewers to advance to more commercial production.  

Alex "Shmoo-Shmoo" Filimonov (left) joins
Bob Faber and the old blogger for a
glass of his Golden Pekko beer.
(Photo: Nick Vorontzov)
I recently attended the B'tsisa (which means "During Fermentation") mini-festival and award ceremony at the ZOA House in Tel Aviv with my friend Bob Faber, who is also a judge on the Israel Brews and Views Tasting Panel.

The competition this year was sponsored by the Beer & Beyond beer super-store and by the Protary Craft Beers import agency.  Not surprisingly, most of the beers being poured were from the sponsors: Rogue beers from the U.S., imported by Protary, and several beers brewed by staff members of Beer & Beyond.

Of the latter, I tasted two, both brewed by Alex Filimonov, affectionately known as Shmoo-Shmoo.  Both were excellent examples of India pale ales full of exciting hop flavors.  The first was the Shmoo Golden Pekko, brewed with Golden and Pekko hops, giving the beer a burst of tropical fruit tastes.  It reminded me of the old Juicy Fruit chewing gum.  (Is that still around?)  When the B'tsisa winners were announced, this beer took third place in the Freestyle category.  

Erez Adar with his shiny still.
Maybe it really is a saxophone.
The second IPA from Shmoo-Shmoo was the Shmoo Simcoe Single, made only with Simcoe hops.  The dominant aroma here was mango, and the taste was very bitter and piney.  Alex told me that he uses 300 grams of hops for a 20 liter batch.  Not surprisingly, the IBU (International Bittering Units) measurement is a hefty 82.  

Both of these beers are heavenly for hop-heavy beer lovers.  Unfortunately, you can't buy them anywhere.  They were made just for this festival and competition. 

Of the non-sponsoring exhibitors, there were only three.  One was TDM Professional Brewing Equipment, staffed by owner Erez Adar from Moshav Srigim.  He was standing next to something that looked like you could play in a band, but it was really a still.  It avoided all of the characteristic spirals of copper tubing.  All of the cooling and distillation is electronically controlled within one central pipe.

Oded and Moshit Gur promote
their DeDe Beer.
Next to him were standing Oded and Moshit Gur from Kfar Saba, home-brewers of beer with the DeDe label.  The only beer they were pouring that night was their American Amber, which had a very untypical taste for that style.  Redolent with caramel and berries, it ended with a tart aftertaste.  Actually, it was a very alluring beer.  I could have stayed there drinking, but the long lines at the next table drew me over to --   

Lior Degabli, who was pouring some of his delicious and highly original Baron's beers.  Just as I got there, he ran out of his amazing Double IPA, which I tasted previously, and his Chile Amber Ale, but some kind soul offered me a sip from his cup.  The only thing I remember is the little pepper explosion in the back of my throat.  This is not going to be anybody's go-to beer, but rather something you might want to try ever so rarely to add a little "pilpel" to your beer experience.

Lior Degabli at the popular
Baron's Beer table.
Other "quieter" beers, though no less tasty, that Lior was pouring included his Coffee Cardamon Stout (which lives up to its name in spades), Chocolate Robust Porter, Hazelnut Brown Ale, and Imperial Stout

It was the premier appearance of Baron's Hazelnut Brown Ale and it came in second place in the Hazelnut Brown category!  I was able to bring a bottle home and enjoy it far from the madding crowd.  True to its name, it pours out a lovely opaque brown with a thin head.  The aroma is strong chocolate and roasted barley.  These continue in the taste, along with a sweet, nutty and buttery flavor.  It's on the way to a stout, though the mouthfeel is much lighter and the finish is sweet.  The bottom line verdict: an excellent beer.  Two thumbs up!             

Always exciting to drink Baron's beers.  It's a shame they're not available in more beer and liquor stores.

Two of my favorite brewers:
Boaz Lanner of Lanner Beer, and
Niva Hermoni of MaiBEERovicz.
(Photo: Nick Vorontzov)
Shachar Hertz, owner of Beer & Beyond, gave us a word from our sponsors with a slide show of a new line of hop extracts now available in his store, and Rotem Bar Ilan plugged the different Rogue beers on sale in Israel.

Then, with great sound and light, Shachar Hertz emceed the awards ceremony to an appreciative audience.  The five categories were based on the different Rogue beers imported into Israel, plus a Freestyle category for all others, three Honorable Mentions, and a Best in Show.  In the interest of space, I'll only name the first-place winners, though Shachar did say that in several instances, the voting was very close.  

Brown Ale -- Tomer Corem, Bicyclist Brewery
Dead Guy Ale (inspired by the German Maibock style of lager) -- Tomer Corem, Bicyclist Brewery. 
Porter -- Tzion Sofer, Nail Brewery
India Pale Ale -- Yaron Rachamim and Zeev Stein, Lynx Brewery.
American Amber -- Ephraim Greenblatt, Bounteous Brewing.
Freestyle -- Imperial Stout, Yaron Rachamim and Zeev Stein, Lynx Brewery.  
Best in Show -- Imperial Stout, Yaron Rachamim and Zeev Stein, Lynx Brewery.   

Zeev Stein (left) and Yaron Rachamim
of Lynx Brewery, receive their
B'tsisa award at an earlier ceremony.
Yaron Rachamim of Lynx Brewery was definitely the star of the show.  His beers had won four prizes.  Yaron immediately called his partner Zeev Stein, who was sick at home, to tell him the good news.  Afterwards, Zeev told me that he and Yaron are both electrical engineers working in hi-tech companies.  "In fact, we were both working together in the same company a few years back after I had recruited him and was his boss," added Zeev.  

They have been brewing together for about two years, sometimes in Zeev's home in Holon and sometimes in Yaron's in Kfar Saba.  As soon as they started brewing, they entered their beers in the B'tsisa competition, winning a third place two years ago for their American Pale Ale, and a first place last year for their White (Wheat) IPA.  "This year, our Best-in-Show Imperial Stout is a strong 12% alcohol, made with two types of coffee and whisky-steeped vanilla beans, and aged for one year in the bottle," said Zeev.  Until I can get over to Zeev or Yaron, I'll just have to imagine the taste.

In spite of the overwhelming adulation of their peers, Zeev and Yaron have no plans to give up their day jobs and become commercial brewers.  "We enjoy experimenting with different beers and trying out new styles and ingredients," Zeev avers.  "No one is more critical of our beers than we ourselves, and we want just to maintain that high level and continue to enjoy our beer with family and friends."              
So, in the end, attending the B'tsisa ceremony was an enjoyable way to spend a few hours, to taste some delicious beers and to re-connect with some old acquaintances.  Sadly, other than Shmoo-Shmoo's Golden Pekko and Baron's Hazelnut Brown Ale, I didn't get a chance to taste any of the prize-winning beers, since they weren't available.  I hope to be able to track some down in the future and to tell you about them.

Thanks to Beer & Beyond and Protary Craft Beers for thinking beyond today and for giving a boost to some of the best of our home-brewers.     

May 29, 2016

2016 Beer Festivals -- early edition

By Israeli standards, it's still very early in the year to begin talking about this summer's beer festivals.  People in Europe and America are scheduling their Christmas vacations, and we here are casually waiting a few more months before even beginning to think about the summer.

However, for those of you who relish the expectation of drinking craft beer in the company of hundreds of other mellowed-out beer lovers, 'neath the summer night sky, with good food and cool music surrounding you, this is the information that is now available.

Jerusalem Beer Festival - "Ir Habira" -- The 12th Jerusalem Beer Festival will be held in Independence Park (Gan Ha'atzmaut) on Wednesday, August 31 and Thursday, September 1. So reports organizer/producer Eli Giladi.  I may be Jerusalem-positive prejudiced, but these are always beautiful affairs, capturing the right amounts of beer, food and atmosphere.  
©images of my thoughts

An open question, and one that Eli still had no answer for, is whether or not there will be tables for home-brewers.  I found these to be one of most enjoyable aspects of the festival when they were there two years ago, and was disappointed when they weren't last year.  True, the tables were mobbed, since all the beer was being poured for free(!), but it was indeed a pleasure to meet those home-brewers and taste some of their very innovative beers.  

The other as yet unknown is where the award ceremony for the Sam Adams Longshot home-brewing competition will be held.  It will either be at the Jerusalem Beer Festival or the one in Tel Aviv, BEERS 2016.  I'll bring you more information when I know.       

Tel Aviv "BEERS 2016" Exhibit -- September 20-22 at the Train Station (HaTachana) in Neve Tzedek.

This is all I know at this point because Studio Ben-Ami in Tel Aviv, the organizer of the BEERS Exhibits, remains tight-lipped on all information, even if it will give them free publicity.  "It's still four months away," they said.  "What's your hurry?" 

Beer City Festival in Haifa -- Polina Charnovelsky from the "Cooperation" Office in the Cultural Department of the Haifa Municipality, says that no date or place has yet been decided.  She will let me know.

Beer 7 Fest -- Getting a jump on the festival season once again, the Beer 7 (Sheva) Fest will be held on Friday, June 17, opening at 12 noon at HaChalutz 33, which is both the name of the restaurant and the address in Beersheva.  Main organizer Gilad Ne-Eman promises that at least nine local (read "southern") brewers, including some first-timers, will be pouring their wares.  Entry costs 35 shekels (which includes a glass), and tastes are five shekels each.

The Beer 7 Fest is sponsored by the Home-Brewers Guild of Beersheva and the Brew Shop, an on-line supplier of equipment, ingredients and courses for home-brewing.   

Ashdod Beer Festival -- No date yet for this newcomer to summer beer festivals, but Cheli from the Ashdod municipal tourism office assured me that there will be one.  We'll have to wait at least another month to find out the dates.  If you're impatient, try calling Cheli yourself at 08-854-5141.              

Mateh Yehuda Rustic Beer Festival -- Chani Ben-Yehuda, who is responsible for festivals and events at the Tzlilei Hakesem company, which organizers these events, told me that there is still no decision made on the date -- or even if there will be a festival this summer.  It's been several years since the Mateh Yehuda regional council held a summer beer festival, and it doesn't look as if they'll get their act together again.  That strikes me as a real shame, but there should be quite enough beer festivals this summer to keep us all satisfied.   

May 10, 2016

The people have spoken: "We want beer on Passover."

Even before Passover ended, I was getting signals that the kosher-for-Passover Date Ale from the Meadan Brewery was going to be a success.

It started at my own Seder holiday meal, when I proudly served bottles of the beer.  Two of my guests who appreciate beer, drank it and proclaimed their admiration.  Hmm.

A day later, I called a friend, one of the judges on our Israel Brews and Views Tasting Panel, and he told me how much he enjoyed the beer at his own Seder.  But even more significant: His son who dislikes beer intensely, took a hesitant sip and screwed up his face: "Ugh!  This is terrible.  It tastes just like beer!"  Could there be a more heartfelt, back-handed compliment?

Now, I have already written (here) my opinion that the taste of Meadan Date Ale is compromised by the lack of malted grain.  However, since grain would make this beer unfit for Passover, it was difficult for me to envision a happy solution.

But, if I am an anything, I am deferential to the voice of the people.  And the people were telling me, they like this beer!

But there's more.

During Passover, we went out to eat in a restaurant that had a chalkboard by the door: "Meadan Date Ale - Kosher for Passover."  Well, here was a chance to have more beer, so we sat down, ordered our food and beer, and the waiter said: "Oh, we ran out of that beer on the first day.  We ordered some more from our distributor, but he also didn't have any left."  Hmm.

Then, just before the last days of Passover, I went to one of my favorite liquor stores in Jerusalem, Hamisameach near the Machane Yehuda market, to buy some more of the Date Ale.  When I got there, there were two bottles left in a cut open carton.  "Are there any more?", I asked.  "No, that's the last of it," the salesman answered.  "I think we had 30 cartons and they're all gone."

Meanwhile, at the brewery in Carmiel, owner Bryan Meadan was able to feel in macro what I was hearing in the field.                  

"Almost all of our 40,000 bottles were sold out," Bryan told me.  "People visited our brewery and bought our beer all of Passover week, and the feedback was very positive.

"Unfortunately, stores and distributors ran out of our beer and we didn't have enough to re-supply them."

Bryan hopes to solve this problem next year by doubling the production and by filling orders in advance so that all stores have enough beer for the holiday.

Bryan is also negotiating the possibility of exporting his Passover beer next year to the unquenchable American Jewish market.

After Meadan has proven how much the public really thirsts for kosher-for-Passover beer, it's likely that other brewers will try to get into this market in 2017.  However, they face the daunting task of cleansing their breweries of all leavened grain.  Though possible, it's probably prohibitively expensive.

Being gluten-free, the Meadan Brewery never uses leavened grain and therefore, in effect, remains kosher-for-Passover year round.

"We are now returning to brew our regular gluten-free beers, but with improvements," Bryan said.  "For example, we will have two Date Ales: One with the same recipe as our Passover Date Ale, and a Bitter Date Ale, with a higher alcoholic content.  Our Buckwheat Beer will have a fuller body, and our Hummus (Chickpea) Beer will be less sour, while staying very hoppy."

May 5, 2016

The old blogger in Munich

Six months of great expectations and high hopes reached fulfillment when Trudy and I walked off the plane at Munich Airport into the warm welcome of my old friend from Georgetown University, Chris Kraiker, whom we hadn't seen for over 45 years.

The old blogger at the entrance to the
"Beer is the Wine of this Land" exhibit in the
Munich Jewish Museum.

We came to Munich not as tourists or sightseers.  We came for the beer, or more accurately, for the beer exhibition at the Jewish Museum and the unveiling of the first German-Israeli collaboration beer.  We were guests of the Museum because I had helped in the "matchmaking" for the Israeli craft brewery chosen for the collaboration beer, and publicized the event in the Israeli media.
We could see everything from our window.
From left: the Munich City Museum, the new synagogue,
the Jewish Museum (seen above the grass roof), and the
Jewish Community Building.
Trudy and I were put up in a "quaint" guest room on the upper story of the historic Ignaz Guenther House, built in 1761 or thereabouts.  It was right on St. Jakobs Plaza, which contained the Jewish Museum, the Jewish Community Building and the Synagogue, as well as the Munich City Museum.  So everything was literally at our feet.  By day, the Ignaz Guenther House is a municipal office building, so we shared our bathroom with the workers.  This was not so bad as it sounds.

The three brewers in front of their own
photograph at the entrance to the exhibit:
(from left) Maor Helfman, Timm Schnigula,
and Itai Gutman.
Like many other museums across Germany this year, the Munich Jewish Museum is mounting an exhibition to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the famous Reinheitsgebot, the so-called Bavarian beer purity law.  Each museum has its own angle, of course, and the Jewish Museum's is, what else, the Jewish contribution to the Bavarian beer industry.  The Museum also sponsored the brewing of the collaboration beer, having brought over brewers from the Herzl Beer Workshop in Jerusalem to work with their counterparts at the Crew Republic Brewery near Munich.
One of the exhibit displays:
"Beer in the Land of Israel."

(Photo: Franz Kimmel)

So there were impressive displays on:
  • Brewing in the ancient Middle East;
  • Beer in the Bible and Talmud;
  • Medieval brewers whose six-pointed "brew star" (Brauerstern) is identical to the Star of David;
  • Jewish hop merchants in Bavaria;
  • Famous Jewish brewing families who pioneered new technologies and brought German brewing to thirsty Americans;
  • Jewish beer stein (mug) decorators;
  • Modern craft brewing and beer culture in Israel.
The very popular "Rheingold Theater" exhibit.
(Photo: Franz Kimmel)

The displays were beautifully mounted using artifacts, documents, photographs and multi-media -- including computer touch-screens to retrieve information, and a movie mini-theater showing programs and commercials about Rheingold Beer in the U.S.

The night we arrived, Chris and his wife Sybille took us out to the Ratskeller, a huge beer-forward restaurant that takes up the entire basement of the city council building.  We were joined by their son Sebastian, who works for a not-so-new start-up company in Munich, and is a very modern, European-conscious young man.
The old blogger and Trudy with the Kraiker family
in the huge Munich Ratskeller.

Staying in tune with current trends, the Ratskeller offered some nice vegan options on their menu, but it was the beer list that got our attention.  All of the draft beers were either wheat ales (very popular in Germany) or European lagers like Pilsner, helles, dunkel, bock and doppelbock.  That's what the Munich crowd wants.  Pale ale, IPA, porter or stout?  Fuggedaboudit.  You could get those in bottles, but that kind of set you apart from the "real" beer drinkers.  Who orders bottled beer in a beer hall?  It was the same when we joined Chris and Sybille a few days later in the Hackerhaus, the brewpub for the famous Hacker-Pschorr Brewery.  

It was inspiring to see Chris, Sybille and Sebastian doing their part to maintain Germany's number three position in per capita beer consumption: an astounding 116 liters (30 U.S. gallons) a year!  I did my part too (I wonder if they count tourists in the statistics), while Trudy took sips from my glass.  (By comparison, the average Israeli drinks only 14 liters of beer a year!  Oh, the shame!)          
Chris (left) and the old blogger (center) join the Israeli and
German brewers in toasting the new collaboration beer.

The next day, Trudy, Chris and I joined over 50 journalists at the press conference to announce the new exhibit and the collaboration beer.  Museum Director Bernhard Purin, his assistant Lilian Harlander, and exhibit designer Martin Kohlbauer spoke to the crowd, and then all of the journalists got to drink the first public pouring of the new beer.

Has anyone tried to tell these guys that they shouldn't be drinking while on assignment?  Hah!  How can you write about a new beer without drinking it?  And drink they did.  The Museum even provided them with buttered pretzels to go with the beer, plus a branded carrying bag containing a press kit and a hard-bound catalog of the exhibit.
Mike Horton's photos of the
Jerusalem craft beer scene
on display at the exhibit.

(Photo: Franz Kimmel)

The above catalog contained my essay entitled "In the Land of Israel, beer came late: Historical brew traditions in the Near East," which I wrote in English but appeared, amazingly, in perfect German.  I had to convince some journalists that my German is really non-existent.

In the catalog section on "Craft Beer in Israel," there were four pictures taken by Israel Brews and Views photographer Mike Horton, and blow-ups were also hanging on the walls of the exhibit.

Bernhard Purin, whom I had met when he visited Israel last year on two occasions, told me that even though many other museums were having their "reinheitsgebot exhibits," none were getting the publicity of the Munich Jewish Museum.  "This is because the media went crazy over our collaboration beer," he said.  "Something like this has never been done before.  Everybody wants to write about it -- and to taste it!"

Said beer was brewed a few months earlier when the Jewish Museum brought over Herzl brewers Maor Helfman and Itai Gutman from Jerusalem to Munich to join their talents with those of Timm Schnigula and Mario Hanl of the Crew Republic Brewery.  The result was a collaboration "steam beer" (also known as "California common") which I already wrote about and you can read here.
Hebrew and German on the label:
The unveiling of the new collaboration steam beer.
The X is for "experimental." 

(Photo: Franz Kimmel)

Trudy and I tasted the now-famous beer along with the thirsty journalists, and again during a private showing that evening.  Now here was a beer that even Trudy appreciated.  In the course of three days, we imbibed our fair share of this tasty testament to German-Israeli cooperation.

We popped a bottle of the long-awaited beer and poured it into the beautifully branded tulip glasses especially made for the occasion, which were engraved with the exhibition slogan: "Bier is der Wein dieses Landes."  The color was a nice dark amber with a medium carbonated head.  The aroma was yeasty, something not unexpected in a steam beer, where lager yeast do their magic at the higher temperatures associated with ales.  The hop presence was very low and it was hard to detect a dominant taste.  Perhaps light banana and caramel, spicy citrus and toasted malt.  Bitterness was also very mild, with the label admitting to 35 IBUs.  There was a crisp finish.  Alcohol by volume is 5.2%.  My drinking companion termed this beer "a lager with added value."

The bottom line: I really enjoyed this beer, and from the looks around me, everyone else was as well.  Trudy, not a great beer drinker, gave her approval, as did Chris and Sybille.  The Herzl - Crew Republic collaborative effort had produced a superior beer which avoids extremes in taste and brings people together -- something beer has been doing for about 6,000 years.
The old blogger at the "other" reinheitsgebot exhibit
across the square at the Munich City Museum.

The next morning, our little group from Israel and a few other guests were given a private tour of another reinheitsgebot exhibit in the City Museum across the square.  It was titled "Bier. Macht. Muenchen," a play on words that could either mean "Beer. Power. Munich." or "Beer makes Munich."  I figured that out myself.  Really.

In the middle of the tour, who should appear but a rain-soaked David Cohen, founder and owner of Dancing Camel Brewery in Tel Aviv, Israel's pioneer craft brewery.  David needed to be in Munich that day, found out about our tour and joined us.  Afterwards, he was given a private tour of the Jewish Museum exhibit as well.

A display in the Jewish Museum
showing the famous
brauerstern, symbol of beer
brewers, not the Star of David.

(Photo: Franz Kimmel)
Anyway, this exhibit complemented the one at the Jewish Museum by highlighting the not inconsiderable role played by non-Jews in the growth of the Munich beer industry.  Yes, there were some of those as well.  For example, the "Big Six" breweries in Munich do not have Jewish origins (even though there might have been Jewish owners sometime during their centuries of existence).  These are: Augustiner, Hacker-Pschorr, Paulaner, Lowenbrau, Hofbrau and Spaten.  You might have heard of some of these.              

I also learned that Munich has never lacked places where people could go to drink beer.  From time immemorial, pubs were the social centers of the city, as indeed they were for all of southern Germany.  From around 1900, the bigger Beer Halls, which could seat hundreds, became popular, followed by boazen (little bars), Beer Gardens and Beer Cellars.

Not only do Munchners drink their beer everywhere they can sit, they also drink it in prodigious amounts.  It was only about a decade ago that beer began to be sold in third-of-a-liter bottles and glasses, long popular everywhere else in the world.  Before that, the minimum size in Munich was a half-liter.  The locals called the new little bottles a "Prussian amount," mocking their less bibacious countrymen to the north.    
The crowd at the Grand Opening of the exhibit . . . 

By the time the Grand Opening at the Jewish Museum rolled around, later that day, we were quite familiar with the exhibit and the collaboration beer.  But for the 450+ people who crammed into the lobby of the museum, it was their first time for both.  Trudy and I got two of the few reserved seats, and Bernhard mentioned me twice in his speech.  According to my understanding of the German, it sounded like he was saying,"Doug Greener, the old blogger, has five minutes to leave the building or I will call the police."  But others told me he was thanking me for all my assistance to the project.
 . . . who then pounced on the bar to get their free bottles
of the new German-Israeli collaboration beer.

(Photos: Franz Kimmel)

Afterwards, the crowd descended on -- or I should say, pounced on -- the bar, where 800 bottles of the collaboration brew were consumed or snatched up in an hour and a half.  In Israel, a few six-packs could have easily covered a crowd that size.  Also popular were the branded tulip glasses, which many guests took home as souvenirs.  I hope Bernhard took that into account when he built his opening events budget.
Trudy and the old blogger with Dr. Dan Shaham (left),
Israel Consul General in Munich, and
Bernhard Purin (right), Director of the Jewish Museum.

(Photo: Franz Kimmel)

Trudy and I enjoyed mingling with the Munich upper crust, anybody who was anybody, including an heir to the royal family of Bavaria, Prince Luitpold Rupprecht Heinrich Wittelsbach.  Besides owning two lovely castles, the Prince is also CEO of the Schloss Brewery at his very own Kaltenberg Castle, where he hosts annual jousting tournaments!  We also met two of the speakers, Dr. Dan Shaham, the Israel Consul General in Munich, and Marian Offman, the only Jew on the Munich City Council.  The brewers from Herzl and the Crew Republic were enjoying every minute, as well they should, basking in the spotlight of public appreciation for a beer well brewed.
Toasting a good-bye, shalom,
Wiedersehen to Munich
with Chris and Sybille Kraiker.

(Photo: Franz Kimmel)

After the Grand Opening, Trudy and I spent most of the next day in Munich, going out for our morning coffee and pastry (as we had been doing every day), walking through the food market, and seeing a little bit more of the city with Chris before saying good-bye.  He actually is a wonderful guide in the city he has lived in and loved since he returned from Georgetown University 52 years ago.  His love of medieval and Renaissance churches hasn't dimmed either, making Munich the perfect city for him.

Our stay in Munich, meeting Chris and Sybille, and participating in the Museum events was an extraordinary experience for Trudy and me.  We will never forget the warm welcome and hospitality we received from everyone we met, and the hearty gemutlichkeit of all those who shared their passion with us for history and beer.

A slightly different version of this article appeared in The Jerusalem Post Friday Magazine.