July 17, 2016

Between hops and malt -- Three pretty recent craft beers

Three Israeli craft breweries have introduced beers which will help us get through the hottest months.  All of them have powerful tastes, but very different.  Two of the beers are India pale ales, or IPAs, where the aroma and taste of the hops are most dominant, while the third is a Belgian-style ale which emphasizes the malt side of the recipe.

Barley malt can be roasted from
very light to very dark.
Every level changes the taste
of the final beer.
According to urban legend, the IPA style of beer originated in the 18th century, when London brewers had to make a stronger beer to survive the ocean voyage to India (four to six months!), where thirsty British soldiers needed their daily beers.  The brewers found that by increasing the amount of hops and malt, they could get a beer with a higher alcoholic content that didn't spoil.  In addition, the hops acted as a natural antiseptic to control pathogens in the beer.
Hops add bitterness, flavor
and a natural antiseptic.
Well, modern researchers have shown that this narrative isn't completely accurate, but it's close enough -- and it explains the name.

Citra 2016 IPA from 
Shapiro Brewery in Beit Shemesh

The first beer is the new version of Shapiro's IPA, called Citra 2016, in honor of the Citra variety of hops used in the brewing.  Last year, Itzik Shapiro, a brother-partner in the Beit Shemesh-based brewery, promised that Shapiro would be producing a new IPA every spring.  With Citra 2016, he's keeping his promise.

Last year's IPA version from Shapiro used American Amarillo hops, which gave the beer an orange-citrus aroma and taste.  (Refresh your memory here.)  Citra hops from the state of Washington, are also known for their citrus and tropical fruit characteristics.

The beer pours out of the bottle a light copper color with a thin foamy head.  You get a pleasant aroma of grass and grapefruit.  With the first sip, it feels very smooth in the mouth, with a light body.  The taste of the grapefruit stays, not very bitter, but there are also back-ups of apricot and lychee.

My companion mentioned that Shapiro's Citra 2016 doesn't taste "like a classic IPA," but it is a wonderfully refreshing summer drink.  Alcohol by volume of 6.5%, but you don't feel that at all.  This is an IPA that I can recommend to all those who appreciate hop and fruit tastes in their beer.  It is available in most specialty beer and liquor stores.  Look for the blue-labeled bottle with the turbaned Shapiro lion.

Dark Matter from 
HaShachen Brewery in Netanya

From HaShachen Brewery in Netanya has come Dark Matter, a "Black IPA" which owner Itay Marom calls, "Dark as the night, Tasty as hell."  I put "Black IPA" in quotation marks because it's an oxymoronic name.  How can any pale ale be black?  
Nevertheless, there are about ten recognized sub-styles of IPA beer, and "Black IPA" is one of them.  There have been suggestions to call it "American-style black ale," "India black ale," or even "Cascadian dark ale," after the name for the Pacific Northwest, where many hop varieties originate.

In the end, however, the other names all fail in getting across what Black IPA really is: A beer dark from roasted malts yet with the hop and alcohol strength of an IPA.  And, as others better qualified than I have written, the acronym "IPA" has taken on its own meaning, long divorced from its "India" and "pale" origins.

Itay Marom with some Dark Matter in bottles.
Be that as it may, Dark Matter from HaShachen began as a stout beer but, as Itay Marom reminded me, "HaShachen only brews IPAs, and they are massively dry-hopped, so we came up with a recipe for our first Black IPA."

Itay made three home-brewed batches of this beer, using Nelson Sauvin hops along with two other varieties.  "It was so amazing," he enthuses, "that we began to brew it commercially at the Srigim Brewery on Kibbutz Srigim (Li-On).  We'll continue to make it as long as we can get the Nelson Sauvin hops, which are not easy to obtain these days."

Dark Matter pours out a very dark brown with a tan head.  The aroma brings you grassy hops and roasted malt, which is not too surprising.  At first taste, you get the stout half -- strong chocolate and weaker coffee -- but the hoppy taste of the IPA is also there.  The hops add a fruity character to the roasted malt: a very classy combination.

My friend affirmed that he could "feel the stout in my throat," in addition to tasting it.

In short, this is a good Black IPA to try if you're having this style for the first time.  It's a true bridge between a stout and an IPA -- without having to spell it out.

Barzel Beer from
Kibbutz Ha'ogen and Kibbutz Hama'abarot

The Barzel Beer brewers:
(from left) Yair, Idan and Ori 
Something completely different comes from Barzel Beer (which means "Iron"), the product of three young partners from Kibbutz Ha'ogen and Kibbutz Ma'abarot, located near Netanya in the central plain.  Yair Alon, Ori Granot and Idan Talyas began home-brewing about four years ago while they were still in the army.  Right after their release, they began to sell their beer in the local kibbutz pub, and then expanded to other pubs in the area. 

Yair relates: "Our most popular beer was our Belgian red ale, actually quite strong at 6% alcohol, which we kept on tweaking until we got it just right.  At the start of 2016, we decided to take it to the commercial level and started contract brewing at the Mosco Brewery on Moshav Zanuach near Beit Shemesh."

Kibbutz beer:
"Take it or leave it!"
For a start-up brewery, Barzel has done a wonderful job of marketing and distributing, since the beer is now on sale in beer specialty stores in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.  Yair credits this success to hard work ("We got out there and promoted our beer anyway we could, and got it into as many stores, pubs and events as our production would allow.") and to the fact that, at only 24-years-old, the three partners are the youngest brewers in the field and therefore most connected to this very influential age group of Israeli beer drinkers.

Their catchy label has an anchor on it (which is the meaning of Ha'ogen), and their slogan is the in-your-face "Take it or leave it!"  They also call it "kibbutz beer" to link it with those pioneering communities so admired in Israeli history and folklore.  Currently, Barzel brews about 600 liters per month.

Now to the drinking: Barzel is a red-tinged beer, the color of a copper penny, cloudy but translucent.  The aroma is caramel, not uncommon in Belgian-style beers.  The strengths lie in the tastes: The alcohol is very apparent, but so are caramel, chocolate and malt.

I made the mistake of having this beer with a baked eggplant dish, made with tomatoes, mozzarella and basil.  The beer was too strong for these delicate tastes, but I think it would go very well with spicy or fried foods with intense flavors.

The Barzel brewers have succeeded in making a Belgian-style strong ale that captures the delicious qualities of that style.  Yair assured me that Barzel will continue to brew beer (even though all of the partners are keeping their day jobs), and will even introduce a new flavor in the near future.

Barzel is a relative newcomer to the Israeli craft beer market, and its presence helps to balance out the hop-heaviness which has characterized many of the other new beers.  

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