November 30, 2016

2nd Jerusalem Craft Beer Fair

Leon Shvartz and Shmuel Naky, the two organizers of the Jerusalem Craft Beer Fair, took a chance by holding their second Fair in early November.  The first Fair, back in July (see here), was a pleasant success for the brewers, the visitors, and the organizers.  But that was during the warm Jerusalem summer nights, when you could walk around free of excess clothing and when nothing beats drinking cold beer.

Fair organizer Shmuel Naky (right):
"More visitors than we expected."

(Photo: Mike Horton)
But what about November, with cool nights, sweaters and the threat of wind and rain.

Shmuel told me that he and Leon were satisfied with the turnout.  "There were actually more visitors than we expected," he said.  "Israelis generally stay home if there's even a hint of winter in the air, but we saw that their thirst for craft beer was even greater."

Shmuel added that the beer stands were laid out more conveniently than at the first Fair.  Admission was free, the prices for glasses and tastes of the beers was kept low, and brewers were encouraged to introduce versions of "winter beers" for the event.

Two of Israel's best:
Ofer Ronen (left) of Srigim Brewery and
Rotem Bar Ilan of HaDubim.

(Photo: Mike Horton)
As you already know, I truly appreciate reconnecting with brewers and beer-lovers (and meeting new ones) anyplace and anytime.  But my reporter's antennae begin to quiver only when I'm around new beers, such as the winter beers which Shmuel mentioned.

Well, I did taste some beers brewed for the colder months of the year, but the problem is, you probably won't be able to.  Most of them were brewed only for the Fair and will not be going on the market, at least any time soon.

Proud of Nelson:
Basha-Flom Brewery's Omer Basha.

(Photo: Mike Horton)
One of the beers that is already available commercially is Nelson from the Basha-Flom Brewery in Beersheva.  This is a black IPA, a beer style that has been popular for a while in spite of the oxymoronic name.  (How can a beer be "black" and "pale" at the same time?)  It's not an easy beer to brew.  Several Israeli home-brewers have experimented with black IPAs, but the only other commercial version I know is Dark Matter from HaShachen Brewery in Netanya.  (Beertzinut Brewery on Kibbutz Ketura makes Layla, but it is not marketed commercially.)

Omer Basha and Dvir Flom have been brewing Nelson for more than a year, but until now it has only been available at festivals and other events.  It's named after Nelson Mandela, and not only because of its color.  Omer and Dvir have great admiration for the man and wanted to name a beer in his memory.

Omer proudly poured me a tasting cup of Nelson, a very thick, dark brown beer with a creamy tan head.  The aroma and the taste indicate the two characteristics of this beer: Semi-sweet chocolate from the dark roasted de-bittered malts, and citrus and pine from the all-American hops used.  This balance is very well maintained in Nelson.  In fact, it's like having two parallel beers in one, while keeping the separate tastes of each.  The finish is hoppy, bitter and dry.  The alcoholic content is 5.5%, much toned down from the original, non-commercial version which was 9%.

Hagai Fass of the Fass Brewhouse:
Two new beers for the Fair.

(Photo: Mike Horton)
The Fass Brewhouse on Kibbutz Geshur in the Golan Heights has been brewing the same three beers for as far as I remember: Lager, Wheat and Porter.  Now at the Fair, Hagai Fass, one of the partner-brothers, introduced me to two new beers they are brewing just for special events and for trying out in the Brewhouse.

The Scotch Ale is a successful attempt at this style; a sweet and strong (7.7% ABV), malty and caramel ale.  It's very warming, and you can feel the alcohol going down your throat.  A good beer for the cold and brawny highlands, including the Golan Heights and Jerusalem!

The Hoppy Beer was less impressive.  It did have hop bitterness, with sour citrus being dominant, but it needed more defined tastes to compete on the India Pale Ale, or even on the Pale Ale, market.  ABV is 6.2%.  Hagai admitted it was a "work in progress."

It was a pleasant surprise to see new Fass beers, and I hope they keep on experimenting and adding the best to their commercial repertoire.

Neil Churgin (left) of Beertzinut Brewery and
his son Perry were serving their beers,
while getting out the message to
"Grab Something Serious!"

(Photo: Mike Horton) 
Another new beer was from Beertzinut Brewery of Kibbutz Ketura in the Arava Valley.  Brewer Neil Churgin was unveiling his Smoked beer, a smoked pilsner with flavors of fruity malt and toned-down smokiness.  I enjoyed it very much, and I am not a big fan of smoked beers.

Neil is also marketing three other permanent beers with the Beertzinut ("Seriously") label which show imagination and nerve.

Cool Medjool -- smoked ale with date honey, made from Medjool dates grown on the kibbutz
Layla -- black IPA
Shlishia -- IPA

Currently, Beertzinut beers are only available in the Arava region, on kibbutzim close to Ketura, and at various beer festivals and events.  In Jerusalem, you can find them at the Beerateinu specialty store.        

Another beer from the Negev, Sderot to be exact, was The Terminator, a 9% weizenbock brewed by Tomer Ronen from HaDag HaLavan ("The White Fish") Brewery.  This is a strong German wheat ale style, with a darker color, stronger tastes and higher alcohol than regular wheat beer.  Weizenbock combines the traditional aromas and tastes of German weissbier (wheat beer) -- banana, cloves, vanilla -- with a strong malt base.  The Terminator also has tastes of sweet caramel and dark fruits.  It is indeed a delicious winter beer, and the most talked-about beer at the Fair, but it was brewed only for this occasion.        

Samuel's Highland's Moish Rubinstein:
Less kumquats.

(Photo: Mike Horton)
I also tasted two beers that were not new, but were "re-formulated," perhaps due to feedback from the beer-drinking public.  After all, why try to fix it if it ain't broken?

Moish Rubinstein was serving his unique Samuel's Highland beer, brewed with kumquats.  The name harks back to Moish's city, Givat Shmuel ("Samuel's Hill"), as well as his Scottish roots.  [Read more about this beer here.]  Although Moish told me that his new recipe includes less kumquats, I could not detect much of a difference.  This is still a good beer to try, with the kumquats adding bitterness and a citrusy aroma and taste.

Barzel's Yair Alon (right):
Different hops and Crystal malt.

(Photo: Mike Horton)
Yair Alon, one of the brewers of Barzel Beer (brewed at the Mosco Brewery on Mosahav Zanoah near Beit Shemesh), also has changed his original recipe.  Different hop varieties and Crystal Malt are now being used.  I found that these gave the beer a sweeter and fuller flavor, but in a side-by-side taste-off, I preferred the original version.

In the end, I quite enjoyed trying new beers on this November evening.  I hope Leon Shvartz and Shmuel Naky will maintain their high standards and continue with more Jerusalem Craft Beer Fairs.    

November 14, 2016

Newbies at BEERS 2016 -- Part 2

Continued from Part 1, which you can read here.

Milk & Honey

Continuing my stroll around the stands at the BEERS 2016 Exhibit in Tel Aviv, I reached the Alexander Brewery, where all the buzz was about their new Milk & Honey, a collaborative dark and sweet beer made jointly with the Mikkeller Brewery in Copenhagen.

Alexander Brewery owner Ori Sagy (right)
greets friends at the BEERS 2016 Exhibit.

(Photo: David Silverman)
Mikkeller is actually a "gypsy brewery," which makes its very innovative beers in different breweries around the world.  Founder and owner Mikkel Borg Bjergso visited the Alexander Brewery a few months ago and worked with owner Ori Sagy. 

"We wanted to bring together our two distinct approaches to making beer," says Ori.  "In order to introduce Mikkel to our local colors and flavors, I took him on a tour of the Machane Yehuda market in Jerusalem.  Then the idea hit us – a beer from the land of milk and honey!"   

Milk & Honey is a "milk stout" style beer, made with added lactose (milk sugar), honey and grated orange peel.  Alcohol content is a strong 8.4%.  Since lactose is not fermentable by beer yeast, which means the yeast cannot digest it, it stays sweet in the beer and adds body, creaminess – and calories.  In fact, beginning a hundred years ago, milk stouts were believed to be beneficial to nursing mothers because of their nutritious ingredients.    

Milk & Honey pours out a dark ruby brown with a thin, tan head.  The aroma is divine: burnt caramel, chocolate and coffee.  The taste is very sweet of malt, caramel, chocolate, vanilla, and some orange which gives a little bitterness to the finish. 

Milk & Honey may be too sweet to have alongside food, but it would make a lovely "dessert beer," perhaps with a strong cup of coffee, or something to enjoy just by itself. 

Another thing: The label says that this beer is "Dairy" due to the lactose.  However, there are some rabbis who maintain that the production of lactose removes it so far from its milk origins that it is no longer considered dairy.  So, for those who do not eat meat and dairy together, you might want to get your local rabbi's opinion before having this beer with or after a meat meal.

Malka SMaSH

Along with its regular repertoire of beers, Malka Brewery from Kibbutz Yechiam was unveiling their new SMaSH beer -- Single Hop and Single Malt.  I had a chance to talk with Asaf Lavie, who is the owner of the brewery along with his brother Dan.  
Asaf Lavie talks Malka Beer with
the old blogger at the BEERS 2016 Exhibit.  

Asaf told me that the single malt in their SMaSH is Pilsner, and the single hop is Summit.  "We made this beer for the BEERS Exhibit," he said.  "But we will be making other SMaSH beers, each time with a different hop variety.  They probably won't be available in bottles, but only on tap at our own brewpub and elsewhere."  In Jerusalem, Malka SMaSH is now available from the tap at Beerateinu.

The Malka SMaSH I tasted at the Exhibit had plenty of lemon and some grapefruit in the aroma and the flavor.  The balance between the one hop and the one malt was excellent.  It was very carbonated and with medium bitterness.  

Asaf also took the opportunity to tell me that Malka Brewery will be moving into new 1,500 square meter facilities next year, giving them the capacity of brewing 40 hectoliters (4,000 liters) of four different beers at one time.

"In July 2016, we produced the same amount of beer as we did in all of 2011," he added proudly.  "But we still have to reach and educate much higher numbers of beer drinkers about craft beer."

Tzor Beer

Tzor is a home brewery on Moshav Liman (named after the late U.S, Senator Herbert Lehman) in the Western Galilee that has been making beer for six months.  Itai Dahan, the entrepreneur and brewer, told me that he rented a stand at the BEERS Exhibit because he wanted to bring his beers to the public's attention as soon as possible.  "The reactions were excellent," he said.  "It encourages us to continue and to expand."
Tzor Wheat and Pale Ale,
nicely branded,
from Moshav Liman.

In the meantime, however, Itai brews by himself ("with the encouragement of my whole family") and his beers are not yet sold in stores or restaurants, only at festivals, of which there are none in sight at the present time.  He makes two beers on a regular basis -- a Pale Ale and a Wheat -- and was also serving an IPA made only for the BEERS Exhibit.  

The Pale Ale is indeed a very pale color, with a reddish hue.  My drinking partner Moshe remarked that it had "a fresh aroma, like the morning dew."  I wouldn't go that far, but I was happy with the flower and fruit aromas, as well as the citrusy and yeasty tastes.  Unfortunately, I felt the bitterness overpowered those flavors.  Moshe also found the body too thin.  "They should have used less liquid," he commented. 

I didn't try the Wheat Beer, but the IPA had a sweet and fruity aroma from the hops.  The flavor was moderately bitter with notes of citrus and malt.  I noted that I was not too impressed.  I've come to expect more defined and bold flavors in my IPAs.  

So, good luck to Itai and his Tzor Beer.  I congratulate him on his courage to plunge so soon into the world of public beer events, but there is room for learning and improvement.

Home Brews   

At the home-brewers table, I had the chance to taste three beers, and as (my) luck would have it, they all went on to win first place in their categories (one was even Best-in-Show!) in the Sam Adams Longshot home-brewers competition, whose winners were announced on the last night of the BEERS Exhibit.

Yonatan Bendett from Ramat Gan was serving his Stout beer. which won the gold in the Dark Ale category.  It was a good classic stout.

Nearby, newlyweds Shai and Lilach Nutman from Hadera were pouring their home-brew, which they call King's Beer.  I tasted the Wheat Beer, which won first-place in that category.  It was a very fruity wheat with a strong 6.7% alcoholic content.

Next over was Adam Souriano from Yehud, who has been brewing his Joya-labeled beers for around five years.  Adam is also one of the first of a small number of Israelis who are experimenting with growing their own hops.  
Adam Souriano and fiance Bar Birenberg,
holding Joya's awards and award-winning beers.

I tasted the Joya Dragon's Kiss, a big and beautiful Russian imperial stout made with cacao nibs (fermented, dried, roasted and crushed cacao beans), Ancho chili peppers and fresh coconut.  It is aged one year in oak barrels and has an ABV of 12.8%, very close to wine.  All those flavors are noticeable: The roasted chocolate and coconut are delicious together, and you feel the chilies in your throat on the way down.  Other taste notes include vanilla, dark fruits and a slightly salty finish.  Like other extreme beers, this is not to be quaffed lightly.  Enjoy it in sips as you would a good cordial or liqueur.  If you want to pair it with food, choose only dishes with the strongest flavors, or strong cheeses, or dark chocolate desserts.

Tsar Peter the Great:
Loved his imperial stout.
Some history buffs will tell you that Russian imperial stouts were first brewed in England for shipping to the royal court of the tsar.  They loved this powerful beer in the heart of the Russian winter.  Who wouldn't?  Russian imperial stouts are usually dark red-brown to pitch black, and the malt aromas and tastes are complex, with coffee and dark chocolate often predominating, and perhaps also dark fruits.  The body is very full, with a smooth texture and alcohol warmth. 

Dragon's Kiss won first place in the Free-Style category and overall Best-in-Show -- a well-deserved recognition of the skill and dedication of brewer Adam Souriano.  In addition, his George's IPA took third place in the Pale Ale division.

"We used a Russian recipe for our imperial stout," Adam told me, "including Zurich lager yeast because it can survive in an alcohol environment of up to 14%."  (Most other yeasts are killed by the same alcohol they produce at a much lower percentage, and can therefore not be used to brew high-alcoholic beers like imperial stouts.)

Unfortunately, you can't buy Dragon's Kiss, or any other Joya beer for that matter, anywhere.  Adam only brews his beers for family and friends, and the occasional festival.

"However," he added, "these awards in the Sam Adams Longshot competition encouraged me to think about going commercial.  My heart is close to beer, but my profession now is film-making and, to tell the truth, it includes a work schedule which doesn't sit well with brewing.  I would have to choose.  We'll have to see."

I leave the choice to Adam, but I have no doubt that Joya Beers on the market would be a marvelous addition to the Israeli craft beer scene.