December 10, 2016

New Beers for the Winter

 (Photo: Mike Horton)                                           
With the colder weather closing in around us, it's time to think about beers which bring a warm glow to our hearts and bodies.  Winter beers are darker, fuller bodied, perhaps a bit sweeter and higher in alcohol than the beers we reach for on a hot, summer's day.     

Beer drinkers know that when the wind is howling and the thermometer falling, you might not want to reach for an ice-cold pale ale or a light lager which describes itself as "crisp and refreshing."  Choose instead a hearty bock beer, Belgian trippel or barley wine, a malty porter or stout, a spiced pumpkin, Oktoberfest or holiday ale, or even an alcohol-strong India pale ale (IPA). 

Now don't get me wrong.  You can happily drink any style beer any time of the year.  Pairing a beer with food, for example, doesn't depend on what the weather is doing outside.  But it's only natural that certain styles of beer, as with wine, lend themselves to the different seasons.

Laphroaig single malt Scotch whisky:
In the bottle and in the beer.

(Photo: Mike Horton)
There are a few new beers which are now available in liquor stores and beer specialty shops around the country which are especially suited for the coming winter season.  I suggest you take them out of the refrigerator 10-15 minutes before you drink them.  You certainly don't have to drink them ice cold, and their strong flavors will be enhanced as they warm up. 
Launching The Dictator
Whisky Beer, with two
of the three partners,
Yotam Baras (right) and
Tomer Goren (center).

(Photo: Mike Horton)

The Whisky Beer by The Dictator Brewery (using the facilities of the Mivshelet Ha'aretz in Kiryat Gat) is made with Laphroaig single malt Scotch whisky.  I was at the launch of this "special edition" beer in Tel Aviv, where Yotam Baras, one of The Dictator partners warned that we would "either love or hate" the smokiness which the whisky imparts to this beer.  He refused to reveal how much whisky is added to the Irish Red Ale base, but the final percentage of the beer is 6.9% -- strong but not extreme.

To tell the truth, I neither loved nor hated.  The Whisky Beer pours out a dark reddish-copper color with a thin head.  The aroma is of peaty smoke with some malt.  And of course, the smokiness is very distinct in the flavor, as you would find in a smoky single malt Scotch.  Yet, you don't really taste the whisky, just the smoke.  It's a very balanced and creamy beer; actually quite pleasant.  Like other smoky beers, this one pairs well with grilled food, including vegetables and mushrooms, and would be very interesting with caramel, chocolate or spicy desserts. 

I'm not sure how much longer this beer will be on the shelves, but I hope there will be some bottles left throughout the winter.  Be warned: Because of the added whisky, it costs around twice as much as regular craft beer, but it's worth it just to try. 

Herzl's new roggen weizen:
A Sort of Wheat.
Another beer for winter is aptly named A Sort of Wheat, from the Herzl Beer Workshop, the only commercial brewery in Jerusalem.  This is actually a wheat beer made with the addition of rye, and is known in German as roggen weizen.  The style itself is from the Middle Ages, and today it is very rarely brewed anywhere in the world.  (HeChalutz – "The Pioneer" – Brewery in Beersheva makes a delicious rye beer, but it is not a roggen weizen.  It's called HaTafsan – "The Catcher."  Can you guess why?)

The fancy bottle label was designed by Jerusalem tattoo artist Daniel Bulichev, and includes a hop flower and two stalks of grain -- rye and wheat. 

A Sort of Wheat is dark copper colored, darker than a typical wheat beer, and a bit stronger – 5.6% alcohol.  The aroma gives you some hops and sweet malt, but the flavors are very close to what you would expect from a wheat beer: banana-clove and some caramel.  Where's the rye?  I couldn't detect it in the flavor, but perhaps it makes itself felt in the fuller body, the wee sourness, and the dry finish. 

All-in-all, a good beer for those who want a wheat beer with a different twist.  A proud addition to the craft beers of the Start-Up Nation.   

The 2017 edition of
Jack's Winter Ale from Shapiro.
The newest winter beer is the 2017 version of Jack's Winter Ale from Shapiro Brewery in Beit Shemesh.  This beer gets its special taste and body by being aged with oak chips soaked in bourbon whisky.  This is the sixth year that Shapiro is bringing out its annual Winter Ale, and fans of Israeli craft beers wait for its appearance at the start of every winter.

"Our recipe hasn't changed," says Itzik Shapiro, one of the brewery's partner-brothers.  "But every version has been a little different.  This is a strong beer that can be aged for a few months and it will only get mellower and more mature.  At 8.5% alcohol, it's definitely a sipping beer, not one for long, multiple-beer drinking sessions."

The 2017 Jack's Winter Ale pours out a beautiful red amber color with a thin tan head.  The aroma had roasted malt and some caramel.  The taste is very malty with spices; we detected cloves and pepper and a little bit of the whisky.  The beer is full-bodied and the finish is nicely spiced.
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.

I can recommend three other new beers for the winter which are available commercially, but I'll just name them here because I wrote about them in earlier posts:

Grizzly -- a double IPA from HaDubim ("The Bears") Brewery [written up here]
Happy Hour in Sodom -- a salty caramel porter from the Dancing Camel Brewery [written up here]
Nelson -- a black IPA from the Basha-Flom Brewery [written up here]

So as you hunker down for the winter, don't forget to stock up on some of these fine beers which will be welcome companions, at least until next spring.