February 21, 2017

Tasting winter beers at Beerateinu, Jerusalem

Although I have been known to travel elsewhere for beer events, as a contented Jerusalemite (at least from April to October), I unapologetically favor local happenings.

The Winter Beer Tasting Session at the Beerateinu
store and bar in Jerusalem.

(Photo: Mike Horton)

So it was that I happily signed up for the second tasting session of winter beers at Beerateinu, the Jerusalem Beer Center (3 Yanai Street).  I wasn't able to attend the first session a week earlier because it was fully booked.  Owners Leon Shvartz and Shmuel Naky graciously scheduled a second session.

Inside the cozy retail store, bar and brewing education center, around a dozen people came together to taste and hear about winter beers.  There were also platters of cut vegetables and cheeses.  Leon and Shmuel gave running commentary to these winter warmers as we sipped and snacked.

1) Beresheet from the Negev Brewery, Israel.  A 4.7% alcohol by volume cream ale, not necessarily considered a winter beer, but  . . . okay, it was on the menu.  Citrus fruits dominate this beer's aroma and flavor profile,  It was first brewed only for guests at the Beresheet Hotel in the Negev Desert, but is now available to all.  (Read about its first mention here.)

2) Kaguo, a strong (9%) ale brewed in De Graal, Belgium, for the Japanese market.  Highly spiced with yuzo (Japanese citrus) and sansho pepper, brewed with added sugar.  Citrus, malts and hop flavor carry this beer to a warming finish.

3) Espresso Stout from Hitachino Nest Brewery in Japan.  A coffee-flavored imperial stout, 7% ABV, made with coffee beans.

4) Shakespeare Oatmeal Stout from the Rogue Brewery in Newport, Oregon.  Brewing with rolled oats gives body and smoothness to this 5.7% ABV American stout beer.  Lots of coffee and bitter chocolate flavors.

5) Jack's Winter Ale (2017) from Shapiro Brewery in Israel.  The flagship Israeli winter beer for the past six years.  Strong (8.5%), flavorful, and brewed with bourbon-infused oak chips.  (First reviewed here.)

6) Imperial Stout from Alexander Brewery, Israel.  Brand new for this season.  A black stout on steroids, 10.4% ABV, with flavors of roasted caramel, coffee, bittersweet chocolate, molasses and roasted malt.  (Recently reviewed here.)  

7) Lupulus Hibernatus, a Belgian strong ale from the Lupulus Brewery in the Ardennes region of Belgium.  Brewed with a little bit of added cinnamon, 8.5% ABV, coffee is the dominant flavor here.

8) Lupulus Organicus, a pale ale very similar to the Hibernatus, but made only with organic hops and malt.  Also 8.5% alcohol.

9) Lupulus Brown, a good example of the English brown ale style, warming and toasty, with nice citrus notes from the added orange peel.  8.5% ABV.              

10) Chouffe N'ice Winter Beer from the Achouffe Brewery in the Ardennes region of Belgium.  A strong (10% ABV), brown beer brewed for the cold months, for sipping on a snowy night in northern Europe.  Spiced with thyme and Curacao orange liqueur.

11) Leon and Shmuel then served us from another bottle of Chouffe N'ice, asking us if we could taste any difference from the previous.  It was a trick question.  People said, "It's sweeter," "It's stronger," "Less alcoholic."

In fact, it was the same beer, only from a bottle that had expired over two years ago.  "It shows that these government regulations concerning beer are not very useful," Leon told us.  "These stronger beers can age very well."

12) St. Bernardus Christmas Ale from the St. Bernard Brewery in Watou, Belgium.  A classic quadruple-style Belgian abbey ale, consistently considered as one of the finest beers in the world.  Has a strong taste of warming alcohol (10% ABV), with sweet and complex flavors such as dried fruits and molasses.    

So, thank you Shmuel and Leon for a very enjoyable and warm evening, introducing us to the right beer to have while the Jerusalem winter howls and chills our bones.    

February 13, 2017

More "stouts plus"

We're on a roll here, people.  Doing a catch-up on Israeli stouts which didn't make it in to our Stout Beer Tasting Panel because they were brewed with special ingredients or processes.  Here are two more -- one an oldtimer, been with the brewery since the start, while the other has been out there for only a few months.

Shapiro Oatmeal Stout

This beer from the Shapiro Brewery in Beit Shemesh is one of their three core beers, along with the Wheat Beer and the Pale Ale.  The Oatmeal Stout is 5.2% alcohol by volume, and is made, as you would expect, with the addition of oatmeal during the brewing process.

The beer pours a very dark brown with thin tan foam.  There are light aromas of malt, chocolate and coffee, but nothing really dominant.  The taste is bitter chocolate, perhaps some licorice.  The carbonation was quite strong and it has a mid-thick creaminess and body.  After sitting in the glass for a few minutes at room temperature, the chocolate and astringency were enhanced.

I guess there are people for whom the words "Oatmeal Stout" on the bottle will stimulate their imagination to smell or taste oatmeal.  But I wasn't getting it.  The oatmeal was probably the ingredient that gave this beer its creamy texture, which was quite an accomplishment, thank you.

During my Friday morning get-togethers with members of the Machane Yehuda Market "parliament," we sit next to a bar selling Shapiro Oatmeal Stout on tap.  It is by far, the most popular beer among us decision makers, as well it should be.          

Black Jack Smoked Stout

This is the latest bottled beer from the Beer Bazaar Brewery in Kiryat Gat, for sale at the Beer Bazaar pubs in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, and other beer and liquor stores.  The delicate smoky taste comes from some of the malt which is smoked over an oak fire.  Alcohol by volume is 4.7%.

Black Jack is really black, with a medium beige head.  Strong aromas of sweet chocolate, roasted malt and espresso hit you right away -- a delicious combination.  The taste is mid-sweet, with notes of milk chocolate, caramel, and dried figs and dates.  It has a thin body, but a strong bittering aftertaste, and this is where you feel the gentle smoke.  Don't expect a very smoky experience.  This beer is well balanced between bitter and sweet, and also (in my opinion) with just the right amount of smoke.  A very enjoyable "stout plus."

To complete our exploration, my next post on stouts will include two Israeli home-brews -- one Imperial, the other merely regal -- and a surprise guest visitor from abroad.        

February 8, 2017

New "stouts plus"

Our recent Tasting Panel for Israeli stout beers (see here) in no way covered all of the stouts brewed in this country.  In fact, there are several new stouts out there now, but they didn't qualify for our Tasting Panel because they are what I call "stouts plus" -- stouts with something extra; maybe smoked, sweet, oatmeal, oak-aged, or imperially enhanced.  
Here, then, are reviews of two of them.  Stout beers are enjoyable throughout the year, though especially in the colder months, so now's a good time to try these.

Buster's Oak Aged Stout
Led by Master-of-Fermentation Denny Neilson, Buster's Beverage Company in Beit Shemesh started out making apple ciders and spiked lemonade.  But Denny was always a beer brewer at heart, and in fact was making and selling beers from his home in Mevasseret Zion even before Buster's was opened.  (One of these was the incomparable Chutzpah Double IPA which you can read about here.)  He also gives excellent courses in beer- and wine-making, and distilling.  

Buster's first venture into the commercial beer market is their Oak Aged Stout, a 5.8% alcohol stout aged with oak chips.  Denny says that this method is preferable to aging in oak barrels because the barrels would have to be disinfected with chemical sulfites, which would have an adverse effect on the beer.  "We don't like chemicals," he adds.

The beer is brewed at the contract brewery facilities, known as Abir Habar, of the Alexander Brewery in Emek Hefer.  Denny says that this is only until Buster's gets its own brewing system, hopefully by the end of the year.

The Oak Aged Stout pours out an opaque black-brown with a thin creamy head and aromas of coffee and bitter chocolate.  The taste opens with a sour astringency so appreciated in fine stouts, and develops into mild roasted coffee.  There's also a lovely chewiness and creaminess in the beer's texture, with a bitter ending.

My drinking partner Moshe and I felt that this was an excellent beer -- but where was the oak?  Perhaps the oak aging added to the tartness and the creamy mouthfeel.  As far as flavor goes, I must admit that I have never tasted oak wood, so I was not sure what I should be looking for.    Perhaps I owe it to my readers and myself to chew on some oak chips -- if I could just get over my fear of splinters between my teeth!

Alexander Imperial Stout

From the Alexander Brewery in Emek Hefer comes their newest seasonal beer, Imperial Stout.  Traditionally, imperial stouts are said to have originated in England in the 18th century for export to the court of the Russian czars and czarinas, who loved their beers black and strong.  For this reason, they are also known as Russian imperial stout.  Whatever the history, the style has become a popular craft beer brewed in the U.S. and Europe.  In effect, it is stout beer on steroids -- brewed with large amounts of roasted barley malt, highly complex flavor and high in alcohol.  These are beers meant for sipping, not gulping.

As the label says, Alexander Imperial Stout is made with added sugars, which boost the alcoholic content to a whopping 10.4%.  This is another dark brown to black beer with a thin tan head.  I loved the aroma: strong alcohol and with a wine-like essence.  A very thick and full-bodied beer, with tastes of roasted caramel, coffee, bittersweet chocolate, molasses and roasted malt.

Moshe thought it was "too alcoholic" -- that the alcohol got in the way of the other interesting flavors.   But I didn't find that a problem.  I enjoyed the warmth of the alcohol going down.  This is a fine winter beer: great by itself on cold days and nights, or with strong flavored foods, aged cheeses and dark chocolate desserts.    

We're not through with "stouts plus" yet.  Keep your eye on Israel Brews and Views for more reviews of these surprising beers.

February 1, 2017

Results of the Israel Brews and Views -- Stout Beer Tasting Panel

I know, the suspense must be terrible.  What were the results, you've been asking, of the Israeli Brews and Views Stout Beer Tasting Panel?  
Judge Ira.

Well, we recently met in convivial assembly to taste and rate six Israeli brewed stout beers.  We chose stouts which are produced by the most commercial of our micro-breweries, and are therefore available in bottle shops and beer specialty stores throughout the country.  We also chose stouts which had no added ingredients or extraordinary production methods, but were classic stouts in the British or Irish traditions.  

In the future, by the way, we hope to have separate reviews for those wonderful specialty stouts which are also being brewed in Israel -- oatmeal stouts, milk (or sweet) stouts, smoked stouts, Imperial stouts, oak aged stouts, and perhaps others.           

Our panel was expanded to 11 judges and, as you know, the more judges, the more truly representative are the results.  Our judges were men and women, young and old, urban and rural, sabras and immigrants, beer geeks and beer guzzlers.  Because we are not professional judges or tasters, I believe we encapsulated the tastes of the wider Israeli public.  

Judge Chaya.
Stouts are black-as-night beers, where you should expect full, roasty tastes, some astringency and a dry finish.  The hop character can be variable, but generally the bitterness comes from the roasted barley itself.  The distinctive flavors can be chocolate and/or coffee, of course, but also caramel, dark fruits like plums or prunes, and even licorice.

Chronologically, porter beer was developed before stout, in London, probably during the 1720s.  It became popular among the city's porters (from where it got its name, of course), who enjoyed its strong taste and high alcohol after a long day's work.  Porter was brewed in different strengths, and the strongest of these came to be called "stout porters," quaffed only by stout-hearted men, no doubt.  Before too long, "porter" was dropped from the name, and the beers were called simply "stouts."  

Today, porters and stouts are kind of interchangeable, but in general, stouts tend to be darker, roastier in taste, and drier than porters.            

Judge Bob.
We tasted our six stouts completely blind, as we've done in all of our past Tasting Panels.  All glasses just had a number on them, corresponding to a beer which only the servers knew.  The judges recorded their impressions on a specially prepared page and when they were finished, gave each beer a ranking.  The best beer received six points, number two got five points, and so on.  All the points given to each beer were counted to obtain the final rankings.

The results were not a close field.  The highest ranking and the lowest ranking beers were separated by 22 points.  There was a pretty clear winner and a clear loser.  
Judge Batya.

The results also demonstrated something very interesting: Even though there were major differences in the individual tastes of our judges, we were basically on the same page in ranking the beers.  For example, the winner got five "6 point" votes (the highest) and three "2 points."  Number two got three "6 points" and one "1 point."  Number three got one "6 points" and a bunch of 5s, 4s and 3s -- a good middle position.  At the other end, the lowest ranking beer got four "1 point" and one "5 points."

Before we give the final comments and rankings -- what you're all waiting for -- please meet out esteemed judges.

Yitzchak from Orr Yehuda, computer programmer
Moshe from Jerusalem, travel industry start-up company
Shoshana from Givatayim, student, former bartender
Bob from Moshav Ramat Raziel, jeweler 
Mike from Jerusalem, photographer and graphic designer
Ephraim from Jerusalem, entrepreneur, home-brewer, educational activist.
Chaya from Jerusalem, MA graduate in Israel Studies from Hebrew University. 
Ira from Jerusalem, risk management consultant
Batya from Shiloh, teacher and blogger 
Manny from Jerusalem, book retailer
Doug from Jerusalem, yours truly

And here, without further ado, are the results of their judgment: 

Sixth Place:
Judge Ephraim.

Jem's Stout -- This is a classic dry stout from Jem's Beer Factory in Petach Tikva. with 5% alcohol by volume.  Several of the judges mentioned that they normally enjoy this beer, but it did not do well in the head-to-head competition. 

Some comments from the judges:  
  • "Coffee notes, bit of bitterness."
  • "Too heavy on the malt.  Taste might have gone off."
  • "Bitter, kind of flat. "
  • "Light aroma.  Very bitter.  Lingering bitter aftertaste"
  • "Reminds me of soda."
  • "Creamy.  Underwhelming flavor."
  • "Roasty, sour.  Not much flavor."
  • "Good, all around taste.  What I look for in a beer."

Judge Shoshana.
Fifth Place:
Midnight Stout -- From the Dancing Camel Brewery in Tel Aviv, Israel's first commercial micro-brewery.  5% ABV.  
  • "Strong aroma of espresso coffee.  Tasty and mild.  Thin body."
  • "Weak carbonation, tastes flat."
  • "Creamy, light aroma, a little bland."
  • "No aroma.  Not much flavor."
  • "Roasty aroma."
  • "Thin head, smooth and weak."
  • "Toasty nose.  Mid-bitterness."

Fourth Place:
Judge Doug.

Vilde Chaye Stout -- Brewers Etay Tzuker (from Kibbutz Gvat) and Hagai Gelman (from Kiryat Tivon) make their Vilde Chaye beer at the Mosco Brewery on Moshav Zanuach.  Vilde Chaye uses Yiddish phrases and caricatures in it labeling and marketing.  The Stout is 6.1% ABV.        
  • "Light notes of coffee and bitter chocolate."
  • "Thick head.  Strong hoppy bitterness."
  • "Roast aroma with dried fruit.  Tart, fruity taste."
  • "Citrusy with chocolate finish."
  • "Smooth and sweet, flavorful."
  • "Burnt and rather tasteless."
  • "Classic stout with mid-bitterness."

Judge Mike.
Third Place:
Stout Mountain Beer -- From the Mosco Brewery on Moshav Zanuach.  4.8% ABV.    
  • "Chocolate aroma and taste, soapy.  Sweet finish."
  • "Sort of bland.  Slight coffee notes."
  • "Not a classic stout.  No presence of chocolate or coffee."
  • "Giant head.  A sweet (maybe caramel) hint, yet a bitter lingering taste."
  • "Sweet, hoppy aroma.  Nice fruity flavor."
  • "Lemony, almost soapy.  No roast or coffee.  Citrusy taste, bitter kick."
  • "Slight bitterness, heavy on the caramel."

Second Place:
Judge Moshe.

Malka Stout -- From the Malka Brewery on Kibbutz Yechiam in the Galilee.  An Irish-style stout, at 6% ABV. 
  • "Strong coffee taste.  Light, thin mouthfeel."
  • "Bitter, with a thin body.  Bitter finish."
  • "Very nutty aroma.  Thick and flavorful.  Light, lingering aftertaste."
  • "Bitter chocolate taste.  Lingers on the tongue."
  • "Some cherry aroma.  Roasty, light bitter taste.  Nice texture and finish."
  • "Velvety chocolate finish."
  • "Bitter, possible plum flavor."

Judge Manny.
First Place:
Lela Mild Stout -- From Lela Beers, brewed by Eli Bechar, with offices in Maccabim but brewed at the Mosco Brewery.  5.2% ABV.  While not unanimous, most judges gave Lela high marks, even though it beat the second place beer by only three points.      
  • "Love the aroma.  Hoppy and sweet flavor."
  • "Low on aroma and flavor.  Creamy, full mouthfeel and texture."
  • "No aroma, creamy head, full body."
  • "Great full-bodied stout."
  • "Lovely flavor, nice burnt aftertaste."
  • "Sweet dark chocolate and creamy."
  • "Thin head, watery, bit bitter."

Judge Yitzchak.
So congratulations are in order to Eli Bechar of Lela Beers.  His Wheat Beer came in First Place in a previous Israel Brews and Views Tasting Panel for Flavored Wheats.  Lela Beers are not widely distributed, but can be found in beer specialty stores in major cities, as well as in a number of bars and restaurants around the country.

Our warm thanks to all of the brewers represented in the Tasting Panel for contributing their beers.  Israeli craft brewers are truly a fraternity of colleagues, not competitors, and it's always an honor for us to cooperate with them. 

We would also like to thank the Beer Bazaar and Beerateinu in Jerusalem for facilitating the delivery of the beers from the brewers to us.  

Thanks also to my wife Trudy, whose attention to detail and good taste made the Tasting Panel a culinary and social success.  

And special thanks to Judge Mike Horton, photographer and graphic designer extraordinaire, whose magic camera transported the Esteemed Judges to the Roman Coliseum for a final "L'chayim!"