July 26, 2017

My peach lambic problem -- and ours

The winner in the Fruit Beer category of the B'tsisa home-brew competition was Noam Shalev's Peach Lambic.  You can read about the other winners here, where I also wrote that reviewing Noam's Peach Lambic was very difficult for me.  As I promised you then, here are a few words about why that is so.  
Noam Shalev enjoying his Lambic at the
annual Brew Party for Israeli home-brewers. 
Lambics are more than a different beer style; they are in a different category.  We call these "sour beers," even though they may not all be sour.  Noam himself suggests that they be called "wild beers," because they contain elements in the yeast or bacteria which are in some way out of the control of the brewer, and therefore "wild."  

The Beer Judge Certification Program recognizes ten beer styles in this group: lambic, fruit lambic, gueze, Flanders red, oud bruin, gose, Berliner Weisse, Brett beer, mixed-fermentation sour, and wild specialty beer.

 Let's see why I, and many other beer drinkers, have a problem with these styles:    

Of the four traditional tastes, sweet and salty are kind of naturally inviting.  Children don't have to develop these tastes, and food manufactures pour in sugar and salt to keep us hooked.  In nature, something sweet or salty is not dangerous.  We are hot-wired by evolution to enjoy these tastes.

Bitter, on the other hand, is a warning that something is spoiled, poisoned, dangerous.  For us to enjoy the bitterness of hops in beer, we have to overcome this instinct and "develop" an appreciation for this taste.  That's why children guzzle down Coca Cola and recoil when tasting beer.  Most beer enthusiasts these days have no problem handling bitterness.  In fact, they seek it out.

What about sour?  It also has warned of danger from the dawn of humankind.  But shouldn't we be able to surmount this gut-reaction for the sake of enjoying this basic taste just like we have with bitterness?

Well, in many instances, we have.  We already enjoy a whole bunch of fruits and other foods which bombard us with sour: lemons, sour pickles, sauerkraut, sour cream, vinegar.  There's even an entire genre of sour candies which go to extremes to make us pucker up.  Shouldn't we be able to take the leap and enjoy this same sensation in beer?  

We love sour candy, don't we?
We certainly should.  In Belgium and northern France, so I'm told, there are thousands upon thousands of beer drinkers who love their lambics and other sour or tart beers no less than we love our bitters.  There is no reason we bitter-lovers cannot open ourselves up to new sensations and experiences and begin to develop a taste for sour beers.  True, the lambic-lovers started earlier than we did, much earlier, and the older you get, the harder it is to learn new tricks.

But we can at least try to expand our horizons, or in new-age parlance, to open ourselves up to new experiences.

To give myself a little background, I spoke to Noam Shalev about how he brews his lambics.

Where the Sour Things Are:
Brettanomyces yeasties do their stuff.
He tries to remain true as much as possible to the traditional lambic process.  For example, 30% of the grain he uses is unmalted wheat, although traditional brewers can use up to 60%.  He uses old hops which don't give much flavor, but have an anti-bacterial function, preventing undesirable bugs from multiplying.

Noam aged this beer in oak for six months, and then with peach pulp for another two months, while the Brettanomyces yeast, Pediococcus bacteria, and Lactococcus bacteria did their microscopic work, adding fruity aromas and acidity to the beer.

However, while the Belgians originally depended on wild yeast, floating in the country air, to do the initial fermentation, Noam buys his wild yeast from a yeast lab.  Sort of like zoo animals: they're raised in captivity, but they're still wild.

Not what we want:
vinegar = vin aigre = sour wine.
All of this chemistry, Noam explains, is meant to impart a sourness to the beer that is, "yogurt sour, not vinegar sour."

Well, I tried.  I really did.  But it's going to take more work.  My drinking partner Moshe and I approached this beer as we would any other.  It poured out a hazy, light copper color with almost no carbonation.  The aroma was sour yeast, with none of the regular hop aromas.  And then the taste: sour from start to finish.  Unrelentingly sour.  Sour in your mouth and sour in your throat.

If there was any peach flavor, it was almost completely obscured by the sour, but something was there.  A hint of peach tried to come through, but it didn't last.  "If this is what sour beer is supposed to be," averred Moshe, "then this is good."  We tried to understand it, but really, we did not enjoy it.

But then, just to show us how personal a thing is taste, I called over my wife Trudy, not a great beer drinker, to have a sip of the Peach Lambic.  I expected of course a loud "Ugh!" like when she tastes a bitter beer.  Instead: "Hmm, this isn't bad.  It's like a sour juice."  

So with Trudy giving me a glimmer of hope, I'll keep trying to acquire a taste for wild beers, and I invite you to join me.  Someday, we may find that sour is the new bitter.  May take a while though. 

July 22, 2017

Kfar Saba Beer Festival this week

This Monday and Tuesday, July 24 and 25, Kfar Saba will be in the spotlight with the third annual Kfar Saba Beer Festival.  Held in the Courtyard of the shuk (market), the festival will begin each day at 7:00 p.m. and will include food stands and live music, featuring the Mercedes Band on Tuesday at 9:30 p.m.

Over 20 Israeli craft beers will be served from the following breweries: Buster's, Malka, Ronen, Emek Ha'ela, Barzel, Alexander, Jem's, and HeChatzer.  Shoshana, an "Israeli" wheat beer brewed with mint in Belgium, will also be on sale.

Entrance is free, and only to those 18 or older.  If you live in the area of Kfar Saba, this one's for you. 

July 19, 2017

B'tsisa 2017 -- Tasting some of the winners

Way back in April, the winners were announced to the B'tsisa home-brewing competition, another one of Israel's growing list of beer contests.  B'tsisa (which means "In Fermentation"), however, is no johnny-come-lately, but one of the more prestigious competitions for home-brewers in Israel.  (Read about last year's contest and ceremony here.)

Sponsored by the Beer & Beyond store and activity center in Tel Aviv, the exhibit and ceremony this year was held at the Weihenstephan Biergarten in the Tel Aviv port.  I didn't attend, but I was able to hustle, make contact with some of the winners, and taste their beers.  That's why this is s-o-o-o late.  

First, a list of the winners by category:  

Best in Show
Omer Laser -- Belgian Strong Dark Ale 

Special Bitter
First:  Liran Gesua
Second:  Yonatan Bendett 
Third:  Yarden Dror 

First:  Asaf Murkes 
Second:  Elchanan Hopper-Hornman 
Third:  Natan Feidrob 

Session IPA
First:  Elad Talbi 
Second:  Dotan Kalmer 
Third:  Mark Markish

First:  Tamir Bunny
Second:  Roi Fuchs 
Third:  Gil Bronstein 
Fruit Beers
First:  Noam Shalev
Second:  Dennis Pravdaev
Third:  Ran Dach
Honorable Mention: Alex Putchin and Alon Rotem

Belgian Strong Dark Ale
First:  Omer Laser
Second: Yaron Rachamim and Zeev Stein (Lynx Brewery)
Third:  Vladislav Sakorik 

Of these, I was able to find and taste Omer Laser's Belgian Strong Dark Ale, Asaf Murkes' Weizenbock, Elad Talbi's IPA, and Noam Shalev's Fruit Beer (Peach Lambic).  I'm going to tell you about them because they're winners all -- but you're not going to have a chance to taste them because they're all non-commercial home-brews.  Sorry.

Belgian Strong Dark Ale
Omer Laser

Omer Laser with the B'tsisa
Best-in-Show award for his
Belgian Strong Dark Ale. 
This is one powerful beer, although at 9%+ alcohol by volume (Omer doesn't remember if it's 9.2 or 9.7), it's actually in the mid-range for this style.  It pours into your glass an opaque dark brown topped by a thick and foamy tan head.  The aromas are burnt caramel, dark chocolate and toasted malt.  At first taste, you're hit with an almost undecipherable mix of flavors: raisin, caramel, carob and figs.  Of course, it's sweet, but nicely balanced by hops in the background. 

You feel the high alcohol content rather than taste it; a positive attribute.  The body is full, almost I would say syrupy, much like a home-made fruit wine or liqueur.  This is a beer which will perhaps go well with salty and other strong cheese, and grilled and roasted vegetables.  It would easily overpower most other food.

Omer has tackled a very complex beer style and came out on top.  I don't think the Belgians themselves could do it any better.       

Session IPA
Elad Talbi

The old blogger is honored to meet
Elad Talbi, first prize winner in the
Session IPA category.
Thirty-year-old Elad Talbi from Tel Aviv took the Session IPA gold for his beer.  "Session beer" simply means is has a pretty low alcohol by volume (in this case 4.99%) so you can have more than one during a drinking session!  Elad has been home-brewing for a year and this is his first competitive entry.

The beer I got from Elad was not exactly his winning entry, but something close enough, he said.  He called it "somewhere between a blond and a session IPA, less aromatic and less bitter" than his winner. 

So with that in mind, I poured out the beer he gave me, a clear amber color with a very creamy head and full carbonation.  There's a wonderful aroma of pineapple and pine, which are also in the taste, along with perhaps some apricot.  The taste begins sweet and ends dry and bitter.  Very interesting how that happens, and of course, it's that kind of finish that make you want more.  Although this bitterness is very pronounced, it does not interfere with the hop and yeast flavors.  

Even though I didn't have his winning beer, the beer I tasted was also a winner in my book.   

Asaf Murkes

Asaf Murkes, first-prize
winner for his
excellent Weizenbock
strong wheat beer.
Home-brewer Asaf Murkes from Modi'in entered a perfectly brewed Weizenbock (a strong wheat beer) in that category and won.  The others might have also been great, but we only tasted Asaf's.

Although Weizenbocks can be dark in color, this one is pale and clear, with very creamy foam.  The aromas are spicy cloves from the wheat ale yeast, but also apple cider and some vanilla.  Almost no hops are detected.  The flavors are pretty complex but almost all in the spicy range.  The heavy carbonation gives the glass a look of sparkling white wine.  The body is full, rounded out by the malt-sweet backbone.  Alcohol by volume is a hefty 6.7%.  

Asaf, in our opinion (mine and drinking partner Moshe's), has nailed the Weizenbock style as good as any I have tasted.  Someday, an Israeli-brewed Weizenbock this good will be available commercially.  Until then, I'll just have to remember how Asaf's winning beer tasted -- and you'll have to believe me.         

Fruit Beer
Noam Shalev

Nothing on this blog has been more difficult for me than giving an opinion on Noam Shalev's Peach Lambic beer, which won first place in the Fruit Beer category.  I do not have the tools or the taste for doing justice to this style of sour Belgian beers.  I still can't get beyond my initial reaction to the sourness, but I am aiming to overcome this. 

So let's do this:  This report on the B'tsisa winners is late enough.  I'll stop here and post what I've written until now.  Then I'll devote some time to Noam's Peach Lambic and write about it in a future post.  Not too long in the future, I promise.  We all should know more about sour beers.    

July 3, 2017

Ketta TropicAle: Fresh fruits in the glass

Rookie commercial brewer
Yuval Katz with his
TropicAle NEPA.
One of the most pleasurable new beers I've had recently is called TropicAle and is contract brewed by Yuval Katz at the Beer Bazaar Brewery (Mivshelet Ha'aretz) in Kiryat Gat.  His beer label is named Ketta, a Hebrew word meaning portion or section or paragraph.  It's a word widely used in Israel and Yuval says "it just seems to fit."  So be it.

Yuval is from Herzliya and has been home-brewing since 2010.  In fact, in 2012 (before I started this blog) an early version of TropicAle won Best-in-Show in the prestigious Samuel Adams LongShot home-brewing competition.  A few months ago, Yuval girded his loins and began to brew commercially.  "It seemed the next logical step," he says, "sharing my passion for beer with the world."  Yuval is, however, keeping his day job as content editor at HT Zone, an online consumer club in Kfar Saba for high-tech employees.  

Yuval calls TropicAle a "New England pale ale," [NEPA] which is not exactly a recognized beer style ("New England IPA" is), but is being widely used.  It signifies a pale ale that is full of fresh fruit flavors, hoppy but not overly bitter, and unfiltered.  This suits TropicAle to a T.  The alcohol by volume is 5%.

TropicAle pours out a hazy, bright orange color, with a strong hop aroma, redolent with citrus, tropical fruits and grass.  But it's the taste you're really waiting for.  In addition to the citrus, my drinking partner Moshe and I detected passion fruit, mango, pineapple and banana.  A little imagination goes a long way, of course, but I don't think anyone would miss the powerful "fruit shake" character of this beer.  The finish is long and bitter, which has you wanting to take another gulp.

Yuval says that he was aiming to achieve a hoppy and fruity beer "that doesn't compromise on taste."

I would say that he definitely succeeded -- and so, it seems, does the beer drinking public.  "I was blown away by the sales at the Beer Bazaar," Yuval marvels.  "To me, it shows that Jerusalem beer drinkers are more open to trying something different.  In Tel Aviv, everybody chases the latest trend.  In Jerusalem, if they like it, they drink it!"              

Yuval Katz tells the old blogger his brew-story.
(Photo: Mike Horton)
Yuval plans on bringing additional beers to market under the Ketta brand.  These include an English porter, saison, and Belgian quadrupel.

If Yuval can maintain the quality standard of TropicAle, these are beers you should be looking out for!

July 2, 2017

Three more beer festivals for July

I hope you're all in the mood for more beer festivals because they're still comin' at us.  Here are three which have come to my attention.  Pick the one sort of near you and consider going. 

Israel Beer Festival at Kibbutz Ein Shemer
July 5-6

There's not too much publicity about this one, except that it's taking place on Wednesday and Thursday, July 5-6, at the Alon Ein Shemer Fashion Mall at the Karkom Intersection.  6:00 p.m. to midnight, and admission is free.  There will be stands for Israeli craft beers and imported beers, food and live music.  The Harley-Davidson Club in Israel is also taking part, but I'm not sure what that means.  

The Israeli brewers who are scheduled to appear include: Fass, Buster's, Nazareth Beer, BlinderWeiss, Ottobira, Jem's, Srigim, and The Dictator.

Mateh Yehuda Beer Festival
July 12-13 

The Mateh Yehuda Beer Festival has always been one of my favorites.  It captured just the right evening atmosphere, music, food and local beers.  Then it stopped happening for a few years.  So I'm really happy to learn that it's come back this year.

It's being held at the Mini-Israel Park near Latrun on Wednesday and Thursday, July 12-13, beginning at 8:30 in the evening.  Admission is 38 shekels, which includes a tasting glass which you keep and the first two tastings.  Six local brewers will be selling their beers (Pepo, Srigim, Shapiro, HaShachar, Mosco, and Buster's), plus a number of other brewers from different parts of the country.  Food and live music?  Of course.      

More information at: https://www.facebook.com/events/144944752743727/?active_tab=about

Beer in the City (Netanya)
July 12-13

On the same two days, July 12 and 13, the second annual Beer in the City Festival will be taking place at Kikar Ha'atzmaut (Independence Square) in Netanya.  Technically, you can go to the Mateh Yehuda Festival on one night, and to the Netanya Festival on the other.  I'm sure you'll enjoy them both, but quite a few of the beers will probably be the same.  We are a little country, after all.

Anyway, the Beer in the City organizers promise 40 different kinds of beers (Israeli craft and foreign), live performances and stands for street food.  Entrance is free and the doors open at six o'clock each evening (and close at 1:00 a.m.)             
More information at: https://www.facebook.com/events/247612875727038/?active_tab=about