August 28, 2017

New beers from Jem's, Alexander, The Dictator, and Oak & Ash

New beers keep coming across my desk -- on the way to my refrigerator -- and I'll try to write about them in the order they arrive, more or less.

Jem's Summer Ale

While it's still summer, let's get a hold of this year's version of Jem's Summer Ale from the Jem's Beer Factory in Petach Tikva.

This is a light in color and in strength (5% ABV) pale ale made for summertime drinking.  For those who have doubts or questions, the name tells you so!

Our bottle poured out the color of clear ginger ale with very little foam.  There was some lemon in the aroma, but very little hop presence.  On the palette, we got more lemon, some dankness, and a touch of apricot.  The overall impression was that of a light lager with a dry, refreshing finish.

I and my drinking partners simultaneously came out with the words, "beach beer," because this is a perfect beer for the lazy days of summer, packed in ice on the beach, or taken from the fridge during or after a long, hot day.

Alexander Wheat

The Alexander Brewery in Emek Hefer has brought out its own version of a wheat beer, called an "Israeli wheat."  It seems as if every Israeli craft brewery wants a German-style weissbier (also known as weizenbier or hefeweizen) in its repertoire.  Some brought one out as soon as they opened; for others like Alexander, it's taken longer, but they're all getting there.  The Israeli public has made it clear that they like wheat beer.

In strength, color and aroma, the Alexander Wheat is typical for German-style wheats: 5% ABV, hazy pale, with unmistakable scents of cloves from the wheat ale yeast.  It's taste, though, is spicier that European wheats, with hints of fresh pumpkin pie spices.  Well-balanced; neither overly sweet from the wheat malt nor very bitter.  The finish is mild and refreshingly bitter.  This is a beer that was designed to help us cope with our Israeli summer. 

I was introduced to weissbier in Germany by my friend Chris exactly 50 years ago.  I thought it was a beautifully thirst-quenching beer that we chugged down in heroic quantities.  "The first gulp has to be for as long as you can make it," I remember Chris coaching me.  

My tastes have changed since then, but this Alexander Wheat beer brought me back to those days.
Dictator IPA  

The latest beer from the Dictator Brewery (made at the Beer Bazaar Brewery in Kiryat Gat) is an India Pale Ale, another style that is now becoming a "must" for every craft brewery in Israel.  Brewer Yotam Baras has departed from his tradition of putting human dictators on his beer labels.  The IPA features the Biblical "iron beast," the fourth beast envisioned by the Prophet Daniel in chapter 7, verse 7:  ". . . awesome and dreadful and exceedingly strong, and it had huge iron teeth . . .".   The graphic artist has visualized this monster into a fearsome sight.  

The beer inside, however, is much tamer.  It's a strong (6.2%) IPA that supplies all the bitterness you want.  The color is a hazy orange-copper, and the dominant aromas are citrus (mainly grapefruit and orange) and pine resin.  On the palette is more bitter citrus and yeast, balanced by a gentle malt sweetness -- a very tasty and refreshing combination.        

Bottom line: One more very drinkable Israeli IPA, but not breaking any barriers or pushing any envelopes.  

Oak & Ash Rye Pale Ale

Oak & Ash is a new beer brand being brewed at the Dancing Camel Brewery in Tel Aviv.  In fact, the founder, owner and head brewer of Oak & Ash is Asher Zimble, who is the head brewer at Dancing Camel.  He got seized by the entrepreneurial spirit and decided to brew his own beers, reaching an agreement with Dancing Camel owner David Cohen to bring in new equipment for the betterment of the entire brewery.   

As the name more than implies, Oak & Ash has adopted a brewing plan which calls for conditioning its beers with oak wood.  This is a process which I mentioned in the past, noting that I have difficulty discerning the presence of oak aging in beer.

That changed when I tasted Oak & Ash's first beer, a Rye Pale Ale, 5.5% ABV, hazy and golden orange color, and very fruity.  For the first time, I got the wood in the aroma and the taste.  Whether it was oak or maple or mahogany, I couldn't tell you, but it was certainly wood.  "Like the smell after you saw wood," is how my drinking partner Moshe put it.  

We also detected strong hop aromas of citrus and spice.  The taste offered a complexity of bitter fruit and spice, with ripe tangerine and kumquats standing out, but also malt and caramel.  Although "rye" is in the beer's name, we were unable to find any traces of it in the aroma or flavor.  We are always trying to upgrade our olfactory and gustatory radar, but somethings are still out of range.  The body was medium, with a long dry finish.  

A second beer from Oak & Ash, a Wheat Ale, has recently come on the market, and I will write about it in the future.  David Shamis, in charge of sales and marketing, told me that the brewery also plans on introducing a German-style Bock Lager and an Irish Red Ale, both also conditioned with oak.  Something to look forward to.   

August 27, 2017

Hatch taproom opens in Machane Yehuda market

Avrami the restaurant consultant spelled it out for me right away.  "There are two kinds of people who open eateries," he said.  "The business people, who then have to learn about food, and the chefs, who then have to learn about running a business.  I've worked with both, and Ephraim is definitely a chef and a brewer, but he is learning the business amazingly fast."   
Ephraim Greenblatt behind the taps
at his new Hatch taproom in
Jerusalem's Machane Yehuda Market.

(Photo: Mike Horton)
Avrami was talking about Ephraim Greenblatt who just opened Hatch in the Machane Yehuda market (26 Ha'egoz Street), where he sells his own beers and home-made sausages on home-baked buns with home-prepared toppings. 

"I make everything on the menu," Greenblatt explains.  "I taught myself how to make wine and brew beer years ago, and more recently to cook and bake."

Greenblatt is that kind of rare autodidact who decides he wants to do something and then goes out and learns how to do it.  An article in The Jerusalem Post in February, for example, reported how Greenblatt and his wife Malka established a Montessori haredi pre-school in their Givat Hamivtar neighborhood because they wanted an educational framework that would provide a more enriching experience for their children.

First they learned all they could about early childhood education, and then they opened up their school, which next month will have close to 40 children.  "What we did is not reasonable," Greenblatt was quoted as saying.  "We invested so much of our time and all our money."

In a similar manner, he has put everything into the opening of Hatch.  To build the bar, he learned how to weld.  To assemble the tapline pipes, he learned how to work with copper tubing.  In fact, for Greenblatt, learning is the ultimate experience, and everything has come together for him with Hatch.

Even the name represents, in his words, "the beginning of the creative process, the moment of creation, when you hatch a plan, hatch an idea."

Around a year-and-a-half ago, Greenblatt began to have open-houses every Thursday night where he received feedback on his home-brews and culinary creations.  These became very popular in his neighborhood, especially among American yeshiva students.

Hatch is already becoming a popular
watering hole for Jerusalemites.

(Photo: Mike Horton)
"I learned then that no matter how good your beer is, people move for food," he says.  "So when I began to think about opening my own taproom, I knew that there would have to be food on the menu, not just alcohol."

The opportunity came along when the space recently held by the Steam Bar in Machane Yehuda became available.  "The shuk is alive and vibrant," explained Greenblatt, using the Hebrew word for market.  "People come here looking for authentic experiences.  They want to eat 'real' food and drink 'real' beer."

Of course, Greenblatt would not sell anything he didn't make himself.  He admits to being "obsessive about the details" of the place; not just the beer and the food, but the appearance, the cleanliness, the placement of items, the arrangement of the kitchen and the beer kegs.

To get ready, he employed Avrami, the professional restaurant consultant, for the first month of building and serving.

Hatch taproom in Jerusalem's Machane Yehuda market:
Not very big, but serving "real beer and real food."

(Photo: Mike Horton)
"But all my neighbors also stepped forward to help me," he exclaims.  "I have at least three 'fathers' in nearby stores who have taken me under their wings.  'You think you're tired now?' one of them asked me.  'Come back in 52 years, like I've been here, and let's see what you have to say!'"

Since his soft opening a couple of weeks ago, Greenblatt has seen signs of encouragement. 

"First of all, there are people who have come back three or four times, which is great.  This includes my fellow home-brewers and commercial brewers, whose opinions are very valuable to me.

"Then there are the passers-by who stop in, order a glass of beer, and then call their friends to come and join them.  Things like this validate my decision to open here."

Hatch has up to eight of beers on tap at any one time, but the list changes almost every day.  Greenblatt is one of the most perfectionist home-brewers I know, and he is constantly brewing new beers.  When I was there, the list included two American Pale Ales, an Irish Red, Coffee Stout, Amber Ale, Double IPA (very strong with hop bitterness), Berliner Weiss (a style in the sour beer family rarely made in Israel and hardly imported), and a Belgian Single (rarely brewed outside of monasteries, where it is made only for the monks). 
Seven of Ephraim's beers were
on tap that night.

(Photo: Sara Rivka Katsof)
Not only is this one of the most varied taplists I have seen in Israel, but all of the beers attest to Greenblatt's skill, courage and innovation as a brewer.

A third-of-a-liter glass costs NIS 20, but this may go up after the running-in period.

Greenblatt was also serving four of his home-made sausages on buns, each with its own unique relish combination.  There was a weisswurst (made with parsley and lemon zest), The Philly (served with a parve cheesesteak topping of nutritional yeast and cashew nuts), the Po Boy (based on the Sloppy Joe styles of sandwiches created in New Orleans), and a mushroom sausage with shitaki.  A sausage on a bun with "the works" costs NIS 25.

As a vegetarian, I did not taste these, but the other customers seemed to be enjoying every bite, "with relish."  Greenblatt said that he is not ignoring customers who do not eat animals, and is working on a recipe for a veggie sausage.  He also plans on adding unique cocktails to his menu.
Greenblatt sums up his philosophy for Hatch as he does for all of his ventures: "The people who make the better call all the time – meaning who don't cut corners and try to achieve excellence – make the better profit all the time.  Customers will see your commitment and realize how this effects the product – which in my case is beer and sausage!"

If you're looking for excellence in beer, you now have a new place in Machane Yehuda to find it.

Hatch is open every day from 1:00 p.m. until midnight, Fridays from 10:30 a.m. until two hours before Shabbat, and Saturdays from one hour after Shabbat.

            A similar version of this article originally appeared in The Jerusalem Post. 

August 17, 2017

Beer festivals next week: Jerusalem, Hadera, Petach Tikva

Could this be the end of the beer festival season?  Probably not, but three more festivals are on tap for next week.  That should effectively bring us to the end of August, the end of summer vacation, and the time when our thoughts turn to the High Holiday season and the start of a New Year.  So before that happens, go out and drink some beer, eat something, absorb the music, and laugh with friends in the company of fellow beer lovers.

Ir HaBira -- Jerusalem Beer Festival
August 23-24

This one is on my home turf.  One of my favorites, and not only because I can jump on a bus or the Light Rail and be home in a few minutes.  The Jerusalem Beer Festival has tradition on its side -- this is the 13th straight summer it's being held -- and in recent years has taken place over a huge area in the central Independence Park (Gan Ha'atzmaut), a beautiful setting for any festival.  Impresario Eli Giladi puts his soul into making everyone feel welcome and attaining just the right mix of beer, food, music and ambiance.

The Festival will take place next week on Wednesday and Thursday, August 23 and 24, from 6:00 p.m. until midnight.  Eli promises that 120 different beers from Israel and abroad will be flowing.  The popular music groups Knessiyat Ha Sechel and Hayehudim will take the central stage on Wednesday night, followed by Muki and rapper Nechi Nech on Thursday.

Entry costs 45 shekels, and discounted tickets of 40 shekels are available to students, soldiers and National Service, holders of the Jerusalem Card, and people with disabilities.  You can order tickets online in English at:         

I intend to attend on Thursday, August 24.  As is my wont, I will get there early on with my entourage of friends, imbibers, and fellow judges, and leave before the flood of crowds begins.  If you see me, please come over and say hello.  I pose for selfies.

Hadera Beer Festival
August 23-24

For those further north, you can attend the world's first Hadera Beer Festival on the same days as Jerusalem's.  Here admission is free, beginning at 7:00 p.m., on the Piazza Pedestrian Walkway, Herbert Samuel.  Dozens of local and foreign beers will be served; food will be sold, and giant "knightly" tables will be available for sitting, eating and drinking!  Live performances include the Mercedes Band and rapper Nechi Nech.  

More information at:

Petach Tikva Beer Festival
August 26

Beginning on Saturday night, August 26, at 8:30 p.m., the Petach Tikva Beer Festival opens on the Shacham parking lot.  Entrance is free to all those over 18; younger children may also attend but they have to be accompanied by an adult.  Over 45 Israeli and imported beers will be available, along with stands selling street food and more "knightly" tables.

There will be a live performance by the popular group Hayehudim ("The Jews").  Fitting name for a beer festival in Israel, I guess.  As long as the music is loud and keeps on coming!

More information at:

August 9, 2017

The happy return of the Mateh Yehuda Beer Festival (Mini-Israel)

I remember fondly the Mateh Yehuda beer festivals, held in large grassy areas with lots of room to walk around, drink beer, sit down, drink beer, buy food with beer, and listen to fine music while drinking beer.  Beautiful atmosphere for a summer night.  So I was very saddened when they stopped holding them three or four years ago, and was very happy when they announced a few months ago that the festival is coming back.

With a passel of friends at the Mateh Yehuda Beer Festival 2017.
So it was that few weeks ago I went to the renewed Mateh Yehuda Beer Festival with my wife and a passel of friends.  It was held at the Mini-Israel Park near Latrun, where detailed models of famous Israeli buildings and sites are on permanent outdoor display.

Sure enough, the festival was spread out over a lovely grassy area with chairs and tables (although maybe not enough), interesting food stands, and wonderful live music.  There weren't many brewers but it was a pleasure for me to walk around and speak with all of them and taste their beers.  As usual, I was on the lookout for new beers, or at least beers which were new for me.

Two of the brewers I had never met before:


Pepo (left) and Moti Bohadana introduce
their beer to the old blogger.
Where have I been?

(Photo: Mike Horton)
Moti Bohadana has been brewing Pepo Beer on his Moshav Tslafon (near Beit Shemesh) since 2009.
 It's named after Moti's father, who was also at the beer stand.  The beer is well branded and marketed, but it is sold only on the moshav and at local festivals such as this, and not available elsewhere.  There is a taproom and restaurant on the moshav where the beer is served to groups during the week and to the wider public on Friday.  They make nine different beers in batches of 250 liters.

Pepo has been flying underneath my radar simply because it is not seen at the regular commercial outlets and I haven't noticed it at festivals.  The beers seem interesting and varied, and I would like to get to know them better.  But that's for another time.

Shiksa Wheat and Coriander Pale Ale:
With Cheli (center) and Nir Lavi
of the Beero Brewery.

(Photo: Mike Horton)

The new kid on the block was Beero, brewed by husband-and-wife team Nir and Cheli Lavi of Kibbutz Beit Nir, at the Mosco Brewery.  Before venturing out into the commercial world, they had been home-brewing for three years.

Nir and Cheli were pouring their two beers: One was called Shiksa(!) Wheat, a quite typical German weissbier, and the other was Coriander Pale Ale, brewed with coriander seed.  This beer is a hazy, light amber color with little carbonation, so almost no head.  The aroma is grassy and floral, and the taste is very bitter with an undercurrent of Indian spice.  Alcohol by volume is 6.5%.  I found this to be a well constructed beer, not strong on taste, but very refreshing.

I wish Nir and Cheli the best of luck.  They certainly have a lot of enthusiasm for their brewing.      

You can tell the Dictator by his hat:
Yotam Baras and the old blogger
toast the new IPA.

(Photo: Mike Horton)
The other brewers at the festival were Srigim (Ronen and Emek Ha'ela), Buster's, Shapiro, HaShachar, Mosco, and The Dictator.

From The Dictator's Yotam Baras I got their new IPA, and from Mosco's Amir Lev, I was given bottles of their new Smoked Beer and Pilsner.  These will all be reviewed as soon as possible.

My thanks to Omer Harpaz of the Orna Ben-Chaim PR agency for accommodating our visit to the Mateh Yehuda Beer Festival.  Its return is long overdue and I'm happy that it's come back with all the good points that I remember.          

August 5, 2017

New summer beers

A few new beers are already here to quench your summer thirst.  Our craft brewers know that it's the lighter, crisper, drier beers that people prefer in the hot months -- the July-August-September doldrums when your clothing sticks to your body and people carry water bottles with them when they take more than two steps out of the house.

Three brewers have come out with new India pale ales, always summer favorites with their light bodies, dry finishes, and ratched-up hop bitterness.  But before we taste those, let's try a new Belgian strong ale.  Although it's not associated with summer drinking, no one says you can't enjoy any beer you want, any time you want!

Esser Beer

Esser Beer is a strong Belgian-style ale
(10% alcohol), sweet, fruity and spicy.  
Esser means "ten" in Hebrew, and that's the alcoholic content of this latest beer from the Beer Bazaar Brewery (Mivshelet Ha'aretz) in Kiryat Gat.

Esser is a strong ale in the Belgian style, the color of golden straw and with a small creamy head.  The alcohol is very present in the aroma, along with caramel and peach/nectarine.  Taste is sweet caramel, not unusual for a Belgian-style beer, but it's balanced by the fruity esters of the hops and the yeasty spice.  The alcohol comes back on the exhale.  (Try this sometime.  The technical term is retronasal, and it's the way your nose catches all the aromas when you exhale after you swallow.  This is an important component of what we call "taste.")

The body is full and creamy, with a bittersweet finish.  My drinking partner Moshe found a quality of "lemon pie or creme brulee."

It's not easy to pull off a balanced beer of this strength, but Esser is just that.  Don't gulp it down on a hot day, and don't have more than one.  Enjoy this with spicy grilled and fried foods, rich cheeses and a sweet, non-chocolate cake.

Shapiro 2017 IPA

Every summer for the past three years, the Shapiro Brewery has been bringing out a seasonal India pale ale, brewed to the same recipe except for the hops.  This year, they're using Simcoe, a proprietary hop from the U.S., known for its pungent, citrusy and piney aroma.  (Read about last year's with Citra hops here.)  The alcoholic content has remained 6.5% every year.

The Shapiro 2017 IPA pours out a clear reddish amber.  In addition to the citrus, we got some aromas of tropical fruits, specifically passion fruit and mango.  The taste is bitterer than the aroma suggests it might be, but it doesn't overpower the fruit and citrus flavors.  Ripe mango remains predominant here as well.

In short, the Shapiros have once again brought out an excellent seasonal IPA -- balanced, mid-bitter, full of delicious fruit flavors.

Laughing Buddha Single Malt IPA

Vladimir Gershanov, brewing partner of
Laughing Buddha beer, in pleasant surroundings.
Vladimir Gershanov from Tel Aviv and partner Dima Grabak from Haifa have been brewing beer with the jolly Laughing Buddha label since 2005.  Their Single Malt IPA has been around quite a while, having been contract brewed in several locations.  But it is now being prepared in commercial quantities at the new Sheeta Brewery in Arad.  
The beer is a cloudy, pale amber color with a pinkish tinge and a foamy white head.  Alcohol by volume is 7.1%.  The surprise begins with the aromas.  Along with the citrus and pine hops, you get  . . . sugar candy.  With that in our nostrils, we took a sip and found tastes of jelly apple, cotton candy and toffee.  Moshe said it was, "as if we had walked into a candy store."  

Then, with the second swallow, you do get the bitterness of the hops, along with citrus fruits.  Coming after the candy, it's quite refreshing.

Laughing Buddha Single Malt IPA.
(Photo: Alex Koldertsov)
Vladimir calls this an IPA, but you'll find it quite different from other IPAs you've tasted.  If you can accept that, you'll have a very pleasant beer experience.

Taste aside, I asked Vladimir if he has had any problems with the use of his Laughing Buddha image, specifically from Buddhists who might think of it as sacrilege.  He said that in the twelve years of using that brand, there have never been any complaints.  In fact, a few other breweries in the U.S. and elsewhere also use the Buddha in their logo.  And, although Buddhists are overwhelmingly teetotalers, Vladimir was told that there is a branch which do drink alcohol.  Ganbei!

Mikkeller Green Gold IPA

Mikkel Borg of Copenhagen meets the
old blogger in Tel Aviv.  
(Photo: Mike Horton)   

Brewed in Israel at the Alexander Brewery in Emek Hefer, Green Gold IPA is actually a product of the Mikkeller contract brewery based in Copenhagen, Denmark.

Mikkel Borg, the Mikkeller founder and owner, brews his beers in different breweries all around the world.  Israel is in fact not the first country where he's made Green Gold.  

I was at the launching of this excellent beer at the Agnes Pub in Tel Aviv and I asked Mikkel Borg if he would call Green Gold a collaboration beer with Alexander.  He said something about the brewing taking place in Israel, using our "air and water," but really it was at heart a Mikkeller beer which happens to be brewed in Israel.
Mikkel Borg (left), brewer of Green Gold,
addresses the crowd at the beer
launch in Tel Aviv.

(Photo: Mike Horton) 

In fact, Mikkel explained that brewing Green Gold in several countries was his attempt to introduce a real American-style IPA to the locals, which now includes us Israelis.    

Ori Sagy, founder and owner of the Alexander Brewery, added that "maybe Green Gold was too extreme for the Israeli market."  

Well, I certainly didn't think so.  Probably during the time Mikkel Borg was doing his planning, several Israeli craft breweries have brought out their own IPAs, no less hoppy than Green Gold.

Green Gold may not have been conceived in Israel, but it was born here, so let's have a taste.

Ori Sagy, founder and owner of Alexander Brewery,
shares of bottle of Green Gold IPA with Mikkel Borg.
(Photo: Mike Horton) 
As I mentioned, I think the beer is wonderful.  It pours out the color of clear gold, with a lovely foamy head.  The aroma is citrusy and piney hops.  The taste includes elements of grass, more pine resins, and some grapefruit and orange.  The bitterness is moderate, and blends very well with the flavors.  The delicious long and fruity finish stays with you.  Alcohol by volume is 6.8%.  (N.B.  This review refers only to the Green Gold brewed at Alexander.  The same beer brewed in other countries may be somewhat different.)

These beers will help you get through the summer.  Well, so will any beers, but you should give these a try if you haven't yet.

August 3, 2017

BEERS 2017: Next Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday

It's time to get prepped for the Big Daddy of Israeli beer festivals -- the BEERS 2017 Festival and where else but Tel Aviv. 

This is the seventh annual BEERS Festival, running for three nights, August 8, 9 and 10, at the Train Station (Hatachana) in the Neveh Tzedek neighborhood, on the Jaffa border, near the ocean.  The gates open at 6:00 p.m. and close at 11:00.

According to the organizers, the Ben-Ami Studio, over 200 beers are being served, Israeli and foreign.  In my experience, BEERS attracts even the smaller Israeli craft brewers by promising them exposure to a large crowd of Tel Avivian beer enthusiasts and "opinion leaders."  So it really is a wonderful venue for getting to taste a lot of beers you never knew about, all in the same place.  Many brewers also use the occasion to introduce new beers.

Entry is 70 shekels and includes five tasting coupons.  Five additional coupons can be purchased for 30 shekels.  You can save 20 shekels on the entry price by visiting the BEERS Facebook page ( and sharing the post which includes the discount 50 shekel entry coupon.  That's what it looks like to the left.  Share it on your Facebook page and bring proof of the sharing on your smartphone (I have no idea how you do this) and enter for only 50 shekels.  You have to do the sharing by Monday, August 7.  Good Luck!   
As always, there will be quite a few food stands (these can crowd up as the night wears on), and very ambitious live music.

I was invited on the opening night, Tuesday, August 8, along with the other "professionals."  That was arranged by a special internet form which I filled out and returned.  As in the past, all of my other attempts to get more information about BEERS from the Ben-Ami Studio have been unsuccessful.  E-mails have gone unanswered and no phone number for inquiries is given on their social media.  It's as if they look upon the media and the public as nuisances who must be kept at arm's length.  

Nevertheless, I'm going to BEERS to have a good time, try some new beers, and report back to you, my loyal readers.