October 26, 2017

A free-style wheat beer from Blinderweiss

I first met Michael Blinder on a visit to Haifa to see my number three son and his wife.  Michael wanted to introduce me to his first commercial scale beer, Blinderweiss -- a three-syllable mouthful that's as fun to say as the beer is to drink.

But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Marketing Director Neta Koltin (left) and
Brewer-Partner Michael Blinder (center)
introduce the old blogger to Blinderweiss
free-style wheat beer.
I met Michael, who lives in Hadera, and his very energetic marketing man, Neta Koltin, in the LiBira Brewpub (the subject of another article someday).  I met Michael again at the big BEERS Festival in Tel Aviv in August (refresh your memory here).

Michael began home-brewing three years ago, and from the beginning was aiming to achieve a very specific taste for his beer.

"Everybody brews in their own way," Michael explains.  "It's not just the recipe that determines the final product.  It's everything the individual brewer does.  Blinderweiss represents the taste that I wanted to attain."

Michael began to brew Blinderweiss commercially at the Mosco Brewery on Moshav Zanuach in January, and the beer was ready for distribution one month later.  "We had to do a lot of experimentation until we achieved the same beer at Mosco as we had at home," says Michael.

Blinderweiss, as Michael describes it, is a free-style wheat beer.  Its style is closest to an American wheat ale.  Although malted wheat is 65% of the grain bill, it does not use typical wheat beer yeast, and it is heavier hopped than most wheat beers.

There was no mistaking this in the taste test.

Blinderweiss may look like a wheat beer, pouring out a very cloudy pale yellow color with a full, white head, but the aroma lacks the usual banana-cloves of a German wheat beer (hefeweizen).  Instead, there's a lot of citrus, spice, hops and hay.  On the tongue, you get more fruit, caramel, yeast, and even vegetal flavors.   

Bitterness is moderate and the finish is roasty and long-lasting.  Alcohol by volume is a kind 5%.

Since I am not a fan of hefeweizens, I found Blinderweiss to be a most enjoyable beer.  As far as food pairings go, I think of Blinderweiss as an AB universal recipient of the beer world, that is, it would go well with almost all foods.

Neta Koltin told me that Blinderweiss is now on sale in stores and pubs in the Haifa to Netanya area, as well as in Jerusalem and Rehovot.  He is continuing to expand the distribution.  Production now stands at 1,400 liters per month.

Though they are heavily emotionally and financially invested in brewing, Michael and Neta are keeping their day jobs for the time -- Michael as a fresh flower exporter and Neta working at Radio Haifa.  Michael's business partner is Roman Shih.

I asked Michael if there are plans to brew other styles of beer, and what would they be called, since the "weiss" in Blinderweiss dictates that it could only be a wheat beer.

"For now," Michael answered, "we are concentrating on this beer since we believe it's really the best.  If there are new beers, I guess they'll be called 'Blinder-something.'  We'll just have to wait and see."

October 19, 2017

Craft beer under down under

Mike Horton, the chief photographer for Israel Brews and Views, visited his sister in Tasmania last month.  For those of you who live elsewhere, Tasmania (home of platypuses, pademelons, wombats and Tasmanian devils) is a nice-sized, triangular-shaped island off the southeast coast of Australia.  This means it's even further down than down under.      

While Mike was there, the beer gods smiled on him.  The Tasmanian Microbrew Fest was taking place.  Yes, craft brewing has even reached Tasmania.  Ever watchful for things beery, Mike packed his tucker bag, got over to the festival, and took some pictures.  

Over to you, Mike.  

Tasmanian Micro Brews 
by Mike Horton

My normal stance at Israeli beer festivals is shooting photographs over Doug Greener’s shoulder. Before spending the month of September in Tasmania where my sister lives, I suggested to Doug that I prepare a short illustrated article on what I could find there. 

As luck would have it, the Tasmanian Microbrew Fest was held the first weekend I was there in a large warehouse hard by the Aurora Australis, the ship that makes trips to Antarctica and which is painted bright orange.
The good ship Aurora Australis (far left)
is docked beside the Tasmania Microbrew venue.

Just inside the entrance was Dan McWilliams of the Taverner's Tasmanian Boutique Brewery, who uses wonderful Tasmanian honey in his ales and porter.  It was still wintry outside but I was left with the impression that these would be perfect on a warm summer evening.

Stephen Brooks goes under the name of Captain Bligh's, and his Colonial Ale had a rich coffee flavor.

The Kick Snare Brewing guys prepare their own malt and were generous with their samples which were excellent. I took a few bottles back but my brother-in-law felt that the pale ale lacked flavor.

A 16-minute drive outside Hobart brings you to the Margate train where the Devils Brewery is housed in one of the carriages. Their Coffee Stout uses the train on its label although the original engine does not have a cow-catcher.  The Tasmanian devil appears on the other labels. Having tasted their beers at the festival, I desisted from re-sampling the beers.

If one looks past the Margate train, Bruny Island lies not far out to sea.  At the festival, the Bruny Island Beer Co. only had their Farm Ale to taste. Their cheese company established by Nick Haddow (not the guy in the photo below) is well known in Australia.

Brendan Parnell of the Hobart Brewing Co. also presented a single beer which gave a smoky after-taste that has an apple core dryness. Tasmania is well known for its apples so it is only natural that they should be used in beer.
On my last day in Tasmania, a friend took me up to Mount Fields and above the snowline. On the way we travelled along the Derwent River, one of the large hop growing areas, passing hop fields although it was too early for the plants to sprout.

Modern hop drying methods are being introduced so many of the old oast houses have been incorporated into hotels.

October 17, 2017

Designer labels for Herzl Beer

If you're a beer shopper in Jerusalem, you've probably noticed some fancy bottle labels on Shesh Achuz (6%) Kapara beer from the Herzl Brewery.  For example, there's a pioneer woman swilling a bottle, a desert island shaped like a bottle cap, a mustachioed face, a buxom bathing beauty, and just figuratively used calligraphy.

All of these labels were designed by students in the Visual Communication Department at Shenkar College of Engineering and Design in Ramat Gan.  Maor Helfman, a partner at the Herzl Beer Workshop, established contact with Shenkar and suggested that the students present their ideas for labels.

Some of the ideas for Shesh Achuz (6%) Kapara labels on display
at the Shenkar College of Engineering and Design.
The school agreed and the students went to work, doing research on the brewery and the beer, a British-style mild ale, with a pleasant malt sweetness and low on hop bitterness.  Sixty students participated in the project, and 12 were chosen to have their designs printed and pasted on the bottles -- 200 bottles for each of the winning labels.

A student's sketch of one of the
winning beer label designs. 
I wanted to tell you the students' creative thought behind some of the designs.  I asked the person at
Shenkar who organized the project, and she promised to send me a list of the winners whom I could contact.  But she never did.  Sorry about that. 

The results of the label project, according to Maor, were "fantastic."  People called the brewery and asked where they could find the special bottles.  Sales went extremely well, as beer enthusiasts snatched up the bottles, not only to enjoy the beer but to collect the labels.

Nevertheless, I did notice that up until a few days ago, there were some bottles still on the shelves in beer and liquor stores in Jerusalem; for example, Beer Bazaar, Beerateinu, Hamisameach, Nechemia Brothers, and Aggripas Drinks.  If you hurry, you may be able to find one or two still left.

 This was a great idea from Herzl: good for the brewery, good for publicizing Israeli craft beers, and good for the Shenkar students who got some practical experience in designing for the real world. 

October 3, 2017

Alexander Beer wins 3 awards in European Beer Star

The Alexander Brewery in Emek Hefer has taken home three medals from this year's very prestigious European Beer Star competition in Munich.  This is the fourth year in a row that Alexander has won prizes in this contest -- the only Israeli brewery to have done so.  (Read an earlier post about Alexander winning this competiton here.)

Ori Sagy (center), founder and brewmaster of Alexander Beer,
is joined by 
operations manager Eran Weisman (second from left), 
and brewer Elad Gassner (second from right)
as they receive three awards at the
European Beer Star Competition last month in Munich.
"We are proud and excited to receive for the fourth time the approval of the greatest beer experts in the world, and to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the world's best beers," said Ori Sagy, the founder and brewmaster of Alexander Beer.

For the third time, Alexander Black won the gold medal in the Sweet/Milk Stout category.  Alexander Blonde took the silver medal for English Style Golden Ales, while Milk & Honey won the silver in the Baltic Style Porter category.

Pride for Israel:
Alexander's three winning beers are
screened above the stage at the
European Beer Star competition. 
In 2014, Alexander Black was the only Israeli beer to win a medal in the World Beer Cup, the other well-known international beer competition.  It won the gold medal in the Robust Porter category.

I was curious about the European Beer Star and the World Beer Cup, so I asked my friend Conrad Seidl of Vienna, also known as the "Beer Pope."  He told me that the European Beer Star was created about 15 years ago by the small, independent breweries in Germany as a counterweight to the older World Beer Cup.

"The style guidelines at the EBS focus on classic beer styles of European origin," Conrad explained, "while the WBC (organized by the U.S.-based Brewers Association) tends to invent new beer styles every year!  This, of course, works in favor of American micro-breweries and brewpubs.  They win a lot of the WBC awards, while the European brewers get relatively few.

"In fact, many German and Austrian breweries don't even bother entering the WBC, preferring the more conservative EBS."

Thank you, Conrad.  All the more reason why Alexander Beer should be commended for boldly entering these bastions of European and American brewing tradition, and bringing medals of excellence home to Israel.

Shouldn't more Israeli breweries be trying to do the same thing?

October 2, 2017

American breweries tour: Part One -- Florida

Ami cuts up the floor dancing
with his grandma. 
I timed my last trip to America so the weather was bearable in southern Florida and less than frigid in New York City.  I visited my mom who was about a year short of her century mark, my eldest son, my brother and my cousin in Florida, and various friends in NYC.  While there, I tried to make it a vacation, but ended up working.  I visited four craft breweries and one craft distillery.  Thus are the interminable obligations of a beer blogger.

From my mom's home in Deerfield Beach to the Bangin' Banjo Brewing Company in Pompano Beach is just a short ride.  I exploited the driving skills of my visiting son Ami (from Washington, DC) to get us over there.

Waves of migration of northerners fleeing from the winter (but right into the path of hurricanes) have taken southern Florida out of Dixie.  Yet the Bangin' Banjo, which opened in 2014, had a real down-home feel to it.  The taproom was just an extension of the brewery, lacking all but the minimum accouterments for selling cold beer.

I had called the previous evening and introduced myself to the co-founder, Adam Feingold, and arranged my visit.  Adam said that Ami and I would be very welcome at the bar, but that he himself wouldn't be there because of a family event.  He told me that the bartender, Cameron Donisi, would be happy to host us and tell me anything I want to know about the beers.

Bartender Cameron Donisi introduced us
the the day's taplist.
Tattooed, bearded and burly, Cameron was a jolly bartender who'd been pumping beers at the Bangin' Banjo for a few years.  I don't think he'd get sore if I said he was built for the part -- at least I hope not.  But he would shortly be leaving, he said, to become head brewer at the new Prosperity Brewers in Boca Raton, a few miles up Florida's east coast.

To experience a wide range of the Banjo's brews, Cameron suggested that we take the flight of six beers, so we enthusiastically agreed.

Perry's Pineapple Gose is a 4.4% alcohol gose-style sour beer brewed with pineapple juice.  Cameron explained that gose beers and New England IPAs are two rapidly-trending styles in the U.S., and Perry's Pineapple Gose combines the best elements of the two: tangy, salty, refreshing, fruit juicy, and not especially bitter.  Oats and wheat in the malt bill add a creamy finish to this beer.

The Bangin' Banjo's 6-beer flight.
Since this was before I began to take sour and "wild" beers seriously, I didn't enjoy this beer as much as I should have, though Ami thought it was delicious.

Our next beer was Hop Jam: Session No. 1, an American IPA whose bounteous hops (including Azacca and Vic Secret from Australia) were full of non-citrus aromas and flavors, such as quava, apple and mango.  A fine IPA with a 7.1% ABV kick.

Invincibility Potion (Don't you just love the names?) was a Belgian Strong (10.5%) Golden Ale with a clear, light amber color, Belgian yeast aroma and a sweet, crisp finish.

Next in line was an Imperial Red Ale named Studious Judious, 8% ABV, made with copious amounts of red malt, yet maintaining a delicate balance between the hops and the malt.  Looking back after we finished all the beers, this was my favorite of the lot.

Number five was Chocolate Covered Peanut Porter, a black-as-night porter with a delectable aroma of chocolate (from the malt and added cocoa nibs) and peanut butter (from chopped peanuts added to the secondary fermentation).  Vanilla beans were also added to the brew.  4.9% ABV.

Last was Overcast Shadow, a 9% Russian Imperial Stout that gave a strong, sweet finish to our stay at the Banjo.  This beer had luxurious flavors of chocolate and coffee, with chocolate dominating.

The Bangin' Banjo's down-home taproom:
New beers all the time.
The taps at the Bangin' Banjo are constantly changing, so don't expect to find the same beers I had if you get over there.  I think it's safe to say, though, that you'll find the same basic styles.

Ami and I had a delightful father-son experience exchanging our opinions of the beers, and chatting with the other patrons.  One of them was an executive in a company which provides solutions for bringing clean water to villages in the third world, something which Ami was familiar with because of his background in environmental planning.  I suggested that beer would also help solve the problem of having something healthful and clean to drink, but I was voted down by the experts. 

Drinking at the Bangin' Banjo was a great way to enter the world of American craft beer taprooms -- and I still had plenty to look forward to as I headed north.

To be continued . . .