December 31, 2017

Four breweries and their new brews

"Churn" may be a good word to describe the Israeli craft beer industry today.  Always moving, new beers and exciting events, new faces and constant surprises.  Year's end is a good time to review some new beers and their breweries – some veteran, a newcomer, and even a merger.

Matt Neilson (left) and his father Denny
with their Buster's Apple Cider.
The Buster's Beverage Company on Moshav Naham near Beit Shemesh began originally in the home on Denny Neilson in Mevasserat Zion more than a decade ago.  Neilson is a true practitioner of what he calls, the "fermentation arts."  He makes – and teaches how to make – beer, wine and distilled spirits, and sells the necessary equipment and ingredients. 

Neilson first called his enterprise The Winemaker, then Isra-Ale, and today Buster's (after their recently deceased family dog).  The Buster's distillery-brewery turns out three kinds of hard apple cider and two kinds of alcoholic lemonade, all delicious.  They also distill and bottle a line of liquors under the Pioneer label: so far spiced rum, arak, vodka, moonshine and apple brandy.   This year, they also began to brew a new line of craft beers, which now includes a Pilsner, Oak-Aged Stout, India Pale Ale (IPA), and a Smoked Lager.

Neilson relates: "When we came on aliya around 15 years ago, and I told people what I want to do, they said, 'Nobody drinks beer.'  But we believed there was a market for people who wanted to make their own beer and wine.  We wanted to provide a one-stop service for all their needs."

Today, even though Neilson still give his home-brewing classes, Buster's concentrates on production rather than education.  Beer enthusiasts in Israel have a great appreciation for Neilson's brewing skills, and they welcomed the introduction of his craft beer line.      

Buster's new Smoked Lager,
brewed with hickory-smoked
malt from Traeger Grills.
The Smoked Lager is the most recent to appear.  In the past year, no less than three Israeli craft breweries have introduced smoked beer.  The very distinct taste is achieved by smoking the malted grain before it is used to brew the beer.

Buster's Beverage teamed up with Traeger Grills to smoke the malt.  Neilson's son Matt calls Traeger, "the Rolls-Royce of meat-smoking grills."  In this case, barley malt, not meat, was smoked in the grill by burning hickory wood.  "This took us a few days," Matt said.

What the hickory-smoked malt does is give the beer a rich barbecue taste – as if the beer itself had been hanging in a Traeger grill.

The aroma from this clear, golden amber liquid is unmistakably smoked meat, maybe sausage or pastrami (at least that's what I remember from the last time I had them about 40 years ago!), and smoked cheese, along with some sweet malt.  On the tongue, you get some spicy bitterness from the hops, but the dominant flavor is smoked malt.  Alcohol by volume is 5.5%.

Only one batch of this beer was brewed, so you might have trouble finding any bottles left in stores.  However, Matt Neilson tells me that by popular demand, they will probably be brewing more.  If you can't get enough of smoked meats, this is the beer for you.

Basel Massad (left) and
Amir Elouti of the
Nazareth Brewery.
The Nazareth Brewery went commercial last year with a lovely American Wheat beer.  For four years before that, partners Basel Massad and Amir Elouti, both 33, had been brewing beer at home and in a smaller facility for their own use and for very local distribution to family and friends. 

"We brewed a different beer every week," says Massad, "but the both of us loved this American Wheat and the reactions to it were very good.  So we decided to take the big step and brew it in commercial quantities.  The two of us, however, kept our day jobs, which are in high-tech."  
To produce the quantities they need, they contract brew at the Beer Bazaar Brewery in Kiryat Gat.  Nazareth American Wheat is now available in liquor and beer stores in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Haifa, Akko and of course, Nazareth. 

"In Nazareth, everybody drinks beer, including the Moslems," jokes Massad.  He and Elouti, however, are Christians.  Perhaps that explains why they allowed themselves to use a logo which some may say is sacrilegious: It's the face of Jesus the Nazarene in the shape of a hop cone, with a hop beard and a crown of hop leaves! 
The hop-shaped face of
Jesus the Nazarene, with a hop beard
and a crown of hop leaves.
In the West Bank, there are two other Christian-owned breweries:  The most veteran of these is the Taybeh Brewery in Taybeh, and Shepherd's Brewery in Birzeit near Ramallah.

As to the Nazareth beer itself, it is a fine example of the American wheat ale style.  Alcohol by volume is 4.5%.  The color is a slightly cloudy orange-gold with a frothy white head.  The aroma is sweet and hoppy, with none of the clove and banana notes you find in the older and more traditional German wheats.  The flavor has a gentle bitterness with citrus and yeast.  I found the body light and the finish refreshing – sort of like a pale lager but with much more taste.  I can see why Nazareth Brewery chose this to be its flagship beer.        
Massad and Elouti plan to bring out a second beer early next year.  Although they have not yet decided on the style, they say it will be something "different," like the American Wheat.

Jeremy Welfeld, founder and partner of the
Jem's Beer Factory, relaxing at the brewery
and restaurant in Petach Tikva. 
Another new wheat beer is named Hoppy Hanukka, brewed to commemorate this festive season by the Jem's Beer Factory in Petach Tikva.  It is not in the image of your other winter holiday ales, popular in Europe and the U.S., which are dark, sweet and alcohol-heavy.   
Hoppy Hanukka is a very moderate 5% alcohol.  The color is a medium amber with a thin head.  (Jem's founder and partner Jeremy Welfeld claims that the color is like "the light of Hanukka.")  You get some aroma of cloves from the wheat ale yeast, but mostly tropical and citrus fruits from the hops. 

Jem's Hoppy Hanukka beer against a
background of a beer bottle menorah.
The taste is a very clean and refreshing bitter, with notes of summer fruits and spice.  It's a very interesting beer.  I can say that I have not tasted this combination of flavors before.  Now, what that has to do with Hanukka, I cannot tell you, but it is a lovely experience.

Hoppy Hanukka is available (while it lasts) only at the Jem's restaurants in Petach Tikva, Ramat Hachayal, Ra'anana, Kfar Saba, Caesarea and Modi'in. 

Welfeld opened the Jem's Beer Factory and Brewpub in 2009 with partner Daniel Alon.  Today, with all six outlets pumping beer and with sales in stores and restaurants throughout Israel, Jem's has become a craft beer powerhouse.  The brewery produces seven core beers – Dark Lager, Pilsner, Wheat, Stout, 8.8 Belgian Strong, Amber Ale, and IPA – plus occasional seasonal beers like Hoppy Hanukka.

American-born Welfeld came to Israel and served in the IDF in 1984-87, before returning to the U.S. to study food management and brewing science.  He earned his wings working in restaurants, brewing and catering – including catering for the White House.

"I've always been a service guy," he says.  "That's what defines what I do.  Making the beer is easy.  The hard part is to sell it and to keep giving your customers excellent, personal service."

Gilad Ne-Eman, partner and brewer of the new
Tog Brewery in Beersheva, presents the first
six-pack of new beers to the old blogger.

(Photo: Mike Horton)
The Israeli south has not lagged behind in the craft beer renaissance.  With Beersheva as the hub, a number of small and not-so-small breweries have sprung up, in addition to an active home-brewing community.

Two breweries – Gilad Ne-Eman's HeChalutz ("The Pioneer") and Tomer Ronen's HaDag HaLavan ("The White Fish") – have recently merged to form Tog (rhymes with rogue).  They brew their beers at the Beer Bazaar Brewery in Kiryat Gat. 

Tog, the blue desert lizard,
logo-mascot of the
new Tog Brewery.  
"Tog is the name we gave to our new logo mascot, a blue desert lizard," explains Ne-Eman.  "His fearsome face is on every label, and on one label he's standing there holding the map of Israel like a surfboard!"

Ne-Eman and Ronen have worked together for two years on several projects promoting craft beer in the south.  For example, they organize Beersheva's only beer festival, known as the Beer7 Fest, which attracts dozens of brewers and hundreds of visitors.   They run the Brew Shop in Beersheva, a center for learning home brewing and purchasing equipment and ingredients; Israeli and foreign craft beers are also on sale.  They have founded a home-brewers' club which is among the biggest in Israel.  
Most recently, Ne-Eman and Ronen have organized a competition for home-brewers, known as Isra-Brew, which will award prizes for the best beers in several categories.  The winners will be announced at the end of February. 

"After working together on so many projects, it was only natural for the two of us to join together to brew our beers," adds Ne-Eman.  "We share the same philosophy about brewing beers that are different and creative, and that is what we pledge to continue doing under the Tog label."

The three new beers from the Tog Brewery
in Beersheva: Kimat Esser, HeChalutz,
and 40° in the Shade.

(Photo: Mike Horton)  
There are currently three Tog beers being marketed.  Two are versions of beers originally produced by the separate breweries:

40° in the Shade – A blond ale geared for summertime drinking.  4.7% alcohol.  Light, fruity hop aroma; mildly bitter taste with citrus, yeast and malt.  Dry and refreshing.  Brewed originally by HaDag HaLavan.

HeChalutz – A 5.5% American pale ale, with an aroma and taste of citrus and tropical fruits, herbs and grass.  Well balanced with hops and malt; moderately bitter.  This was originally brewed by HeChalutz and called Totzeret Ha'aretz ("Made in Israel").  After the merger, the name was changed to HeChalutz because it was the beer most associated with the brewery.

The Tog Brewery logo, including the
face of the blue desert lizard.  
The third beer is a new creation from Tog, called Kimat Esser ("Almost Ten"), referring to the high 9.8% alcohol by volume.  This is a beer in the Belgian tradition of strong ales: Dark, red amber color, sweet and high in alcohol.  The aroma is fruity and caramel.  On the tongue, you get more caramel, a strong alcohol taste (perhaps plum brandy), prune and other dark fruits. 

This is a beer that I associate with the winter holiday ales so popular at this time of year.  It is best enjoyed in front of a roaring fireplace while snow is gently falling all around.  Hey, where am I living?  Kimat Esser is a beautiful, full-flavored beer that will warm you through our Israeli winter months.  
Tog beers are available in bottles and on tap in many places in the south, including Beersheva, Sderot and Ofakim, as well as in Kfar Saba, Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.  "We are working very hard on expanding our distribution network so that craft beer drinkers everywhere will be able to have our beers," concludes Ne-Eman.  

A version of this article appeared in The Jerusalem Post Friday Magazine.

December 27, 2017

American breweries tour: Part Two -- Riverhead, New York

The next stop on my U.S. breweries tour was Riverhead, New York, located on the eastern end of Long Island, that fish-shaped isle which incorporates Brooklyn and Queens in the west, Nassau County in the center, and Suffolk County in the east.

In Nassau and Suffolk Counties alone,  there are today no less than 32 craft breweries.  According to many press reports, these breweries -- and all craft breweries across America -- are doing their part to revitalize their towns' economic fortunes.  "Build a craft brewery," the Associated Press wrote, "and urban revival will come."     

Len and Abigail at home in Westhampton.
I was visiting my friends Len and Abigail at their home in nearby Westhampton for the weekend, when Len said that Riverhead, a small, unexciting town of 33,500 souls, had three craft breweries.

"Wouldn't it be a good idea if we could visit all of them before the Sabbath?" Len wondered.

I was not inclined to decline.

We decided to bring some food to have with the many beers that were awaiting us.  We stopped in the Pera Bell Food Bar on Main Street to buy some sandwiches and pizza.  We told the Mixologist-Manager David Chiarella about our mission and he insisted we start having beers right there in his establishment.  After all, it was a dark and rainy afternoon with almost no one on the streets; perhaps he feared we would not find the breweries and end up empty handed.

David Chiarella welcomes the old blogger
at the Pera Bell Food Bar
in Riverhead, New York.
David offered us two local beers:

NOFO Farmhouse Ale, a saison style beer from the Long Ireland Brewery right there in Riverhead.  Typical saison yeast aromas of spice, some cloves, and malt.  The taste is sour apple, but also with a sweet note, maybe honey.  (Hey, Rosh Hashana!).  The finish is crisp and spicy.

Honey Robber Cream Ale from the Blue Point Brewery in Patchogue, Long Island.  This is a spring seasonal beer brewed with honey.  Starts with a lush aroma of cream soda (vanilla and caramel), and a vegetal, acerbic taste, also malt sweetness, honey and light spicy hops. 

Thus fortified, Len and I drove through the foggy streets of Riverhead to the Crooked Ladder Brewing Company.  We found the tasting room filled with warm, friendly people, but unheated.  Luckily, we knew how to drink with our coats on.

The brewmaster Stevie Czelatka welcomed us and invited us to spread out our feast at the bar while he served up his beers.  We took the $10 "Everything on Tap" flight, which included a souvenir pint glass.

First up was Southampton Light, a 3.6% ABV American light lager, which was perhaps a tastier version of the mass produced lager beers that Americans consume by the lakefull.  There was no problem with it clashing with the flavor of our food.

Next was the Southampton Keller Pilsner, a refreshing and hoppy German-style Pilsner lager with 5% alcohol.

Going up in strength, we then had the Southampton Double White, a Belgian witbier (7.2% ABV) with ample wheat flavors plus citrus.  Len found a note of banana in the mix as well.

The old blogger is dwarfed by Stevie Czelatka,
Brewmaster at the Crooked Ladder Brewing Co.
in Riverhead, New York. 
The Southampton Secret Ale was in the classic "altbier" style of a German brown ale.  Even the "Secret" in the name is a translation from the "Sticke" style of strong altbier.  It was a dark copper color, with a roasty or nutty malt flavor, smooth mouthfeel and crisp finish.  The hop presence was very low in this 5.2% beer.

Our next tasting, the Southampton Imperial Porter, had a full body and rich taste that I really appreciated.  It was a very dark brown with no head of foam and high in alcohol -- 7.2%.  The flavor was dominated by dark chocolate, but also with some caramel.

I asked Stevie why "Southampton," one of the neighboring Hampton towns, was in the name of all of these beers.  He said that the Southampton Brewery had recently purchased the Crooked Ladder, and the two breweries sold their beers in each other's taprooms.  As far as I can tell, however, the Crooked Ladder has maintained its independent operation, as has the Southampton Publick House, which is the brewpub of the Southampton Brewery.

Ashley and Amelia, the two lovely servers
at the Crooked Ladder.
At any rate, the next beer was a Crooked Ladder original -- "Outta My Vine" -- an out-of-season pumpkin ale.  This was full of the pumpkin pie taste that craft beer drinkers seem to love or hate.  Brewed with pumpkin, cinnamon and fresh ginger, it was brown in color, 5.7% alcohol, with a strong cinnamon aroma and tastes of cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger and roasted malt.  Like I said, pumpkin pie.

Our last tasting was an IPA -- "It Was All A Dream" -- a wheat IPA, hopped and dry hopped with Citra, Simcoe and Amarillo hops, mouth puckeringly bitter with citrus flavors.  5.5% ABV.

Another of Crooked Ladder's IPAs, the 70 West IPA, was apparently the most popular and not surprisingly, sold out.  We actually saw customers walk in, ask for the 70 West, and then walk out when told it was all gone.  Didn't even say, "Well, let's try something else as long as we're here."  Just walked out.  Talk about brand loyalty!

Len and I weren't suffering from jet lag after that flight, and in fact were still pretty thirsty.  So we thanked Stevie for his hospitality and commentary, and headed off to our second destination -- Moustache Brewing Co.  It was still chilly and rainy and also much darker, which we neglected to take into consideration.

The lights and gemütlichkeit in the Moustache taproom deflected our attention from the gathering dark outside.  We had every good intention of arriving back home to Abigail by the start of the Sabbath, but there was certainly time for one more beer.

We had eight.  Owner and brewer of Moustache, Matthew Spitz, and his wife Lauri greeted us on this, the third anniversary of the brewery's opening.  Matthew said he was very satisfied with Riverhead's reception.  "The town knew what to do with a brewery, what we needed, and what we could bring to the community."

Len and I were joined in our tastings by Lori Mills and Scott Zoldak, the self-crowned "Hoppy Couple," whose very excellent pastime is visiting breweries and taprooms and aiming to taste all the beers they can find.  Our paths crossed at the Moustache.
In the Moustache Brewing Co. taproom,
owner and brewer Matthew Spitz spent
some time with the old blogger from Israel.

Here again, we took the flight:

First up was Sailor Mouth, a 6.5% IPA double dry-hopped with Comet and Amarillo hops.  It had a strong citrus and spice aroma, and a bitter spice taste that stays with you at least until the next beer. 

And that was Rally Beard, a double IPA, 8.8% in strength, reddish amber, heavy on the full range of citrus flavors.  A thoroughly tasty and enjoyable drink, Len and I agreed.

With Wanderlust ESB (Extra Special Bitter), we figuratively crossed the nearby Atlantic to the style of British amber ales.  This was 6.3% alcohol, given a mildly bitter character with American hops, and whose taste was halfway towards being a porter. 

Sharing smiles and beer with the "Hoppy Couple,"
Lori Mills and Scott Zoldak (center) in the
Moustache Brewing Co. taproom.
"Get Up On Outta Here" was a strong (8.5%) IPA brewed with Hüll Melon, Mandarina Bavaria and Motueka hops.  It had an aroma of citrus, tropical fruits and fresh earth, and strong citrus tastes.

Number five was Milk & Honey, a brown ale (it's actual color was reddish amber) made with lactose (milk sugar) and honey.  I couldn't help comparing it to Israel's own Milk & Honey stout made at the Alexander Brewery in Emek Hefer.  

Life of Leisure was an American pale ale brewed with Glade hops, which had a nose-filling floral aroma.  5.7% ABV.

Everyman's Porter, 4.5% alcohol, was a tasty, solid porter, nothing special, with the requisite chocolate and coffee notes. 
Len and me toasting the weekend,
this time with coffee!

Patiently waiting for us at the end of the line was a super beer -- Blueberry Ginger Triple, brewed of course with fresh blueberries and ginger, and aged in barrels previously holding Woodland Reserve bourbon whisky.  The alcoholic strength (10.6%) only enhanced the powerful and enticing blueberry element in the aroma, and kept pace with the delicious tastes of blueberry and ginger.      

Len and I were savoring every sip of this one, when we noticed the night outside the windows.  We thought of Abigail waiting for us at home with growing impatience as the Sabbath meal she had prepared got colder and she got hungrier.  We felt like bad boys who had stayed out too late -- which we were.  

All plans to visit the third brewery -- Long Ireland -- dissolved in our guilty consciences.  That would have to wait until next time, which meant, as it turned out, my next visit to America.

It was already the Sabbath when Len and I arrived back home.  It took Abigail a long while to forgive us, not only for being late but for not having called her to let her know.  It would have been too easy to blame the beer.  Len and I were suitably embarrassed and ashamed.  

Eventually, we all gathered together around the festive table to celebrate the holy day.

Len and I would be visiting more micro-breweries, but these would henceforth never be scheduled for a Friday afternoon.  

Join me in the final installment, when we take a subway to a brewery in the Bronx, the borough where I was raised and hadn't been back to for maybe 50 years!  

December 24, 2017

More places to buy Israeli boutique beer on tap in Machane Yehuda

"Why does he only write about places in Machane Yehuda?" you may well be asking.  Well, I know there are restaurants and bars that have craft beers on tap in every city in Israel, and in some places that are much less than cities.  But I don't get to these locations very often, certainly not enough to do the kind of research that went into my previous posting and map.   [Read about the other establishments here and get the full pictorial map here.] 

Jerusalem is my city, and Machane Yehuda is my stomping ground -- and from what I can see every week, it's also a major attraction for people from all over the country and foreign visitors as well.

Two new eateries and drinkeries in the Machane Yehuda market in Jerusalem have begun to sell Israeli craft beer on draft.  We'll eventually add these to our map of such locations, but in the meantime, here's the info about them.

(If you know of any other bars in Machane Yehuda which are selling Israeli craft beer on tap, and are not on my map, please let me know.)

17 Afarsek
Daniel mans the taps selling
                      Alexander, Mosco, Jem's and Herzl beers.                                      

Sweet, savory and gluten-free crepes
47 Etz Chaim
Jem's 8.8 and Pils being served by Bosmat and Noa.

December 11, 2017

A sweet-and-sour Thanksgiving

Since we are a (sort of) traditional Jewish family living in Israel, but still with strong familial and cultural ties to the U.S. of A. (the "old country"), we try to celebrate Thanksgiving, but normally move our Thanksgiving meal from Thursday to Friday night, joining it to our Sabbath meal.

This year we actually did both.  And it gave me an opportunity to continue with my exploration and appreciation of sour or "wild" beers.  Here's what we did:

On Thanksgiving Thursday, I made a vegan Sweet 'n' Sticky Stirfry, about as far as you can get from the traditional turkey and stuffing and sweet potato pie.  (However, in a nod to tradition, Trudy made a beautiful pumpkin pie.) 

As the name says, the stirfry was indeed sweet.  Why not pair it, I thought, with something sour?  Since we are still waiting for an Israeli brewery to make a sour beer,  I had to use an import.  I was lucky enough to have a cold bottle of Lindemans Geuze Lambic Beer, imported from Belgium.

Geuze is a born-in-Belgium beer style in the lambic family, but not as sour and acidic as straight lambics.  It has traditionally been prepared by blending young and old lambic beers which have been fermenting in wooden barrels to achieve their sour character.  The younger beer is less sour than the older and still contains fermentable sugars.  When mixed with the older beers and bottled, you get a second fermentation and a beer that is complex, balanced, acidic and well carbonated -- geuze.

The Lindemans geuze (5% alcohol) uses a new technique which filters the beer and adds COand candy sugar to a year-old lambic, making it slightly sweeter and more carbonated than the traditional "old geuze" style. 

Nevertheless, it was still plenty sour for novices to this style, which I am.

But I must say it worked.  The sweetness and richness of the stirfry was cut by the carbonation and the sour fruit and apple taste of the beer.  I also detected some vanilla and caramel in the taste, which added to the mix.  Sweet and sour is a very acceptable combination of tastes for our western palates. My mouth enjoyed putting them together, even though they came from two different sources!  What an interesting way to do Thanksgiving.

The sour geuze was also not bad with the sweet pumpkin pie.

The next night, we had cholent, a traditional Sabbath stew made with beans, barley and potatoes.  Some people add meat, but in our vegetarian kitchen, Trudy uses soya chunks and veggie hot dogs.  Many people leave the cholent in a warm oven for the entire night, to make it even thicker and creamier for the Sabbath lunch.

We paired our cholent with the only commercial pumpkin beer made in Israel -- Pumpkin Ale from the Galil Brewery on Kibbutz Moran in the central Galilee.  In America, pumpkins are forever intertwined with Thanksgiving and the month-earlier holiday of Halloween. 

So the cholent-pumpkin ale combination was in some way the opposite of the stirfry-geuze.  The cholent was salty and spicy, eaten together with a pickle and mustard, while the pumpkin ale was fruity and malty with sweet spice.  It was not a perfect pairing, but an interesting one which still had echoes of the harvest holiday.     

It seems to me that the Galil Pumpkin Ale, which has been coming out every fall for at least five years, has become stronger in the taste of dla'at (which is the nearest Israeli gourd to the American pumpkin) and pumpkin pie spices.

The ale is a brown amber color with a thin head.  Alcohol by volume is 5.1%.  The aromas are not very pronounced, some spice, caramel and malt.  The label does not say which spices are used in the beer, but I was able to taste some cinnamon and nutmeg, in a sweet envelope -- the same as were in our pumpkin pie. 

There was still some beer left over to accompany my pumpkin pie, and in this case they complemented each other quite well.  A nice ending to the Greeners' two-day holiday of Thanksgiving.