December 23, 2018

Two beers "for the record" -- Gagarin and Freedom IPA

A few months ago I tasted two exciting beers, really quite extraordinary, which by now, alas, might be hard to find in stores.  The brewers say that these were one-off beers and will not be made again.  However, a few bottles are still around. 

Blasting off!
Gagarin Imperial Stout
from the Basha-Flom Brewery.

(Photo: Tom Lahav)
The first is Gagarin, a Russian-style Imperial Stout named after (who else?) Yuri Gagarin, the first Soviet cosmonaut.  It was made by the brewing team of Basha-Flom (Omer Basha and Dvir Flom) and contract brewed at the Sheeta Brewery in Arad.  About 400 bottles were made.

Gagarin is one of the most impressive Israeli beers ever brewed.  A true Imperial Stout such as was brewed in England for the Russian nobility back in the 18th century.  Apparently those Russians liked their beer powerful (high in alcohol), flavorful and nourishing.  

Before I tell you what I think of the beer now, let me add that Omer Basha recommends that Gagarin is "intended for aging and will probably reach its peak in about a year or two."  Since I have an extra bottle, I will try to do that -- if I can resist drinking it sooner!      

Without aging, Gagarin pours out an ultra-dark brown color with very little carbonation and a small halo of foam.  The alcohol by volume is a hefty 9.5%, and you sense this immediately in the aroma, along with toasted bread, coffee, chocolate, licorice and some carob.   
Omer Basha with a new bottle
of Gagarin.
The first thing you feel on your tongue is the pleasurable creaminess and moderate sweetness of this beer, which fades into a very bitter finish.  The taste of alcohol is also very strong, with malt, dried fruit, licorice, caramel and dark chocolate.  It seems that every mouthful brings on different flavors.  I can see where aging will mellow the strong alcohol taste and the bitter finish.  

This full-bodied beer should be poured and sipped like a fine wine.  By no means should you drink it ice cold.  Very few foods have the intensity to pair with Gagarin.  However, desserts with rich chocolate flavor, cheesecake, and oozy or smelly cheeses would be scrumptious with any Imperial Stout.

The second disappearing beer is Freedom IPA from Oak & Ash, brewed at the Dancing Camel Brewery in Tel Aviv.

Freedom IPA from the
Oak & Ash Brewery.
As much as Gagarin stands out among Israeli stouts, Freedom is a remarkable IPA.  Hopped with Citra and Simcoe, which impart fruity and piney esters (and some citrus), Freedom is also fortified with real mango and pineapple.  In fact, you can see the flecks of fruit floating in the beer.

A lovely cloudy and golden copper color, Freedom is blessed with rich aromas of fruit and a hint of citrus.  Since you know there's mango and pineapple inside, that's what your nose is looking for, and that's what you find.

The taste is an inspired combination of malt sweetness and piercing hop bitterness (100 International Bitterness Units), with flavors of fruit salad (mango, banana and other tropical fruits).  The huge 10% alcohol is not at all aggressive, and the finish is bitter and fruity.  You could describe Freedom as a Belgian strong ale with IPA hops.  Not too shabby a combination.     

December 16, 2018

New Beer Bazaar in the Jaffa Flea Market

Opening night at the Beer Bazaar in
the Jaffa Flea Market.
A few weeks ago, the sixth branch of the Beer Bazaar opened in the Jaffa Flea Market (7 Olei Zion Street), known in Hebrew as the Shuk Hapishpeshim.  At the invitation of the branch owner, Avi Moskowitz, photographer Mike Horton and I descended from Jerusalem to attend the opening.

We arrived early in the evening, but within an hour-and-a-half, the new pub+store was packed with beer-thirsty Tel Avivians eager for another place to enjoy their favorite beverage.  Of course it didn't hurt that the Beer Bazaar was offering free tastes of any of the 100+ Israeli craft beers lining their shelves.

"Give respect to the beer":
Over 100 kinds of Israeli craft beer on the
shelves of the new Beer Bazaar. 
(Photo: Mike Horton)
These shelves, by the way, are dramatically backlit to put the bottles in the spotlight, as it were.  Circular indentations are cut into the shelves to hold each individual bottle.  "This is how we give respect to the beer," Avi explains.

In an adjacent small barroom, Yarden Rivlin, manager of the Beer Bazaar in Jerusalem's Machane Yehuda market, was giving continuous orientation sessions on beer styles, while participants were treated to free bottles of beer.

Avi Moskowitz (right) joins the
old blogger for some free craft beer tastings.

(Photo: Mike Horton) 
The menu for opening night was only hot dogs and French fries, but now the restaurant has the same kosher menu as the Beer Bazaar in Jerusalem.  It also has 20 taps for draft beers -- eight or so are the Beer Bazaar's own brand, made at their brewery in Kiryat Gat, while the others are from different craft brewers around the country.

Avi, who is also an owner of the Jerusalem Beer Bazaar, explains: "Even though this is the sixth Beer Bazaar branch, it is only the second one that is kosher.  The feedback from many people was that there was a need for a kosher restaurant in the Jaffa Flea Market."

Avi Moskowitz, owner of the new
Beer Bazaar in the Jaffa Flea Market,
pumps beer from one of the 20 taps.

(Photo: Mike Horton) 
Avi also said that the Flea Market is undergoing the same process of gentrification as Machane Yehuda: Stalls that were once full of antiques are now fancy restaurants and bars.  In fact, Mike and I took a walk around the area of the Beer Bazaar and saw a number of exclusive shops and restaurants, yet couldn't find a place to buy a simple pita bread with hummus!

"For the market to stay interesting, it has to change and adjust," says Avi.  "By introducing Israeli craft beer, we're not only supporting the local economy but also helping other businesses in the market.  In Machane Yehuda, for example, the produce stalls around Beer Bazaar stay open late and sell because of the increased traffic that the restaurants and bars bring."

A view from above at the new Beer Bazaar
in the Jaffa Flea Market.

(Photo: Mike Horton) 
The staff of the new Beer Bazaar were trained at the Machane Yehuda store, learning the background of beer and brewing in general, and Israeli craft beer in particular.  Avi calls this the "Beer Bazaar University," and every member of the staff has to graduate it.  "They are representing Israeli craft beer," Avi claims, "a very important assignment."

"Craft beer reflects what is going on in this country.  People are developing a greater appreciation for hand-crafted food, wine and beer.  They are demanding more and getting more.  And we are very proud that Beer Bazaar can be a part of that."

I left the Beer Bazaar with a bottle of the most recent addition to their own line of beers.  It's named Pishpesh, which in Hebrew means "flea," in honor of the new store's location.  It's a light ale (5.5% alcohol by volume), not completely pale but light amber.  It's brewed with four kinds of hops, but there are no distinguishing aromas, except perhaps a little hay.  The taste is a clean bitterness which balances the malt nicely but adds no real flavors.  I think its neutral bitter taste will pair well with a wide range of foods, for example, spicy and salty dishes, curries, pizza, aged cheeses, and sweet desserts.    

November 25, 2018

Our wood anniversary

It has been the custom in the lands of the West to designate each anniversary with a different commodity, which is then normally used to help choose a present for the occasion.  For example, the first anniversary is traditionally paper, the second cotton, and so on up to silver for the 25th, gold for the 50th and diamonds for the 75th!

The old blogger doing
what beer bloggers
are supposed to do. 
Israel Brews and Views has just reached our fifth anniversary.  It's called the wood anniversary, so we wood choose to dedicate it to beer -- like all our previous anniversaries.

It's been quite a ride.  I've tried to keep you, my dear readers, informed about what's happening in the world of Israeli craft beer.  If I tasted new beers, met interesting people, attended exciting events, found out secrets, and enjoyed myself too much  -- you were the first to know.

Researching and writing Israel Brews and Views takes up most of my waking hours these days -- more than my paid work, leisure activities, such as they are, and spending time with family and friends.  It seems like there are always beer events to attend, meetings to keep, festive openings and sad closings.

I'm not complaining, mind you. 
During these past five years, I've met wonderful people, some of whom I can call friends, tasted innumerable great beers for free, been ushered into inner sanctums of dining and drinking, been treated like a celebrity, been recognized by strangers who take "selfies" with me, been consulted about beer, events and trips, and have hobnobbed with the glitterati at sparkling and shining celebrations.   
Spreading the good news about
Israeli craft beers.

(Photo: Mike Horton)
We've published around 225 posts and are rapidly approaching 200,000 page views which, if you do the math for five years (60 months), averages out at over 3,300 page views a month.  Not overly impressive, but the subject is not politics, sports, celebrities, sex or money.  It's Israeli beer -- and I am happy that we have readers not only in Israel and the United States, as you would expect, but also in all of Europe, China and the Far East, South America, and even the Arab world!  What is it that interests them?  Is it beer?  Israel?  Or maybe the two together?

Never forgetting that I'm working
for you, my loyal readers.

(Photo: Mike Horton)
We have covered home-brewers who follow their passion and take the big, bold step of going commercial; the opening of new breweries and the growing number of contract brewers; and micro-breweries which grow into bigger, more modern facilities where production reaches tens of thousands of liters per month.

I've given you heads-ups on beer festivals and other events all over Israel, and have reported happily and boozily on the ones I attended.  Even if there were no new beers to report about, I enjoyed every minute, meeting up again with old friends and drinking their beers.

And we've continued with our popular Tasting Panels, wherein our Esteemed Tasters compare Israeli brews of the same style and give them rankings.  So far, we have tasted India Pale Ales, Amber Ales, Wheat Beers, Stouts, Pilsners and Porters -- with more to come, and a few surprises, in the coming months.  Our panel aims to reflect the tastes of the Israeli public, but we certainly welcome other opinions and have been called to order more times than the Knesset Plenum.

All of these Israel Brews and Views posts are not going to stop or even slow down, and the best way to keep on top of them is to type your e-mail address in the little box on the upper right of this page and press "Submit."  You'll get e-mails informing you of all new posts on my blog.   

To all my readers, wherever you are, I say "thank you" for your loyalty, involvement and concern.  If you hear, learn or see anything regarding Israeli beer which you think will interest our audience, please let me know and I'll do what I can to share the news.

You and I are here for the beer.  I hope we'll stay together for at least another five years.

Doug, the "old blogger"

November 20, 2018

Alexander (again) wins European Beer Star award

For the fifth year in the row, the Alexander Brewery in Emek Hefer has won a medal in the prestigious European Beer Star competition in Munich, Germany.  They took the Bronze prize in the Sweet Stout/Milk Stout category for their seasonal beer, Alexander Black.  In previous years, Alexander Black has taken the Gold Medal in this category three times, while other Alexander beers have also won prizes.
Ori Sagy (third from left), founder and brewmaster of Alexander Beer,
showing the Bronze Medal for Alexander Black at the
European Beer Star award ceremony.
Left of Ori is Alexander's head brewer Dan Taub,
and right of him are brewers Sahar Nevo and Guy Tarif.

Although other Israeli brewers have entered the European Beer Star in the past, only Alexander has won medals.  Since I've been reporting this for several years now, you may think it's getting boring -- but not for me.  This is a big deal, people.  For all the European breweries, as well as some from America and elsewhere, this is the premier competition, specializing as it does on the classic beer styles of European origin.

The name and flag of Israel are screened
above the stage at the
European Beer Star award ceremony.
[Read about Alexander's prize-winning achievements last year here.  You can follow the links in that article back to previous posts about Alexander.]     

This was the 15th year that the European Beer Star was held.  A total of 2,344 beers from 51 countries were entered and rated by an international panel of 144 beer judges.  Only 8% of the entries won any medal at all.

Ori Sagy, owner and brewmaster of Alexander, was at the award ceremony with his brewing crew.  "We get feedback all the time from our customers how much they enjoy our beers," said Ori.  "But it's good to get confirmation from some of the leading experts in the world that our beer ranks with the best in the world."

I've said it before and I'll say it again.  More Israeli craft brewers should be entering the European Beer Star and other international competitions.  Some will win, I'm sure of that, but all of them will bring Israeli beer to the world's attention. 

So congratulations again to Ori Sagy and Alexander Beer for having the ambition and daring for entering international contests, and the excellent beers for winning them!   

Technically a Porter, Alexander Black is brewed every year for the winter months.  It's perfect for this season, dark brown and warming (alcohol volume is a high 7%), rich in flavors of bitter chocolate, coffee and roasted malt.  The 2018 version is now on the shelves, so go get some if you want to taste an international prize-winning beer.

November 13, 2018

Weekend on the Mystic Mountain

The beautiful, enchanted alleyways of Safed.

The Galilean, mountain-top city of Safed (in Hebrew, Tzfat) has had a mystical reputation for centuries.  Here, the writers and practitioners of the Kabbalah laid the foundations of Jewish mysticism in the 16th century.  Safed, on a cloudy morning or at twilight, has an ethereal, other-worldly demeanor unmatched by any other city, including Jerusalem.

On a recent weekend, my wife Trudy and I joined our friends Yitzchak and Pnina Miskin in riding north to Safed to continue our wonderful tradition of hiking, visiting a local brewery, and spending a quiet Shabbat.

The only mystical encounter we had was with beer – the Mystic Mountain Craft Brewpub.

[Read about our previous hikes plus brewery: Alexander Beer here and Malka Beer here.]

Nothing like a rained-out hike to
keep friends together.
After a three hour bus and car ride, we arrived at the destination for our Friday morning hike: Mount Meron.  Yitzchak had meticulously planned and coordinated our route down to the last minute.  We were going to trek three kilometers (almost two miles) around the mountain peak in about two hours.

Alas, the weather had other plans.  Israel's first cold and rainy morning of the season bared its teeth after we had taken a few steps.  We retreated back to the car, waited a few minutes, observed other would-be hikers similarly retreating, and drove to our hotel – the Artists' Colony Inn in Safed.

In the courtyard of the Artists' Colony Inn
in Safed.
The weather cleared up enough for us to take a short walk through Safed's picturesque Old City, stop for a falafel lunch, and head for our (or maybe just my) main attraction – the Mystic Mountain Craft Brewpub.

Even though the taproom and brewery is usually closed on Friday afternoons, owner and brewer Andy Alpern agreed to meet us there so we could see the place and taste his beers.  We had a lot to thank him for.

We knew that the Mystic Mountain Craft Brewpub was at 2 Revitsky Street, but it wasn't easy finding it in the rabbit warren of alleyways and stairs that are Safed's Old City – even using Yitzchak's hand-held GPS system.  Finally, Andy had to come out and find us.  The morning storm had knocked down one of the signs that would have led us to him.

Andy Alpern greeted the old blogger
outside of the Mystic Mountain Craft Brewpub
in Safed.
Andy welcomed us to his cavernous taproom – a converted house over 200 years old, making it the oldest beer hall in Israel and perhaps the Middle East!  It contains several different sections and an eclectic collection of tables and chairs.  The main room has a warm and comfortable bar where Andy served us his beers while telling us his story. 

He immigrated to Jerusalem from the U.S. in 1997, having lived there in a few places, most recently Chicago, Colorado and Eugene, Oregon.  Andy, who is married with three sons, 11, 9 and 4, came to Safed in 2006, planning to pursue a career in his chosen profession, photography.  In fact, around five years ago he began to rent the location which became his brewpub to use as a photography studio and gallery.  
Behind the beautiful bar at the
Mystic Mountain Brewpub. 
"I started making wine at home," Andy explains.  "After all my vines died from a virus, I used the demijohns to brew beer, which I learned online from the Siebel Brewing Academy.  When I moved into this building, I had the space to increase my brewing to 100-liter batches and to start serving people."

Like I've heard a dozen times before, the brewing became more and more of a passion for Andy, starting to rival his love for photography.  He spent a month cleaning up the studio ("It was very hard physical work.") and turned it into the Mystic Mountain Craft Brewpub.  It wasn't long before it became a favorite meeting place for the small but conspicuous English-speaking community in Safed.

The brewpub is now open on Tuesday and Thursday nights, and Andy would like to add Saturday night as well.  Most nights there is live music to accompany the beer and light food menu.  Andy himself often plays the guitar with a local group.   

Andy now brews in 100-liter batches, and almost all of his beer is put into kegs for selling at the taproom.  "I tried contract brewing in another brewery," he explains, "but that didn’t work out.  First of all, it was very expensive, and second, I wasn't brewing the beer!  It never came out the way I wanted.  In Safed, which is a pretty small city after all, if you want something done, you have to do it yourself!"

Andy Alpern pouring us his
Mystic Mountain beers
in the brewpub.
Andy regularly brews five Mystic Mountain beers and one cider, which we all enjoyed at the bar.

Ex-Pat Pale Ale – An American pale ale, 5.7% alcohol by volume, brewed with three kinds of hops and dry-hopped with two.  Very hoppy with tastes of citrus.

Holy Hefe – A German-style classic wheat beer, with the clove, spice and banana aromas you're looking for, but also other fruits.  Hefe means "yeast" in German, and this style of beer is known as Hefeweizen. 5.5% alcohol.  I don't like to stereotype or typecast, but this beer was Trudy's and Pnina's absolute favorite.

Andy also brews a seasonal wheat beer called Red Hefe, made with organic tart cherries from the Golan Heights, but this was not available when we were there.

In the lobby of the Mystic Mountain Brewpub.
Dark Star – A true Dunkelweizen, a dark wheat beer, made with 70% malted wheat.  Very creamy with a roasty flavor.  5.8% ABV.

Panoramic Porter – A deep brown Porter beer with flavors of chocolate, yeast, and light coffee.  6% ABV.

Granola Stout – Mystic Mountain's oatmeal stout, made with organic oats, cinnamon and cloves, as well as other spices.  A strong 7% ABV, it has tastes of cinnamon, chocolate, caramel and fruit.

Soma Cider – A 5% alcoholic dry apple cider with cinnamon.  Very refreshing and not sweet.

Andy sometimes plays the guitar
with a local group.
That's him in the center.
After our tasting session, Andy admitted that he was at a crossroads.  On the one hand, he would like to pass on some the daily responsibilities of brewing and running the brewpub to a manager, so that he can get back to concentrating on his photography and other projects.

On the other hand, he loves his brewing and publican activities and would prefer not to abandon them.  Only recently, he was presented with the possibility of buying a 200-liter brewing system.  "If I do this, which is very tempting, then I will have to spend more time, not less, on brewing and selling beer," Andy says.  "It's not an easy decision for me to make, but I have to do it."

Before we left, Andy was able to find us a few bottles of his beer, which we bought to have over Shabbat and to take home. 

We thanked Andy for his hospitality and beer and left him to ponder his future direction.  The four hearty travelers were unanimous in their opinion that the Mystic Mountain Brewpub is a wonderful beer destination and an invaluable asset for the city of Safed.  Nothing even comes close in the whole area, where locals and tourists can enjoy hand-crafted beer surrounded by history, music and friends. 

We all joined in: "Andy, say you won't leave us!"

It was a good thing that it was a short walk from the Mystic Mountain Brewpub to our hotel, because all the beer we had tasted was having its effect. 

That evening we had dinner with our host, the hotel owner and his daughter.  We were joined at the table by a couple from Holland who were visiting family in Israel.  Lively and interesting conversation all around.  
The next day was bright and sunny.  After a delicious breakfast at the hotel, we joined Yitzchak and Pnina for a walk through the Old City of Safed, closed down because of the Sabbath, and a hike outside of the city.  We made up for the Friday morning rain-out by hiking four kilometers (2½ miles) heading north on the western slope of Mount Canaan, atop of which Safed is located.  A lot of our attention was taken up looking for a famous spring, which we couldn't find.

We returned to the hotel for a well-earned rest and then had a hearty home-packed lunch, crowned by some of the beers we brought from the Mystic Mountain.

This is a lovely pattern for touring Israel that we would like to continue and which I strongly recommend to others: Vigorous Friday hike, visit to a micro-brewery, relaxing and nourishing Shabbat.  There are so many beautiful locations to visit in Israel, and more and more of them have nearby breweries.  Coincidence?  I think not.            

October 24, 2018

Rise and fall of The Dictator

The faces from The Dictator beer's labels
get together for a group portrait.
You might have noticed that The Dictator is no more.  Oh, I don't mean any of the live ones that pockmark our globe.  Those are doing just fine.

I mean our home-grown Israeli craft beer, known for its unmistakable in-your-face brand, its often over-the-top beer styles, and the extrovert antics of its founder and brewer, Yotam Baras.

Yotam started brewing and marketing The Dictator over five years ago, and then took a break to head up marketing for a major Israeli alcohol importer.

"When I restarted The Dictator two years ago, I gave myself two years to build up the brand, increase sales, and find an investor," Yotam told me in a telephone interview.

The old blogger smiling with Yotam Baras . . . 
"I think we accomplished the first two goals: The Dictator beer is a well-known Israeli brand, and sales were at 3,000 liters a month.  But we couldn't find an investor."

Without an investor to open their own brewery, The Dictator had to contract brew in another brewery, where costs were very high.

"I don't see how any contract brewer can survive in Israel," said Yotam, "unless they have a strong company or distributor behind them.  I could have contract brewed The Dictator abroad for 30% less money, but I wanted an Israeli beer.  For our beers, we had to pay the brewery almost the same prices that retail stores and pubs pay for their beers.  That was an impossible situation.
 . . . and cringing from The Dictator's evil mien.
(Photos: Mike Horton)

"The only way to bring down the cost of making beer is to have your own brewery -- and for that we needed the investor."     

While The Dictator was in business, Yotam brewed five core and seasonal beers -- English Bitter, Irish Red, Pale Ale, Porter and IPA.  Each beer had its own infamous tyrant or inhuman monster on the label, for example, Saddam Hussein, Idi Amin, and Lenin.

He also brewed an outrageous whisky beer, made first with Laphroig and then with Big Peat Scotch whiskies.  These smoky monsters weren't for everyone, but those who loved them eagerly waited for new batches to be released every year or so.

[For background reading on The Dictator's first three beers, see here; for the Laphroig Whisky Beer here; for the Porter here; for the IPA here; for Big Peat here.]   

"The Dictator presents:
The strongest Israeli beer in the world."
The Dictator's last beer brought extremism to its most extreme.  The beer is named Kim's Gulag Party.  What could they be thinking?  Named for North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un, Yotam says that it was brewed for the Supreme Leader's "End of the World Party."  Fortunately for us, the party was indefinitely postponed when Dearly Beloved Kim met with Donald Trump.

They say the beer has a beautiful aroma of hops as well as a balancing malt sweetness.  Still, I must admit I've never tasted Kim's Gulag Party.  One of the reasons might be that bottles sell for over 700 shekels -- around $200!

Alcohol by volume is an unbelievable 53%, that is, 106 proof -- higher than almost all whiskies.  Yotam achieved this alcoholic strength using a painstaking procedure known as "freeze distillation."  It's not really distillation, but a process whereby the original beer (or any alcoholic beverage) is brought to a low temperature where the water separates and freezes.  The ice is then removed and what's left is a liquid with a higher concentration of alcohol.  Repeating this in several stages let Yotam reach 53% alcohol.

"It's not the strongest beer in the world," Yotam admits, "but it is the strongest in Israel."

Instead of this being the world's last beer, before the final countdown, it ended up being The Dictator's final beer.

Yotam still believes an investor can be found and The Dictator will be back in power.  For now, he has begun working as marketing director for a new brewery.  It seems like Yotam Baras will continue to play a role on the Israeli craft beer scene, with or without The Dictator.

October 17, 2018

Jem's begins exporting, distribution in the United States

Jeremy Welfeld of
Jem's Beer Factory
celebrates the launch of
Jem's beer at Fairway Market's
Taste Israel Festival
in New York City.

(Photo: Jonathan Welfeld) 
Jem's Beer Factory, one of Israel's most veteran craft breweries, has begun to export to the United States. 

For its opening salvo, Jem's is featured at the "Taste Israel Festival" going on now in New York City's famous Fairway Markets.  Jem's founding partner, Jeremy Welfeld, traveled to New York to be at the opening of the month-long festival.

"Two of our beers are available at Fairway," said Daniel Alon, Jem's other partner and CEO.  "Our Pils, a traditional Czech Pilsner, and our 8.8, a strong Belgian style ale."

Daniel told me that the bureaucratic hurdles against importing beers into the U.S. are "cumbersome and challenging," but that Jem's was able to overcome them and link up "with a leading beer importer and distributors which will make our beer available nationwide."

One of the Fairway Markets in Manhattan.
The first target audiences are Jewish, Kosher and Mediterranean restaurants, bars and stores.

We wish the best of luck to Jem's on this brave and noble venture.  Can we expect other Israeli craft beers to follow suit?  Time will tell.  This could be the start of something big.

If you want to learn more about Jem's in the U.S., or even order some, you can contact Brad Lubin in the U.S. office ( or 917-960-0956) or Daniel Alon in Israel (

(The only other Israeli craft on sale in the U.S. is Meadan's gluten-free and kosher-for-Passover beer, which has been in stores in California for the past three years.  Read about that here.)  
(In the past, Alexander and Malka beers were on sale in selected U.S. markets, but that has ended.  Read about these two beers at the first Israeli craft beer kiddush in America here.)

October 14, 2018

Home-brews for the Ramot Forest: Thursday, October 18

One of the wooded areas within Jerusalem, this one in the Ramot neighborhood, is threatened by
urban development.  Now, being against all building within the city is silly and hypocritical.  But we should expect the authorities to seek a balance between the needs of a growing city and the touches of nature within it. 

Ramot for the Environment, a citizens' committee, an NGO, has been fighting to preserve a portion of the Ramot Forest known as Mitzpe Naftoach, which is full of beautiful plants and wildlife.  They hold events which bring people to the forest where they can appreciate and learn about its unique contribution to Jerusalem.

Someone on the committee had an idea, perhaps to attract a younger crowd, to include home-brewers and beer at the next event.  They asked the old blogger if he could help out -- and thus was born a planned evening of Home-Brewers and Poets on Thursday, October 18, beginning at 6:00 p.m.

As the name says, alongside the beer there will be a poetry slam with the following witty wordsmiths (in Hebrew): Tchelet Zohar, Yael Chetz, Iftach Leibowitz and Ido Nitzan.  Food and music are also part of the program.

Entrance is 30 shekels and that includes your first cup (250 ml) of beer.  Additional beers are 10 shekels each.  All proceeds go towards promoting and preserving the Ramot Forest (Mitzpe Naftoach), home to over 1,000 plant species, Jerusalem's largest gazelle population and many other wild animals.

If you're coming by car, put
דרך החורש 90
in your WAZE apparatus.  Park your car when you get there and walk right in through Gan HaKipod.

If you're coming by bus, take line 31, 32 or 72 to Tzondek/Aliyat Hanoar.  Walk down to the nearest traffic circle and take a right turn on Even Shmuel Street. Walk to Maale Oranim Street and turn left.  Walk down the entire street, then take a right onto Derech HaChoresh until you reach a small shopping center on your right (90 Derech HaChoresh). Across the street, on your left, is a park called Gan HaKipod. Guides and signs will be waiting for you there!  

The walk shouldn't take any longer than 10 minutes.  Here is a map which shows you the way:

For further information, visit their Facebook page: Save the Jerusalem Forest, or call 052-646-5464.

So come out and have a good time while you're doing some good.  I'll be there to (try to) answer any questions about Israeli craft beer, to say hello and to join you in selfies.  Remember: This Thursday, October 18, starting at 6:00 p.m.             

October 11, 2018

Six beers to try from Alexander, Six-Pack and HaDubim

Yet another trend from the U.S. is a new beer style: New England IPA. Israel's entry into this field is Holy Fruit, brewed collaboratively by Alexander Brewery in Emek Hefer and Mikkeller in Denmark.

(Actually, Mikkeller is not a brick-and-mortar brewery at all. The owner, Mikkel Borg, makes collaborative beers with brewers all over the world. This is the second beer he's brewed in collaboration with Alexander.  Read about the first one, Milk & Honey, here.)

New England IPA is characterized by a very hazy to opaque color, massive fruit aroma and flavors from the hops (tropical fruits are favorites), juicy, creamy mouthfeel and low bitterness.

Since Holy Fruit calls itself a New England Double IPA, it can allow itself to be even more hopped than the regular style. If this sounds good to you, then Holy Fruit is a great beer.

Its color is a cloudy grey orange, and the aromas hit you as soon as it's poured: grapefruit, tropical fruit shake, mango and grass. You can't miss the peach in the taste, along with bitter citrus fruit, herbs and onion. The long bitter finish is very citrusy. Alcohol by volume is a hefty 8%.

Alexander and Mikkeller deserve our thanks for introducing New England IPA into Israel – and for doing it with such a delicious version.

This is not the only collaborative beer that we got this summer from Alexander. Brewery owner Ori Sagy loves these joint ventures. At the same time that Holy Fruit was coming to market, he introduced 70, brewed in collaboration with the Faust Brewery in Miltenberg, Germany, to mark Israel's 70th anniversary. The idea was initiated and supported by the German Embassy in Israel.

70 is a German-style festbier, a lager style made popular by being served at the Munich Oktoberfest, the world's loudest and glitziest beer festival.

Festbiers are unapologetically malty, with very little hop flavors or bitterness. For this collaboration, says Ori Sagy, a basic German festbier was augmented with Israeli wheat, not a usual ingredient in this style of beer.

70 is a good, solid example of the festbier style, with no surprises. The color is mid-amber under a small head. The aroma is solidly malt with some banana and vanilla. A medium and smooth body and mild bitterness complete 70's simple yet stylish profile. Alcohol by volume is 5.7%.

Super Hero meets the old blogger.
(Photo: Mike Horton)
Also new this summer on the Israeli scene is Six Pack Brewing, owned by Eyal Noam, a former barman and writer on alcoholic beverages.

Around three years ago, Noam came up with the idea to combine his love of beer and super hero comics. He began home-brewing with several friends and developed beer recipes and brands based on super heroes. More recently, he took the decision to go commercial by contract brewing at the Mosco Brewery on Moshav Zanuach.

"We are working now to expand our distribution to more stores and pubs," says Noam, "and to brew additional beer styles." Today, Six Pack has two beers on the market:

Ultimus is an amber ale, 5% alcohol by volume, which pours out a lovely copper amber color, semi-hazy.  The dominant aroma is fruity hops, specifically
(Photo: Yonatan Argov)
pineapple, and yeast. In the taste, you get less citrus, but several sweet flavors – caramel and butterscotch candy – ending with a refreshing dry finish. Ultimus is well balanced between bitter and sweet, and is just fun to drink.

The second beer from Six Pack is named Heavy Hitter Strong Beer, a 7% alcohol "Belgian trippel."  Although roasty and sweet malt aromas were prevalent, and there was some malt in the taste (along with vegetables and caramel), I felt the malt presence wasn't strong enough for the Belgian trippel style.  The body was also quite thin.

What was powerful was the aroma and taste of the yeast. Like some other Belgian trippels, there was a lot of yeast waiting at the bottom of the bottle. You're allowed to gently roll the bottle and mix in this yeast. This will add bitterness to the beer, but since it is very sweet to begin with, that's not a bad thing.

And finally, two new beers have been launched by HaDubim ("The Bears), the brewing team of brothers Rotem and Dagan Bar Ilan. They use the facilities of the Beer Bazaar Brewery in Kiryat Gat. Rotem and Dagan brew some of the most interesting and sophisticated beers in Israel, and beer lovers eagerly await their new creations.

Introduced during the recent LGBT demonstration and parade is HaDubim's Love Ale, which began as a pilot project between a pale ale and an amber ale. "We express ourselves through making beer," Rotem told me. "That's how we talk. We wanted to make a statement in support of the LGBT community, so we dedicated this beer to them. We just made one batch. When it's gone, it's gone."

Love Ale, with its distinctive rainbow colored label, is still available in beer specialty shops and some liquor stores. It pours out a hazy red-amber color with a large white head and active carbonation. Take a sniff and you get citrus and pine from the Citra and Cascade hops, and some caramel and toasted malt. The first tastes are sweet fruit, mostly peach, citrus and caramel, but as you drink more, the bitterness increases. The second pour is much cloudier, and leads to a bitter, refreshing finish. Alcoholic strength is 5.5%. Leave politics and religion aside and just enjoy this tasty and satisfying beer.

Taking a walk on the much wilder side is HaDubim's Grizzly Double IPA (2018), a hop-bomb that assaults your nose and tongue with sensations from every direction. Clear yellow-gold in color, the grapefruit aroma is powerful enough to start your saliva flowing. There are also whiffs of tropical fruits and caramel. The tastes we conjured were bitter chocolate-covered grapefruit, toffee, juicy fruit, malt and some bazooka bubble gum. The mouthfeel is full and the finish is bitter and tasty.

Although the alcoholic content is 9%, you don't really feel it. And although the International Bitterness Units are measured at a whopping 100, the tastes are not overwhelmed by the bitterness. HaDubim has brewed at least three other versions of Grizzly IPA in the past, and this one maintains and even raises the standard of their excellence. It's not a beer for everybody, but if you are a fan of India Pale Ale, don't miss this one.

[A similar version of this article is appearing in 
The Jerusalem Post Friday Magazine.]

September 23, 2018

"Beer smells like a goat": Opus Brewing and Julian the Apostate

Shortly after the invisible Dr. Scott visited me (read about that episode here), another pilgrim came to Jerusalem to present me with his beer and his story.

The old blogger meets Jason Barnett,
founder, owner and brewmaster of
Opus Brewing.

(Photo: Mike Horton)
Jason Barnett, the founder, owner and brewmaster of Opus Brewing, is 30, Kansas-born, eight years in Israel and freshly engaged.  Mazal Tov!

He started home-brewing around five years ago because he loved good beer but found it expensive to buy in stores.  His answer: Make your own at home.  It's better than industrial beers, and costs a fraction of the price of craft beers.

Jason quickly got hooked on the whole "passion for brewing" thing.  So much so, that he left the administrative world of non-profit organizations to take a job as assistant brewer/cleaner/delivery guy at the Dancing Camel Brewery in Tel Aviv. 

"Even then," he adds, "I knew that I would have my own brewery some day.  While I was working at the Camel, people asked me if I could tell them more about beer and help them start home-brewing.  So I began to organize brewing workshops in people's homes.  As the demand for these skyrocketed, I decided to leave my day job and do it full-time."

(Photo: Mike Horton)
Jason now runs home-brew workshops, beer tastings and lectures, and other beer events wherever he can.  These are held in private homes, offices or public venues: Birthday parties, bachelor parties, office perks, anything.

Jason can organize his own parties when asked, but also works closely with Sipscene, which runs alcoholic-based events in the Tel Aviv area, and with organizations such as Nefesh B'Nefesh and Lone Soldiers.

He named his business Opus Brewing because that is the Latin word for "work."  "That's been my philosophy from the time I started home-brewing.  When you have a problem and you want to change things, put your head down and get to work."

The goat logo comes from a poem written by the Roman emperor Julian the Apostate (330-363).  Wine is the drink of the gods, he wrote, while beer smells like a goat.  I guess Julian never really had any good beer.  At any rate, Jason commemorated the emperor by naming his logo goat Julian.

(Photo: Mike Horton)
Jason brews four permanent core beers: Amber Ale, Kolsch, Mosaic IPA, and Bourbon Oak Stout.  He also makes 4-5 seasonal beers, including Farmhouse Ale, Belgian Witbier, Imperial IPA and Ginger Peach Cider.  He graciously gave me three bottles to try at home, so I did.

The Sunset Amber Ale is a dark, semi-clear amber, very carbonated out of the bottle, with a huge long-lasting head.  I got aromas of pineapple, resin (also called "dank") and a little soap.  The taste is bitter fruit, maybe lemon, but then as it warms, some bread and strong alcohol.  I found this to be a refreshing beer, but I would have preferred the alcohol taste to be less aggressive.  This was strange since the beer is only 5.8% alcohol by volume.           

With the Burn the Barn Farmhouse Ale, we returned to the dark amber color and high carbonation, but the aroma was brown sugar and, yes, farmhouse funk.  One of my drinking partners was less polite and compared the funk to "reflux," while another called it a "beautiful beer which waters your tongue," i.e., causes salivation.  At any rate, this beer delivers what a farmhouse ale should, and is a good example of the style.  Alcoholic content is a strong 8.4%.         

The Opus Kölsch also brings this style of beer to the fore.  Originating in Cologne, Germany, in the early 20th century, Kölsch is a light, session (low alcoholic) ale which rivals lagers for balance and crispness.  In fact, traditional Kölsch beers were fermented at warm temperatures with ale yeast, yet lagered (matured) at cold temperatures.

Opus Kölsch pours out a golden amber color with a large frothy head that I called "explosive."  The aroma was similar to a wheat beer, with herbs, spice and aromatic hops.  The taste was of sweet spice, malt and subdued hops.  As we reached the bottom of the bottle, the beer became thicker with an opaque copper color, approaching the taste of a Belgian ale.  The finish was a little sweet and very refreshing.  Alcohol by volume is 5.4%, on the high side for a Kölsch, but just right for me.  

Jason is a home-brewer, so his beers are only available at his own events (lectures, workshops, tastings).  In the longer term, however, he would like to sell his beers commercially and perhaps even open a neighborhood bar.  He has the talent, he has the determination and he certainly is not afraid of hard work.  So I suspect we'll be hearing more of Opus beer in the not-too-distant future. 

[You can read more about Opus Brewing on their website here.]