May 28, 2018

'Brothers of Light' -- Shapiro's new Imperial Chocolate Barrel-Aged Porter

Special labels; special bottles; special beer:
Shapiro Imperial Chocolate Barrel-Aged Porter.

(Photo: Mike Horton)
"You know, people who brew beer are always looking to do something different. Well, our brewers -- Yochai Kudler and Ori Sofer -- were thinking more like 'something crazy.' So we created this new beer, a strong Imperial Chocolate Porter, aged for six months in used oak bourbon barrels. You'll see, it's like no beer you've had before."

Itzik Shapiro, one of the partner-brothers at the Shapiro Brewery in Beit Shemesh, was telling me about his new beer at the official launching in Jerusalem, just minutes before I would taste it.  I was dying to take a sip, but Itzik had more to say.

"We wanted everything special about this beer. We had the Brothers of Light street artists (Elna and Gab) design a unique peel-off label that you can then stick-on to your shirt, notebook, laptop or anything you want. They teamed up with Kobi Vogman to make an animated video about the beer.  [See below.]
Celebrating the beer launch in Jerusalem:
(from left) Jo Zander of Holy Cacao,
Shapiro siblings Dani, Itzik, Tamar and Zvi,
and the old blogger.

(Photo: Mike Horton)

"The Holy Cacao chocolate company in Pnei Hever provided us with the ground cocoa beans which we add to the malt mash. The oak bourbon barrels we borrowed from the Milk & Honey distillery in Tel Aviv. The half-liter bottle is also a special size, and we had to build a new bottling machine just to accommodate it.

"We brewed less than 2,000 bottles; no kegs at all. When these are gone, that's it."

Thank you, Itzik.  I'm really ready to taste the beer now.

Wow!  The Imperial Chocolate Barrel-Aged Porter, which is also called "Brothers of Light" in honor of the label designers, is a dark brown color with faint carbonation.  The aroma is winey, chocolate liqueur, and a trace of sorrel tartness.  The dominant flavors are oak, sweet chocolate and malt, with notes of vanilla, dried fruits and bourbon!  All this fades into a long and bitter-sweet finish.
The old blogger and Esteemed Taster Bob Faber
enjoying their first drink of the new
Shapiro Imperial Chocolate Barrel-Aged Porter.

(Photo: Mike Horton)
This is a beer that radiates strength -- in alcohol (9.2%) and in powerful flavors that resist being shared with any other food or beverage.  However, on the recent dairy-eating holiday of Shavuot, I paired some Brothers of Light with my wife's vegan cheesecake and blintzes, and it was superb.  The chocolate richness of the beer harmonizes with the "cheesiness" of the desserts.  Think of pouring a chocolate liqueur on your cheesecake and you have some idea of what happens.           

To experience the full flavors of this beer, don't drink it ice cold.  Take it out of the refrigerator about 15 minutes before you drink it.  I also think that this is one beer you can put away for a year or more and expect good changes to take place as it matures.  Remember to keep the bottle upright, unlike wine, which you "lay down."

If you want to try Shapiro Imperial Chocolate Barrel-Aged Porter, you should buy your bottles now, before they're all gone.  It's in all the beer specialty stores as well as those bottle shops and some restaurants that respect beer.  I've seen prices from 39 shekels to 45 shekels for the half-liter bottle.

So thank you, Itzik Shapiro (and brothers and sister) for the information.  But most important, thanks for letting me drink the beer!     

May 21, 2018

Jerusalem May Fest: May 22-24

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Some kind of a festival with meat, cars and beer is being held this week, Tuesday, May 22 to Thursday, May 24, at the First Station compound in Jerusalem.

The publicity is confusing.  The event is named, depending on what you read, as either the May Fest, the "Jerusalem Beer Festival," the Beer and Meat Festival in Jerusalem, or the Jerusalem Beer, Meat and Rock 'n' Roll Festival.

The event starts at 5:00 p.m. every night and entrance is free.  There is live music and exhibits of collectible automobiles.  On Wednesday, the cars are part of the Europa Orient Rally, having traveled here from Germany via Jordan.  The car exhibit on Thursday is sponsored by the Israeli Cabriolet Club.

The publicity seems to put a lot of emphasis on the mounds of meat being served at this festival, reminding me of something similar which was held here last year which was in fact a "meat festival with beer as the sideline," rather than the opposite.  

If you like meat and old cars, I guess you might enjoy being here.  I find meat repulsive and cars one of the most boring subjects in the world.  But I'll probably come for the Jerusalem ambiance and the Israeli craft beer.  

May 14, 2018

Results of the Israel Brews and Views -- Pilsner Beer Tasting Panel

When I was much younger, growing up in America, one of the major beer brands advertised itself as the "King of Beers."  Maybe it was; maybe it wasn't.  But if any style deserves that title, it's Pilsner.

Born in central Europe in a burst of clarity, bitterness and flavor, Pilsner beer spread throughout the continent and the new world as the international standard for what beer should be.  Today, when the vast, vast majority of beer drinkers think of "beer," they are thinking of light lager, and they are thinking of Pilsner.  Worldwide, two-thirds of all beer is brewed in the "Pilsner tradition."

I'm not surprised that when the craft beer revolution took hold in America, Europe, Israel and other countries, it was in many ways, anti-Pilsner.  After all, this was the style (or at least what they called the style) of the industrial lagers which had come to be bland, fizzy, and rather odorless and tasteless concoctions.  Craft brewers, on the other hand, opted for distinction in colors, aromas and tastes, carbonation, body, bitterness levels and memorable finishes.

Among craft brewers, Pilsner lagers were largely ignored, eclipsed by stouts and porters, strong, tasty Belgians, and ales of all colors and tastes -- not to mention beers with additives of fruit, spices, herbs and what not.

But the simple, bright and crisp Pilsner was waiting in the background; waiting for all the hop-bombs and malt-bombs and fruity-bombs to run their course; waiting for the craft brewers to redeem the Pilsner name from the industrial brewers.

Today, almost every craft brewer in the U.S. and Europe makes a Pilsner or two, and the original Pilsner Urquell brand in the original city of Pilzn is growing in popularity.  Micro-brewed Pilsners are the fastest growing segment among all U.S. craft beers, with sales basically tripling between 2013 and 2016. 

In Israel, six commercial craft breweries make a Pilsner.  Since one of them (Sheeta Brewery in Arad) brews it as a seasonal beer made only for the summer, it was not available when the Israel Brews and Views Tasting Panel gathered together in solemn assembly.  So we could only taste five.  They all are commercial brews, largely available in bottle shops and beer specialty stores throughout the country.

Our panel this time had ten tasters, believing as we do that the more tasters, the more truly representative are the results.  Our tasters were men and women, young and old, urban and rural, sabras and immigrants, beer geeks and beer guzzlers.  Although some of us possess beer judging credentials, our panel does not pretend to act as a professional body.  I believe, however, we do encapsulate the tastes of the wider Israeli public.

Please meet our esteemed tasters:

Yitzchak from Orr Yehuda, computer programmer
Moshe from Jerusalem, travel industry start-up company
Shoshana from Givatayim, online marketer, former bartender
Bob from Moshav Ramat Raziel, jeweler 
Mike from Jerusalem, photographer and graphic designer
Yisrael from Jerusalem, bar manager
Ira from Jerusalem, risk management consultant
Batya from Shiloh, teacher and blogger 
Manny from Jerusalem, retired book retailer
Doug from Jerusalem, adman and blogger, yours truly

We tasted our five Pilsners completely blind.  All glasses just had a number on them, corresponding to a beer which only the servers knew.  The tasters recorded their impressions on a specially prepared page and when they were finished, gave each beer a ranking.  The best beer received five points, number two got four points, and so on.  All the points given to each beer were counted to obtain the final rankings.

In some of our previous Tasting Panels, the results have not been close, with clear winners and clear losers.  This time, the top scoring beer was only two points ahead of the two tied for second place, something I would call a "statistical dead heat," or what pollsters might term, "within the margin of error."  The fourth and fifth places were more clearly defined.

Taster Yitzchak expresses an opinion.
Something else of interest:  For the top three beers, we were basically all on the same page.  They got all the "five point" scores -- in almost equal amounts.  The other scores, however, were pretty much spread out among all five contestants, showing that the tasters were not exactly unanimous on everything.

Because the top scorings were so close, we decided this time to do something different.  Instead of giving individual rankings, we divided the results up into two groups: three beers in the upper group and two beers in the lower group.

Here, then, are the results with relevant comments from the tasters:

Taster Bob.
Upper Three:
Buster's Pils -- From Buster's Beverage Co. in Beit Shemesh, brewed at the Alexander Brewery in Emek Hefer.  4.8% alcohol by volume.     
  • "Floral, spice, not too bitter."
  • "A bit metallic, gentle, notes of malt."
  • "Sweet citrus, sweet malt and sweet finish."
  • "Lemon and pepper flavors, flat aftertaste."
  • "Slightly hoppy and spicy."
  • "Sweet, cloying, low bitterness, one-dimensional."
  • "Strong hops and sweet citrus."
  • "Grainy sweetness with low hop bitterness."

Taster Moshe.
Jem's Pils --  From the Jem's Beer Factory in Petach Tikva, 5% ABV.  One of the tasters mentioned that Jem's Pils had surprisingly strong esters and phenols in its aroma and taste -- characteristics more commonly found in ales than in lagers.
  • "Very mild, bland, barely any aftertaste."
  • "No aroma, but lemony and grassy tastes, very well balanced."
  • "I could drink quite a lot of this."
  • "Lemon grass and spice."
  • "Obvious lemon.  Long aftertaste that smooths into a long finish."
  • "Flavorless, barely drinkable."
  • "Lemon sweet hops, refreshing."
  • "Nice malt, nicer bitterness."

Taster Batya.
Bazelet Pilsner -- From the Golan Brewery in Katzrin on the Golan Heights.  4.9% ABV.
  • "Floral, earthy hop aroma.  Unbalanced with high bitterness."
  • "Strong and bitter."
  • "Bitter, medicinal."
  • "Dry with noticeable low bitterness.  Enjoyable, clean"
  • "Pepper taste.  Strong and bitter finish."
  • "Semi-sweet with lemon.  Short finish, refreshing."
  • "Sharp taste, lasting bitterness."
  • "Pleasant taste, but bitter bordering on the extreme."
  • "Malty, waxy, strong bitter aftertaste."    

Lower Two:
Taster Manny.
Mosco Pilsner -- From the Mosco Brewery on Moshav Zanuach near Beit Shemesh.  3.8% ABV.
  • "Bitter and aromatic, strong lemon.  Goes down easy."
  • "Rather flat.  Not impressed."
  • "Mild and watery."
  • "Strong phenol and sulfur.  Hardly any hop aroma or flavor."
  • "Flavorless sip after a fascinating aroma."
  • "Boring and sour."
  • "Pleasant aroma; not much taste or aftertaste."
  • "Grassy, pungent, hoppy, decent."

    Taster Shoshana.
    Gentle Pilsner --  From the Lela Brewery in Maccabim (brewed commercially at the Mosco Brewery).  Brewer Eli Bechar calls this a "Gentle" Pilsner, making it an even lighter version of a light beer.  3.8% ABV. 
    • "Diacetyl (buttery) and sulfur."
    • "Slightly peppery and malty.  Tastes like Tuborg Green."
    • "Lemony.  Not very hoppy."
    • "Sweet, nutty, watery body, low bitterness."
    • "Lite summer beer with a lemony finish."
    • "Good balance of hops and malt.  Refreshing and drinkable."
    • "Bitter, crisp and peppery."
    • "Vegetal (spinach) and grassy, bland."
    • "Grassy and bitter. 

    So there you have it.  The tasters have spoken.  Congratulations to Buster's Beverage Co., the Golan Brewery and Jem's Beer Factory, whose Pilsners were close enough to be considered a three-way tie.    

    Our warm thanks to all of the brewers represented in the Tasting Panel for contributing their beers.  Israeli craft brewers are truly a fraternity of colleagues, not competitors, and it's always an honor for us to cooperate with them. 

    Thanks also to my wife Trudy, whose attention to detail and good taste made the Tasting Panel a culinary and social success.  

    And special thanks to Taster Mike Horton, photographer and graphic designer extraordinaire, whose magic camera returned the Esteemed Tasters to the picturesque city of Pilzn, where it all began.