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 (brad@jems.co.il or 917-960-0956) or Daniel Alon in Israel (daniel@jems.co.il).

(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:  https://goo.gl/maps/i577awVcSgC2

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.]