I also never forget that just a few years ago the idea of finding and reporting on new Israeli beers would have been in the realm of pulp fiction.
The first new, or rather, newly formulated, beer is Hoppy Wheat from the Malka Brewery in Tefen in the northern Galilee. There will be those of you who quickly point out that Malka has had a wheat beer since about 2012, and you would be right. But they have recently redesigned the recipe from a Bavarian-style hefeweizen to an American wheat.
|Look for the words|
"Hoppy Wheat" for
American Wheat beer.
And in fact, our Tasters confirm that Hoppy Wheat has hop strength somewhere between a German-style wheat (low) and an American Pale Ale (high). We detected or imagined strong hop aromas of citrus (lemon, grapefruit, orange peel), while the taste was basically a pale ale. It's a very refreshing and thirst-quenching beer, going well with a wide variety of foods. The color is a semi-hazy pale straw with a lasting white head. Alcohol by volume is 5%.
Something completely different comes from the Alexander Brewery in Emek Hefer -- the 2019 version of their Barley Wine, with a powerful 11.2% alcohol. A traditional winter drink, barley wines are among the strongest beer styles, taking their names from the alcohol content which is similar to wine. [Read about Alexander's first Barley Wine here.]
This year's version was aged for six months in oak barrels which previously held American bourbon whisky (my favorite). This period of "maturation" was designed to impart complex flavors of the bourbon and the oak barrel to the beer. Let's see how it worked out.
The beer pours out a clear copper color, with a quickly disappearing head. Carbonation is low. We got aromas of sweet malt, vanilla, coconut, some smoke, and oak wood. The taste is sweet, rich and flavorful, assaulting your tongue with caramel, toffee, honey, vanilla, some chocolate, and alcohol (whisky). My drinking partner Daniel also picked up some hints of maple syrup. Hmm. "Usually I am overwhelmed by the alcohol in barley wines," he commented, "but this one is amazingly balanced."
The finish, as expected, is long and semi-sweet, with the complex flavors staying with you. I do not recommend drinking this beer with food; it simply is too overpowering. Some have suggested, however, that it can be accompanied by sharp cheeses and even some sweet and rich desserts.
This is not a beer you should be having ice cold. Take it out of the refrigerator about 20 minutes before you drink it. Alexander recommends that it should be around
12˚ Centigrade (53˚ Fahrenheit). This gives all the flavors a chance to come out of hibernation and fully develop.
One further word of caution: If you are not familiar with strong beers (strong in flavor and/or strong in alcohol), it may take a while to get used to Alexander Barley Wine. Sip it slowly and keep an open mind. That's how you can fully appreciate the aromas, flavors and mouthfeel of this superior beverage. This is also a beer that you can set aside for six months, a year or more, and expect interesting things to happen to the network of flavors.
Alexander Barley Wine is a limited, seasonal edition from the brewery. Only 2,050 bottles were issued, and each bottle is numbered. If you still haven't tried it, go out and buy a bottle or two now, while they are still available.
Beer number three in the catch-up is an ESB (Extra Special Bitter) from the Shevet Brewery in Pardes Hanna, the first of their Small Batch series. Until now it is available only on tap at the brewery and a few other locations, though I have heard that it is also be coming out in bottles. We tasted it at Beerateinu in Jerusalem.
The ESB style is not very bitter, at least by today's standard of hopped and über-hopped beers. It's in the family of English pale ales, but was originally served from a cask rather than a pressurized keg. It's probably called "bitter" because at the time, it was bitterer than the other beers being served. In fact, it should be quite balanced between the hop bitterness and the malt sweetness.
The Shevet Small Batch ESB is a clear golden color and is lightly carbonated. The dominant aromas are bread and yeast. The mid-bitter taste brings with it more yeast and cereal grains. The body is thin and the finish is dry. Alcohol by volume measures 6.2%. It's an easy-drinking beer, and we felt it could easily pass for a lager.
With this ESB, Shevet's brewmaster Lior Balmas is continuing to introduce beer styles which are not made by other Israeli craft breweries. Shevet's first two beers are a Helles lager (The Ice Mann) and a Scottish ale (Wee Laddie). I look forward to the new beers that they have planned for the future. [Read more about the Shevet "Brewstillery" here.]