December 29, 2019

Three-beer catch-up: Malka Hoppy Wheat, Alexander Barley Wine 2019, Shevet Small Batch ESB

It's always fun to catch up on some new Israeli craft beers.  First of all, I enjoy encountering new tastes and giving credit where it's due to the breweries that have invested talent, time and money to bring a new product to the market.

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
Malka's new
American Wheat beer.
"Israel has enough German-style wheat beers, both local and imported from Germany," says Gilad Dror, Beer Brands Manager at Hacarem Spirits Ltd., a partner in the Malka Brewery.  "We brought an American-style wheat beer to the market -- more hop character than hefeweizens, with none of the typical spicy and fruity flavors such as banana and cloves."

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. 

Image may contain: drinkThe 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.

Related imageBeer 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.]     

December 4, 2019

Juha Väänänen: Finland, Israel and beer

Image may contain: one or more people, people standing, sky, mountain, outdoor and nature
Juha in Israel for the sixth time:
"Brewmaster - Journalist - Ukulele Guru" 
Like most encounters these days, I first met Juha Väänänen on the internet.  He was acquainted with my blog, Israel Brews and Views, and asked if I could help him prepare an article on Israeli craft beer he had undertaken for a prominent beer magazine in Finland, which is where Juha lives.  Of course I agreed and I gave him some background information on the subject, while directing him towards micro-breweries and other locations of interest.

In fact, if you're one of the fortunate few who understand Finnish, you can read the article
 in Olutposti (2/19) and also in Hakehila (3/19), the journal of the Finnish Jewish community.

Juha and I kept up our contact and he told me how very rare it is for a Finnish publication to write anything positive about Israel.  The Palestinian and Arab narratives have been accepted across the board, along with good old indigenous anti-semitism. 

Juha himself is a proud and vocal supporter of Israel (which often gets him in hot water) who had visited Israel five times.

On his sixth trip, two weeks ago, we met.

His business card says that he is a "Brewmaster - Journalist - Ukulele Guru."  He worked for several breweries in Finland and still does consulting work for some.

Image may contain: 3 people, including Doug Greener and Juha Väänänen, people smiling, people sitting, drink, indoor and food
Juha gifts the old blogger with
Grönbacka craft beer from Finland.
I met Juha in the Beer Bazaar in the Machane Yehuda market in Jerusalem.  Though it was a cold November night, Juha was wearing sandals, short pants and short-sleeve shirt.  "In Finland, this is springtime weather," he declared.  We toasted his safe arrival (with his wife and Wilma, his 14-year-old daughter) and our good fortune with some of the new Malka Oktoberfest beer.  Two thumbs up! 

He gave me three bottles of Finnish craft beer from the Grönbacka Brewery in Nurmijärvi, (which is also where Juha lives, some 20 miles north of Helsinki) and a copy of the memoirs of his father, a former Finnish politician.  I promised to finish them all (pun intended). 

Gronbacka craft beer
from Finland:
Orange Wheat,
Cascadian Dark Ale and
Grönbacka is a very new brewery (established 2018) and run entirely by a father, mother and two sons.  It produced about 50,000 liters of ten different beers in its first year.  They are available only locally.  Grönbacka is an ecologically minded brewery, using wind energy exclusively.

Juha gave me the Golden Wheat, Lager, and Cascadian Dark Ale (which is a better way of saying Black IPA), which I will soon be tasting. 

Since we both are vegetarians, I suggested that we walk over to Beerateinu, where they were holding a month-long campaign to choose a vegan burger for their menu.  You're served five different vegan mini-burgers prepared by chef Levi Laine, and then you vote for your favorite.  At the end of the month, the burger with the most votes won.

Five vegan burgers at Beerateinu, Jerusalem.
Juha and I took notes and exchanged comments as if we were judging beer.  

We disagreed on which burger was the best, but we did agree that the beer we had with the burgers was excellent: Shevet Brewery's Wee Laddie Scottish Ale and Ice Mann Helles Lager.

Juha and I parted as long-lost buddies, even though we had just met a couple of hours earlier.  After they left Jerusalem, Juha and his family continued to tour Israel from Eilat to the Galilee and Haifa, and flew back to Finland a few days ago.  He is a true lover of Israel and of good beer -- and that's a powerful combination. 

November 25, 2019

An Israeli in the wonderland of American beer

Image result for American beer"First of all, I'm very happy with the variety of craft beers we have in Israel: our locally brewed beers, supplemented by some very fine imports.  What's available in Jerusalem stores, pubs and restaurants can keep me satisfied till the end of my days (whenever that is).

But on a recent trip to the U.S., I was awed by two visits with family members to a neighborhood beer hall and a brewery taproom, chosen completely arbitrarily, seeking no special or seasonal brews that get beer geeks traveling hundreds of miles.  No, that's not for me.  It was enough just to go local to experience some of the combinations and permutations of beer styles that is now the American craft beer scene.  Maybe the pessimists are right that it's ephemeral and unsustainable, but for now America is a Garden of Delights for the beer-loving visitor.

Ami and Trudy join me for four Floridian craft beers
in the World of Beer.
Let me give you two examples:

Our first stop was southern Florida to visit my mom and brother.  My son Ami from Washington, DC, joined us for a few days, and together with Trudy we visited the World of Beer in Coconut Creek.  WOB is a chain of 53 craft beer restaurants across the U.S., 15 or so in Florida alone.  We've been there before and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves.  [You can read about a previous visit here.] 

Our attentive waiter (who also knew a thing or two about selling beer) offered us a flight of four beers.  Since we like to drink local whenever possible, we chose Florida breweries.             

First up was Neon White IPA from the MIA Beer Company in Doral, Florida.  This is brewed with Pilsner malt and wheat, and hopped exclusively with Citra.  Alcohol by volume is 7.5%.  In our glass it was very hazy, orange juice colored, with a lovely white head.  The aroma is grapefruit and pineapple, with Ami also detecting some mango.  The strong bitterness was just right for me, but too much for Ami, who prefers his beers with lower level IBUs (International Bittering Units).

So he preferred our second glass: Bell Cow Milk Chocolate Porter from Jdub's Brewing Company in Sarasota.  An opaque dark brown with a tan head, this beer has aromas of chocolate and malt.  The taste reminded me of an old-fashion egg cream, although the lactose sweetness was kept in check by the dark malts.  ABV is 5.6%.

We ventured into different territory with Single in Havana, a Belgian Singel ale (not very commonly brewed outside of monasteries), brewed with pink guava pulp and juice.  The brewery, Barrel of Monks Brewing in Boca Raton, specializes in Belgian-style beers, and they chose this lightest of the style, with an ABV of only 4.2%, because of the Florida weather.  It's a semi-hazy, mid-amber color, and the aroma is sweet fruit and guava.  The sweetness disappears when it hits your tongue, with bitter and slightly sour guava on top.  The finish is very dry and it even left me a little breathless.  Ami was impressed with this light, refreshing and fruity beer.

Our last beer was also an "only in America" hybrid -- a Cucumber Berliner Weiss from the Florida Avenue Brewing Company in Tampa.  This is a traditional Berliner Weiss, a kettle-soured wheat ale, but flavored with a massive amount of fresh cucumbers.  As clear as ginger ale, with an aroma of sour funk, and a mildly sour taste with cucumber and crispy citrus.  This is a wonderful summer beer, and fortunately for us, it was summer in Florida.  Can't get any more summery than that!

A quiet street on a quiet day:
Outside The Bottle House Brewing Company
in Cleveland Heights.
From Florida we traveled north to the cooler climes of Cleveland, Ohio, to visit Trudy's brother Dan and his wife Carole.  Dan, a retired rabbi and psychologist, has been following my blog since its inception and was eager to take Trudy and me to a Cleveland craft brewery, of which there are about 25.  (What we didn't expect was Dan's growing enthusiasm when we began to taste the beers.)   

We chose The Bottle House, a cozy brewery and taproom, because it was 1) conveniently located for Dan, and 2) was open when we wanted to go.

The Bottle House tap list.
The brewer and co-owner, Brian Benchek, wasn't there, but the attendants were knowledgeable and helpful.  We ordered a flight of four beers, choosing them according to different styles.

First in line was Erie Coast IPA, hazy and pale and 6.3% ABV.  At the first sip, we all said "grapefruit and citrus" -- it was so dominant.  But then Dan ventured, "Maybe a little pine, right?"  Well, yeah, very good.  It was dank and very bitter, but without harshness and even a soft finish.  A well made and nicely balanced IPA.

Trudy never liked very bitter beers, but Dan and I agreed that Erie Coast got us off to a good start.

Trudy about to take a four-beer flight. 
Next was La Tentadora, a 9% ABV Imperial Stout aged in Bourbon barrels with cherries and paprika.  (Who thinks of these things?)

Dark as black coffee, it had aromas of espresso and dark chocolate.  "Aren't there also cherries in the aroma?" asked Dan.  I guess so.  "Hey, this is fun.  Is this what you do?"

Well, it isn't all I do.  I do have my advertising work, and my children and grandchildren, and other hobbies.  But, yes, this is the gist of beer tasting and sharing your opinions with other people.

Taking craft beer seriously:
Brothers-in-law Dan and the old blogger.
The taste was rich with cocoa and malt, on the sweet side, and full bodied.  Hard to detect any bourbon or oak, but that was okay.  La Tentadora is a delicious and complex Imperial Stout -- a sipping beer -- we all agreed.     

What followed were two "wild," "spontaneous," or "sour" beers, whatever you want to call them.

Nova Raspberry, named a "Wild Ale," with 6.9% ABV, aged in wine barrels with raspberries and Brettanomyces yeast.  It's a lovely crimson color, like cranberry juice.  We all took dainty whiffs and voiced our associations: "berries," "sour berries," "dankness," "wet cardboard."  (This last one was from Dan, who was really getting into the flow.)  The taste was tart raspberry preserves; sour like yogurt.  Dan noted that the carbonation sharpened the sourness.  We all agreed this beer would go well with crackers and cheese, like goat cheese and mild cheddar.  As we took our final sips, we noticed that the "oomph" was gone; the tastes were not
as prominent.
Welcome to The Bottle House
Brewery and Meadery.

We ended our flight with Duality #1, a spontaneous sour golden ale, 6.8% alcohol.  The aroma was sour and funky with bread from the malts.  There was almost no carbonation.  The taste was less sour than the Nova Raspberry, but devoid of fruit, spice or vegetable flavors.  "Rain forest green," was Dan's contribution, and "flat and not interesting."

The old blogger pumpin' iron
and pluggin' Goldstar:
It's not craft but it is Israeli!

We had gone into The Bottle House a family, and walked out a beer tasting team!  It was a great pleasure for me to see my brother-in-law Dan get turned on to the finer points of craft beer.  He always enjoyed good beer, and I'm sure this experience will make him appreciate it even more.

We thank Dan and Carole for being such wonderful hosts, for showing us around their home city, and for taking me, the old blogger, on their daily visits to the gym.  I used the occasion to show the colors for Israeli beer. 

Trudy and I soon afterwards left Cleveland and returned to Israel.  We both brought back a bunch of new memories and new tastes.           

November 19, 2019

Israeli za'atar beer from the Nomads

Jacob Mogerman (right) and
Yonah Rubin in their formative
days of home-brewing.
When Yonah Rubin and Jacob Mogerman, two thirty-somethings, met a few years ago, they were brewing for other people.

"We were young kids looking to advance ourselves, and we both knew how to make beer," explains Yonah.  "So it was natural for us to think about brewing together."

Yonah had grown up in Sharon, Massachusetts (though he lived in Jerusalem as a young child) and returned to Israel in 2005.  Jacob, from St. Louis, Missouri, came to Israel in 2010.

The result of that partnership is the newest Israeli craft beer on the block -- Nomads (which they contract brew at the Beer Bazaar Brewery in Kiryat Gat).  Their first beer is made with za'atar, a Middle Eastern plant used to spice many dishes and baked goods.  It normally is not used straight, but mixed with other spices.

My internet search turned up only five other beers in the world that have been brewed with za'atar (which may or may not even exist anymore): Three in the U.S., one in Lebanon, and one from the Taybeh Brewery in the West Bank.

The za'atar plant, a protected species in Israel,
and the blended spice which is made from it.
"The both of us thought about using za'atar at the same time," Jacob continues.  "It was amazing.  We wanted to use local ingredients in our beers, and za'atar is such an iconic and ubiquitous spice in Israel that we couldn't ignore it."

Yonah thanks David Cohen, owner of Israel's first craft brewery, Dancing Camel in Tel Aviv, for introducing him to the possibilities of using local ingredients in beer.   

"When I worked at the Dancing Camel as head brewer," he recalls, "we made some of our beers more 'Israeli' by using local products."

Beers from the Dancing Camel have included date honey (silan), etrog (citron), mint, honey, chili pepper, pomegranate, anise, carob, even salt from the Dead Sea!

Using za'atar, however, turned out to be a challenge.

"Za'atar's oils and compounds are a lot like hops," explains Yonah.  "The flavor will dissipate if you add it during the boiling process, and all you're left with is the bitterness.  So we steep the za'atar in the beer during the fermentation stage, a process known as 'dry-hopping' -- even though we're using za'atar and not hops.  It took us three or four attempts before we got what we wanted."

This would be a good time for me to tell you about Nomads Saison de Zion (Za'atar Beer), so I will.

It pours out of the bottle a light amber color, quite clear, with strong carbonation and a large white head.  The za'atar is very present in the aroma, along with hay or grass, and yeast.  (The aroma and flavor of za'atar is something you can't mistake.)  In the taste, you get the za'atar and the typical spice from the Saison yeast -- spicy enough so that I actually felt a tingling over my tongue.  The sweet hints of the za'atar and the spice balance each other very nicely.  The beer is medium bodied and a little dry in the finish.

Hummus and za'atar:
Made for each other.
Since I am a big fan of za'atar on my salads and on my bread, I enjoyed this beer no end.  It begs to be drunk with foods which are enhanced by the za'atar spice -- especially hummus. 

Yonah and Jacob plan to introduce more beers under the Nomad's label in 2020, also using local products, herbs and spices.

"In our age of instant and constant communication, you find the same beer styles being brewed all over the world," insists Jacob.  "We don't want to just take a foreign beer style and make it with Israeli ingredients.  We believe we are in a unique situation with all of our different immigrant groups bringing something to the table, combined with the native agricultural products that have always symbolized the Land of Israel.  We want to use this to develop a truly Israeli beer." 

November 14, 2019

The BJCP in Israel: Serious beer judging and what it means

If there is one standard in the world to which all good and true craft beers can repair, it is the Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP).

Begun in the U.S. in 1985 but now accepted and adhered to internationally, the BJCP seeks to ensure that all beers are judged by the same style criteria no matter where they are brewed.  A prize-winning IPA in California, for example, should finish in the money in Tokyo.  And a stout brewed in Cape Town which matches the flavor profile of one made in Tel Aviv, should score about the same in competition.

Today in Israel, almost all of the home-brew competitions adhere to the BJCP guidelines and use BJCP judges -- Mevshalim, B'tsisa, BeerYamina and Isra-Brew, to name a few.  To handle this task, and others, Israel now boasts about 40 home-grown BJCP judges.

Back when he was brewing with Basha-Flom,
Omer Basha (left) shared some of
his beers with the old blogger.

(Photo: Mike Horton)
The one person most responsible for bringing the program to Israel is Omer Basha of Beersheva, former partner (along with Dvir Flom) in what was the Basha-Flom Brewery, and a Ph.D. in Bioinformatics.

Omer was recently awarded the highest rank in the BJCP -- a Master Judge.  There are only about 160 of such in the entire world!

"We were able to get the BJCP to send two proctors to Israel in 2017 to give the first exam," explains Omer, sharing the credit with fellow brewer Ephraim Greenblatt.

The old blogger tries to make a point
while Omer Basha explains the details
of the BJCP program in Israel.

(Photo: Mike Horton)
"In February 2017, the first exam was given in Israel to 18 persons, and most of them were certified."

In order to become a BJCP judge you have to contend with not one, but three examinations.  The first is the online entrance exam, where you have to answer 180 questions in 60 minutes.

Then comes the tasting exam -- 90 minutes during which you have to taste and judge six beers, while filling out score sheets.

The final written exam is 90 minutes and consists of 20 true-or-false questions and five essays.

Only 160 in the world:
Omer Basha's Master Beer Judge certificate.
Omer explains:  "The examiners are looking for your abilities in perception, description, and feedback on how to improve the beer.  They also score your evaluation skills and completeness in answering."

Whew!  This is obviously not a test you can breeze by.  It takes studying and memorizing a vast amount of material; Topics such as beer styles, characteristics and ingredients; BJCP ethics and procedures; recipes, brewing processes and trouble shooting.

Here are some examples of questions you might come up against:

True or false:  Light malt sweetness is part of the flavor profile of Belgian Blond Ale.
                       Diacetyl in a British Brown Ale is acceptable due to the yeast strain.

The hops most appropriate for a Strong Bitter are:
a) Kent Goldings and Fuggles
b) Styrian Goldings and Saaz
c) Cascade
d) Hallertauer and Tettnanger
e) Any low alpha acid varieties

How did you do?

Certified beer judges judging, vs. . . . 
Omer continues:  "The judging rank you get is determined by your grade.  To become a Recognized Judge, you have to get a score of at least 60 in the tasting exam, and it's enough to take the entrance exam and the tasting exam.  If you get at least 70 in the tasting exam plus five experience points (you get a half-point each time you participate in a judging), you become a Certified Judge.   

"Scoring over 80 as a composite score in the tasting and written exams gets you the rank of a National Judge, and over 90 makes you a Master."

 . . . amateur beer tasters tasting.
(Photo: Mike Horton)
The 40 or so BJCP judges in Israel are in high demand for local competitions, and some even get invited to judge in overseas competitions.  I asked Omer if personal tastes can interfere with beer judging.  For example, I pointed out, a critic can give a movie or a restaurant a glowing review, while another person with different tastes can find them atrocious.

"It's not the same as judging," Omer answered.  "We evaluate a beer by the way it adheres to its style guidelines, not by our personal tastes.  I may love a beer that's called an amber ale, for example, but if its color, aroma, taste and/or some other characteristics are not what an amber ale should be, I have to take  off points and give it a lower score."

In the Israeli and foreign competitions that accept the BJCP guidelines, each beer entry is tasted and scored by two to four judges.

The BJCP Beer Score Sheet:
Not an easy task!
"Then we discuss the beer and explain our scoring," adds Omer.  "All the scores have to be within a certain number of points of each other to be valid.  It's normally three, five or seven points, depending on the competition.  If the spread is greater than that, the judges discuss it until they reach an agreement.  They almost always do this without difficulty."

What is difficult is the judging itself.  As Omer puts it: "It's hard work to break down a beverage and evaluate each of its aroma and flavor attributes -- and do it again and again!  We call this 'palate fatigue.'"

My take-away from all of this is that beer judges, whether BJCP-certified or not, are very dedicated volunteers who are working for the good of the "craft beer community," if you can call it that.  The judging sessions can easily stretch into hours, involving dozens of beers.  You have to stay focused, you have to treat each beer like it was the first, and you have to fill out the score sheet so it has value to the brewer who gets to read it.

This, Omer emphasizes, is perhaps the most important element in certified beer judging: Giving the brewer a chance to read what expert judges have to say about his or her beer and how to make it better suited to the style guidelines.  "In the long run," says Omer, "it is this feedback that will result in the overall improvement of craft beer in Israel.  This includes home-brewers as well as commercial micro-breweries.  Everybody benefits from expert and fair judging."

November 2, 2019

Beer Market brings "take-home draft beer" to Jerusalem

The new Beer Market
in Machane Yehuda, Jerusalem.

(Photo: Mike Horton)
The concept is not a new one.  It's been in cities around the world for several years, and even in some Israeli cities since 2017.  But it's just arrived in Jerusalem.

We're talking about draft beer you can take-away and drink at home, or wherever else you want to.  Yes, the same draft beer that you drink from a tap in your neighborhood bar or restaurant.

"I don't know why no one else opened a place like this in Jerusalem before now," ponders Yuri Volman, one of the partners of Beer Market in the Machane Yehuda market (3 HeCharuv Street), which opened two months ago.  "I and my partner, Alex Lobanov, thought that the time was right to bring this idea to Jerusalem.  There are a large number of tourists in this city who want especially to try Israeli craft beers.  Jerusalemites too appreciate Israeli craft beers more than other cities.  Now they can bring the beer home fresh from the tap."

Partner Alex Lobanov mans the taps
at the new Beer Market in
Jerusalem's Machane Yehuda.

(Photo: Mike Horton)
It works like this: Beer Market has three sizes of clean, empty, brown plastic bottles – half-liter, liter, and liter-and-a-half.  You pick the size you want and one of the 15 beers on tap.  The taps were custom-made in Russia and include a special apparatus for filling bottles.  The opening is sealed tight to keep air from touching the beer as it is filled, and to keep the amount of foam to a minimum.  The bottle is then sealed with an airtight screw cap.

"The unopened draft beer will stay fresh for about a week in the refrigerator," explains Yuri.  "After it's opened, you should finish it as soon as possible, since oxidation is a great enemy of beer."

The Beer Market's custom-made taps for
filling bottles with fresh draft beer.

(Photo: Mike Horton)
The Beer Market charges NIS 25 for a half-liter, NIS 39 for the liter, and NIS 59 for the liter-and-a-half.  You can also buy glasses of beer to drink there for the same prices, which are quite reasonable.  A tasting "flight" of four different beers (each cup 150 milliliters) costs NIS 34.
There are draft beers from Ronen, Emek Ha'ela, Malka, Negev, Jem's, Buster's Hard Lemonade, and Shoshana (an "Israeli" beer brewed with mint in Belgium).  There is also one rotating tap for special or seasonal beers which currently holds Alexander's new Saison.  You can also have liquors and cocktails at the bar.  Light snacks such as nacho chips and edamame are available.

Although Beer Market is the first to bring take-away draft beer to the greater Jerusalem area, two chains have been operating in other Israeli cities since 2017.  They carry both Israeli craft beers and foreign imports, while Beer Market sells Israeli craft beers exclusively.  There's Beer Station (with stores in Tel Aviv, Haifa, Beersheva, Ashdod, Rishon L'Tzion, Bat Yam and Petach Tikva) and Beer Point (Beersheva, Ashkelon, Ashdod, Bat Yam and Rishon L'Tzion).  Bira Nekuda has a similar store in Rechovot.      

Jerusalemites have always known that the best beer you can have is fresh from the tap.  Now they can bring it home with them to share with family and friends. 

A version of this article appeared Friday, November 1, in 
The Jerusalem Post local weekly, In Jerusalem.

October 30, 2019

Mevshalim 2019 home-brew competition winners

Another home-brew contest was held recently in Israel -- the fourth Mevshalim Competition, arranged by the Home-Brewers Guild of Beersheva.

The head organizer this year was Ohad Boxerman, who home-brews (with partners Maor  Pallivatikal, Yaron Berger, Michal Shelly and Yoni Goren) under the name of The Excuse Brewery (HaTirutz).

"We had 104 entries which we divided into nine categories for judging," Ohad told me.  "Seven were for beers, plus ciders and meads.  We devised the categories after the entries were submitted, based on similarities of style, flavor and aroma profiles, and strength."

There were all kinds of prizes, of course, given to the winners, as well as certificates.  But Ohad said that the best prize was the feedback that every entrant received for his beer.  These were the comments made by the judges on the scoring sheets.

Some of the beer judges at their work
for the Mevshalim home-brew competition.
All of the judges were qualified by the
Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP). 
"All of our judges have been qualified by the internationally recognized Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP)," explained Ohad.  "They are used to writing their comments in English, and in this case they each made a decision whether to use Hebrew or English.

"With our limited manpower, we translated as many of the English comments as we could into Hebrew, and gave them to the entrants.  Each form also had the contact information for the judge, and the entrants were encouraged to direct any questions or comments directly to the judge.  They appreciated this as the best way to improve the quality of their brewing."

In addition to Ohad, the members of the organizing committee included Zvi Sharon, Certified BJCP Judge, in charge of Information Technology, Yonatan Goren, Certified BJCP Judge, marketing and design, and Omer Basha, Master BJCP Judge, Head Judge.

Ohad Boxerman (right), head organizer of
this year's Mevshalim home-brew competition,
presents the Best Of Show award to
Nitai Leffler of the Sabresa Brewery.

(Photo: Ariel Behar Kent)  
Here is the list of the 2019 Mevshalim winners, with the authorized English spelling of their names:

Best Of Show (chosen from all of the first-place winners)
Sabresa Brewery -- Nitai Leffler, Yogev Nathan and Ofer Pekerman

Champion Brewer (Amassing the most points for all of his ranked entries.  All five of his entries won awards!)
Alex Fux (The Three-Legged Crow Brewery)

First:  Sabresa Brewery -- Tiger Phoney, Specialty IPA
Second: Tom Arad -- Fearsome Cadence, American IPA
Third: Danny Perets -- Hugeness IPA, American IPA

Rafi Kent (left), winner of the first prize
for Specialty Beers at the
Mevshalim home-brew competition,
accepts his award from Ohad Boxerman.

(Photo: Ariel Behar Kent)
Belgians and Sours
First:  Zvi Sharon -- Sour Lady, Mixed Fermentation
Second:  Tomer Avramovitch -- Gose

Dark Beers
First:  Alex Fux -- Cowboy's Breakfast, Oatmeal Stout

Lagers and Wheat Beers
First:  Alex Fux -- Better Beer Fest, Cream Ale
Second:  Assaf Friedman, Kupe, New Zealand Pilsner
Third: Boaz Lanner -- Weizen, Weissbier 

Strong Ales
First:  Murat Nepesov -- Theo's First Steps, Imperial Stout
Second: Alex Fux -- Cowboy's Breakfast, Smoked Beer
Third: Gilad Ne-Eman -- They Have Walked the Fields, Old Ale

Specialty Beers
First:  Rafi Kent -- Kataleen Bebe, Spice, Herb or Vegetable Beer
Second: Alex Fux  -- Wanna Turn Up the Heat, Fruit Beer
Third: Alex Fux -- Red Heads Revenge, Fruit Beer
Honorable Mention: Boaz Lanner -- Gruit, Spice, Herb or Vegetable Beer 

Light Ales
No winners were chosen

First:  Gilad Ne-Eman -- Mead Me, Dry Mead
Second: Talor Turjeman -- Melomel

First:  Akiva Amiel -- Ginger Ale, Herb or Spice Cider
Second: Ohad Boxerman (The Excuse Brewery) -- Just Cider, New World Cider

Congratulations to all the winners -- and to all of the entrants!  As I've written before, home-brewing is the wide base of the pyramid that supports the Israel craft beer revival.    

October 23, 2019

Two nights at the Jerusalem Beer Festival

The 15th annual Jerusalem Beer Festival ("Ir HaBira") went on for two nights at the end of the summer.  So did I.

Good beer with good friends:
(From right) Yishay Maguri of Ifshy Brewery,
Ofer Ronen of Ronen Beer (Srigim Brewery),
and IBAV Taster Batya Medad.

(Photo: Mike Horton)
The first night I went with photographer Mike Horton and members of the Israel Brews and Views Tasting Team to press some flesh, seek out some new beers (while not ignoring the old) and simply have a good time.

Our thanks to Eli Giladi of Giladi Productions for facilitating our attendance.

For people who were offered (and accepted) beer at every booth, the team really got around.  We visited and tasted beers from:

Ifshy, Six-Pack (Super Heroes), Barzel, Oak & Ash, Lela, Isis, Negev, Malka, Shapiro, Alexander, Beer Bazaar and perhaps others.

With so much good Israeli beer on tap, we gave our livers a break and steered away from the many imported brews which were also being offered.

We found a few new local beers which held our attention, at least as long as we were drinking them.

With Gilad Dror (left), Beer Brands Manager
at Hacarem Spirits, Ltd., and
Moshe Lifshitz, IBAV Taster.

(Photo: Mike Horton) 
Oak & Ash led off with their two latest beers, served with pride by owner/brewer Asher Zimble.  (Asher now contract brews his beer at the HaGibor Brewery in Carmiel.)  These are the New England IPA (NEIPA) and Coco Porter, now available in bottles at beer specialty stores.

The Alexander Brewery debuted their new Saison with a label reflecting Rene Magritte's famous Son of Man painting, but with a hop cone instead of a green apple obstructing the man's face.

I drink out of a cup.  They drink out of their hats.
(Photo: Mike Horton)
 [You can read my recent reviews of the Oak & Ash beers and the Alexander Saison, including fascinating background information, here.]

If you want to taste the new Negev Lemongrass, you have to have it on tap at the brewery in Tefen or at some branches of Beer Bazaar.  It's basically Negev's Oasis beer infused with lemongrass, making it spicy and refreshing.  The lemongrass flavor is not the same as lemon, but brings in elements of grass, lemon zest, citrus, spice and even ginger.  It's on the bitter side of the spectrum, but not by much.

The Beer Bazaar mobile pub:
The Gypsy Beer Truck.

(Photo: Mike Horton)
The only other new beer we tasted at the festival was a Cherry Beer from Ronen (Srigim Brewery).  Made with cherry extract, it's a deep red color with the aroma and flavor of  . . . cherries.

Brewery owner Ofer Ronen was on hand, and he explained to me that the trick here is to keep the cherry presence while having enough malt and hop backbone so there's no doubt that you're actually drinking a beer.  If "fruit beers" lose this balance you can end up with a kind of a sweet, fruity beverage.
Rotem Bar Ilan (right) of the Hadubim Brewery
and Maor Helfman of Herzl Brewery
were just visiting.

(Photo: Mike Horton)
Ronen's Cherry Beer seems to handle this balance very well, but I personally am not a big fan of fruited beers -- unless they're in the sour spectrum.

If you notice a pattern here -- fruit juice, coconut, lemon, cherry -- so did we.   

Our tongue-wearied Tasters were getting frustrated: "Enough with the fruit.  Where's the beer?"

With Jeremy Welfeld of the Jem's Beer Factory.
(Photo: Mike Horton)
In point of fact, we did drink some fine "traditional" beers, both ales and lagers, but these were not among the new launches.

On the second night of the festival, I was there again.  This time with Jerusalem Post journalist and editor Erica Schachne and cameraman Dennis Zinn to make a video of the festival for The Jerusalem Post online edition.

Erica Schachne of The Jerusalem Post
speaks on camera while Dennis Zinn rolls 'em.

(Photo: Manny Samuels)
I shepherded Erica and Dennis around to the interesting beers and brewers, and also appeared a little bit on camera myself.  We had a great time -- I must say especially Erica, who was new to the world of craft beers.

We filmed for almost three hours and the edited, final video was all of three minutes!  I'm told this is
quite the norm for such video reports.

If you haven't yet seen it, please click on the link below.  You'll get some idea of what makes the Jerusalem Beer Festival such an remarkable annual event.

Jerusalem Post video

October 10, 2019

Four beers for the record

I've recently tasted four beers which are not exactly new (anymore), but which have managed to fall under my radar.  Here are a few words about each. 

Image may contain: drink and textThe Alexander Brewery in Emek Hefer, one of Israel's largest micro-breweries, has introduced a new Saison beer, with a label reflecting Rene Magritte's famous Son of Man painting, but with a hop cone instead of a green apple obstructing the man's face.

Saison means "season" in French, and this style of beer might have first been brewed in Belgium during the "brewing season," November to March, in home and small breweries for drinking during the summer months.

Regardless of its origins, the Saison style has come to mean a beer with fruity and spicy aromas and flavors, not very bitter, with a very dry finish.  The beer's uniqueness comes from the special Saison yeast.  A few Israeli brewers have introduced Saison-style beers, even if all of them weren't called by that name.

The Alexander Saison is made with unmalted wheat, in addition to the regular malted barley.  It pours out crystal clear, the color of ginger ale, with a small but foamy head.  The aromas are yeast, sweet malt and black pepper.  The taste is sweeter than what you would expect from a Saison, along with yeast, spice and some fruitiness.  Alcohol is 7%.  It's a very refreshing and enjoyable beer, perfect for hot days and a variety of cheeses and light dishes.

Neta and Jean Torgovitsky,
owners of the Sheeta Brewery in Arad.
The Sheeta Brewery in Arad has introduced a new SMASH Pilsner, brewed with noble Saaz hops from Europe.  These hops are traditionally used in brewing Pilsner lager, giving the beer its distinctive spicy aroma and taste.  Originating in the Czech town of Plzen in 1842, Pilsners have become the most popular and widely imitated beer style in the world.  Purists say that nothing compares to the taste of fresh Pilsner beer, straight from the fermentation tank in Plzen.

The Sheeta SMASH may not have that pedigree, but it has a wonderful fresh lemony aroma coming off of the foamy, long-lasting head.  The taste is bitter fruit (maybe red grapefruit), very refreshing, with a peppery finish.  In fact, I felt the heat on my tongue as the beer washed down my bite of hummus.  Sheeta SMASH has a dry Pilsner finish that makes you want to keep drinking.  With only 5% alcohol, you can go right ahead and do that. 

Oak & Ash is a gypsy brewery that started out under the auspices of Dancing Camel in Tel Aviv, but has recently moved to the Hagibor Brewery in Carmiel because it needs larger facilities.  Owner and brewer Asher Zimble chose the name because his first beers were aged with oak.  His two recent offerings, however, are not.

The Oak & Ash NEIPA (New England IPA) is an attempt to replicate this popular American beer style – 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.

This Oak & Ash version is not as opaque as the American NEIPAs I've seen (it's only semi-hazy) nor as strong (only 4.5% ABV), but it is full of the juicy goodness you expect.  I detected flavors of grapefruit, passion fruit, mango, and some guava.  It tastes like a tropical fruit cocktail, creamier and much less bitter than a regular IPA.

If you're an admirer of the NEIPA style, this beer's for you.  And if you've never tried it, this is your chance.  Tasting new styles is one of the true pleasures of drinking craft beer.

Also from Oak & Ash is the new Coco Porter – a Porter-style dark and roasty beer brewed with desiccated shredded coconut.  (Zimble, quite rightly, will not reveal at which stage the coconut is added.)

In the glass, Coco Porter looks like Coca Cola: the same color and the same fizz.  The aromas are rather subdued – brown sugar, toffee and slight coconut.  But the tastes are what bring the beer alive: rich coconut and dark chocolate, semi-sweet, with some dried fruits in the background. 

Since I'm a fan of coconut, and especially coconut with chocolate, I found this to be a delicious beer, but one to be savored, not gulped down on a hot day!