March 31, 2019

New York and New Jersey enjoying Buster's hard lemonade for Passover

The Buster's Beverage Company in the Noham (Sorek) Industrial Area, near Beit Shemesh, has exported 17,000 bottles of Kosher-for-Passover hard lemonade to stores in New York and New Jersey.

Matt Neilson (left) and his dad Denny
point to the shipment of Buster's
kosher-for-Passover lemonades
heading to the U.S.
Denny Neilson, the owner and brewmaster of Buster's, couldn't contain his delight and enthusiasm with the deal.  "We are so happy that we were able to do this.  For us, it's not just exporting our products to the U.S.  It's building our connection with the Jewish community there; with people who have a love interest with Israel."

Neilson and his family immigrated to Israel from California via Tennessee around 16 years ago, and shortly afterwards he began to make beer and wine, and teach home-brewing and wine-making at his home in Mevasserat Zion.  Today, he runs Buster's with his son Matt, who is responsible for sales and marketing.  
"Tourists often asked us if we export," continues Neilson.  "Although we've been thinking about if for a long time, we have not solicited exporters.  I've always believed that we would start when the right person walked through our doors."

Well, that happened about six months ago.  Some ultra-Orthodox visitors arrived at the brewery whose import agency, Red Garden, distributed to bottle shops in Brooklyn and Teaneck, NJ – and to stores in five other states. 

Image may contain: 1 person, smiling, drink and indoor
Denny Neilson of the Buster's Beverage Co.
toasts the export deal with Buster's Beer:
NOT kosher-for-Passover,
NOT going to America. 
"They loved our three varieties of apple cider and our two hard lemonades," Neilson proudly states.  "And they were even more excited to hear that all of those drinks could be certified kosher-for-Passover." 

Even though Buster's is under the kosher supervision of two Israeli rabbinical authorities, the visitors wanted to examine the facilities for themselves before deciding to purchase any of the beverages.

"This led to a return visit with five rabbis from America," Neilson continues.  "They checked out every inch of our brewery and asked the right questions.  In the end, they agreed to accept our ciders and lemonades as kosher-for-Passover, and they placed a large order to be shipped to their stores in America." 

Neilson explained to me that the window for producing the kosher-for-Passover drinks is very narrow.  All traces of the beer that is also brewed in the building have to be cleaned out before work can begin on the Passover products.

No photo description available.
"We have a little over two months to complete all of our Passover production," Neilson says.

Twenty-five-thousand bottles were packed and sent to America in two shipments.  Neilson, his son Matt and the entire crew worked day and night to get them ready.  The first shipment had about 8,000 bottles of all the ciders and lemonades not kosher-for-Passover, for sale before the holiday.  The second shipment sailed about a month-and-a-half before Passover, and contained 17,000 bottles of the kosher-for-Passover lemonades.

Even though the production for export took up a lot of time, Buster's is not ignoring the local market by any means.  "We have taken steps this year," Neilson adds, "to ensure that there are enough bottles of cider and lemonade for everyone in Israel who wants to enjoy these drinks on Passover."  
Five different Buster's beverages were prepared for Passover for the local market and for the export project: 
Photo of FillerUp Kosher Wines - Teaneck, NJ, United States
At FillerUp Kosher Wines in
Teaneck, New Jersey: Waiting for
Buster's kosher-for-Passover

Dry Apple Cider – 6.7% alcohol; dry and tart, English-style cider. 
Sweet Apple Cider – 4.8 %; no added sugar.
Spiced Apple Cider – 4.8%; with honey, cinnamon and cloves.
Classic Lemonade – 5%; made with sour, fresh lemons.
Pink Lemonade – 5%; with cranberries.

The lemonades are now being sold in the following stores: 

Moshke's Wines & Spirit
13th Ave
4312 15 Ave
Kiddush Kup
16th Ave
L'chaim Kosher Wine & Spirits
Roebling St
The Wine Barrel
16th Ave
Yossis Wine & Liquor
18th Ave
13th Ave
Liquors Galore.
1212 Avenue J
MB Vineyards
3012 Avenue J
Orlander Liquor
1715 Avenue M
Hakerem Wine & Liquor
Suhag Liquors
69-30 Main Street
Gotham Wines
2517 Broadway 94th St.
Monsey Wine & Liquor
24 Orchard Street
Wine on 59
421 Route 59, Pavilion III
Skyview Liquor Store
5681 Riverdale Ave
Chateau De Vin
FillerUp Kosher Wines
174 West Englewood Ave., Teaneck
Lakewood Liquor
1700 Madison Ave
Bourbon Scotch & Beer
1721 Madison Avenue
Spirits Unlimited (River Avenue)
The VineYard
104 Hillside Boulevard
Victory Wines & Liquors
Wine Academy Lakewood
Wine on the Nine

"This deal opened up my eyes to how important export is," claims Neilson.  "It's a tangible connection between Israel and Jews in the Diaspora.  We're very happy to bring a little bit of Passover 'cheer' to our brothers and sisters in America."

[A similar version of this article
has appeared 
in The Jerusalem Post.]

March 17, 2019

Gilbert & Sullivan & Sachs

I first met Louis Sachs when I went to hear my wife's choir perform in a Gilbert & Sullivan sing-along in Jerusalem.  The operetta was Trial by Jury, to be exact, and Louis was the organizer, narrator and conductor.  His stage presence was a little wacky, a little witty.  There was no doubting his love for the D'oyly Carte duo.

Louis Sachs greeted the old blogger
with a trio of beautiful beverages.

(Photo: Mike Horton)
But the thing that most impressed me was the hot and spiced apple wine being served to the guests as they arrived.  The label on the bottle said, "Hinden-Sachs Brauerei: Hand crafted in Jerusalem's German Colony."  Despite the Teutonic-sounding name and location, there is nothing remotely German about Sachs or his wife Simi Hinden, and the German Colony, which was founded by German settlers in the 1870s and whose descendants were deported by the British during World War II, retains only its name.

No, it was the contents of the bottle that had me from the first sip.  Like a warm, liquid apple pie -- full of sweet and juicy real apple goodness, spiced with cinnamon, cloves, ginger and allspice.  The taste was akin to apple liqueur, and alcoholic strength was 10%.   
Take me to your maker, I said to the glass -- and to a few other people who could really give me an answer.  When Louis was pointed out to me, I went and introduced myself.  He told me he makes not only apple wine and cider, but also brews beer.  I guess I would have guessed.

The Hinden-Sachs brewer in a
rather contemplative pose.

(Photo: Mike Horton) 
After we enjoyed the sing-along, he invited me to visit him and Simi, to hear his story and taste his beverages.  And so I did.

Louis started brewing in Chicago at age 16, when his father gave him a home-brewing kit for his birthday.  While he was a student at Simpson College in Iowa, Louis started making apple cider.  A nearby apple orchard owner would give apples to anyone who was making apple cider -- if they gave him a share of the finished product.

When Louis came to Israel five years ago, he continued to refine his brewing and fermentation skills.  Today, he uses Champagne yeast in his apple cider, which gives it a sparkling, dry taste.  It's as pale as Champagne as well, with the apples giving up most of their tastes and sugars.  Alcoholic strength is 7%.

The Hinden-Sachs Brauerei IPA:
"Hand-crafted in Jerusalem's
German Colony."
Louis gives special attention to his IPA.  "I love hops," he admits.  "I've never had a beer too hoppy for me."

As with many IPA brewers, Louis uses a huge amount of hops to make his IPAs, and he's found an interesting way to keep his costs down.  "Every year there seems to be a new 'hot' variety of hops that all home-brewers are using.  However, the suppliers always have a quantity of 'last year's' hops, and they are willing to sell me these at a discount."  For the IPA that I tasted, Louis uses Galaxy, Centennial and Huell Melon hops, known for adding citrus and fruity flavors and aromas.

Louis's IPA is a mid-amber color with mild carbonation.  The aroma brings some hop esters, but also a surprising bready malt.  The taste is very bitter -- attesting to the quantity of hops that Louis uses.  Apple and citrus are the flavors we detected -- leaving my drinking partner Moshe to remark that this IPA shared some characteristics with the dry cider.  We both felt that the bitterness was well balanced by the malt.  Alcohol by volume is 7%.

A contemporary caricature of
W.S. Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan
Louis developed his other great passion -- Gilbert & Sullivan -- also as a teenager.  He sang opera and operetta in high school in Des Moines, Iowa, and later worked as a music teacher in Chicago.  "The city had two G&S companies," Louis says, "so there were always shows for me to attend."

In Jerusalem, he founded the sing-along group, which gives concerts once a year.  "Anyone can learn to sing Gilbert and Sullivan," Louis adds.  "The cast doesn't do more than one or two rehearsals, and we hand out the lyrics so the audience has no problem joining in.

"We've done Pirates of Penzance, H.M.S. Pinafore, Patience, and now Trial by Jury -- and next year we plan to do The Mikado."

If Louis welcomes the audience once again with his apple wine and beer (and, of course, if my wife's choir is on stage), I may just show up.                                 

March 5, 2019

Lone Soldier Beer

The Lone Soldiers' Home in Beit Shemesh may soon be kept afloat on a sea of beer. 

Gary Swickley, a veteran home-brewer who is on the board of the Lone Soldiers' Home, came up with the idea to raise funds by brewing and selling a specially branded beer inspired by the soldiers themselves.

The old blogger enjoying his first taste of
Lone Soldier Beer with Stu Schrader (left)
and Gary Swickley.

(Photo: Mike Horton)
"The 12 soldiers who live in our home really enjoyed my beer," says Swickley.  "So I thought, why not brew our own beer, sell it, and use the profits to provide the soldiers with more comfort and better leisure time activities."

According to the Israel Defense Forces, a lone soldier is one whose parent or parents are living abroad.  The soldiers may have made aliyah on their own, or their parents emigrated abroad, or their parents were sent abroad to represent Israel for more than half a year. 

One of the soldiers from the
Lone Soldiers' Home
in Beit Shemesh
helping out with the brewing. 
"In the case of Beit Shemesh, our boys have all come on aliyah from English-speaking countries," explains Stu Schrader, another member of the board who assists Swickley on the beer project.  "The home is Shabbat observant and maintains a kosher kitchen, but the soldiers come from a wide range of religious backgrounds.  The boys eat their Shabbat meals together or are invited to the homes of members of our community."   
The soldiers were enthusiastic about the beer project, but facilities had to be found for brewing the commercial quantities they needed.  Swickley approached his beer guru Denny Neilson, whose Buster's Beverage Company makes beer, cider and hard lemonade in the nearby Moshav Nocham.

"Denny and his son Matt thought it was a great idea and were delighted to help us," says Swickley.  "They invited all of our soldiers to an evening at the brewery, where they received a hands-on introduction to brewing."

The lone soldiers from Beit Shemesh
enjoying their evening at the
Buster's Beverage Company. 
They decided on a beer which is a lighter version of the very popular India Pale Ale (IPA) style.  "We call it Israel Pale Ale," laughs Swickley.  "It's less hoppy than a regular IPA, with a mildly citrus taste and a smooth body.  We used classic IPA hops – Cascade, Centennial and Columbus – but in smaller quantities.  The alcohol by volume is 5-5½%."

After I tried the beer, I can attest to this description.  It pours out a hazy amber color with a thin white head.  The aroma is rather weak, with hints of citrus and malt.  You get a kick of bitterness with the first sip, leading to some fruity flavors – grapefruit and mango.  The finish is semi-bitter and short. 

(Photo: Mike Horton)
It certainly does not have the powerful hop aromas and tastes that we've come to expect from modern IPAs.  On the other hand, it will be appreciated by Israelis who are familiar only with our mass-brewed beers, and would like to try something different.

The first brewing was a batch of 1,500 bottles, with an attractive "Lone Soldier Beer" label and the tag line, "Our Draft is Your Draft."  (I find that a little off the mark, but I get the general idea.)

The beer is now being sold to synagogues and individuals in Beit Shemesh and all over Israel.  The marketing campaign also suggests that the bottles can be used in mishloach manot, the food parcels which people send to their friends and neighbors during the upcoming Purim holiday.   

"The response has been phenomenal," enthuses Swickley.  "We sold hundreds of bottles even before we began to advertise in the community.  Synagogues are putting the beer along with a brochure that explains our project in the mishloach manot that they give out to their members.  Individual beer lovers and supporters of the IDF are also buying bottles."

Bottles of the beer cost NIS 20 each ("This is a little above the standard market price," explains Swickley, "but people know that the profits go to a good cause."), and six-packs are NIS 100.  Readers may order bottles of the beer online at:  Pick-up locations have been arranged in several communities.   

The profits from all sales of the beer will go towards maintaining and improving the facilities of the Beit Shemesh Lone Soldiers' Home, and moving ahead with plans to create a similar home for religious women lone soldiers. 

"We try to make it as close to a real home as possible," says Stu Schrader.  "We have cable TV, computers and Wi-Fi, modern furnishings and a laundry room within the house.  Everything is under the supervision of a married couple who both served in the IDF.  They live in an adjoining apartment and are paid as counselors.  They are supported by a team of eager volunteers from the community.  We accompany our soldiers to army ceremonies and take them to and from the train station.  We really make them feel a part of our family."

Founded in 2015 by a community committee, the Beit Shemesh Lone Soldiers' Home was originally assisted by the Lone Soldier Center in Jerusalem named in memory of Michael Levin, an American-born lone soldier who was killed in the Second Lebanon War.  It is now an independent non-profit organization, partially supported by public donations.    
The Lone Soldier Beer project will certainly help this effort.  Although the Lone Soldiers' Home wasn't built by beer, it may very well have the privilege of being the first Israeli institution sustained by beer.

For more information on the home, contact them at

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

March 3, 2019

The Big Blond Queen: Malka Beer now available in 750 ml bottles

The old blogger hefts two new
750 ml bottles
of  Malka Blond Ale. 

(Photo: Mike Horton)
The first 750-milliliter bottles of Malka Beer have recently appeared on the market.  Until now, the only Israeli craft beers available in these big bottles (25.4 ounces or almost a "Fifth" of a gallon) were cork-topped Bazelet from the Golan Brewery.   

"The beer is about 10% cheaper when you buy our 750 ml bottles," says Assaf Lavi, partner and brewer of the Malka Brewery in Tefen.  (Malka means "queen" in Hebrew.)  "Right now, the only style available in these bottles is our Blond Ale, but our other three styles should be on the shelves in about a month."

A panoramic view of the
new Malka Brewery in Tefen.

(Photo: Mike Horton)
In addition to giving you more brew for your buck, Assaf says that the bigger bottles now make Malka Beer more suitable as a gift.  "Instead of bringing your hosts a bottle of wine, you now have the option of giving them the same size bottle of great Israeli craft beer."

[You can read an earlier story on the new Malka Brewery here.]