April 21, 2019

The first BeerYamina Home-Brew Competition

If every country has a pyramid of beer brewing, then the peak represents the few macro-brewers, the industrialized giants which account for the vast (if not the best) share of the country's beer.

Lower down the pyramid are the craft-micro-boutique breweries -- counted in the tens, hundreds or, in America's case, thousands.

The BeerYamina home-brew
competition logo.
But at the broad base of the pyramid are the home-brewers, basically uncountable, brewing beer in their kitchens or dedicated rooms, serious about every step in the process or just having fun, strictly amateur or thinking ahead to maybe monetize their hobby.  These are the brewers, ignoring the demands of the marketplace, who are pushing the envelope, expanding the boundaries, taking chances with new and hybrid beer styles which may someday become our standard.

Gil Sonnenreich receiving his Best-of-Show
Certificate at the BeerYamina awards ceremony,
held at the new Shevet Brewery.
Left to right: Rotem Zin, Assaf Friedman,
Omer Basha, Gil, Sahar Nevo
and Na'ama Ashkenazi. 

(Photo: Tal Alfandary)
In Israel, the season has begun for home-brewing competitions, giving home-brewers a chance to pit their creations against others and have their brief moments in the spotlight.

This year, the first competition was the brand-new BeerYamina, which received 122 entries from 69 home-brewers around the country, instantly making it the largest home-brewing contest in the country.

The idea for BeerYamina was hatched by three friends who were studying to qualify for the Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP), an internationally recognized course for preparing beer judges: Assaf Friedman, Sahar Nevo and Gal Valency.  They wanted a competition in Israel which was based on the BJCP standards. 

They enlisted the aid of Na'ama Ashkenazi, the Israeli "Queen of Beer," Shai Ben Ishay, and Rotem Zin and Dar Attar of Biguns, the Center for Culinary Hobbies.  (Biguns today sells equipment and supplies for home-brewers, cheese makers and meat lovers.  They also host a beer club in association with Na'ama Ashkenazi, and transform into a beer garden every Thursday night with craft beer from Israel and around the world.)  The new Shevet Brewery in Pardes Hanna, represented by Yotam Baras, head of sales and marketing, agreed to sponsor the competition and host the judging sessions and awards ceremony.
In the middle of a judging session at the
BeerYamina home-brew competition.

(Photo: Tal Alfandary)

Together, the organizing team took the following steps to ensure maximum participation and professionalism:

* Set up a website and a Facebook page to publicize the competition.
* Made a video demonstrating to all contestants how the beer should be presented for entry.
* Held meetings with contestants to explain the contest guidelines, different beer styles, etc.
* Established locations in different cities where contestants could enter their beers.

A panel of 16 BJCP judges, chaired by Omer Basha of Beersheva, tasted all the entries over a period of three days, and awarded prizes in nine categories.

Here then is the list of winners:     

Best of Show
Gil Sonnenreich -- Smoked Doppelbock

American & Specialty IPA
First:  Eyal Grossman
Second:  Tony Fall
Third:  Raz Mis

English IPA & Bitters
First:  Tony Fall
Second:  Oleg Sokhatchevski
Third:  Avidan Avraham

Classic Europe
First:  Rafi Kent
Second:  Raviv Dolev
Third:  Boaz Lanner

American Amber Ale
First:  Elad Shababo
Second:  Tomer and Aviv Vromen 
Third:  Naveh Lazar
Honorable Mention: Ohad Boxerman (The Excuse Brewery) 
American Pale Ale
First:  Alex Filimonov
Second:  Noam Hadar
Third:  Gil Kraus
Honorable Mention: Gal Valency

Wheat & Pale Ales
First:  Omer Laser
Second: Omer Laser
Third: Leonid Margolin and Rick Novokolsky

Belgian & Sour Ales
First:  Philip Levin and Murat Nepesov
Second: Gil Sonnenreich (SonnenBrew)
Third: Philip Levin and Murat Nepesov
Third: Roy Nesher
Honorable Mention: Noam Shalev

Porters & Strong Ales
First:  Gil Sonnenreich (SonnenBrew)
Second: Guy Haimovitz (Dr. Hops Brewing)
Third: Ilia Gaisinsky and Danny Bernshtein

First:  Lior Digabli (Baron's Brewing)
Second: Dor Tal
Third: Moti Gonen

Two other prizes were also awarded:

Best Brewer: Omer Laser, for the highest average score of all those who entered three or more beers.

Certificate of Appreciation: Itai Barry, for his technical skill in working with unusual ingredients, in preparing a non-alcoholic Belgian beer spiced with bark of the Cinchona tree.  

The old blogger compares empty beer glasses
with Omer Basha (left) chief judge of the
BeerYamina home-brew competition, and
Gil Sonnenreich (center), winner of the
Best-of-Show Award.

(Photo: Mike Horton)
I wish I could taste all of the winning beers, but that's a logistical nightmare.  I can't even get to all of the first-prize winners.

But your intrepid old blogger was able to contact Gil Sonnenreich of Haifa and get his Best-of-Show Smoked Doppelbock.  Bless Gil's beer-pumping heart for having the foresight to put aside a bottle for me. 

Gil has only been home-brewing for about a year-and-a-half and has already won first prizes in this BeerYamina and last year's IsraBrew competition.  Some beer judges have whispered to me that Gil is a "natural" brewer.  His combination of talent and passion, they say, will take him far in the brewing field.    

"Right now, brewing is a very enjoyable hobby for me," says Gil.  "I love making small quantities of different, sometimes experimental beers.  I almost never repeat a recipe twice.  I've brewed Schwartzbier, Kveik, New England IPA, oak-aged Imperial Stout, American Pale Ale -- and am now working on a gose (salty) style beer.
Omer Laser displays his Best Brewer award
at the BeerYamina home-brew competition. 

(Photo: Tal Alfandary)

"But the style I most love are the sour, wild beers that you don't have much control over.  The trick is to prepare a good wort, put in a lot of good microbes, and give them time to do their work.  It may take a long time, but the results are worth the wait.

"I think brewing will stay my hobby, but I'm not ruling out anything for the future." 

As to the actual tasting, I found the doppelbock to be semi-clear, reddish brown in color, with a slight smokiness in the aroma.  The taste was predominantly spice with some black pepper, garam masala, and sweet malt, including bread and caramel flavors.  Not much bitterness.  The smoke was very understated, which was fine, but I thought that a doppelbock should have been stronger in the malt.

Overall, the beer made a very good impression, but I had a problem making the jump between that and a Best-of-Show.  One of the founders and judges, Assaf Friedman, was kind enough to point out to me that I was tasting the Smoked Doppelbock more than two months after it was judged in the Best-of-Show round.  "The beer you tried wasn't the same that won the BeerYamina competition," he told me.  "Smoked malt tends to turn stronger and sweeter with time."  
So thank you, Assaf, for your learned answer.  I'm sure that the competent and certified beer judges made the correct call in choosing Gil's Smoked Doppelbock as the Best-of-Show.  Congratulations to Gil Sonnenreich and all the winners of the first BeerYamina competition.  I have no doubt we'll be hearing more of you in the future.     


  1. A beer article on Passover? Have mercy, Doug! ;)

    1. You can read all you want, Amir -- but don't let me catch you drinking!

  2. Next week we can drink beer again.


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