May 30, 2019

Winners of the 2019 B'tsisa Home-Brew Competition

This season's second home-brewing competition was the prestigious Alexander B'tsisa (Hebrew for "In Fermentation").  It was organized by the Beer & Beyond beer super-store in Tel Aviv, and sponsored by the Alexander Brewery.  the award ceremony was held at the Alexander Beer Garden in Modi'in. 

Winners were chosen in six different categories, plus the Best in Show.  One interesting note: In the Dark Lager category, no entry received enough points to qualify for the first prize. 

So without further ado, here is the list of winners, I believe for the first time in English: 

Elad Talby receives his
Best-in-Show Award
from Shachar Hertz (left),
owner of Beer & Beyond,
and Ori Sagi, owner of
the Alexander Brewery.
Best in Show
Elad Talby -- New England IPA

Dark Lager
First:  None
Second:  Emmanuel Peled
Third:  Neveh Lazer

German Wheat
First:  Omer Laser
Second:  Asaf Murkes 
Third:  Elchanan Hopper Hornman 

Belgian Pale Ale
First:  Jason Barnett
Second:  Ori Schweid
Third:  Neveh Lazar
Honorable Mention: Elad Lander and Elchanan Hopper Hornman 

British Dark Ale
First:  Steven and Boaz Blumo
Second: Noam Shalev
Third:  Emmanuel Peled 
New England IPA
First:  Elad Talby
Second:  Lior Digabli
Third:  Constantine Katkov

Spiced Beer
First:  Lior Digabli
Second: Eran Shtrul
Third: Omer Leon
Honorable Mention: Uri Schweid and Constantine Katkov 

Elad Talby's elegantly
designed bottle label for
his home-brand,"Talbeer."

I was able to track down 32-year-old Elad Talby and get a bottle of his Best-in-Show New England IPA.  Elad is no stranger to the B'tsisa, having won first prize in the Session IPA category two years ago. [You can read about that here.] 

I admit that I have never tasted a New England IPA that conforms to the style descriptions: hazy, juicy, sweet and creamy; no hop bitterness; fruity and floral flavors.
Elad's NEIPA comes the closest.  For example, it is a very cloudy, brownish orange color, with sweet aromas of fruit -- grapefruit, mango and banana.  The taste brings more fruit and yeast, but is very bitter, not like the NEIPAs I read about.  In fact, this sweet smell vs bitter taste is a pleasant slap in the face.  The body is full; actually mouth coating.  The finish is dry.  

It may not be how I imagine NEIPAs, but Elad's Best-in-Show is the most enjoyable "extreme" beer I have tasted this year.  

Congratulations to Elad for this impressive achievement.  I'm sure this isn't the last time we'll hear his name.   

May 27, 2019

Israeli team brews beer from 3,000-year-old yeast strain

At first I thought I had walked into a press conference where President Trump was announcing his peace plan for the Middle East.

"If you promise them beer, they will come":
Dr. Ronen Hazan (right) introduces the
ancient yeast project to the press.

(Photo: Mike Horton)
Dozens of journalists and photographers were jockeying for position to get a better view of the speakers.  Interviewers were getting physical while fending off attempts by other journalists to steal away their interviewees. 

But the subject wasn't peace.  It was beer, which probably generates greater interest around the world these days.  The restaurant area of Beerateinu, the Jerusalem Beer Center, was packed  -- for what journalist or news organization could resist the promise to hear about a 5,000-year-old beer that has been resurrected -- and to actually taste it?

The real story, however, is much more prosaic than the perfervid headlines that grew out of it.  This was not "the beer that the Pharaohs (or Cleopatra or Goliath) drank."  Scientifically, however, it's just as stunning.

Tzemach Aouizerat (right) and the old blogger
come close to some of the ancient vessels
which contained the yeast spores.

(Photo: Mike Horton)
An Israeli team of archaeologists, biologists and brewers had succeeded in isolating and cultivating yeast spores found in the pores of ancient ceramic vessels.  ("Spores in the Pores" would be a good name for the beer.)  Six different yeast strains were isolated from 21 shards of pottery found in four different archaeological sites throughout Israel.

Tzemach Aouizerat is the MA student in microbiology who was given the task of finding the yeast colonies, revitalizing them after millennium of slumber, nurturing them, and sequencing their DNA (genome).  Quite a piece of work.

When the cultures were analyzed, it was found that the yeast was authentic, that is, actually used in brewing and not just pollution from the environment.  In fact, one of the yeast strains found in pots from the Philistine site at Tel es-Safi (the biblical city of Gath) is still used today to brew native sorghum beer in Zimbabwe.

Prof. Aren Maeir of Bar-Ilan University
demonstrates how beer was poured from an
ancient Philistine beer jug.

(Photo: Mike Horton)
Next, beers were brewed using a few of the resurrected yeast strains.  Leading this project was Itai Gutman, the former founder and partner of Herzl Brewery in Jerusalem, now residing in Germany.  A team of certified beer judges led by Shmuel Naky, one of the partners of Beerateinu, completed the work by tasting and giving the final beers their stamp of approval. 

There was no attempt to use other "original ingredients" for the grains or the flavoring.  We know that the Egyptians, Philistines and others used a wide range of flavorings for their beer, including honey, different fruits, plants and herbs.  But for these recreated beers, modern hops and wheat malt were used -- a true anachronism since hops originated in Europe about the 11th century CE.

Shmuel Naky of Beerateinu
(The Jerusalem Beer Center)
pours the beer made from ancient yeast
for the thirsty journalists and photographers.

(Photo: Mike Horton)
It was not much of a surprise, therefore, that the beer which was poured for the journalists and guests tasted very much like a modern wheat beer.  Mild, slightly spicy, sweet and fruity, drinkable and refreshing.

I could play the cynic and retell the story of the curator who showed me the hatchet that George Washington used to chop down the famous cherry tree.  "It's the original hatchet," he proclaimed.  "It's only had three new heads and two new handles since Washington used it."

But let's not overlook the very positive aspect: Revitalizing the yeast and using it to actually brew beer was a step forward in "experimental archaeology" -- a field that seeks to reconstruct the past.  Dr. Ronen Hazan, a microbiologist at the Hebrew University-Hadassah School of Dental Medicine and one of the initiators of this project, said, "Our research offers new tools to examine ancient methods, and enables us to taste the flavors of the past."

The old blogger raises a toast with
archaeologist Dr. Aharon Greener
with the ancient yeast new beer.

(Photo: Mike Horton)
Dr. Yitzchak Paz of the Israel Antiquities Authority added that this experiment was a real "breakthrough."  "This is the first time we succeeded in producing ancient alcohol from ancient yeast.  In other words, from the original substances from which alcohol was produced.  This has never been done before."

And Prof. Aren Maeir of Bar-Ilan University's Department of Land of Israel Studies and Archaeology, summed it up by proclaiming, "Make no mistake about it.  This is a fantastic find!"

Even if it wasn't the same beer that warmed the heart of the Pharaohs, Cleopatra or Goliath.

May 20, 2019

Special commemorative bottles for Malka and Negev beers

Two Israeli craft brewers have come out with new lines of commemorative bottles.  Same beer inside, but different themed labels outside.

Image may contain: 1 person
The Malka gift pack of five new
printed bottles
 issued in honor of 

Israel's 71st Independence Day.
(Photo: Shoval Launger)
1)  For Israel's 71st Independence Day, the Malka Brewery in the Tefen Industrial Zone (central Galilee) has produced five new bottles which depict historical leaders, though in very unconventional poses.

There is Theodor Herzl on the Stout, David Ben-Gurion on the Pale Ale (Admonit), Golda Meir on the Blond Ale (B'hira), Menachem Begin on the Wheat and Mahatma Gandhi (of course) on the Hindi IPA.

The labels were designed by Amit Shimoni of Hipstory.

The bottles are sold separately and there is a gift pack which contains all five.  Assaf Lavi, partner and brewer of Malka Beer, told me that 170,000 of the commemorative bottles were made.

Image may contain: drink and indoor
Douze Points: Negev Brewery introduced over
40 new bottles, each one depicting a flag
of a participating country in the
2019 Eurovision Song Contest, held in Tel Aviv.

2) For the Eurovision Song Contest which was just held in Tel Aviv (Netherlands was the winner), Negev Beer (also brewed at the Malka Brewery) printed over 40 special bottles, each one with a stylized flag of a participating country.

The series is named Douze Points, which is written in Hebrew letters and means "Twelve Points" in French, the highest score a country can be given in the Eurovision contest.  

The bottles contain Negev's popular beers: Oasis (Blond Ale), Porter Alon (oak-conditioned porter) and Amber Ale.

Image may contain: drink
Three of the Negev Brewery's Douze Points bottles
issued in commemoration of the
2019 Eurovision Song Contest, held in Tel Aviv.
Gilad Dror, manager of beer brands at Hacarem Spirits Ltd., would not reveal the number of commemorative bottles produced, but told me that it "equals an average month of sales for us."  

The labels were designed by Racheli and were printed on the bottles by HP Indigo digital print (Arik Sofer) and the Tadbik printing plant (Maor Hed).

If you want these bottles from Malka and Negev, I suggest you get some right away while they are still on the shelves of the stores that carry Israeli craft beers.  You get the wonderful beers of Malka and Negev, and also a cool collector's item.  Israel will have many more Independence Days, but never again the 71st.  And who knows when we'll ever host a Eurovision Song Contest again?            

May 16, 2019

Black Out Stout from HaDubim

From HaDubim ("The Bears") Brewery comes a dry stout called Black Out.  Also known as Irish stouts, these drier versions have a more roasty and bitter flavor than other stout styles, which include English Stout, Oatmeal Stout, Milk Stout, Russian Imperial Stout, as well as the American craft versions of all of these.  The most famous Irish stouts are Guinness and Murphy's.

Black Out gives them a run for their money.  The HaDubim brewers, brothers Rotem and Dagan Bar Ilan, have long had that magic touch which gives their beers some kind of "added value."

Already on the informative label, you learn that the alcohol by volume is an easily absorbed 5%, the International Bittering Units (IBU) are a moderate 25, and that the hops used are East Kent Goldings. 

Black Out pours into your glass the darkest brown color, almost black, with a thick and creamy tan head.  Really creamy.  You get scents of roasted malt, chocolate, butter cream candies, caramel, vanilla and some coffee.  My drinking partner Moshe exclaimed, "I never had so many aromas from a beer!"

The taste is dry from the start, with a little sweetness creeping in, and dark chocolate, caramel and butter.  Every sip seems to bring a different level of flavors.  If some beers can be called "boring," Black Out certainly is not.  The finish is dry and roasty.

Different stouts go well with different foods, and a dry stout like Black Out will balance the richness and sweetness of, say, grilled vegetables, stir-fries, stuffed mushrooms, hearty cheeses, chocolate and mocha desserts, and even hummus.  Or kick back, put your feet up and enjoy a Black Out without any distractions.  You're worth it.     

May 12, 2019

Seeking new beers at BEERS 2019

I must admit: Being at the opening of this year's BEERS Exhibit in Tel Aviv was great fun.  So much fun that I forgot to take notes.  Luckily, Mike ("Have Camera, Will Travel") Horton was there to digitally capture a few historic moments.

A view from the balcony:
The old blogger begins his
promenade at the BEERS 2019 Exhibit.

(Photo: Mike Horton)
We were there with the other "professionals" before the exhibit was open to the general public.  It was great to walk around meeting old friends and acquaintances and making new ones.

This year, BEERS returned to its original format of an exhibit rather than a festival.  It was held in the three-level lobby of the Heichal Tarbut (Bronfman Auditorium), so gone were the trees and grass and warm summer breezes under starry skies.  Food stands and music were there, but definitely in the background.  Visitors, both professional and public, were there to taste, enjoy and talk about beer.

True to form, a number of importers and brewers used the occasion of BEERS to introduce new beers to thirsty Israelis.  Most of the new and interesting stuff was indeed imported, and while an interesting subject in itself, this blog puts Israeli beer first.

There were three new beers from Israeli commercial brewers.  The number is small, yes, but they were each news-worthy in some way.  I tasted them all at the show, and I also brought a few bottles home to give you a more thorough report at a later date.

The old blogger joins Shapiro
Head Brewer Ory Sofer to model
the new Strong Sour t-shirt.

(Photo: Mike Horton)
From the Shapiro Brewery in Beit Shemesh comes Israel's first commercial sour beer, Strong Sour.  This beer is called "kettle-soured" because the souring comes from introducing "wild" yeast into the wort before it is killed in a pasteurization process.  In this case, the yeast came from almond flowers from the hills of Jerusalem.  Additional saison yeast was used in a second fermentation.       

Shapiro Head Brewer Ory Sofer told me that he thought it was time to introduce Israelis to sour beer (even though quite a few imports are available).  Since for most Israeli drinkers, this will be their first experience with sour beer, Ory and Brewmaster Yochai Kudler kept the sourness level moderate.  "Entry-level sour" is what I call it.

Strong Sour tastes similar to dry fruit cider and even dry white wine.  Alcohol by volume is a hefty 8.5%, but it goes down smooth.  I don't know if Israel will develop a local sour beer brew scene, but I think that Strong Sour is a start in the right direction.

[Sour beers have always been popular in Belgium and northern France, and are now gaining traction in the U.S. as craft beer devotees seek new tastes and experiences.  Read what I originally had to say about sour beers here.  I have since developed a greater appreciation for that family of beers.]

Rotem Bar Ilan of HaDubim Beer adds a
potent chili pepper drop to a brave visitor's
glass of Esh beer.

(Photo: Mike Horton) 
A few stands away, Rotem Bar Ilan, one of the partner-brothers of HaDubim Beer, was pumping his new version of Esh ("Fire"), a pale ale made with shata red chili peppers (contract brewed at the Beer Bazaar Brewery in Kiryat Gat).  I say version because the first Esh came out in 2012 and was produced for several years.  "That was even hotter than this," Rotem let me know.

My years of eating spicy Middle Eastern food have raised my tolerance level to unimagined heights, so I found Esh rather mild.  The first taste is a hoppy pale ale, with the chili making itself known when it hits your throat.  It's a nice warming feeling that self-complements the fruitiness of the hops.

Rotem noticed my rather blase reaction.  "Aha," he said, as he pulled out a little bottle of highly condensed chili power just made for the beer.  "Maybe this will help."  One drop in my glass was all it took to turn it into an explosive chili beer.  Rotem prepared the concentrate, by the way, especially for the exhibit.  It is not included when you buy the beer! 

The Six-Pack Super Hero (aka Itay Gershman)
is no match for the old blogger
after drinking SMASH IPA.

(Photo: Mike Horton)
Also introduced at BEERS is a new single-malt, single-hop (SMASH) IPA from the Six-Pack Brewery, the Super Hero Beers (made at the Beer Bazaar Brewery in Kiryat Gat).  SMASH is brewed with Maris Otter malt and Columbus hops, very popular in IPAs for their intense bitterness and herbal-lemon undertones.

SMASH is a solid IPA, bitter within limits, with hop aromas of fruit and grass.  Nothing fancy, but refreshing with a dry and bitter finish.

Six-Pack's one other beer on the market now is Ultimus, an amber ale.  Their Heavy Hitter, a Belgian trippel ale, is no longer produced.

Eyal Noam, his brother-partner Meidad Ram, and their super showman Itay Gershman were there as usual in their super hero costumes, attracting lots of attention from visitors.  In addition to their beer, Six-Pack has a great publicity angle and they utilize it with much dexterity.

[Read an earlier article which mentions the Six-Pack Brewery here.]

Jeremy Welfeld of the Jem's Beer Factory
was having a grand old time offering his
bourbon barrel-aged 8.8 Belgian strong ale.

(Photo: Mike Horton) 
Another publicity maven is Jeremy Welfeld, partner of Jem's Beer Factory in Petach Tikva, who was whooping it up with his normal infectious enthusiasm.  It wasn't very difficult for him to convince people to try his new creation: Jem's 8.8 Belgian strong ale aged for four-and-a-half months in a used bourbon barrel from the Milk & Honey Distillery in Tel Aviv.

The result is a flavor monster, bursting with dark chocolate, raisins, dried fruit, bourbon -- and lots of oak wood.  I believe only one barrel was made for the BEERS Exhibit,  and I consider myself lucky to have tasted some.

The young Ifshi brewers, Yishay Maguri (left)
and Yonatan Navon welcomed the old blogger
to taste their two beers.

(Photo: Mike Horton)
One mini-brewery venturing into the public spotlight for the first time is Ifshi (Aramaic for "I can do it"), brewed by two students from Kochav HaShachar -- Yishay Maguri and Yonatan Navon.  They learned home-brewing with Shmuel Naky of Beerateinu in Jerusalem, and after their beers were well received, took the brave step of going commercial about six months ago.  Their beers are now contract brewed at the Sheeta Brewery in Arad.

They make a Belgian Wheat (witbier) with fruit tea, and an Oatmeal Stout with tequila and honey.  Both beers demonstrate imagination and skill, and I found them to be noble representatives of their styles and very enjoyable.  Good luck to Yishay and Yonatan.   

The Shorashim organization
offered their eponymous beer,
brewed by the Shapiro Brewery
to support their charitable work
among Holocaust survivors.  
At a separate stand was a beer called Shorashim ("Roots"), which is also the name of the organization selling it.  Shorashim provides assistance to Holocaust survivors in Israel, many of whom live in conditions of poverty and loneliness.  The beer is in fact Shapiro Pale Ale, a popular beer which appeals to a broad section of the public.  The Shapiro Brewery makes and bottles it especially for Shorashim, and all income goes to that very worthy cause.

This is not the first time that Shapiro has joined forces to support a charitable organization.  Partner-brothers Dani, Itzik and Zvi and sister Tamar have built benevolence into the Shapiro company structure, and they should be greatly commended for this.                              

Todd Kedes explains his Schnitzer Brau gluten-free beer,
brewed from organic millet malt, to the old blogger.

(Photo: Mike Horton)
I also want to give one final mention to a new beer in town which is not Israeli (and as I said, there were lots of them at BEERS).  This is Schnitzer Brau from Offenberg, Germany, a gluten-free beer brewed from organic millet malt.  Importer-distributor-marketer Todd Kedes was there pitching Schnitzer Brau to anyone who would listen.  People who are gluten-intolerant or gluten-sensitive are the natural market for this beer, but Todd also wants to reach those who are looking for an alternative to regular beer.  Schnitzer Brau is definitely on the sweet side of the spectrum -- in fact, one of the sweetest beers I've ever tasted.  

As I've written before regarding other gluten-free beers (brewed with a source of sugars other than malted grain which contain gluten), I find it difficult to categorize them as "beers" -- even though they may be very refreshing beverages in their own right.  

Schnitzer Brau fits this definition.  So if your ideal drink is light with minimal hops and malt flavors, and not too bitter, Schnitzer Brau may be just right for you.         

Those are the points I wanted to highlight about my visit to BEERS 2019.  I'll be back with more in-depth reviews about three new Israeli beers -- Strong Sour, Esh and SMASH IPA.