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!