July 27, 2020

A visit to the Sparrow Brewery

The Sparrow Brewery beer park on
Moshav Magshimim:
Wonderful beer and hummus
every Friday morning.

(Photo: Mike Horton)
Perhaps the most pleasant side effect of the Israeli craft beer efflorescence is the growth of taprooms or beer gardens adjacent to breweries.  Besides bringing direct, single-tier income to the breweries, they are great places to hang out with friends, enjoy good food and drink some of the best beer in Israel.

There are big beer gardens that can accommodate hundreds of visitors, and there are smaller ones that have tables and chairs for a few dozen.  

IBAV Taster Yitzchak Miskin (right)
and the old blogger build up a beer thirst
while hiking around the Crusader fortress
of Mirabel, known in Hebrew as
Migdal Tsedek or Migdal Afek.

(Photo: Mike Horton)
On one Friday morning before the corona struck, I drove up with Israel Brews and Views Tasters Yitzchak Miskin and Mike Horton to the cozy beer park of the Sparrow Brewery on Moshav Magshimim near Petach Tikva.  I went again just a few weeks ago under very different conditions.

Before we arrived at the moshav we took short hikes in the area, carefully planned by Yitzchak, an experienced and enthusiastic hiker.  Sure they were fun, but the underlying reason was to get us even thirstier for the beer!

Excellent hummus and cold beer (also excellent),
served by Dror Sapir (right) and his mom and dad
at the Sparrow Brewery beer park on
Moshav Magshimim.

(Photo: Mike Horton)
Owner and brewer Dror Sapir (whose first name means "sparrow" in Hebrew) has kept his beer park open through most of the shut-down period since the tables and chairs are all outdoors and well-spaced from each other.  He's open most every Friday morning (except when it's extremely hot or extremely cold), and the menu is simple: Besides Dror's own excellent beers, there is home-made hummus and malabi (milk pudding with rice and rose syrup).  The beer park is a family affair, with Dror's parents and wife pitching in.

The beers on the menu alternate depending on what Dror is brewing at the time.  My favorite is his Zythos Wheat IPA.  In fact, when I first had it several years ago, it became my favorite Israeli craft beer.  Since then, quite a few others have competed for this position, but I still recommend it highly.  [Read that early review here.]

Dror Sapir gets serious while talking
about his beer with the old blogger.

(Photo: Mike Horton)
Sparrow's other standard beers include a Summer Wheat (an easy drinking hefeweizen), a classic IPA (aromatic and fruity), Sparrowheat (a strong wheat at 6.2% alcohol), and a dry-hopped West Coast IPA.

As we feasted on his beer and hummus, Dror explained that he opened his beer park on Sapir family property on Magshimim around four years ago.

"I've been brewing Sparrow beers since 2013," he added.  "I was gypsy brewing and bringing my beers to stores and restaurants by myself.  Besides the low profit margins, I was unhappy that I didn't get to see and hear the customers' reactions to my beer.

Dror Sapir stays serious about the coronavirus
while serving his beer on a recent Friday morning
at the Sparrow Brewery beer park
on Moshav Magshimim.
"Here in the beer park, I cut out the middleman and sell directly to the public, and I love to get their reactions when they drink my beer."

You can occasionally find bottles of Sparrow beer at the Beer Bazaar pubs, depending on the quantity that Dror brews!

People travel to Sparrow for the Friday morning beer and hummus from miles away --Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Rehovot -- though Dror says that 70% of his regular customers are from the moshav.  These are lucky people.  If I lived closer I would probably make the Sparrow beer park my regular Friday morning routine. 

July 20, 2020

Sun Blaze: the new Super Heroine from Six-Pack Brewery

Sun Blaze: The new beer
and Super Heroine from the
Six-Pack Brewery.

(Photo: Mike Horton)

Six-Pack Brewery, makers of the popular Super Hero beers, have introduced their first Super Heroine.  Her name is Sun Blaze, and she is a strong (7% alcohol by volume) "summer ale," enhanced with Canadian maple syrup.

Meidad Ram (left) and Eyal Noam,
brother/partners of the Six-Pack Brewery,
share the first bottle of Sun Blaze
with the old blogger.

(Photo: Mike Horton)
Six-Pack was founded over two years ago by brothers Meidad Ram and Eyal Noam (yes, I know, they have different last names, but that's another story).  The other beers they brew now (at the BeerBazaar Brewery in Kiryat Gat) are SMASH, a single malt and single hop IPA, and Ultimus Amber Ale.

(Six-Pack beers were mentioned in earlier articles here and here.)  

At the Jerusalem launch of Sun Blaze at Beerateinu, they told me that they had all but ceased brewing after their father had open-heart surgery last year and was in a coma for two months.  After he recovered, the brothers were meeting in their parents' home and discussing a new beer to begin their brewing once again. 

"We mentioned a few ingredients that we could use," said Meidad, "but other Israeli brewers were doing the same thing.  Then we saw the answer on the plate in front of us: maple cookies."

They began experimenting with maple syrup, trying different recipes for their beer.  The final product was Sun Blaze, an ale containing 25 liters of Canadian maple syrup in every 1,000 liter batch, and a mix of Hüll Melon hops (also known as Hallertau Melon) from Europe and Sabro hops from Washington State.  Both hop strains are aroma hops, with Hüll Melon adding honeydew melon, strawberry and apricot characteristics, and Sabro (a very new variety) known for tangerine and coconut flavors.

Eyal continued:  "You can achieve a 7% ABV from any fermentable sugars.  But the sugars from maple syrup will give you a lighter body than the sugars from malted grain.  And that's what we wanted: a strong beer with a light body."

So after all that explanation, let's see how this works out.

Sun Blaze pours out of the bottle a hazy dark amber color.  At least that's what it was in the dim light of Beerateinu.  I was joined by two other tasters, and between us we got aromas of tropical fruit, caramel, coconut, hazelnut and some wood.  The tastes were a delicious blend of these in a  mild bitter envelope.  The mouthfeel was mid-field -- in the body, the carbonation and the alcohol "warmth."

Yet we felt that something was missing.  Oh yes, the maple.  I know.  It's not called a maple beer, and the syrup itself was used to add sugars rather than as a flavor.  But we all were hoping for at least a hint of maple.  

It's a good thing we didn't give up.  As the beer diminished and warmed up in our glass, the maple aroma rose up.  Just a little bit, but enough to make itself felt.  

Even without the maple, we thought that Sun Blaze is a tasty, well crafted brew.  Perhaps not a light summer beer, but a heroine nevertheless who packs a rich, flavorful punch. 

July 14, 2020

Shevet's 3rd Small Batch: Double Bock

The third beer from the Shevet Brewstillery (in Pardes Hanna) in its Small Batch series is a Double Bock.  Also known by its German appellation doppelbock, this style of beer is a strong lager whose origins are in 17th century Munich.  Monks had it as "liquid bread" over Lent (usually February or March to April), when they fasted from food but not from drink.

The religious origins of the double bock (which is the stronger sister of the regular bock lager) led to an early version being named Salvator.  The suffix -ator was later applied to other double bock beers, so we have through history names like Resonator, Celebrator, Optimator, Maximator, Terminator.  (Only joking about the last one!)  The only other commercially brewed double bock in Israel is from the Bazelet Brewery on the Golan.    
On a visit to the Shevet Brewstilley
in Pardes Hanna, the old blogger
met the partners:
Brewmaster Lior Balmas (center)
and chief distiller Neil Wasserman.

(Photo: Mike Horton)

(You can read about the Shevet Brewstillery here and the other Shevet Small Batch beers here and here.) 

On the bottle, you read that Shevet Double Bock is made with Carapils and Munich malts (hinting at a fuller mouthfeel and some malty, nutty notes) and two "Noble" hops: Hallertau Mittelfruh and Saphir (bringing something sweet and spicy into the mix).  Let's see how this works in reality.  

The beer pours a clear copper color, with a lively effervescence that produces a small, yellow-white head.  The dominant aroma is sweet malt, very appetizing, followed by bread, caramel and dark molasses.  The taste is sweet and heavy and full of complexities.  My drinking partner Moshe and I got notes of malt, wood, caramel, toffee and chestnuts.  Despite all the sweet notes, the finish is dry and bitter.   

We enjoyed every drop: very creamy, balanced and rich tasting.  The 8% alcohol is felt in the warm mouthfeel but not in the taste.

"This is not a summer beach beer," Moshe said.  And he was right.  This is a drink-alone beer for a cool evening.  But if you are having your double bock with food, enjoy it with only the most rich, roasty foods or with any chocolate candy or cake.

The Small Batch beers from Shevet continue to maintain their high level of innovation and quality.  Most of their beers, in fact, are the only examples of a style brewed in Israel.  That's what makes it so exciting to see what new beers will be coming next from Shevet.  Any guesses?    

July 5, 2020

A beer for every season: Eli Ale Winter Forest

Winter Forest
Oak & Hazel
nut Porter
from Eli Ale.

(Photo: Mike Horton)
Under the banner of "new brewers and new beers," the Israeli craft scene welcomes Louis (Eli) Jay, 31, formerly from Owings Mills, Maryland, who is brewing and selling beer behind the Eli Ale label.  Louis brews his beers at the Oak & Ash (Good Stuff) Brewery in the Noham industrial area near Beit Shemesh.

It was especially appropriate that Louis presented me with his Winter Forest Oak & Hazelnut Porter on the last wintry day in Jerusalem.  After we sought shelter, he outlined his plans for Eli Ale.  

"I want to introduce a new beer for every season," he explained.  "This summer, for example, we're bringing back our Summer Breeze, a light Belgian Witbier, 4% alcohol, made with orange peel and coriander seeds.  For the fall, we'd like to have an Irish Red, and then a Maibock for the spring."

Louis, who began as a home-brewer in 2012, keeps his equipment at the Oak & Ash Brewery, but insists on doing his own brewing.  "I need to be on top of all the stages: the mashing, the boiling, adding the ingredients, etc.  It's a very delicate dance that I don't want others to do for me."
Louis (Eli) Jay (left), owner of Eli Ale,
presents bottles of Winter Forest
to the old blogger on winter's last day. 

(Photo: Mike Horton)

Of special importance to him is achieving consistency with every batch.  "Before I started brewing commercially," he added, "the biggest obstacle was consistency.  I aimed at getting ten consistent batches before I took a beer to the commercial level."

Winter Forest is based on a recipe from Louis' home-brew days.  "We were brewing the porter at 6% ABV, but one day by mistake hit 8%.  It was so good we decided to keep it."

Winter forest is brewed with hazelnuts and aged with oak chips.  It pours out a dark opaque brown with lacy tan foam.  There's no missing the tantalizing aromas: roasted malt, dark chocolate, yeast and a little coffee.  With the taste, you get oak, nuts and chocolate in a sweet and dry package.  

The mouthfeel is medium bodied, creamy, light alcohol warmth, and a little tingly from the carbonation.  Moshe, my tasting partner (we were sharing the beer via Zoom) found an "oatmeal" quality to the mouthfeel.  

We both agreed that this was a carefully made, delicious beer.  Have it with chocolate candy, cakes or desserts to kick the flavor intensity up a few notches, or with chargrilled veggies or rich, nutty cheeses.

Winter Forest is on sale in various beer stores in Israel, and final details are being worked out for exporting several cases to the state of Maryland. 

I missed Eli Ale's Summer Breeze last year, but based on the Winter Forest, I'm looking forward to trying it as soon as it appears later this year.