November 25, 2021

Kweik IPA ► 3-way collaboration: Hatch + Birateinu + Chalutz Chadash

Kweik IPA from
Birateinu, Chalutz Chadash and Hatch:
The Kweik yeast from the Vikings of Norway;
the hops from America.  

'Tis the season for collaboration -- at least in Israel it is.  And here we have a triple collab: Birateinu in Jerusalem, Chalutz Chadash in Beersheva, and the Hatch Brewery in Jerusalem put their heads together to create Kweik IPA -- arguably the first time a variety of Kweik yeast was used in a commercial Israeli beer.    

Yisrael Atlow, the Head Brewer at Hatch, explained to me that Kweik is an entire species of yeast, originally from Norway, that ferments sugars (that is, eats them) even at high temperatures, and works very fast.  Hungry little fungi, they are. 

The Kweik yeast line goes back hundreds of years.  Many believe it was the kind of yeast used by the Vikings to make their ale.  The strain was kept alive by local farmers for their home-brewing. 

Did the Vikings have Kweik yeast
to brew their ale!
"We chose a strain called Kweik Voss from Norway," Yisrael said. "I think it brings flavors like tangerine and red orange -- which could not have come from any hop. We only brewed one batch of 1,000 liters at Hatch. The feedback from the customers has been very heartwarming."

Along with the Kweik yeast, the brewers used American Galaxy and Mosaic hops, once added to the boil and then twice again for dry-hopping.  Alcohol by volume reached 6.5%.

 My drinking partner Moshe joined me for tasting the Kweik IPA.  The first thing you notice is the lovely deep golden orange color, very hazy, with a creamy, long-lasting head.  The hops did their stuff with deep aromas of citrus, pineapple and other tropical fruit.  The taste is sweet with some fruit, but also malt and yeast bread, and a bit of leather.  The body is medium and creamy, and the mid-bitter finish makes it very high on the refreshing scale.  

"It suits the Israeli climate," said Moshe, adding, "I haven't had such a unique beer in a long time."         

Well, I'm not going to say which of these delicious flavors came from the Kweik yeast, but it all came together excellently.  Recommended up and down.    

November 13, 2021

Four Shapiro sour beers for the tenth anniversary

Shap: The original name
for Shapiro Beer.
The Jerusalem lion stayed!

I have this collection of old business cards from Israeli craft breweries, going back to almost 10 years.  One of them is black-and-white with an MGM lion, the name Shap Beer, and the Hebrew for Jerusalem Beer Brewery.  Since I never heard of it since, I always thought it was it was one of those craft breweries that opened and closed in quick succession.

But at the Shapiro Brewery's Tenth Anniversary party in Beit Shemesh, I noticed the same card in the exhibit of historical photos.  Shap Beer was the first name when they were starting out in 2010 or so.  The name change was a good one.  Shap just doesn't have the same authority, history and yiddishkeit as Shapiro.

The celebration was marked with meeting old friends and great brewers, buying myself a Shapiro tank top, and plenty of back-slapping beer drinking.  Oh, and the launching of Shapiro's four new barrel-aged sour beers.  I don't want to forget that.  

The four Shapiro barrel-aged sour beers,
celebrating the brewery's tenth anniversary.

(Photo: Udi Katzman)

To mark their Tenth Anniversary, Shapiro had produced four different sour beers and was selling them online in a very exclusive, hand-made cloth saddle bag.  Only 600 numbered bottles of each beer were produced.  You can buy the four different bottles together with the saddle bag for 189 shekels -- or you can buy the bottles individually by adding them to a regular online order.  There is an added cost of 16.50 shekels per bottle.  

Here is the link to the Shapiro online store where you can order the set of four beers (in Hebrew):

Well, I wanted to find out more about these four babies, and I came to the right place.  Head Brewer Ory Sofer sat with me for longer than he should have to tell me about this amazing Shapiro project.

"Sour beers have always been my passion," he admitted, "ever since I've worked as a brewer.  The local market is developing in that direction as well.  When we came out with our Strong Sour beer two years ago, it was Israel's first commercial sour and it was surprisingly popular.  

The four new beers can only be ordered online
with this hand-made cloth saddle bag.

(Photo: Udi Katzman)

"We took Strong Sour as our base and wanted to develop it, give it more complexity." 

Strong Sour is called a "kettle-sour," which means the souring agent (whatever it may be) is introduced into the wort and then killed by boiling.  In this case, it was wild yeast from almond flowers from the hills of Jerusalem.  Additional saison yeast was used in a second fermentation.  [Read more about Strong Sour here.]

To obtain the extra complexity they were looking for, Ory, Brewmaster Yochai Kudler and the Shapiro brewing team decided to age the beer in oak barrels for an entire year.  Four different processes were used.  

"The first batch was aged in oak barrels which previously held white wine," Ory continued.  "The wood contained active yeast and bacteria, and some left-over wine, of course.  I think the finished beer tastes like a Chardonnay wine."

The second batch was aged in barrels which first contained Sherry and afterwards whisky from the Milk & Honey Distillery in Tel Aviv. 

A birthday cake for ten years!
Itzik Shapiro (left), CEO of Shapiro Brewery,
and Chief Brewer Ory Sofer (right),
join the old blogger in raising a glass of beer 
in honor of the brewery's tenth anniversary.

"The third beer," said Ory, "was matured in barrels that previously held red wine -- and we added Shami mulberries from the Golan Heights.  This is a variety which is a very dark red color, almost black.  After the bacteria get finished with them, there's not much flavor of the fruit left, but I believe it imparts a nutty taste from the seeds."

The fourth beer was also aged in ex-red wine barrels, with the addition of 110 kilograms (240 pounds) of local pears, cut and pressed by hand by the Shapiro team.  "Pears provide a large eco-system of bacteria," Ory explained, "and this leads to a wide and complex range of aromas and tastes." 

After Ory's explanation and description of the four new sour beers, it behooved me to taste them myself.  But for such a historical venture, I chose to involve two other members of the IBAV Tasting Team who are beer lovers and true representatives of the common man: Manny and Mike.

Ory Sofer (left) and the Shapiro brewing team 
transfer a sour beer from the barrel to a tank
before bottling.

We first poured out the beer aged in white wine barrels.  It was a very pale cloudy color, with a big impressive foamy head.  We all wrinkled our noses at the sour aroma, with citrus in the background.  The taste did indeed remind us of a dry white wine.  The sourness was subdued.  "The effervescence of a sparkling wine," said Manny, "although I was looking for a bigger kick."  (Alcohol by volume is 5.5%.)  Mike added: "Very delicate.  Tantalizes the palate."  We agreed that this was a sour pale ale with a wine finish.

Sour grapes, sour beer!
Mike, Manny and the old blogger trying to
make sense of the new Shapiro sour beers.

(Photo: Mike Horton)  
The beer that was aged in ex-sherry, ex-whisky barrels was a shade darker, although with the same beautiful head.  Same sour aroma, but less "bright."  Manny and Mike, who apparently both drink sherry before dining, noted whiffs of the same.  On the palate, we thought the beer was drier than the first, with more complex flavors and some oak.  Manny even tasted the sherry and the whisky "very clearly," and pronounced that he preferred this beer.  Mike, dropping names though not his glass, announced that the beer reminded him "of a bodega where sherry is served in Jerez de la Frontera, on the Spanish border."  The mild sourness was attractive to everybody.  ABV is 5.3%.

Shapiro Chief Brewer
Ory Sofer with one
of the barrels used
to age the four new 
sour beers.
Things changed with beer number three, aged in red wine barrels with Shami mulberries.  It was headless, amber colored with a pink-orange hue.  Same sour aroma.  The Tasters tasted sweet spice ("cloves," according to Mike), some soap, oak and berries.   It was the most alcoholic with 5.8%.  As Ory predicted, there was no mulberry taste.  Manny was the first to say that this was a "refreshing alcoholic drink, but had moved away from being a beer."  Mike agreed that it was "too far removed for being beer," and that he "could not drink a whole bottle."  All in all, it was the beer we enjoyed the least.

The last beer was aged in red wine barrels with pears.  It was the palest color, only semi-hazy with no head.  The same sour smell was there.  Although Mike and I could not detect pears, Manny said that their aroma was "obvious."  It had the most sour taste of the four, returning Mike to how he remembered the first.  It was also the fruitiest, with yours truly even garnering a sweet sensation.  Not distinct pear fruit, but distinct fruit sugar.  I personally like the interplay of sweet and sour fruit.  ABV is 5.5%.  

The old blogger demonstrates how to use
his new Shapiro logo tank top.

This gets me back to the main problem we, who come from a bitter beer culture, have with sour beers.  Our ability to perceive further is blocked when we taste "sour."  No further discernment can take place if we can't get past "sour."  We have to work on it, and we will.  We should be able to expand our perception to include the world of sour beers.  Perhaps some day we will be able to join Ory Sofer in enjoying sour beers as much (well, almost as much) as we do bitter ones. 

In the meantime, three cheers for the Shapiro team for this outstanding and impressive Tenth Anniversary project!  Mazal Tov!                            

November 7, 2021

Malka Chouffe: An Israeli-Belgian collab beer

Malka Chouffe
Belgian Blond Ale:
The new 
collab beer.

The celebration of Hacarem Spirits' 100th anniversary continues with a second collaboration beer between an Israeli and a European brewery.  Malka Brewery in the Tefen Industrial Park has teamed up with the Achouffe Brewery in Belgium to produce a spiced Belgian Blond Ale, known as Malka Chouffe.  

Earlier this year, the Negev Brewery, which is in the Malka facility, collaborated with Mikkeller in Denmark to make the Desert Haze New England-style IPA.  Hacarem is a major importer and marketer of beer, wine, spirits and food (including Chouffe and Mikkeller beers), as well as holding interests in the Malka and Negev breweries.  [Read more about the Desert Haze collaboration here.] 

Three thousand liters of Malka Chouffe were brewed and bottled at the Duvel-Moortgat Brewery in Belgium and all bottles were shipped to Israel.  

To find out more about this collaboration, I spoke with Ravid Rose, the product manager for Belgian beers at Hacarem, who was involved from the beginning of the process. 

"Achouffe has never collaborated with another brewery to make a beer," she told me.  "When we approached them with the idea, via Zoom, about a year ago, they refused.  But then Duvel, which owns Achouffe, opened a new brewery which is able to experiment with smaller quantities.  They agreed to work with us."

Ravid and Maor Helfman, Hacarem's brand manager for Israeli beers, zoomed with Achouffe brewers to produce a recipe for a Belgian Blond Ale similar to the regular La Chouffe Blond and the Malka Blond Ale. 

"The Malka Chouffe is somewhere between the two," Ravid explained.  "It is less sweet than the La Chouffe Blond and more spiced.  We used cloves and thyme, while the La Chouffe Blond includes coriander seeds, an ingredient usually found in Belgian Blond and Wheat ales.  Both of the beers are 8% alcohol."

The branding was done by the Belgian brewery.  The label still has Marcel, the famous Chouffe gnome, but he is carrying a glass of beer with the Malka crown towards the queen's palace.

(A language lesson would help at this point: Chouffe in this Flemish dialect means "gnome," and Malka in Hebrew means "queen."  Everything clear now?)  

A side-by-side tasting of Malka Chouffe and
La Chouffe Belgian Blonde Beer.

I thought it would be interesting to do a comparative tasting between the new Malka Chouffe and the regular La Chouffe Blond Ale.  With my tasting partner Moshe, I poured glasses of the two Belgian-brewed beers side by side.

First thing you notice is the color.  The Malka Chouffe is about two shades darker.  The aromas are similar -- with Malka Chouffe emphasizing the spiciness of the hops and some lemon.  La Chouffe Blond smells maltier and less spicy.  The taste of the Malka version also begins with spice and herbs, but then moves into sweet.  Moshe called it "lemon drops."  There was also some fruity esters from the Belgian yeast, perhaps banana.  

Marcel, the Chouffe gnome, brings a glass of
Malka Chouffe to the queen's palace.

We found that the regular La Chouffe Blond was less spiced, less harsh in the mouthfeel, and basically more balanced.  Moshe preferred it over the Malka Chouffe.  I enjoyed the two of them in different ways, and will defer to the education in the art of diplomacy I received those many years ago at the Georgetown University School of Foreign Service.  

Collaboration beers are not necessarily any better than beers developed by a single brewery.  And let's be honest: A lot of it is hype and marketing.  But they generate interest in the breweries involved, create fraternity among different brewers, and even introduce a wider public to the world of craft beer.

Hacarem already is the common element between the Malka and Achouffe Breweries, and so a collaboration beer is a great idea  -- with very tasty results.  I understand we can expect an additional collab beer or two within the framework of Hacarem's centennial anniversary.              

October 26, 2021

2021 Isra-Brew competition foils corona, names home-brewing winners

Israel used to have five or six competitions which recognized the talents and efforts of the country's home-brewers.  Last year, with the onset of the coronavirus, only one was held: Isra-Brew.  All of the entry bottles were collected and shipped to judging panels in different locations around the country.  After the entries were evaluated and the winners were chosen, the award ceremony was held on a Facebook live broadcast.    

[Read about last year's remotely judged competition here.]  

This year, Isra-Brew 2021 was held under similar circumstances, although better organized for remote judging.  Fifty-six brewers submitted their entries, and judging was again done by separate panels.  The award ceremony, however, was held live at the Beer & Beyond store in Tel Aviv.  Thirty-five prizes were awarded in the Beer categories, including Best of Show and Champion Brewer.  

Prizes were also awarded in the Mead and Cider categories.  In recent years, one of Isra-Brew's chief judges, Omer Basha, has been actively promoting the production and judging of mead and cider, and that was reflected in their inclusion in the competition.

Some of the Isra-Brew judges at work in Jerusalem:
(from left) Rafael Agaev, Omer Basha,
Ephraim Greenblatt and Shmuel Naky
(assisted by his young daughter!). 

Isra-Brew is organized by the Home-Brewers of Israel community, and sanctioned by the worldwide Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP).  All of the judges are BJCP certified to ensure a comprehensive evaluation and proper feedback to all of the entrants. 

Omer, Israel's only BJCP judge with a Master ranking, was one of the judge directors.  He told me a little more about this year's Isra-Brew judging procedure.  All of the 163 entries were gathered at the Hatch Brewery in Jerusalem.  They were divided into 20 categories (16 for beer, three for mead and one for cider) and distributed to six judging locations throughout the country.  

The Sabresa Brewery team that brewed
the American Porter Best of Show:
(from left) Yogev Nathan, Nitai Leffler,
Meital Leffler and Ofer Pekerman.
"Some of the 31 judges did the evaluation at the locations," Omer continued.  "Others, who were more cautious, took the bottles home and evaluated them via video conference.  For the first time, we typed up all the judging sheets so they could be easily read, and distributed to all of the participants.  Complete sensory evaluation and feedback is a very important aspect of the judging procedure."

The winners in all categories were decided more than a month before they were announced at the ceremony.  There was a reason for this, I learned from Omer.  "We decided to do something very different this year: To commercially brew the entries of the Best of Show and the Champion Brewer so the public would be able to taste them.  

The original Best of Show American Porter
from the Sabresa Brewery, and the two awards:
First Place in the Stout category and
Best of Show.

"HaDubim -- Rotem and Dagan Bar Ilan -- made a hop rich version of the Best of Show beer . . . and Hatch Brewery practically cloned the Champion Brewer's Belgian Blond Ale."

The winner of the Best of Show was an American Porter by Sabresa Brewery from Kibbutz Ein HaShlosha in the Negev.  Sabresa is a team of talented brewers that includes Nitai Leffler, Yogev Nathan, Ofer Pekerman and Meital Leffler.  

The version made by HaDubim is called Mara Shchora ("Bitter Black"), a Black English IPA.  It was developed jointly by Sabresa and the Bar Ilan brothers.  I understand it is hoppier than Nitai's winning beer, made with Chinook and East Kent Golding hops, at 6% alcohol by volume.

Mara Shchora,
HaDubim's version
of the 
Best of Show.
I would call the color a clear red amber, with a thin off-white head.  The aromas were earthy: Caramel and spiced bread if I had to be more specific.  With the tastes, you get a nice play-off between the hop bitterness (citrus and grassy) and the roasted malt (dark bread, caramel and dark fruits), which is what you expect in a Black IPA.  I also found a bit of sour fruit.  The body is medium, but also what I would call "chewable."  I had the feeling this is a beer you can sink your teeth into, figuratively speaking of course.                 

Mara Shchora is an enjoyable enough beer, with good attributes for a Black IPA -- but here's the thing that bothers me:  It's not anywhere near Sabresa's American Porter.  Different recipe, different preparation, different style.  If the purpose of this exercise was to give the public a taste of the winning home-brewed beers, why include a beer whose only connection was the involvement of the same brewing team?  

It reminded me of the museum that was displaying George Washington's original ax, you know, the one he chopped down the cherry tree with.  (Apologies to those who never learned this important piece of American history.)  The card said, "This is the original ax.  It's only had seven new handles and three new heads since then."  

Isra-Brew Champion Brewer
Michael Van Straten (holding award trophy)
with his wife Nirit and friends from Moshav Klachim. 

The title of Champion Brewer was awarded to Michael Van Straten from Moshav Klachim in the northwestern Negev, where he works as a veterinarian.  The Champion Brewer is the one whose beers amass the most awards in the competition.  Michael's Belgian Blond and Belgian Tripel took gold medals, and his German Pils a silver.

Michael has been home-brewing for eight years, specializing in Belgian-style ales. He calls his brewery Duchifat ("Hoopoe Bird"). It was his Belgian Blond that the Hatch Brewery produced commercially, labeling it Duchifat Blond
Hatch Duchifat Blond:
A copy of Champion Brewer
Michael Van Straten's 
winning Belgian Blond.
And now it's time to test with the eyes, nose and palate. Duchifat Blond is a hazy beer, in the mid-range of pale, actively carbonated although the head doesn't hold very long. The aroma is spicy hops and a little bit of peach. A sweet taste greets you, separating into spice, malt and lemon-lime. The mouthfeel is tingly and astringent, with a dry finish. It is very delicious and refreshing. ABV is 5.7%.

If this is an accurate recreation of Michael's Belgian Blond, I can see why it came in First Place in the Belgian Strong Ale category, and why he was named Champion Brewer.                  

So without further ado, here is the complete list in English of the winners of the 2021 Isra-Brew home-brewers competition:

Best of Show -- Beer
Nitai Leffler (Sabresa Brewery, with Yogev Nathan, Ofer Pekerman and
        Meital Leffler) -- American Porter

Champion Brewer (with all prizes taken into account)
Michael Van Straten

American IPA
First:  Doron Coen-Shwartz (with Guy Lavi) -- Hopzilla
Second:  Yigal Peretz (with Michael Peretz) -- Gat

New England IPA
    No entry amassed enough points to be declared a winner.

Specialty IPA
First:  Tom Arad -- Broken Fridge, Double IPA
American Pale Ale
First:  Danny Perets (with Green) -- Hugeness, American Pale Ale
Second: Idan Zichlinskey -- Idan's Espresso Blonde Blue Cap, Blonde Ale

Amber and Brown American Beer
First:  Tony Fall -- 5 O'clock Amber Angel, American Amber Ale
Second:  Omer Biber -- A Trip to Valhalla, Vol. 3, American Brown Ale

First:  Nitai Leffler (Sabresa Brewery, with Yogev Nathan, Ofer Pekerman and
        Meital Leffler) -- Schwartze-Luna, American Porter
Second: Tony Fall -- Vanilla Stout, Irish Stout
Third: Maxim Shain (Home-Brewers Guild of Beersheva) -- Maxim, Sweet Stout

Imperial Stout
First:  Bar Sagi -- Imperial Stout
Second: Murat Nepesov (with Noam Shalev, Lior Digabli and Roni Waldman) -- 
        Malbec Barrel Aged Imperial Stout
Third: Shay Goldstein (with Yoel Bar-Ilan) -- Imperial Stout 

Brown British Beer
First:  Vitali Oneg -- Pussu-Pussu, English Porter
Second:  Yaron Shpund (with Oren Bunimovich) -- Dark Sky Assault, English Porter

Other British Beer
First:  Mark Markish -- English Old Ale, Old Ale
Second: Gilad Ne-Eman (Home-Brewers Guild of Beersheva) -- Fathers and Sons, 
        Old Ale

Wheat Beer
First:  Eitan Gadasi -- Reef, Weissbier
Second: Michael Van Straten -- Saba Hagai Pils, German Pils
Third: Nir Rahav (with Noam Lavam) -- Hefe, Weissbier

Strong Belgian Ale
First:  Michael Van Straten -- Duchifat Blond, Belgian Blond Ale

Amber and Dark Lagers
First:  Ohad Gertel -- #124, Eisbock
Second: Amir Pelech -- Darkish, Schwarzbier

Other European Beers
First:  Michael Van Straten -- Duchifatr Tripel, Belgian Tripel
Second: Alex Fuks (Home-Brewers Guild of Beersheva)-- This is Lager, 
        International Pale Lager
Third: Nitai Leffler (Sabresa Brewery, with Yogev Nathan, Ofer Pekerman and
        Meital Leffler) -- Admral, Belgian Dark Strong Ale

Fruit Beer
First:  Alex Fuks (Home-Brewers Guild of Beersheva) -- Little Bit of Both, 
        Fruit and Spice Beer
Honorable Mention: Ohad Gertel -- #66.1, Fruit Beer

Wood and Smoke Beer
First:  Gilad Ne-Eman (Home-Brewers Guild of Beersheva) -- Smokey Chocy Stout, 
        Classic Style Smoked Beer
Second: Tom Arad (with Yoni Goren) -- Magic Potion, Wood-Aged Beer
Honorable Mention: Assaf Murkes (Modi'in Brewers) -- Chock Full of Porter, Wood-Aged Beer

Spice and Specialty Beer
First:  Mordechai Zukerman -- Pumpkin Spice Porter, Winter Seasonal Beer

There were also three categories of mead which were awarded prizes, and one was awarded Best Mead of Show (Ohad Gertel).  Dvir Flom took the awards in the Cider category.

So congratulations to all the winners.  You fuel the initiative and the innovation that powers Israeli craft beer.  And heartfelt thanks to the volunteer judges and organizers led by Yisrael Atlow, Omer Basha, Shmuel Naky and Shachar Hertz, who made Isra-Brew 2021 a shining success.   

October 11, 2021

Three "impressive" IPAs: Desert Haze (Mikkeller & Negev) ● DOX2 (Dancing Camel) ● White Smoke (HaDubim)

Ashan Lavan ("White Smoke") IPA from HaDubim":
Fruit flavors a'plenty, unhindered
by the bitterness.

India Pale Ales continue to be the beer of choice for most brewers -- and not only in Israel.  It's a worldwide phenomenon.  Beer drinkers find the hoppy aromas and flavors and the bitterness suit them perfectly, and they flock to try every new IPA that hits the shelves.  The breweries are only too happy to oblige.   

In Israel, here are three recent IPAs that are all worth trying.  I still see them in stores in Jerusalem, and I understand they are also available in other cities.  

The first is Ashan Lavan ("White Smoke") from HaDubim, whose brewer-brothers Rotem and Dagan Bar Ilan are known for their excellent IPAs.  The beer is made at the BeerBazaar Brewery in Kiryat Gat.

Ashan Lavan is a hazy, golden-amber color.  The pour releases aromas of stone fruits, citrus and light pine.  The first sip is dry and bitter, but then it unfolds into bitter fruit: peach, mango, orange.

DOX2 Imperial IPA from the 
Dancing Camel Brewery in Tel Aviv:
Strong in alcohol, color,
aromas and flavors.
In some IPAs, the bitterness blocks out the flavors, but not here.  Ashan Lavan has a short, bitter finish that makes you want to take another gulp.  At 6.2% alcohol, a superior IPA.

A very different but equally enjoyable IPA – actually called "Imperial IPA" – is DOX2 from Dancing Camel in Tel Aviv, Israel's first craft brewery, owned by American-born David Cohen.  The 9% alcohol makes this beer Imperial, but so does the dark amber color, and the strong and complex aromas and tastes.  Malt, caramel, citrus, dried fruits, leather, vanilla and chocolate are some of the sensations I detected.  The finish is acerbic and dry and full of alcoholic warmth.  DOX2  is quite an amazing IPA, not at all typical for this style.

The last beer is an international collaboration between Negev Beer (in the Tefen Industrial Park) and Mikkeller, Europe's famous gypsy brewer based in Denmark.  The beer's unwieldy name is Desert Haze: Mikkeller X Negev.  It was actually brewed in the De Proef Brewery in Lochristi, Belgium, and shipped to Israel in cans.  Since no Israeli micro-brewery has a canning line, you can actually call Desert Haze the first Israeli craft beer in cans, even though it isn't really "from" Israel.  

Although called a "Pale Ale" rather than an IPA, Desert Haze meets all the criteria for the IPA style except for the slightly lower alcoholic volume -- 4.9%.

Desert Haze, the collab beer
from Negev and Mikkeller:
Israel's first canned craft beer --
although brewed in Belgium!

Desert Haze was brewed to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Hacarem Spirits, an import agency and co-owner of several Israeli properties, including the Malka Brewery where Malka, Negev and Herzl beers are brewed.  The recipe is a collaborative effort of Mikkeller representatives and Hacarem employees Maor Helfman and Yoni Fliderman.  It includes oatmeal and rye, in addition to barley malt.  

Desert Haze is a creamy and hazy New England-style Pale Ale, very low bitterness  and with favors of mango, pineapple and red grapefruit.  It is delicious.  Like I said, there are still cans available, but if you haven't tasted it yet, I suggest you move with all due speed.  

October 9, 2021

Shevet Red Knight & Hop Guru

The Red Knight: an Irish Red Ale from the
Shevet Brewstillery in Pardes Hanna.
The knight is a woman and the taste
is caramel, fruity and mildly bitter. 

Under the guiding hand of German Brewmaster Felix Magdziarz, the Shevet Brewstillery in Pardes Hanna has been producing new core beers, seasonal brews, and oak barrel-aged special editions.  There are two new core beers which are excellent examples of their styles.

The Red Knight is an Irish Red Ale, a style noted for its sweet caramel and toffee flavors from the malt, with low hop bitterness.  The Red Knight is a clear, crimson gold color with aromas of malt, sweet caramel and butterscotch.  It has flavors of rich malt, caramel and some citrus fruit from the yeast esters.  Alcohol by volume: 5.1%. 

Like the other Shevet core beers, The Red Knight has an image of the beer's "personality" on the label.  This time the Red Knight is a woman warrior, "dainty and daring," ready to do battle with the forces of evil everywhere. 

The Hop Guru: an IPA from the 
Shevet Brewstillery in Pardes Hanna.
Citrus, tropical fruit and pine flavors.

The Hop Guru is Shevet's new IPA, bursting with citrus, tropical fruit and pine flavors, with grapefruit dominating.  It's not very bitter like a lot of other IPAs, actually bitter-sweet.  The mouthfeel is medium-body and acerbic.  Alcohol is 5.7%.  

The Hop Guru is brewed with Motueka hops from New Zealand, not too commonly used in Israeli beers, and noted for its flavors of citrus (lime) and tropical fruits.  The guru on the bottle is a bearded yogi, "exotic and exalted," holding a hop cone. 

These are two enjoyable beers, suitable additions to Shevet's core line.  My wife even liked The Red Knight -- and not only because of its feminist heroine.  

October 7, 2021

BAD Hopping IPA from Chalutz Chadash: Not BAD at all!

Barrel Aged Dry Hopping IPA
from Chalutz Chadash and
Holy Dram, made at the 
Hatch Brewery in Jerusalem.

(Photo: Shay Koriat)

It's not often that we hear about a beer brewed and conditioned in a new and unique fashion.  After all, what can you do that's so different from what craft brewers have been doing for 50 years?

Well, here's an Israeli first:  Gilad Ne-Eman of Chalutz Chadash ("New Pioneer") has produced an IPA which was fermented and dry-hopped while in ex-bourbon barrels.  

"Fermenting beer in oak barrels is not new," Gilad told me.  "But doing the dry-hopping in the barrels is."

The beer is called Barrel Aged Dry Hopping, or BAD Hopping for short.  It was made in cooperation with the Holy Dram whisky-appreciation group, and brewed at the Hatch Brewery in Jerusalem.

"The beer was first fermented and hopped in regular fermenters for four-five days," Gilad continued, "and then it was transferred to ex-bourbon barrels from the Milk & Honey Distillery in Tel Aviv, where it was dry-hopped with Citra and Centennial hops for 18 more days.  Only 200 liters were made."

How did BAD Hopping emerge from those barrels?  

Well, I saw a beautifully semi-clear, mid-amber color with reddish highlights.  I inhaled aromas of pine and citrus, and I tasted complex flavors of citrus and other fruits, leather and vanilla, all in a bittersweet envelope.  The body is full and the finish is long.  It is delicious.  I admit that I did not get any oak taste from the barrel, but perhaps it added the vanilla and leather, as well as the overall complexity.  

Although BAD Hopping is a strong beer (7.1% alcohol), it is not too heavy to enjoy with food. 

The brewers took a chance with this beer and achieved success.  Dry-hopping in whisky barrels seems like an innovation that's going to remain with us, "a keeper."  Maybe in this case, brewers in other countries will take their cue from Israel!                    

September 19, 2021

Three from Birateinu: Apple Molly Graf ● Scapegoat (Se'ir La'Azazel) Smoked Bock ● Aluma Wheat Wine

Birateinu, the Jerusalem Beer Center, owned and operated by Leon Shvartz and Shmuel ("Shmulz") Naky, continues to produce its own "way-out" beers.  (I've been calling them "Baroque" beers, and you can read about some earlier ones here and here.)

Apple Molly from Birateinu:
Israel's first graf.

(Photo: Mike Horton) 
It seems they've been brewing larger quantities since the beers remain on sale for a longer time.  The three I'm going to talk about here can still be purchased at the Birateinu store or ordered online.

Apple Molly is called a graf, a kind of cider-beer hybrid.  In this case, apple concentrate was added to the wort and the two fermented together with ale yeast.  The apple accounts for 5% of the total wort.  Readers will correct me if I'm wrong, but I believe this is the first time a graf has been produced in Israel.  Apple Molly was brewed at the Hatch Brewery in Jerusalem.

The beer historians say that graf-making goes way back, when people began to brew beer with fruits and other flavorful additions.  There are no rules for the proportions of apple and malt which should be used, so grafs that are largely apple will be more like cider, while those heavy on the malt will taste like a fruit beer.

Shmulz alerted me that the base of Apple Molly is an Irish Red Ale, using the apple concentrate as a gimmick.  "But this gimmick leads to a better tasting beer.  It's like eating an Irish apple cake."   

Not really knowing what an Irish apple cake tastes like, my drinking partner Daniël Boerstra and I set out to try an Apple Molly.

Easier to find the apples in the tree 
than in Apple Molly.
It poured out a semi-hazy, ruby reddish brown color with an off-white head above constantly rising bubbles.  We smelled cinnamon, some other quieter spices, slight apple, and the malt and caramel aromas of Belgian strong ale.  Daniël sensed some dark chocolate in there as well.  The taste was also that of a Belgian ale, with added chocolate and butterscotch.  Try as we might, we couldn't find the apples.

The beer tastes and feels very strong (it is 6.7% alcohol), but the finish is drier than a Belgian ale, more like a cider.

Our verdict was that the apples used in this graf added fermentable sugars, which boost the alcoholic strength and full mouthfeel, but do not add much flavor.  Still, if you haven't tasted a graf, this Israeli original should be your first.

Also pushing the envelope is Se'ir La'Azazel ("Scapegoat" in English), a smoky Bock lager.  Bock beer is a stronger and darker version of the European light lagers which are so popular all over the world.  They get their color from the roasted malt (usually Munich or Vienna malt) which is used in the brewing.    

Peaty and meaty:
The smoky scapegoat on the Se'ir La'Azazel label.

To get the smokiness in there too, 80% of the malt that Shmulz used was smoked over peat.  Alcohol by volume is 7.4%.  Se'ir La'Azazel is brewed at the Sheeta Brewery in Arad.    

Se'ir La'Azazel is dark reddish-brown, smack on the Bock color scale.  The smoky aromas hit your nose even before it gets close to the glass.  Malt and caramel are also present.  "Smoked meat" is what my drinking partner Moshe shouted out, bringing back distant memories to me.  "Smoked Scotch whisky" is what I thought of.  The taste is quite smoky as well, dominating any other flavors.  

Aluma (left), a strong
Wheat Wine made with 
all-wheat malt.
Se'ir La'Azazel (right),
a smoky Bock lager made
with roasted and 
peat-smoked malt.

(Photo: Mike Horton)  

It's a little on the sweet side, with a light body.  Moshe was jarred by the contrast between the strong taste and the light body.  But we both agreed that it was another one of Shmulz's successful ventures.  By the way, he suggests that this beer can be beneficially aged for some time, which may mellow out the strong flavors a bit.  

It's too wild for a dessert beer, but would go well with foods that could do with a smoky addition -- like vegetable stews, some quiches, soups and salads, mac & cheese, or even eggs.  

Several Israeli brewers have cooked up Barley Wine, most noticeably Alexander, which makes an annual version.  This is one of the strongest beer styles, normally clocking in at 11-12% alcohol by volume.

Aluma, I can state with some certainty, is Israel's first commercial Wheat Wine, using 100% malted wheat instead of barley.  Its ABV is 12% and it's brewed at the Hatch Brewery in Jerusalem.

Shmulz and other brewers have told me that brewing with wheat malt is umpteen times more difficult than brewing with barley.  The lack of husks in wheat, plus the higher protein, makes the grain mash, well, very mushy, almost like a bread dough.  The fact that the brewers were able to produce a fermentable wort is a tribute to their skills.      

This sheaf of wheat gives Aluma Wheat Wine its name.
Cloudy and carbonated, Aluma (which means "sheaf" in Hebrew) is golden orange.  The aroma is very fresh with hay and malt -- and there's no mistaking the alcohol.  The taste is alcoholic and bitter (which is what you're looking for in this kind of beer), but with sweet notes of brown sugar and caramel. 

The mouthfeel reveals a full body and some real alcoholic heat.  Aluma is the counterpoint of a summertime beer.  It has the characteristics of a wine, but is a heavier drink.  I'm told that Aluma is also a good beer to age.      

While not as "Baroque" as some of the earlier beers from Birateinu, these three additions are definitely in the category of "pushing the box" or "outside the envelope" or whichever other metaphor you want to use.  They are all available now at Birateinu in Jerusalem, or can be ordered online at this link (in Hebrew).

September 1, 2021

The best time to be a beer lover in Israel

Israeli craft breweries have been around since 2006, but only last month two events came along to show that the industry has reached a new level of maturity.

Best sellers from the 
Tempo Beer Industries in Netanya.

Both of Israel's industrial brewers – Tempo Beer Industries in Netanya and Israel Beer Breweries Ltd. (IBBL) in Ashkelon – have reached out to embrace craft brewing.  Although some may call it a "bear hug" rather than an embrace, it's a clear indication that big beer wants to become a part of the craft phenomenon.

Tempo, brewers of the popular Goldstar, Maccabee and Heineken brands, has purchased a controlling share in the Shapiro Brewery, a family-owned business in Beit Shemesh.  According to Itzik Shapiro, president of the brewery and one of the four siblings who founded and manage it, the acquisition "will let us continue to do what we have until now, but we are now able to realize our plans and our new projects sooner than we could have imagined." 

Elad Horesh, VP Marketing for IBBL, stated that the company opted to build its own craft brewery rather than acquire an existing one, because, "we have the brewmasters with the most knowledge, we have the most advanced laboratory equipment in the country, and also the operational experience.  It was also important to let our brewmasters, who for years had dreamed of and played with different recipes, be the ones to make their dreams come true." 

The first three Shikma beers:
Amber Ale, Märzen Lager and IPA.
(Photo: Firma Studio)

Shikma has come out with three beer styles: IPA (India Pale Ale), Amber Ale and Märzen Lager.  IBBL's Chief Technologist and Head Brewer Avichai Grinberg, said that these styles were chosen after "we had an internal taste competition, and these three recipes came up as the best."   

Internationally, craft beer has been a growing phenomenon since the 1970s.  People are still debating the terminology and the definition, but basically we're talking about beer from smaller breweries which can give more hands-on attention to the beers they brew, make a number of different style beers, and make them in smaller quantities.

David Cohen, founder and owner of the
Dancing Camel Brewery in Tel Aviv,
Israel's first craft brewery. 

The origin of Israeli craft breweries goes back to 2006, when Brooklyn-born brewer David Cohen fought bureaucrats, skeptics and neighbors to build the Dancing Camel Brewery in Tel Aviv's Montifiore neighborhood.

Cohen had made Aliya in 2003 after working as a volunteer in a New Jersey brewery.  He ditched any thoughts about continuing to work as an accountant, and began making plans for opening up a brewpub in Tel Aviv.

"The Israeli bureaucrats involved in new businesses had no idea what I was talking about," he revealed.  "We had to educate them about what we wanted every step of the way.  Their attitudes varied from mild entertainment to abrasive and adversarial."

The old blogger enjoys a hearty meal 
after touring the Malka Brewery at its
new location in the Tefen Industrial Park.

(Photo: Mike Horton)

Cohen's success broke the ice for other brewers in Israel to follow suit.  In short order, micro-breweries were opening in other places: Bazelet on the Golan Heights, Malka on Kibbutz Yechiam, Shapiro and Mosco in Beit Shemesh, Negev in Kiryat Gat, Alexander in Emek Hefer, Srigim in the community village of Srigim (Li'on), Herzl in Jerusalem, and others.           

Today, Israel can boast of about 25-30 craft brewers who are selling beer commercially – although around ten dominate this market with quantity and distribution.

Even with our hot, dry summers,
Israeli per capita beer consumption
is near the bottom of the list.

Now here's the other side of the coin: All of these wonderful craft breweries account for under 10% of all beer sales in Israel.  The rest of the beer is coming from those two huge industrial breweries mentioned above, and of course, from imports.

Another fact holding back the growth of all beer sales in Israel – craft and mega – is our embarrassingly low consumption rate.  The world champions, who as you may expect are the Central and East Europeans, Irish and British, drink from 70 to 100 liters of beer a year per capita!  (The Czechs reach about 150!) 

Near the bottom of the list is Israel.  Even with our hot, dry summers, we drink no more than 20 liters of beer per capita.  Clearly there is room for growth.  Although there are some Israelis who warn against the dangers of increased imbibing, Judaism has never spawned a teetotaling culture.

Alexander Brewery CEO Ori Sagy (center)
is joined by 
operations manager 
Eran Weisman (second from left), 

and brewer Elad Gassner (second from right)
as they receive three awards at the
European Beer Star Competition in Munich.

More and more, our meager drinking habits cannot be explained by inferior beer.  In recent years, there is no doubt that Israeli beers have improved in quality.  Taste, of course, is personal and individual, but enough high marks are given by professionals and consumers alike to make the upward trend unmistakable.  The various "beer-ranking" websites also reflect this. 

About two years ago, Newsweek magazine named the Dancing Camel as one of the nine breweries in the world worth traveling for!  Before the COVID struck, Oliver Wesseloh, the world champion beer sommelier from Germany, visited five craft breweries in Israel in a project designed to increase "beer tourism" from Germany and, indeed, all of Europe.  These are tourists who will travel anywhere just to drink a glass of good beer.  We still hope they get here – as soon as Europeans feel the skies are friendly again.

If more Israeli craft brewers entered
international competitions, Israeli beers 
might be winning more medals.

Internationally, Israeli beers have not won much recognition, but this could be because Israeli brewers have been so hesitant to enter competitions.  Ori Sagy, CEO of the Alexander Brewery in Emek Hefer, is one who has been bold enough to buck this timidity – with excellent results.  His beers have won eight medals over the years in the prestigious European Beer Star contest.  Most have been won by Alexander Black, a seasonal Porter-style beer readily available in Israel.  It also took home the Gold a few years ago in the U.S.-based World Beer Cup.

Likewise, Beertzinut Brewery on Kibbutz Ketura won three medals in last year's European Beer Challenge, which is judged by professionals in the beverage and restaurant industries.

Along with a general improvement in quality, Israeli breweries now offer choices of beer styles that once were available only as imports.  There are easily 100 recognized beer styles in the world, plus many which are hybrids or blur the lines between styles.  Most craft breweries, not only in Israel, produce the most popular styles: a light lager, a Pale Ale, an IPA, a Stout, a Wheat Beer, maybe a Belgian Ale or two. 

One of the way-out beers brewed in Israel:
Opokhmel, a pickle brine beer from Birateinu,
made with cucumber, dill, garlic and salt.

(Photo: Mike Horton)

But Israeli craft breweries are now producing styles much more esoteric.  For example, have you ever heard of the following: Pilsner, Helles, Märzen, Saison, Bock (all cold-fermented lagers), Sour (or Wild) beers, Milkshake beers made with lactose, New England and Brown IPAs, smoked lager, beer-wine hybrids, fruited wheat beers, and even Kosher-for-Passover beers.

Not only that.  A few Israeli breweries are taking the lead in producing some of the most way-out beers in the world.  We're talking about beers made with halva, Hot Chili Stout, Imperial Pastry Stout brewed with blueberries or oreos and coffee or jelly donuts, beers made with rare lemons, pickle brine beer, kettle-soured apricot beer, double bock lager aged in whisky barrels, Bloody Mary beer with tomatoes, celery and tabasco sauce, and a Steinbier (involving glowing hot stones dropped into the liquid) brewed with mushrooms.      

If these lists get your taste buds quivering, you're a craft beer fan (even if you don't know it), and you couldn’t be living in Israel at a better time.      

[This article originally appeared in 
The Jerusalem Report magazine,
dated August 30, 2021.]