|The three barrel-aged beers from Birateinu:|
(from right) Barmalei, Guerrilla Syndicate
and Pri Bi'ushim.
(Photo: Mike Horton)
I welcomed Birateinu's launch of three superb barrel-aged beers by attending the tasting event. What makes this unique is that all three beers were aged in the same 225-liter barrel -- one right after the other. I haven't heard nor read about anything like this being tried anywhere else. Once again, Birateinu partner and brewer Shmuel ("Schmulz") Naky breaks all molds in bringing us new and interesting beers, style-shifters every one.
Here is the way it worked: Beer number one, Barmalei (named after a fictional Russian pirate who terrorized Africa!) was first fermented in a stainless steel tank and then aged for four months in an ex-Shiraz wine barrel. It is a Russian Imperial Braggot (a kind of mead-beer hybrid), brewed with 15% rye malt, honey and molasses; fermented with Kweik Voss yeast. It also picked up the flavors of the former occupant and of the barrel itself. Alcohol by volume is 9.8%.
|Barmalei, the Russian pirate:|
A Russian Imperial Braggot.
Beer number two, Guerrilla Syndicate, filled the barrel after Barmalei. It is an Imperial Cherry Sour, soured first with Philly Sour yeast and then fruited in a tank for two months with Amarena cherries from Italy and vanilla beans. It was then aged in the barrel for about 4½ months. ABV is 8.4%.
The third beer taking over the same barrel was Pri Bi'ushim (in English, "Fruit in Despair" or by extension, "a disappointing outcome"), an Imperial Hoppy Sour beer, made with spelt. It has also been called a "strong Saison" or a "strong Belgian Blond ale." After fermenting and aging in the barrel, the beer was transferred to a stainless steel tank for maturing and dry hopping. ABV is 8.1%.
The beers were brewed at the Beertzinut Brewery on Kibbutz Ketura in the Arava Valley, deep in the Negev Desert. Schmulz told me that Beertzinut not only had the facilities, but that owner and brewer Neil Churgin was prepared to take the chance with this project and give it the time and attention it required.
|Black and sour Amarena cherries: Used in brewing|
Guerrilla Syndicate Imperial Cherry Sour.
"The project appealed to me in an artistic sense," Neil told me. "The people involved were also excellent professionals. We had a lot of planning to do: Which beers to brew and in which order? What steps had to be taken at each stage? For example, we had to check what was happening with the beers before deciding which way to continue. There were also many twists that the chemistry could take which were out our control. All of this made it very exciting to me."
I tasted these three beers at their launch in Birateinu and then again with my IBAV Tasting Team members, Mike and Manny, staunch upholders of popular standards and tastes. This is our report:
|"Fruit in Despair" (Pri Bi'ushim): |
A strange name for an Imperial Hoppy Sour beer,
not made with fruit.
There was some wine flavor, but we felt it was cancelled out by the sweetness. Mike said he, "would pour Barmelei over my meat, but it would also be good with chive flavored potato chips." Although Manny is not a fan of these dark, imperial beers, he felt that the aroma and flavor profile was, "an excellent match for the high alcohol by volume."
|The Tasmanian sea shore: |
Where else would IBAV Tasting Team
members Manny, Doug and Mike
want to enjoy their three Birateinu
(Photo: Mike Horton)
Moving on to another strong beer, Syndicate Guerrilla, we filled our glasses with the dark amber liquid, with a lovely reddish tinge. The Amarena cherries Italiano were very noticeable in the aroma and the taste. Although we also got the added vanilla (which might have also come from the wooden barrel) and almonds, the cherries were definitely dominant. The sweet flavors and the souring yeast gave the beer a (what else?) sweet and sour quality. Mike gave this beer an 8 out of 10; Manny a 7.
Pri Bi'ushim is also mildly sour. The color is hazy light amber ("honey amber," according to Mike), with winey and funk aromas. Manny said it reminded him of "the fresh outdoors, with flowers all around me." The taste is sour and fruity, with orange, apples and dry white wine -- not unexpected for a Saison-style ale. "Just the right amount of sourness," noted Mike. "I would invest in this one," added Manny. My two co-Tasters said that Pri Bi'ushim was their favorite of the three. I preferred the strength and flavors of Barmalei.
We all had an exhilarating tasting experience with these three very special beers. But it's more than that. Any brewery can just continue brewing and selling tried-and-true beer for popular tastes. Schmulz and Birateinu have shown more than once that they are willing to take risks and produce beers that are not for everybody -- not by a long shot -- but by following their creative instincts alone, they are bringing bursts of excitement to the world of Israeli craft brewing.