January 11, 2021

The Baroque beers of Beerateinu, Jerusalem

In normal times, when the country is not in a corona shutdown, Beerateinu, the Jerusalem Beer Center (6 Hillel Street), is one of the best places in the capital city for buying cans and bottles of Israeli and imported craft beers, for enjoying the same on tap at the bar, and for buying equipment and ingredients needed for home-brewing.  It is also a restaurant of some repute, whose kitchen is overseen by chef Levi Laine.

Beerateinu partners
Shmuel ("Shmultz") Naky (left) 
and Leon Shvartz.

(Photo: Mike Horton)

What is less known is that Beerateinu is also a contract brewer of some of the most innovative and sui generis beers in Israel.  Most of these are the products of the wildly creative mind of partner Shmuel Naky, known to his many friends as Shmultz.

"Have you noticed all of these incredibly flavored beers coming from overseas brewers?" Shmultz asked me rhetorically.  "Pineapple, peanut butter, marshmallow, candy cane, pistachio, chocolate cake, graham crackers, breakfast cereal -- whatever!  We asked ourselves, 'Why should we have to wait long periods for overseas brewers to send us beers with flavors like these?  Why can't these beers be made in Israel?'  Well they can!  And even with these flavors, they can still remain real beer.  That's the challenge that we set for ourselves."

Beerateinu has already produced four such beers.  They were brewed in very limited quantities which sell out very quickly.  In fact, at least two of the beers that I am writing about here are already gone -- so this is more for the "historical record" rather than practical reviews of the beers you should be drinking.

Bloody Mary Berliner:
If it smells like a Bloody Mary
and tastes like a Bloody Mary . . .

(Photo: Mike Horton)
So beginning with the most recent -- as of this writing -- we have Bloody Mary Berliner.  This appeared just in time for January 1st, which is International Bloody Mary Day.  Who knew?  The other connection with January 1st is that the Bloody Mary is a cocktail which is supposed to be a cure for a hangover -- a serious problem following New Year's Eve.

Bloody Mary Berliner is a semi-sour beer, soured by natural microbes which flourish on the barley and wheat malt and are nurtured in the mash.  On the boil, the brewers added tomato concentrate, oatmeal, celery seeds, Tabasco sauce, and salt.  

Shmultz told me that the idea came to him when he remembered some cocktail tastings which were based on tomato juice.  "I thought, 'Why not have a beer with tomato juice as well?'  And then we checked the calendar and saw that it was almost time for Bloody Mary Day."  

Bloody Mary Berliner was made at the Sheeta Brewery in Arad.  Only a very small quantity was brewed, and chances are it will no longer be available by the time you read this.    

I don't want to rub it in, but I did get a chance to try it.  The beer pours out a hazy, caramel color.  What can I say?  All the expected aromas and tastes are there.  The fragrance of tomatoes mixes with the remembered fragrance of Dr. Brown's Cel-Ray soda, a popular American celery tonic which dates to the 19th century.  There is also a strong malt aroma to keep it an honest beer.  With the taste you get more tomato juice, celery tonic, salty lemon and the Tabasco sauce, which heats up your tongue and throat.  It's actually an enjoyable combination of sensory perceptions.  The moderate 5.5% alcohol is not felt.  

I recommend drinking Bloody Mary Berliner closer to room temperature than to refrigerator cold.  I drank it out-of-doors on a cool Jerusalem day and it was just right.  My drinking partner, Mike Horton the photographer, had trouble accepting it as a beer, but declared it was a "great party drink that needs no additions."  For me, it certainly fit under the big tent that we call beer styles.  

Festivus:  Like drinking
a sufganiya.

(Photo: Mike Horton)

A week or two earlier, Shmultz and partner Leon Shvartz unveiled a new beer for the Hanukka holiday -- Festivus, named after the secular holiday invented for the Seinfeld television series.  Festivus is based on brown ale, but brewed to taste like a jelly doughnut, a Hanukka treat known in Hebrew as sufganiya.  As such, you can already guess what ingredients are in there (in addition to the usual water, malt, hops and yeast): Strawberry jelly (one kilo for every 20 liters of liquid), natural strawberry essence, oatmeal, powdered sugar and spices.

Festivus was brewed at the Hatch Brewery in Jerusalem, formerly the Herzl Brewery.  In this case, almost 400 liters were brewed, so there probably are still bottles available at Beerateinu.

Well, bless my soul if the aroma isn't that of a strawberry pastry!  The smell is sweet with strawberry jam and cinnamon.  But then you taste it and the sweetness is gone.  It's a real beer, with a strong 7.5% alcohol by volume and a hefty 66 IBUs (International Bitterness Units).  The taste also gives you the spiciness and even a touch of sourness.  It's tempting to categorize Festivus as a "Christmas" or "Winter Holiday" ale, but the spice sensation is different.  Leon told us that the malt mix was chosen to give the beer a feeling of a pastry -- and Mike and I had no doubt that they succeeded.     

Oogipletzet Imperial
Pastry Stout:
Still waiting for me!

Moving our time machine back a week or two, Beerateinu released its boldest Baroque beer to date:  Oogipletzet -- a 13% alcohol "Imperial Pastry Stout" brewed with oatmeal, rum, coffee, vanilla, . . . and Oreo cookies.  The name itself is a slight variation of what the Muppet Cookie Monster is called in Hebrew -- Oogifletzet.  "We did that because of copyright issues," explains Shmultz.  "This is a strong beer that can be aged for a long period and continues to improve.  We say on the bottle label that it will, 'sweeten the end of the world.'  We brewed only about 190 liters and sold it in half-liter bottles.  We were sold out in 12 hours."

Oogipletzet was brewed over a three-month period at the Sheeta Brewery in Arad.  The chocolate Oreo cookies (without the vanilla cream filling!) were added to the malt mash.  To add the other flavors, a special vanilla coffee blend (prepared by the Shuk Café coffee grinders in Jerusalem's Machane Yehuda market) was steeped in rum, which was then combined with the beer during the lengthy fermentation and conditioning stages.  

Since I am listening to Shmultz when he tells me to let my bottle age as long as possible before I drink it, I must admit that I have not yet tasted Oogipletzet.  However, from other reports by people with less patience, I can share the following:  

"Please, take my beer!"
Shmultz really didn't have to convince
the old blogger to take one of the 
last bottles of Oogipletzet.

(Photo: Mike Horton)

The beer is very dark brown, almost black, with a beige head.  The aromas give the impression of sweetness (what else?) with Oreo cookies, vanilla and coffee.  The flavors bring in chocolate, vanilla, coffee and rum, ending with a long and bitter aftertaste.  The mouthfeel, according to some, is full-bodied and dry.  As the glass warms, the taste approaches a sweet and creamy cookie, finishing with bitter chocolate.

That's what I'm looking forward to.  How long I can wait is another story.                     

And with that, we come back to the first of Beerateinu's Baroque beers: It's called Bukra fil Mishmish, a kettle-soured ale brewed with apricots and cardamon.  It was brewed in collaboration with the Sheeta Brewery in Arad. It's long since sold out.

Hummus was a delightful accompaniment
to Bukra fil Mishmish kettle-soured ale.
Or vice versa.

(Photo: Mike Horton)

Even the name is edgy. It's an Arabic expression which literally means, "tomorrow there will be apricots."  But because the apricot season is usually so short, it's used as an idiom to mean, "when pigs fly" or "don't hold your breath."  On the other hand, you hear the word "mishmish" (which means "apricot" in Arabic and Hebrew) and that's what counts.

As I said, Bukra fil Mishmish was first kettle-soured with bacteria that gave it a tart, acidic taste.  After these little bugs were boiled away, Saison yeast was pitched to begin fermentation.  Hops were then added after the first fermentation, and two weeks later fresh apricots and cardamon joined the mix.

The resulting ambrosia was a hazy, pale orange color.  The aroma had no surprises: Apricot backed up with cardamon, an aromatic and somewhat piney spice.  With the taste, you got mostly sour apricots, some citrus and funk.  I felt an impact on my tongue like crisp gin and tonic.  This was a sour beer that doesn't make you pucker, but kept the fruitiness and sourness in good balance.

These are the four Baroque beers that have made Beerateinu famous. However, I also have to mention the four core beers that are also brewed under Shmultz's baton and are pretty much available all year round.

Glen Draft -- an ESB (Extra Special Bitter), aged on honey, oak and whisky

Fink -- Bavarian-style dark wheat beer

Syndrome -- a new Jerusalem IPA (India Pale Ale)

Slow Moshe -- a black cream ale

I will close with this advice:  Try to stay on top of what's happening at Beerateinu.  Their new beers will be some of the most interesting, innovative and exciting in the country.  You don't want to miss out -- and you heard that from the old blogger.     

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