March 25, 2021

Halevala from Beerateinu: Finnish folklore and halva

It doesn't pay too think too much about the rather bizarre beers that are being produced by Beerateinu, the Jerusalem Beer Center.  I call them "Baroque beers."   

Halevala Rye Beer with halva
from Beerateinu.

(Photo: Mike Horton)

For example, a recent one is Halevala -- a made-up name which combines the word halva (a Middle Eastern sweet made with sesame seeds) and Kalevala, the Finnish national folk epic written in the middle of the 19th century.

Say what?

It actually makes perfect sense when you get into the mind of Shmuel (Shmultz) Naky, a partner of Beerateinu (along with Leon Shvartz) and chief innovator of the beers.  You just have to understand that Beerateinu beers combine his tastes and his interests -- in this case, halva and Finnish folklore.

"The label shows scenes from the Kalevala," explains Shmultz.  "You can see Väinämöinen, the ancient Finnish Zeus figure, creating the world by singing and playing his kantele, a traditional Finnish zither, which he made from the jawbone of a fish.  You can also see him pulling Aino out of the water, a young girl who chose to drown herself rather than marry the old Väinämöinen, and was changed into a fish."

Inspiring story, I'm sure.  But what about the beer?

Halevala is made with halva, barley and rye malt, puffed wheat, Magnum hops and Belgian wheat beer yeast.  Alcohol by volume is 4.5%.  It is brewed for Beerateinu at the Hatch Brewery in Jerusalem.  

Old Väinämöinen creates the world
by playing on his kantele.

Unlike every other beer I have seen, Halevala has a white plug of sesame oil in the neck of every bottle.  You give the bottle a little shake to loosen it and then you pour.  In the glass, the color is a cloudy light orange, fizzy but without any real head.  The aromas included citrus fruit, yeast and grassy notes, with halva in the background.  It could just as well have been tahina, since this is the main ingredient of halva.        

From the first sip, I felt like I was drinking a wheat beer, with  the addition of a little spice from the rye and a little sweetness from the halva.  The halva, by the way, is very understated; it doesn't get in the way of the malt and hops -- elements that make a beer beer.  The finish is actually astringent, bitter and dry.  (The Finnish is on the label but not in the beer.)  

But the most unusual thing about Halevala is the grease it leaves on your glass and on your lips.  Photographer and IBAV Taster Mike Horton opined that, "the sesame leaves a fine patina of oil on the lips as if one has been recently kissed."

But let that not be the reason you buy this beer.  It's interesting, it's enjoyable and it's Israeli.  And it's still available at Beerateinu -- after Passover.  As the Schweppes people would say about Halevala: "Drink Different!"        

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