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.]