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 -- Duchifat 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) -- Admiral, 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!