November 13, 2021

Four Shapiro sour beers for the tenth anniversary

Shap: The original name
for Shapiro Beer.
The Jerusalem lion stayed!

I have this collection of old business cards from Israeli craft breweries, going back to almost 10 years.  One of them is black-and-white with an MGM lion, the name Shap Beer, and the Hebrew for Jerusalem Beer Brewery.  Since I never heard of it since, I always thought it was it was one of those craft breweries that opened and closed in quick succession.

But at the Shapiro Brewery's Tenth Anniversary party in Beit Shemesh, I noticed the same card in the exhibit of historical photos.  Shap Beer was the first name when they were starting out in 2010 or so.  The name change was a good one.  Shap just doesn't have the same authority, history and yiddishkeit as Shapiro.

The celebration was marked with meeting old friends and great brewers, buying myself a Shapiro tank top, and plenty of back-slapping beer drinking.  Oh, and the launching of Shapiro's four new barrel-aged sour beers.  I don't want to forget that.  

The four Shapiro barrel-aged sour beers,
celebrating the brewery's tenth anniversary.

(Photo: Udi Katzman)

To mark their Tenth Anniversary, Shapiro had produced four different sour beers and was selling them online in a very exclusive, hand-made cloth saddle bag.  Only 600 numbered bottles of each beer were produced.  You can buy the four different bottles together with the saddle bag for 189 shekels -- or you can buy the bottles individually by adding them to a regular online order.  There is an added cost of 16.50 shekels per bottle.  

Here is the link to the Shapiro online store where you can order the set of four beers (in Hebrew):

Well, I wanted to find out more about these four babies, and I came to the right place.  Head Brewer Ory Sofer sat with me for longer than he should have to tell me about this amazing Shapiro project.

"Sour beers have always been my passion," he admitted, "ever since I've worked as a brewer.  The local market is developing in that direction as well.  When we came out with our Strong Sour beer two years ago, it was Israel's first commercial sour and it was surprisingly popular.  

The four new beers can only be ordered online
with this hand-made cloth saddle bag.

(Photo: Udi Katzman)

"We took Strong Sour as our base and wanted to develop it, give it more complexity." 

Strong Sour is called a "kettle-sour," which means the souring agent (whatever it may be) is introduced into the wort and then killed by boiling.  In this case, it was wild yeast from almond flowers from the hills of Jerusalem.  Additional saison yeast was used in a second fermentation.  [Read more about Strong Sour here.]

To obtain the extra complexity they were looking for, Ory, Brewmaster Yochai Kudler and the Shapiro brewing team decided to age the beer in oak barrels for an entire year.  Four different processes were used.  

"The first batch was aged in oak barrels which previously held white wine," Ory continued.  "The wood contained active yeast and bacteria, and some left-over wine, of course.  I think the finished beer tastes like a Chardonnay wine."

The second batch was aged in barrels which first contained Sherry and afterwards whisky from the Milk & Honey Distillery in Tel Aviv. 

A birthday cake for ten years!
Itzik Shapiro (left), CEO of Shapiro Brewery,
and Chief Brewer Ory Sofer (right),
join the old blogger in raising a glass of beer 
in honor of the brewery's tenth anniversary.

"The third beer," said Ory, "was matured in barrels that previously held red wine -- and we added Shami mulberries from the Golan Heights.  This is a variety which is a very dark red color, almost black.  After the bacteria get finished with them, there's not much flavor of the fruit left, but I believe it imparts a nutty taste from the seeds."

The fourth beer was also aged in ex-red wine barrels, with the addition of 110 kilograms (240 pounds) of local pears, cut and pressed by hand by the Shapiro team.  "Pears provide a large eco-system of bacteria," Ory explained, "and this leads to a wide and complex range of aromas and tastes." 

After Ory's explanation and description of the four new sour beers, it behooved me to taste them myself.  But for such a historical venture, I chose to involve two other members of the IBAV Tasting Team who are beer lovers and true representatives of the common man: Manny and Mike.

Ory Sofer (left) and the Shapiro brewing team 
transfer a sour beer from the barrel to a tank
before bottling.

We first poured out the beer aged in white wine barrels.  It was a very pale cloudy color, with a big impressive foamy head.  We all wrinkled our noses at the sour aroma, with citrus in the background.  The taste did indeed remind us of a dry white wine.  The sourness was subdued.  "The effervescence of a sparkling wine," said Manny, "although I was looking for a bigger kick."  (Alcohol by volume is 5.5%.)  Mike added: "Very delicate.  Tantalizes the palate."  We agreed that this was a sour pale ale with a wine finish.

Sour grapes, sour beer!
Mike, Manny and the old blogger trying to
make sense of the new Shapiro sour beers.

(Photo: Mike Horton)  
The beer that was aged in ex-sherry, ex-whisky barrels was a shade darker, although with the same beautiful head.  Same sour aroma, but less "bright."  Manny and Mike, who apparently both drink sherry before dining, noted whiffs of the same.  On the palate, we thought the beer was drier than the first, with more complex flavors and some oak.  Manny even tasted the sherry and the whisky "very clearly," and pronounced that he preferred this beer.  Mike, dropping names though not his glass, announced that the beer reminded him "of a bodega where sherry is served in Jerez de la Frontera, on the Spanish border."  The mild sourness was attractive to everybody.  ABV is 5.3%.

Shapiro Chief Brewer
Ory Sofer with one
of the barrels used
to age the four new 
sour beers.
Things changed with beer number three, aged in red wine barrels with Shami mulberries.  It was headless, amber colored with a pink-orange hue.  Same sour aroma.  The Tasters tasted sweet spice ("cloves," according to Mike), some soap, oak and berries.   It was the most alcoholic with 5.8%.  As Ory predicted, there was no mulberry taste.  Manny was the first to say that this was a "refreshing alcoholic drink, but had moved away from being a beer."  Mike agreed that it was "too far removed for being beer," and that he "could not drink a whole bottle."  All in all, it was the beer we enjoyed the least.

The last beer was aged in red wine barrels with pears.  It was the palest color, only semi-hazy with no head.  The same sour smell was there.  Although Mike and I could not detect pears, Manny said that their aroma was "obvious."  It had the most sour taste of the four, returning Mike to how he remembered the first.  It was also the fruitiest, with yours truly even garnering a sweet sensation.  Not distinct pear fruit, but distinct fruit sugar.  I personally like the interplay of sweet and sour fruit.  ABV is 5.5%.  

The old blogger demonstrates how to use
his new Shapiro logo tank top.
(Photo: Mohammed Barakat)

This gets me back to the main problem we, who come from a bitter beer culture, have with sour beers.  Our ability to perceive further is blocked when we taste "sour."  No further discernment can take place if we can't get past "sour."  We have to work on it, and we will.  We should be able to expand our perception to include the world of sour beers.  Perhaps some day we will be able to join Ory Sofer in enjoying sour beers as much (well, almost as much) as we do bitter ones. 

In the meantime, three cheers for the Shapiro team for this outstanding and impressive Tenth Anniversary project!  Mazal Tov!                            

1 comment:

  1. It makes me thirsty just to read this, but the beer is expensive. Sigh


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