June 28, 2023

Alexander Fest Lager ➯ In the true Festbier style

Alexander Fest Lager:
Malt aromas and 
bready, toasty flavors.

The new beer from the Alexander Brewery in Emek Hefer is called Fest Lager.  It is described as a Festbier, the most-served style at the gigantic Oktoberfest, held every September in Munich.  The label promises a "nostalgic flashback" to all those who have ever attended the Oktoberfest. 

Most Festbiers are in the lager family which includes Märzens and Munich Helles styles, and the Alexander Fest Lager is right in there.  In fact, when  Alexander first brought out this beer, ten years ago, it was called a Helles Bock or Maibock, another lager style which is a little darker but similar.  

I had the new Fest Lager with my IBAV Tasters Oded, Bat Sheva and Batya.        

The color was a clear mid-amber –  right in the middle, I would say, of the Oktoberfest lagers.  The aromas brought spice and malty bread.  Oded also smelled some hay.  The taste was moderately sweet (malt forward) but well balanced by the hops.  We all thought the flavor of toasted bread was the strongest, while Batya also tasted lemon.  The body was light to mid, with a clean, dry finish.  Alcohol by volume is 5%.

All of the Tasters gave Fest Lager a big thumbs up.  A very drinkable beer, good with food, good with snacks.  Even though none of us have ever been to the Oktoberfest, we enjoyed the good memories that this beer gave us.      

June 27, 2023

HaMishteh from Shikma Brewery: Made with a 3,000-year-old yeast strain

    Dr. Ronen Hazan (right), a microbiologist at
Hebrew University-Hadassah 
School of Dental Medicine, introduces 
the ancient yeast project to the press.  
(Photo: Mike Horton)

Four years ago I was at a very boozy press conference at Birateinu, the Jerusalem Beer Center, for the official introduction of a beer fermented with a 3,000-year-old yeast strain.  The yeast was found in Philistine pottery shards from the Tel es-Safi (Gath) archaeological site.

The story caught the public's imagination and Birateinu was mobbed with journalists and photographers.  Of course, I also wrote about it, and you can read my article here.  It gives the complete background to this amazing story.     

Almost immediately, the team of archaeologists, microbiologists and brewers that succeeded in revitalizing, nurturing and brewing with the ancient yeast strain, began exploring possible commercial ventures.  

The original team of microbiologists, archaeologists
and beer brewers who revitalized, nurtured and
brewed beer from the 3,000-year-old yeast strain.

(Photo: Yaniv Berman, courtesy of the
Israel Antiquities Authority) 

In fact, they created an Israeli startup named Primer's Heritage Yeast, headed by Itai Gutman, one of the founders of Herzl Brewery and now living in Berlin. 

The first customer for the 3,000-year-old yeast was the Shikma Brewery in Ashkelon.  Last month, they introduced Hamishteh ("The Feast") beer.  Working closely with the Heritage Yeast team, the Shikma brewers were able to devise a recipe for their beer that allowed the aroma and flavor of the yeast to take center stage.  This means that the malt and hops were kept very mild so as not to overpower the yeast. 

Unusual for any Israeli beer, the barley for HaMishteh was grown in Israel. 

HaMishteh Beer from the Shikma Brewery:
Fruity esters and spicy phenols
like a Belgian ale.

When I tasted this beer, my first impression was to draw comparisons with Belgian ales and German wheat ale (hefeweizen).  Both of these styles get flavors from the yeast – fruity esters including banana, and clove-like phenols.  This is what I tasted in Hamishteh. 

It is an enjoyable, balanced beer, aromatic and flavorful, fun to drink, with a very modest 4.7% alcohol by volume.  

Gutman explained that we shouldn't be surprised to find Belgian yeast characteristics in the 3,000-year-old strain.  "Belgian brewers have been using traditional yeast cultures for hundreds of years.  These are closer to our ancient yeast varieties than the more modern and 'domesticated' strains that are used in the popular lagers and ales around the world."

It's no wonder, then, that Hamishteh, brewed with yeast from the Philistine city of Gath, actually tastes similar to Belgian ale.

The old blogger is joined by his
archaeologist son, Dr. Aharon Greener,
at the launch of HaMishteh Beer
at the Israel Museum. 

Primer's Heritage Yeast will be available for sale later this year to anyone who wants to use it, according to Gutman.  It can already be pre-ordered on the website.

"We decided to sell the yeast rather than the beer," says Gutman, "so people can use it to make whatever they want.  We don't want to stop at beer.  We hope our ancient yeast strains will be used, for example, by bread bakers, winemakers, mead brewers, even for cheese and other dairy products."

All that is planned for the future.  What you can buy and drink today is a beer made with the same yeast strain used 3,000 years ago. 

Even if it isn't the same beer that warmed the heart of the Pharaohs, Cleopatra or Goliath.

June 9, 2023

Schnitt (Israel) and Lervig (Norway) collaborate in brewing How's It Hanging and Asli Oslo

Collaboration beers give the two (or more) brewers a reason to celebrate.  There's normally a story behind the collab, so a launch party is a good opportunity to get the word out to the pubic – or at least a few influential beer drinkers.

How much more so if it's a collab between an Israeli and a foreign brewery, which doesn't happen very often.  

The Schnitt Brewpub in Tel Aviv recently got together with the Lervig Brewery in Stavanger, Norway, to produce a Hazy IPA named How's It Hanging.  (It makes sense when you know that the Schnitt logo is a hanging sloth.)  The old blogger was at the launch where this and other Lervig creations were served, along with a delicious vegan meal!  It was also fun to explain to Hebrew speakers the original meaning of "How're they hanging?"  

AK Craft partners Kenneth Pepels (left)
and Amel Bounila (right) came to 
Israel from Amsterdam for the launch
of How's It Hanging. 
The collaboration was matchmade by a Dutch company named AK Craft which does exactly this: Finds new markets for craft beers around the world. The partners Kenneth Pepels and Amel Bounila were here for the big event.    

Schnitt partner Amir Neuman explained that the collaboration with Lervig was done long-distance, through the internet.  "It began with the exchange of ideas," he said, "continued with suggestions for the recipe, and then progressed to production, launch schedule, and naming."

"For us," he continued, "collaborations should be fun, with both sides learning from the other.  We all have differences in working methods, equipment, raw materials and the general market environment.  The collaborations also stimulate our creativity, and generate interest among our customers."   

From Schnitt Brewmaster Alon Schwartz, I learned that the two breweries originally discussed making a New England IPA, but eventually decided on a hazy pale ale, "based on the NEIPA style."  

Schnitt Brewmaster Alon Schwartz (right) was
instrumental in preparing the two collab beers
with Lervig Brewery in Norway:
How's It Hanging and Oslo Asli.

(Photo: Mike Horton) 

The beer was actually made at the Lervig Brewery in Norway, canned and shipped to Israel.  This in itself makes it highly unusual, since there are no craft beer canning lines in Israel (yet!), and all local craft beers are sold in bottles.  

[The first and only other time (that I remember) an Israeli collab beer was brewed abroad and sold here in cans was in 2021, when the Negev Brewery and Mikkeller, the Danish-based gypsy brewer, produced and marketed a Pale Ale called Desert Haze.  It was brewed and canned in Belgium.]   

Getting back to How's It Hanging, I drank quite a bit of it at the launch, enjoying every sip, and also brought home some cans to share with IBAV Tasting Team members Oded, Bat Sheva and Batya.  

It's called "hazy" and it is – an attractive hazy yellow.  The aromas are not overly distinct: Batya was reminded of "summer fruits" in general, while Bat Sheva recalled guava and perhaps lychee.  We agreed that the taste was deliciously bitter, with Oded adding that he tasted pine resin and loquats.  

According to Batya, the flavors do not live up to the promises of the aromas.  Bat Sheva added: "It's bitter and then rather prosaic."

Nevertheless, we were unanimous in enjoying this beer, giving it high marks all around.  "Lighthearted and fun," is how Oded put it.

Schnitt and Lervig also collaborated on a second beer that was brewed at Schnitt and sold only there from the tap.  It's called Asli Oslo, a hazy pale ale which combines ingredients from the north (Simcoe and Mosaic hops, and blackcurrants) and from the south (mango).  It was also served at the launch, where it went very well with the food.

Asli Oslo is a cloudy pale red color, with fruity aromas reminiscent of tropical fruits and citrus without being more specific.  It tastes tart and a little sweet, with more fruits and berries.  The bitterness is mild.  This is a very interesting and refreshing beer.

I look forward to more collaborations between Israeli and foreign brewers.  If AK Craft can make it happen, more power to them!