Winter has traditionally been the time for taking inventory, for counting what’s in stock. When my wife was a little girl, her seasonal job in her father’s liquor store was counting all the miniature whiskey bottles.
It’s also a good time for us to take account of some Israeli craft beers that have recently come to market.
Two really excellent beers have arrived in time to keep us warm on these winter days. They’re both rich in flavor and strong in alcohol – the two things we’re looking for when the temperature drops. Keeping warm is just a matter of using the right fuel. As with all of these strong, “heavy” beers, take them out of the refrigerator about 15 minutes before you drink them so they’re not ice cold. Put your “light, crisp and refreshing” beers aside until at least April.
From the Alexander Brewery in Emek Hefer comes Israel’s first Barley Wine.
Born in England and adopted and adapted by US breweries, the barley wine style of beer has an alcohol by volume (ABV) more commonly associated with wine than with beer (8% to 12%). Also like wine, barley wines can be aged, with expected changes in the complexity of aromas and flavors. Barley malt and alcohol are dominant in barley wines, with hops playing a distant third fiddle. The American versions of barley wine, however, have stronger hop characters.
Alexander founder and owner and Ori Sagy said the Israeli public is continuing to demand different beers of higher quality and the decision to brew a barley wine “expands the boundaries of experience for Israeli beer lovers.”
“In honor of our 10th anniversary, we decided to celebrate with barley wine, one of the oldest styles of beer that dates back to the 15th century in England, and is a kind of bridge between the world of beer and the world of wine. We just brewed a limited edition of about 2,230 bottles and each bottle is numbered.”
My bottle of Alexander Barley Wine was number 1,469, and it poured a light copper color with a thin white halo of foam. It dispersed a rainbow of aromas. My drinking partner, Moshe, and I detected caramel, malt, alcohol and honey candy. The first sip also brought a range of tastes as if they were all steeped in alcohol: caramel, toffee, vanilla and spice – finishing dry and bitter. Alcohol by volume is a powerful 11.2%.
For Moshe, the tastes conjured up visions of “oatmeal with butter and brown sugar.”
There is nothing skimpy or weak about Israel’s first barley wine. It’s a great beer to sip on a cold day or night. If you must have it with food, strong cheeses or rich, intense desserts are best. It easily overpowers most main dishes.
THE 2019 edition of Jack’s Winter Ale has also arrived in time for the cold. The Shapiro Brewery in Beit Shemesh has been producing this seasonal beer every winter since 2012. The recipe has been finessed here and there over the years, but the basics have remained the same: a strong (8.5% ABV) malt-forward ale, aged with oak chips steeped in Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Whiskey. This is not a “holiday” or “Christmas” ale filled with festive spices; all of the intense flavors come from the skillful blending of specialty malts, hops and yeast – and the whiskey-imbued wood aging.
This season’s pouring brought back memories of winters past. A dark, reddish copper color, with aromas of sweet malt, caramel, vanilla and some whiskey. The mouthfeel is creamy, full-bodied (“chewy”), with rich, sweet tastes of alcohol, caramel toffee, cocoa and a little vanilla. The tastes stay with you for a long and sweet finish.
As in years past, I didn’t get any real taste of bourbon, or wood for that matter, but I must assume that those whiskey-soaked chips added something to the flavor background. However it works, it succeeds.
Jack’s Winter Ale continues to be a winner year after year, something Israeli beer drinkers can look forward every year as winter approaches. I know I do.
Even More IPAs
In the US, India pale ales have maintained their position as the most popular craft beer style. It’s safe to say that every one of the more than 7,000 micro-breweries makes at least one. The same thing is happening in Israel. Here are three of the newest:
Barzel Beer of Kibbutz Ha’ogen (but contract brewed at the Alexander Brewery in Emek Hefer) has come out with an IPA called Effie. It pours out a clear amber, the color of dark straw. Although actively carbonated, the head is thin.
IPAs are generally characterized by hop aromas and tastes that can be fruity, citrusy, piney and resinous, flowery, or some other interesting combination. Effie has sharp aromas of pine and lemon, and bitter tastes of grass, apricot and tropical fruit/mango. The finish is dry and bitter, which makes you want to keep drinking. The alcohol by volume is a moderate 5.5%.
Effie is light-bodied and full of taste; typically a good summer beer, but with flavor enough to hold its own with a warm winter’s meal. It was our favorite of all the Barzel beers.
The new Negev IPA (brewed at the Malka Brewery in Tefen) is an India pale ale that recognizes the limits of Israeli popular tastes. With American and European IPAs competing with each other to reach new heights of intense hop flavors and bitterness, the Negev IPA is surprisingly delicate, avoiding the extremes that Israeli beer drinkers tend to shun. ABV is 5.8%.
It’s a clear, light amber color, with almost no head after our pour. There’s a light hoppy, indistinct aroma, close to citrus (orange), yeasty, piney and some sweet toffee. The taste is also what I would generously call “mellow.” Mildly bitter with some citrus, pine, herbs and grain. It’s an enjoyable enough beer, but I think Israeli tastes these days are ready for something with stronger hop flavors and bitterness.
A step in this direction was taken by the Bazelet IPA from the Golan Brewery in Katzrin. The Golan Brewery rarely comes out with a new beer style, and this IPA is a good choice.
At 7% alcohol, it’s the strongest of this new batch of IPAs. It’s a hazy light amber color with a miniscule white head. There’s a nice hoppy aroma of citrus and pine, yeast, pineapple, lemon and some malt. With the taste, you get more citrus, tropical fruits and apricot, blending into a short, bitter finish. This is the kind of crescendo I’m looking for in an IPA.
All of these IPAs go classically with strong, spicy foods like curries, pizza, milder cheeses and sweet desserts.
Wheat beer from the Gaza border
The Alexander Brewery in Emek Hefer has also come out with a new wheat beer, brewed with wheat from the Israeli fields on the Gaza border that were damaged by incendiary kites.
Before the winter rains began, the Hamas rulers in Gaza attacked Israeli farmlands by sending over kites and balloons carrying explosive devices and fire bombs. About 700 hectares (1,730 acres) of wheat fields were destroyed, equal to around 15% of the wheat grown around the Gaza border.
Ori Sagy, the founder and owner of the Alexander Brewery, decided to step in and purchase a quantity of the surviving wheat from these fields to produce a wheat beer called the Otef Azza (Gaza Border) Beer. All the profits made from the sale of this beer are being given to help the farmers whose fields were burned.
“Beer is a drink that begins in the field, in barley and wheat,” said Sagy. “From the start, we chose to use Israeli wheat from the fields in the South as one of the ingredients in our beer. I grew up as a farmer, and the connection with fields and plants is a part of me. I had to do something when I saw the heart-breaking sights of the fields and crops that were destroyed.”
The Gaza Border Beer project was planned in conjunction with the Leo Burnett Advertising Agency in Tel Aviv, and from all indications, it has succeeded beyond expectations. The beer received wide coverage in Israel and abroad. The first batch was sold out in a week, so it is now being brewed on a continual basis until further notice. To date, over $60,000 from the beer sales has been contributed to Gaza border farmers.
As to the beer itself, it is very much in the style of German wheat beer, or Weissbier. It pours out a hazy yellow straw color with almost no head. The aroma has spice and cloves, with a background of yeast and grains. The flavor is mostly sweet, with spice and hops, plus coriander and banana. The finish is mildly bitter and stays in your mouth. If you’re a fan of the classic German wheat beer, you’ll be pleased with Gaza Border Beer.
Since Alexander already brews an Israeli Wheat Beer, I was interested to learn if there was any difference between the two wheat beers. I joined my drinking partner, Moshe, for a head-to-head tasting. The results: in spite of some flights of our imagination, there is no difference in appearance, aroma, taste and strength (5%). They are the same beer.
So if you’d like to drink an Alexander wheat beer, choose the Gaza Border Beer and your purchase will help support farmers who lost so much in the attacks.
The writer is the owner of MediaWise, an agency for advertising and direct marketing in Jerusalem. He writes a web log on Israeli craft beers at IsraelBrewsAndViews.blogspot.co.il
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