The ‘baroque beers’ of Beerateinu, the Jerusalem Beer Center

These beers sell out very quickly, but there are a few that are still on sale which will blow away any preconceptions you have of what beer should be.

THE WRITER with Shmuel ‘Shmultz’ Naky, partner and chief brewer, at Beerateinu. (photo credit: MIKE HORTON)
THE WRITER with Shmuel ‘Shmultz’ Naky, partner and chief brewer, at Beerateinu.
(photo credit: MIKE HORTON)
 With the corona epoch fading into the distance, Beerateinu, the Jerusalem Beer Center at 6 Hillel Street, is returning to being one of the best places in the capital city for buying cans and bottles of Israeli and imported craft beers, for enjoying the same on tap at the bar, and for buying equipment and ingredients needed for home-brewing. It is also a restaurant of some repute, whose kitchen is overseen by chef Levi Laine.
What is less known is that Beerateinu is also a contract brewer of some of the most innovative and sui generis beers in Israel. I call them “baroque beers.” Most of these are the products of the wildly creative mind of partner Shmuel Naky, known to his many friends as Shmultz.
“Have you noticed all of these incredibly flavored beers coming from overseas brewers?” Shmultz asked me rhetorically. “Pineapple, peanut butter, marshmallow, candy cane, pistachio, chocolate cake, graham crackers, breakfast cereal – whatever! We asked ourselves, ‘Why can’t these beers be made in Israel?’ Well, they can! And even with these flavors, they can still remain real beer. That’s the challenge that we set for ourselves.”
Beerateinu has already produced around 10 such beers. They were brewed in very limited quantities, mostly at the Hatch Brewery in Jerusalem, and sell out very quickly. However, there are a few that are still on sale which will blow away any preconceptions you have of what beer should be. 
(FROM LEFT) Beerateinu brews – Halevala, a wheat and rye beer brewed with halva; Opokhmel, a pickle brine beer brewed with cucumbers, garlic, dill and salt; Melnick, an imperial pastry stout brewed with blueberries and caramel biscuits. (Photo credit: Mike Horton)(FROM LEFT) Beerateinu brews – Halevala, a wheat and rye beer brewed with halva; Opokhmel, a pickle brine beer brewed with cucumbers, garlic, dill and salt; Melnick, an imperial pastry stout brewed with blueberries and caramel biscuits. (Photo credit: Mike Horton)

Halevala

One of these is Halevala – a made-up name that combines the word halva (a Middle Eastern sweet made with sesame seeds) and “Kalevala,” the Finnish national folk epic written in the middle of the 19th century.
Say what?
“The label shows scenes from the ‘Kalevala,’” Shmultz explained. “You can see Väinämöinen, the ancient Finnish Zeus figure, creating the world by singing and playing his kantele, a traditional Finnish zither. You can also see him pulling Aino out of the water, a young girl who chose to drown herself rather than marry the old Väinämöinen, and was changed into a fish.”
Inspiring story, I’m sure. But what about the beer?
Halevala is made with halva, barley and rye malt, puffed wheat, Magnum hops and Belgian wheat beer yeast. Alcohol by volume is 4.5%. 
Unlike every other beer I have seen, Halevala has a white plug of sesame oil in the neck of every bottle. You give the bottle a little shake to loosen it and then you pour. In the glass, the color is a cloudy light orange, fizzy but without any real head. The aromas include citrus fruit, yeast and grassy notes, with halva in the background. It could just as well have been tehina, since this is the main ingredient of halva. 
From the first sip, I felt like I was drinking a wheat beer with the addition of a little spice from the rye and a little sweetness from the halva. The halva, by the way, is very understated; it doesn’t get in the way of the malt and hops – elements that make a beer a beer. The finish is actually astringent, bitter and dry. 
But the most unusual thing about Halevala is the grease it leaves on your glass and on your lips. Photographer and fellow beer taster Mike Horton opined, “The sesame leaves a fine patina of oil on the lips as if one has been recently kissed.”
But let that not be the reason you buy this beer. It’s interesting, it’s enjoyable and it’s Israeli. 

Opokhmel

Another offering is called Opokhmel, the Russian word for a hangover cure. Since a traditional Russian cure for hangovers is drinking pickle brine, Shmultz has fashioned this beer with barley and wheat malts, cucumbers, garlic, dill and salt. You can’t make this stuff up. 
Shmultz’s recipe produces a gose-style beer (a lightly sour and salty wheat beer pronounced “go-seh”) with hardly any bitterness or hop character and only 3.5% alcohol. 
Pickle-brine beer has been around for about five years in the US. From what I’ve read, most people hearing about it for the first time react with an “Ugh!” but then are happily surprised when they taste it. 
Will I be the same?
Appearance-wise, Opokhmel is a slightly hazy pale amber color with lively carbonation but a thin head. The aroma of pickles in brine was certainly there, but also some fresh cucumber, a very gentle scent but still recognizable. The taste is lightly sour with flavors of cucumber, garlic and pickle spice. No bitterness, no sweetness, but a little salty. The mouthfeel is crisp and fizzy, slightly astringent. 
Growing up in the Bronx, where we picked our pickles from a big pickle barrel on East 174th Street, I think I know my pickles. The taste of Opokhmel that came to my mind was what we called “half-sours,” where the cucumbers are not fully pickled. 
If we enjoy eating salty snacks with beer (because the flavors complement each other), why can’t the salt flavor already be in the beer? Maybe this is the secret behind pickle beer’s popularity.
Whether it will cure your hangover, I do not know. 

Melnick

A third beer from Beerateinu is named after a supergiant blue star located in the Tarantula Nebula in the Large Magellanic Cloud. It is much bigger than our sun and 163,000 light years away from us. 
The star is named Melnick 42, and the beer is simply known as Melnick, an imperial pastry stout. As Melnick 42 the star is blue, Melnick the beer is made with blueberry concentrate and caramel biscuits. And because Melnick 42 the star is gigantic, Melnick the beer is huge with alcohol (12.5%) and full of strong flavors. The label says you can expect the tastes of Belgian waffles, caramel and blueberries. 
To make it even more special, Melnick doesn’t have a fancy beer label. Oh no. Artist Alex Molly Yampolsky was commissioned to paint a picture for the beer, which is then wrapped around the bottle and held in place by a string! You buy the beer, you get the painting. It shows an androgynous star-child brewing beer with hops, blueberries and Belgian waffles, against a starry, starry night background. 
Melnick is an opaque dark brown to black with no head. The aromas are varied and powerful: caramel, berries, hazelnuts, black bread and maple. The taste is dark roast with flavors of bittersweet chocolate, nuts, alcohol, coffee, maple and caramel. The mouthfeel brings a full body, even “chewy,” with alcohol warmth and a finish of harsh sweetness. 
To fully enjoy all the flavors in Melnick, you should drink it at around 12°-15°C (53°- 59°F). So take it out of the refrigerator about 20 minutes before you pour it. Also, you’ll notice how the flavors change and develop as you’re drinking it, so there’s no need to hurry. It’s a good beer to share with a friend. I think it would go well with anything you might have with a cup of strong coffee. 
Melnick is not everybody’s glass of beer, but it might be the kind of taste experience you would appreciate. There’s one way to find out. 
 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.