March 8, 2018

Coming soon: Pilsner Beer Tasting Panel

Unlike other beers, we can point to the exact day and place when Pilsner lager was born.

It was October 5, 1842, in the Czech city of Pilzn when Joseph Groll, a brewer who was hired from Bavaria, unveiled his clear, crisp, bitter lager.  It shocked the beer-drinking world like a splash of ice water on a hungover Sunday morning sleeper.  Most beers until then had been dark, heavy, murky affairs fermented with ale yeast.

Now, using modern technology, Noble Czech Saaz hops, soft water from the Pilzn aquifer, and lager yeast, Groll was able to brew a beer that caught golden sunshine in the glass.  Luckily, inexpensive drinking glasses were also becoming popular at the time, so drinkers could admire the blinding clarity of the new beer.

Pilsner lager soon became the standard for beer enthusiasts across Europe, and was even brought to America by immigrant brewers in the 19th century, where it caught on just as fast.

In fact, almost all of the mass-produced pale lagers brewed all over the world today are in the Pilsner family -- even though they lack the tastes and quality of the original style.

The Israel Brews and Views Tasting Panel will soon meet in less-than-solemn assembly to sample five Pilsners made by Israeli craft breweries.  There actually is a sixth, but it's a seasonal beer, brewed only in the summer -- real Pilsner weather.      

So as spring creeps over our mountains and plains, we hope the findings of our Tasting Panel will help you appreciate and enjoy the classic experience of Pilsner beer.

Be sure to keep your attention right here, on Israel Brews and Views.  If you type your e-mail in the little box on the right and press "Submit," you'll be notified when the Panel results are in.  Couldn't be easier.

February 18, 2018

Two new smokies -- The Dictator Big Peat, Sheeta Smoked

Beer styles that have been foreign to Israel -- available here only as imports -- are now being made by our local micro-breweries. Witness, for example, Pilsners and oak-aged stouts.

Now add to the list smoked beers. The distinctive smoky taste of these beers is achieved by kilning the malted grain above open flames. The degree of smokiness you smell and taste in the beer depends on how long the malt is smoked, and what kind of malt you use in the first place.

I've already written about some beers which are made this way, including Salora Smoked Stout, Black Jack Smoked Stout, Mosco Smoked, and Buster's Smoked Lager.

One of the newer smoky beers is Big Peat from The Dictator Brewery (contract brewed at the Beer Bazaar Brewery in Kiryat Gat.)

Big Peat's smokiness is also achieved by smoking the grain -- but one generation removed. That is, the malt that is smoked is used to distill Big Peat Blended Malt Scotch Whisky, from the island of Islay, which is then added to the beer. The malt is actually smoked over the burning embers of peat -- which gives its name to the whisky and the beer.

For several winters, Dictator partner and brewer Yotam Baras has been producing a whisky-infused ale such as this, but until now he's been using Laphroaig for the Scotch. [Read about an earlier version here.] "From now on," he says, "we will be choosing a different whisky every year. And this year we also used a pale ale as a base, instead of a red ale. We found that the whisky enhances the fruitiness and sweetness of a pale ale even better."

But whichever whisky is in the beer, it gives the beer two kicks -- a kick in taste and a kick in strength. Big Peat is a hefty 9.9% alcohol and is full of distinctive flavors.

The beer is a clear, light amber color with very little foam. You can't miss the aroma of smoky Scotch whisky -- that is, if you've ever had a good and smoky Scotch whisky. There is also yeast and fruit and some kind of fresh smell, like a room after it was just cleaned. I say this without malice. Such an aroma can be quite pleasant.

There is more smoked whisky in the taste, along with sweet malt and very subdued hoppiness. The body is full. For all the whisky added to the beer, it is not very noticeable (other than the smoke, of course). In fact, the finish is quite sweet.

I enjoyed Big Peat, the beer, and I'm quite sure I would like Big Peat, the whisky. You can't drink too much of it at one sitting, though, because of its alcoholic and gustatory strength. Yotam Baras suggests you share your bottle of Big Peat with a friend, and that's a good idea.

Image may contain: textSheeta Smoked is the new beer from the Sheeta Brewery in Arad, owned and operated by Jean and Neta Torgovitsky.

I found this a very enjoyable smoked beer, primarily because the smoke is not overpowering. But it's there; you can't miss it. The aroma is smoked meat and wood smoke, while the taste is a nice blend of hops and smoke with a sour finish. The color is dark amber, with low carbonation and therefore almost no foam. Alcohol by volume is 5%.

The body is very thin, bordering on the watery. I would have liked this beer to be thicker and sweeter, but then I wouldn't have wanted to drink so much of it! So, nicely done, Mr. and Mrs. Sheeta Beer. Israeli fans of smoked beer now have less reasons to turn to European imports. By all means, give these imports a try, but don't forget to look for the smokies with Hebrew labels as well.

February 11, 2018

What's up for 2018?

My brother Israeli beer blog in Hebrew -- Beer Blog -- בירבלוג -- ( -- just published a forecast of what's to be expected from several craft breweries in 2018.  I thought that my English readers would be no less interested in this information, so Yochai Maytal and the Beer Blog Team has graciously allowed me to translate it and publish it on my blog.  Here it is:

The year 2017 was an interesting one for the Israeli beer market.  We were able to drink new beers (some we liked more, some less), and attend beer events and festivals.  New breweries were opened as well as locations which specialize in serving quality beer.  We approached a few of the major players and found out a few items that can be expected in 2018.

Alexander Brewery

On March 23, the third annual "Destruction of the Leaven" event will take place before Passover at the brewery in Emek Hefer.  There will be live music, all Alexander beers available on tap, and stands for food.  This year, the event will also include announcing the winners of the B'tsisa home-brewing competition (in cooperation with the Beer & Beyond beer store), and you'll be able to taste the beer of some of the competition participants.

Congratulations also go to Alexander on the tenth anniversary of its opening, and for being named the best brewery in Israel by the famous RateBeer website.

Itay Maron, owner of
HaShachen Brewery.
HaShachen ("The Neighbor")

The Americana Wheat IPA from HaShachen Brewery is currently available in a Single Hop (Citra) version.  The brewery, which specializes in different kinds of IPAs, will soon bring out a Double IPA. available in beer specialty stores and at the Beer Bazaar chain.  Look for it beginning in March.

The brewing brothers and owners
of HaDubim Brewery:
Dagan (left) and Rotem Bar-Ilan.
HaDubim ("The Bears")

HaDubim Brewery promised us that it will release two new beers in the coming months.  Since the brewers have a known affection for IPAs, that would be an educated guess for the styles of the beers.

Neil Churgin (left), owner of the
Beetzinut Brewery, and his son Perry,
meet the old blogger.
Beertzinut ("Seriously")

The Beertznut Brewery has expanded its production and marketing by concentrating on its geographic area -- the Arava Valley and the Negev Desert.

The new Timna beer was brewed in cooperation with the Timna Park Visitors Center, where it is on sale.  In 2018, Beetzinut plans other cooperative brewing ventures, plus a program to provide contract brewed beers for weddings.       

We recommend that you look for the Beertzinut stand at beer events and exhibits, since that is almost the only place you can find their new strong beer and their new sour Berliner Weiss.  These beers are also available at the brewery's own pub on Kibbutz Ketura in the Arava.

The Dictator

Those who follow The Dictator know how much he loves to bring out new products, and for 2018, The Dictator plans for at least three such projects.  Those who enjoyed The Dictator's Porter and IPA will be happy to learn that these will be brewed as seasonal beers this year as well.

No automatic alt text available.Benny's Cask Ale Pub

Here too we can say it's already a tradition: Benny's Cask Ale Pub will be serving beers from the Fuller's Brewery in London.  You can also occasionally find and enjoy different ciders from Israeli apples served from gravity pouring taps at the pub.

Beer & Beyond

Those who frequent the Beer & Beyond store in Tel Aviv will be pleased to soon discover that a tap has been installed for serving customers beer in the store or to take home.

In addition, the following events have been scheduled for this year:

March 1-2:  Beer & Beyond's birthday party in the store.
March 23:  Announcement of the winners of the B'tsisa home-brewing competition (as we said, at the Alexander Brewery). 
May 2-9:  Beer and Whisky Tour of Scotland (in cooperation with Benny's Cask Ale Pub).
Mid-May:  Shavuot holiday event in the corridor.
Mid-August:  Summer event in the corridor.
Sukkot Holiday:  Beer Tour and Oktoberfest in Germany.
December:  Year End event in the corridor.

We wish all of you and all of us a year of plentiful and wonderful beer! 

January 28, 2018

Shabbat cholent und bier

At my age, there are few redeeming qualities about cold and blustery days.  One of them is enjoying a strong, flavorful beer.  Such a beer was just waiting for me this past Shabbat when my wife Trudy prepared her very excellent vegetarian cholent, a thick stew of barley, beans and potatoes, textured vegetable protein, veggie hot dogs and spices.  The aroma of hot, spicy cholent fills the kitchen; sometimes the whole house.  People who eat cholent on Shabbat say it has the taste of the World to Come.

Image result for giesinger innovatorYou know the beer had to be special.  This one was Giesinger Innovator, a Dunkler Doppelbock from the Giesinger Brewery in Munich.  It was brought to me by my friend Bernhard Purin, Director of the Munich Jewish Museum, on his last visit to Israel.  It's a giveaway that beer names ending with "-ator" are double bocks.

There has to be a very good reason for me to leave my comfort zone and write about non-Israeli beers, and a gift from Bernhard on such a winter's day met the requisites.

The Innovator is a hearty double bock lager, dark ruby brown color and 7.3 % alcohol by volume.  In the aroma and taste is unmistakable roasted barley malt, and this sang love songs to the barley in the cholent.  As a fine example of the traditional double bock style, Innovator caresses your olfactory nerve with notes of caramel, chocolate, and raisins.  The taste is sweet, and heavy with caramel, fruit cake and some alcohol.  It is a wonderful balance to the spice and earthiness of the cholent, and the sharpness of the pickle and mustard that invariably accompany it.  A taste of the Garden of Eden, as they say.

I'm sure the double bock would have enhanced the intensity of a chocolate dessert -- but alas, we didn't have any this time.

Image result for martin luther katharina von bora
By all accounts, the Luthers were
a happily married couple:
Martin, a former monk, and
Katharina, a former nun. 
The take-away line from this feast is just this: Increase the enjoyment of your hearty winter meals with a strong, malt-forward beer.  There are enough Israeli craft beers which fit this description to keep you glowing all winter.
The Giesinger Innovator bottle has something you will not see on the bottles of Israeli beer -- a commemoration of the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation (1517-2017), when Martin Luther first challenged the authority and practices of the Catholic Church.  (It may have something to do with the fact that the Giesinger Brewery is located on Martin Luther Street in Munich.)

Historians point out that Martin Luther's wife Katharina was an excellent home-brewer and that Martin loved her beer.  "If you do not have beer," he is quoted as saying, "you have nothing to drink."  Amen.

January 15, 2018

Yechiam: the fortress and the brewery

As I've written before, craft breweries are popping up all over Israel -- from the Lebanese border in the north to the southernmost city of Eilat.  So, Trudy and I have been able to combine our tours to different parts of the country with visits to nearby breweries.

The Miskins and the Greeners,
intrepid trekkers all, about to assault
the Yechiam Fortress.
We have done this several times with our friends Yitzchak and Pnina Miskin, he being a member of the Israel Brews and Views Tasting Panel.  [You can read about our trip to the Alexander Stream and the Alexander Brewery here.]

Recently we headed up to Israel's northwest corner on the Lebanese border, to Kibbutz Yechiam, home to a kosher salami factory, a Crusader fortress, and the Malka Beer brewery.  We visited all three, although let's make it clear that the meat factory was for the Miskins, who had forgotten to pack their sausage!

Related image
A beautiful view of the Galilee from
the top of the Yechiam Fortress.
The Yechiam Fortress, as it is known, was our first stop.  Originally built by the Crusaders in the 1240s, it was used to control travel and communication in the area and collect taxes from the local inhabitants.  It was conquered by the Mameluks under Sultan Baibars from Egypt  in 1265 and largely destroyed.  In the 18th century it was rebuilt and used as the palatial home of local leaders, including Mahd el-Hussein and Zahir al-Umar, who called it the Jiddin Castle.

We walked through the rooms and towers and climbed the ancient stairs to the roof, where you have stunning views of all the surrounding hills and countryside.

During Israel's War of Independence in 1948, residents of Kibbutz Yechiam used the ruins as a fortified position to fight off the invading Arab armies.  Signs around the fortress indicate locations where the Jewish forces had firing positions, command bunkers, and shielded areas for evacuating the wounded.

After our tour, we drove to the nearby border city of Ma'alot for a hummus lunch in a restaurant that Yitzchak had recommended.

The old blogger with Yaniv Katz,
the always busy manager of the
Malka Brewpub.
Lunch left us thirsty, so it was definitely time to head back to the kibbutz and the Malka Brewpub.     

A few days earlier, I had called Asaf Lavie, the owner of Malka Brewery, and told him we would like to visit on Friday, speak with him and maybe tour the brewery.

"What time?" he asked.  Around 12:30 to 1:00, I said.  "Oh, that's no problem.  After around 2:30, the place becomes packed and we're all too busy to talk."

Because our schedule was a little delayed, we arrived at the brewery around 2:45.  Every table and chair on the lawn, inside and around back was taken by happy, gregarious beer drinkers.

Restaurant manager Yaniv Katz greeted us and, even though he was being called away every two minutes with a question or emergency, found time to make us up a table and talk with us.

The Friday afternoon packed beer garden
at the Malka Brewpub on Kibbutz Yechiam.
Only 29 years old, Yaniv shoulders the responsibility of keeping the restaurant functioning smoothly.  Around 800 people come to eat and drink at the Malka Brewpub every weekend (Thursday, Friday and Saturday night).  Five hundred liters of Malka's five beers are consumed.

While they may not all be available all the time, Malka's regular beers are:

Pale Ale
Blond Ale
Hindi IPA
Wheat Ale

At the Brewpub, a third of a liter of beer costs 17 shekels, and a half-liter 22 shekels.  Bottles are available to take home for 12 shekels each, with a four-pack costing 44 shekels.

The food menu is kosher and more extensive than the usual pub grub.  In addition to the expected hamburgers, hot dogs, shnitzel nuggets, meat sandwiches and French fries, there are vegetarian options such as Portobello mushroom burgers, and fried cauliflower and broccoli nuggets.

Trudy and the old blogger enjoy
the ambiance at the Malka Brewpub.
Between the four of us, we ordered and shared almost all of Malka's beers.  I have always enjoyed their bottled beer, and fresh from the tap they were even more delicious.  The Hindi IPA and the Blond Ale were especially welcome.

Having a few beers with good friends in a rustic setting was a very cultured way to start the weekend.  Afterwards, we happily worked our way across the road to the kibbutz guest house, where we would be spending the Sabbath.

The Holy Day was delightful, nourishing and relaxing.  But since that's not the subject for a beer blog, this would be a good place to finish.  We can only heartily recommend the combination of touring Israel and visiting a craft brewery.  There's something for everybody and a brewery almost everywhere.   

January 10, 2018

1872 Baltic Porter launched: An Israeli-German collaboration

As 2017 ended, I went to the Dancing Camel Brewery in Tel Aviv for the first pouring of the 1872 Baltic Porter, an Israeli-German collaboration beer.

The beer had not two, but four collaborators: Dancing Camel and Oak & Ash in Tel Aviv, and Bierfabrik and Two Fellas in Berlin.

David Cohen, owner of Dancing Camel, has already brewed several beers in collaboration with German craft breweries.  "Why do we love collaboration beers?" he asks.  "Because beer holds no agenda, no political affinity, no religion and no cause more sacred than the freedom of the human spirit."  Who am I to disagree?     

Asher Zimble (left), owner and brewer of
Oak & Ash Beers, and David Cohen of
Dancing Camel (center), join the old blogger
for the launching of 1872 Baltic Porter. 
David explained that each of the brewers contributed something to the concept and recipe of 1872.  The German breweries suggested a Baltic porter, since northern Germany was one of the places where this style originated some 200 years ago, as well as the basic grain bill using German malt.

"The Dancing Camel brought up the idea of adding Israeli date honey -- silan -- and Oak & Ash was called upon to age the beer with oak," says David.  "The beer was brewed simultaneously in Tel Aviv and Berlin, and each brewery had leeway to choose the malts and hops.  The use of the date honey and the oak aging was required by all."

The name of the beer commemorates the tragic storm and flood of November 13, 1872, which devastated much of the Baltic Sea coast from Denmark to the German-Polish border. 

David Cohen at the Bierfabrik Brewery
with Sebastian Mergel (left) and
Andre Schabrackentapir (right).
The Baltic porter style developed when the British began exporting their popular porter beer to the Baltic countries (Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania) and also Sweden, Denmark, Poland, Finland, Russia and northern Germany.  These countries began brewing it for themselves, but according to their own tastes.  For example, they fermented it at lower temperatures with lager yeast, rather than ale yeast.  This tends to mellow out the flavors.         

Baltic porter was also somewhat heavier and stronger than its British progenitor. David adds: "Our 1872 is 8% alcohol by volume, just right for this style.  Also, Baltic porters are usually not oak aged, as ours is.  This adds a touch of oak taste and smoothness to the final beer."

Background explanations are nice, but it was time to taste 1872 for ourselves.  I had some on tap at the Dancing Camel pub with Israel Brews and Views Taster Yitzchak Miskin, and back at home from a bottle with Taster Moshe Lifshitz.

1872 is a clear, dark reddish-brown beverage with healthy carbonation.  With the first whiff, you would not be delusional if a Belgian dubbel came to mind: aromas of caramel, roasted malt, licorice and chocolate.  The body is full and thick, with flavors of caramel malt, a little smoke, date honey, dark fruits and vanilla.  The overall impression is sweet and mild to the palate, fading into a bitter finish.  The high alcoholic content stays in the background.

All of us agreed: This is a complex, flavorful and warming beer, especially suitable for the winter months.  It's excellent as a sipping beer on its own, or pair it with strong tasting foods such as chilies and stews, sweet potatoes, odorous cheeses like Camembert, Gouda and brie, and any chocolate desert, cheesecake or apple pie.         

Dancing Camel Deutschland

Alone among Israeli brewers, David Cohen started around three years ago to build bilateral relationships with German craft brewers.  He has been very successful.  Since then, the Dancing Camel has participated in several German-Israeli collaboration beers, including Happy Hour in Sodom, Two Cats on a Camel, Gates of Helles, and now 1872.  Dancing Camel beers are sold in pubs and stores in Berlin and other cities, and its Leche del Diablo chili pepper wheat beer and Doc's Green Leaf Party IPA  are brewed under license and sold in Germany.  David opened a Facebook page for his activities in Germany called Dancing Camel Deutschland.  (Read more about Dancing Camel and these collaboration beers here.) 

David explains that the initial impetus for cooperating with German breweries came from the Israeli Consul General in Munich.  David pursued it with visits to Berlin and other cities and admits struggling with "the ghosts of the past" when in Germany.  However, his contact with the German brewers led first to ties of professional appreciation, and then to feelings of friendship.  "One thing organically led to another," he says,"and today I feel very much at home when I visit Germany, which I do around once a month."

So kudos to David for setting his own path, as he did in 2006 when he opened Dancing Camel, Israel's first craft brewery.        

December 31, 2017

Four breweries and their new brews

"Churn" may be a good word to describe the Israeli craft beer industry today.  Always moving, new beers and exciting events, new faces and constant surprises.  Year's end is a good time to review some new beers and their breweries – some veteran, a newcomer, and even a merger.

Matt Neilson (left) and his father Denny
with their Buster's Apple Cider.
The Buster's Beverage Company on Moshav Naham near Beit Shemesh began originally in the home on Denny Neilson in Mevasserat Zion more than a decade ago.  Neilson is a true practitioner of what he calls, the "fermentation arts."  He makes – and teaches how to make – beer, wine and distilled spirits, and sells the necessary equipment and ingredients. 

Neilson first called his enterprise The Winemaker, then Isra-Ale, and today Buster's (after their recently deceased family dog).  The Buster's distillery-brewery turns out three kinds of hard apple cider and two kinds of alcoholic lemonade, all delicious.  They also distill and bottle a line of liquors under the Pioneer label: so far spiced rum, arak, vodka, moonshine and apple brandy.   This year, they also began to brew a new line of craft beers, which now includes a Pilsner, Oak-Aged Stout, India Pale Ale (IPA), and a Smoked Lager.

Neilson relates: "When we came on aliya around 15 years ago, and I told people what I want to do, they said, 'Nobody drinks beer.'  But we believed there was a market for people who wanted to make their own beer and wine.  We wanted to provide a one-stop service for all their needs."

Today, even though Neilson still give his home-brewing classes, Buster's concentrates on production rather than education.  Beer enthusiasts in Israel have a great appreciation for Neilson's brewing skills, and they welcomed the introduction of his craft beer line.      

Buster's new Smoked Lager,
brewed with hickory-smoked
malt from Traeger Grills.
The Smoked Lager is the most recent to appear.  In the past year, no less than three Israeli craft breweries have introduced smoked beer.  The very distinct taste is achieved by smoking the malted grain before it is used to brew the beer.

Buster's Beverage teamed up with Traeger Grills to smoke the malt.  Neilson's son Matt calls Traeger, "the Rolls-Royce of meat-smoking grills."  In this case, barley malt, not meat, was smoked in the grill by burning hickory wood.  "This took us a few days," Matt said.

What the hickory-smoked malt does is give the beer a rich barbecue taste – as if the beer itself had been hanging in a Traeger grill.

The aroma from this clear, golden amber liquid is unmistakably smoked meat, maybe sausage or pastrami (at least that's what I remember from the last time I had them about 40 years ago!), and smoked cheese, along with some sweet malt.  On the tongue, you get some spicy bitterness from the hops, but the dominant flavor is smoked malt.  Alcohol by volume is 5.5%.

Only one batch of this beer was brewed, so you might have trouble finding any bottles left in stores.  However, Matt Neilson tells me that by popular demand, they will probably be brewing more.  If you can't get enough of smoked meats, this is the beer for you.

Basel Massad (left) and
Amir Elouti of the
Nazareth Brewery.
The Nazareth Brewery went commercial last year with a lovely American Wheat beer.  For four years before that, partners Basel Massad and Amir Elouti, both 33, had been brewing beer at home and in a smaller facility for their own use and for very local distribution to family and friends. 

"We brewed a different beer every week," says Massad, "but the both of us loved this American Wheat and the reactions to it were very good.  So we decided to take the big step and brew it in commercial quantities.  The two of us, however, kept our day jobs, which are in high-tech."  
To produce the quantities they need, they contract brew at the Beer Bazaar Brewery in Kiryat Gat.  Nazareth American Wheat is now available in liquor and beer stores in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Haifa, Akko and of course, Nazareth. 

"In Nazareth, everybody drinks beer, including the Moslems," jokes Massad.  He and Elouti, however, are Christians.  Perhaps that explains why they allowed themselves to use a logo which some may say is sacrilegious: It's the face of Jesus the Nazarene in the shape of a hop cone, with a hop beard and a crown of hop leaves! 
The hop-shaped face of
Jesus the Nazarene, with a hop beard
and a crown of hop leaves.
In the West Bank, there are two other Christian-owned breweries:  The most veteran of these is the Taybeh Brewery in Taybeh, and Shepherd's Brewery in Birzeit near Ramallah.

As to the Nazareth beer itself, it is a fine example of the American wheat ale style.  Alcohol by volume is 4.5%.  The color is a slightly cloudy orange-gold with a frothy white head.  The aroma is sweet and hoppy, with none of the clove and banana notes you find in the older and more traditional German wheats.  The flavor has a gentle bitterness with citrus and yeast.  I found the body light and the finish refreshing – sort of like a pale lager but with much more taste.  I can see why Nazareth Brewery chose this to be its flagship beer.        
Massad and Elouti plan to bring out a second beer early next year.  Although they have not yet decided on the style, they say it will be something "different," like the American Wheat.

Jeremy Welfeld, founder and partner of the
Jem's Beer Factory, relaxing at the brewery
and restaurant in Petach Tikva. 
Another new wheat beer is named Hoppy Hanukka, brewed to commemorate this festive season by the Jem's Beer Factory in Petach Tikva.  It is not in the image of your other winter holiday ales, popular in Europe and the U.S., which are dark, sweet and alcohol-heavy.   
Hoppy Hanukka is a very moderate 5% alcohol.  The color is a medium amber with a thin head.  (Jem's founder and partner Jeremy Welfeld claims that the color is like "the light of Hanukka.")  You get some aroma of cloves from the wheat ale yeast, but mostly tropical and citrus fruits from the hops. 

Jem's Hoppy Hanukka beer against a
background of a beer bottle menorah.
The taste is a very clean and refreshing bitter, with notes of summer fruits and spice.  It's a very interesting beer.  I can say that I have not tasted this combination of flavors before.  Now, what that has to do with Hanukka, I cannot tell you, but it is a lovely experience.

Hoppy Hanukka is available (while it lasts) only at the Jem's restaurants in Petach Tikva, Ramat Hachayal, Ra'anana, Kfar Saba, Caesarea and Modi'in. 

Welfeld opened the Jem's Beer Factory and Brewpub in 2009 with partner Daniel Alon.  Today, with all six outlets pumping beer and with sales in stores and restaurants throughout Israel, Jem's has become a craft beer powerhouse.  The brewery produces seven core beers – Dark Lager, Pilsner, Wheat, Stout, 8.8 Belgian Strong, Amber Ale, and IPA – plus occasional seasonal beers like Hoppy Hanukka.

American-born Welfeld came to Israel and served in the IDF in 1984-87, before returning to the U.S. to study food management and brewing science.  He earned his wings working in restaurants, brewing and catering – including catering for the White House.

"I've always been a service guy," he says.  "That's what defines what I do.  Making the beer is easy.  The hard part is to sell it and to keep giving your customers excellent, personal service."

Gilad Ne-Eman, partner and brewer of the new
Tog Brewery in Beersheva, presents the first
six-pack of new beers to the old blogger.

(Photo: Mike Horton)
The Israeli south has not lagged behind in the craft beer renaissance.  With Beersheva as the hub, a number of small and not-so-small breweries have sprung up, in addition to an active home-brewing community.

Two breweries – Gilad Ne-Eman's HeChalutz ("The Pioneer") and Tomer Ronen's HaDag HaLavan ("The White Fish") – have recently merged to form Tog (rhymes with rogue).  They brew their beers at the Beer Bazaar Brewery in Kiryat Gat. 

Tog, the blue desert lizard,
logo-mascot of the
new Tog Brewery.  
"Tog is the name we gave to our new logo mascot, a blue desert lizard," explains Ne-Eman.  "His fearsome face is on every label, and on one label he's standing there holding the map of Israel like a surfboard!"

Ne-Eman and Ronen have worked together for two years on several projects promoting craft beer in the south.  For example, they organize Beersheva's only beer festival, known as the Beer7 Fest, which attracts dozens of brewers and hundreds of visitors.   They run the Brew Shop in Beersheva, a center for learning home brewing and purchasing equipment and ingredients; Israeli and foreign craft beers are also on sale.  They have founded a home-brewers' club which is among the biggest in Israel.  
Most recently, Ne-Eman and Ronen have organized a competition for home-brewers, known as Isra-Brew, which will award prizes for the best beers in several categories.  The winners will be announced at the end of February. 

"After working together on so many projects, it was only natural for the two of us to join together to brew our beers," adds Ne-Eman.  "We share the same philosophy about brewing beers that are different and creative, and that is what we pledge to continue doing under the Tog label."

The three new beers from the Tog Brewery
in Beersheva: Kimat Esser, HeChalutz,
and 40° in the Shade.

(Photo: Mike Horton)  
There are currently three Tog beers being marketed.  Two are versions of beers originally produced by the separate breweries:

40° in the Shade – A blond ale geared for summertime drinking.  4.7% alcohol.  Light, fruity hop aroma; mildly bitter taste with citrus, yeast and malt.  Dry and refreshing.  Brewed originally by HaDag HaLavan.

HeChalutz – A 5.5% American pale ale, with an aroma and taste of citrus and tropical fruits, herbs and grass.  Well balanced with hops and malt; moderately bitter.  This was originally brewed by HeChalutz and called Totzeret Ha'aretz ("Made in Israel").  After the merger, the name was changed to HeChalutz because it was the beer most associated with the brewery.

The Tog Brewery logo, including the
face of the blue desert lizard.  
The third beer is a new creation from Tog, called Kimat Esser ("Almost Ten"), referring to the high 9.8% alcohol by volume.  This is a beer in the Belgian tradition of strong ales: Dark, red amber color, sweet and high in alcohol.  The aroma is fruity and caramel.  On the tongue, you get more caramel, a strong alcohol taste (perhaps plum brandy), prune and other dark fruits. 

This is a beer that I associate with the winter holiday ales so popular at this time of year.  It is best enjoyed in front of a roaring fireplace while snow is gently falling all around.  Hey, where am I living?  Kimat Esser is a beautiful, full-flavored beer that will warm you through our Israeli winter months.  
Tog beers are available in bottles and on tap in many places in the south, including Beersheva, Sderot and Ofakim, as well as in Kfar Saba, Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.  "We are working very hard on expanding our distribution network so that craft beer drinkers everywhere will be able to have our beers," concludes Ne-Eman.  

A version of this article appeared in The Jerusalem Post Friday Magazine.