The Beer Gatherer

Blogging about Israeli beer in general and Israeli craft beer in particular, following 1001 Beers You Must Try Before You Die and other beer musings.

Archive for the month “May, 2012”

North by Southeast

before sharing.

Last week we picked up DSG, drove to Haifa, ate the best falafel in the entire universe and headed to Nimrod, the alco-wizard kid from The Attic , who has just returned from a 6 week trip in Laos with a bottle of Laobeer and 3 bottles of Lao-Lao. He posted an invitation at the wine and alcohol forum to join him and take tasting notes, The Secret Agent and I jumped on the opportunity to try new stuff and meet Nimrod and DSG couldn’t miss the opportunity to add yet another country to his beer tasting list. We were joined by our good friend and master mixologist Padod and the northern branch of the small Ratebeer community, E and Y. DSG, E and Y are beer-curious, Padod doesn’t understand what the beer-fuss is all about but is easily tempted with distilled stuff and The Secret Agent and I will try almost* anything.

We started with three different Lao-Laos: rice whiskey distilled in the villages, drank by locals, claimed for 50%ABV  and sold in 60oml plastic bags for less than a dollar a bag. Nimrod transferred the content of the bags he bought to bottles, labeled them with the name of the villages and measured the actual content (anything between 42 to 48%).  We spotted differences between the three: First was sweet and smelled like porridge; second had honey and plastic, tasted hot and had burnt plastic aftertaste. Nimrod says it’s probably from a plastic part (container?) used in the heating process. Third smelled like kumquat, burnt a little less and tasted a little bitter.

It was different, for sure. Not a sipper, not a mixer, not in my world – the other, cocktail-geek world, that is. Also, after tripping over homemade Yemenite Arak at a restaurant in one of the suburbs, I try to keep away from moonshine. However, if it has Nimrod’s seal of approval, I feel safe. We also drank Mongolian vodka that was slightly sweet and not as oily as vodka as we know it, and sampled baijiu before we headed to the beer part or the tasting.

So, Beerlao Dark Lager. One of the three Beerlaos available in Laos (the other two are pale and golden), and one of the two that appear in the book.  It’s clear brown in colour, with a foamy, thin white head. Aroma is malt, some grain, toasty and a little sweet. Tastes delicately bitter with sweet caramel tones and has a toasty finish, light body and a fair balance. Overall a decent beer, one that’s perfect for hot days which I understand are not quite rare in this part of the world.

I’ve never been anywhere east of Taybeh, Palestine – I feel right at home in the West and have not had the desire to travel in Asia so naturally, local touristic beer culture is foreign to me. Imagine my surprise on the day after the tasting, when I spotted one of the douchebags at the gym wearing a wifebeater endorsed with Beerlao’s label. Apparently the beer is “[…] finding flavor with the growing number of tourists now visiting the landlocked but scenically stunning part of Southeast Asia”.

Either way, Beerlao is the 61st beer I Must Try Before I Die. Who’s flying there and bringing me the pale lager?

*had the silkworm poo tea Nimrod brewed before we left not nested inside cocoons, I’d have drank it for sure.

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The Twistier The Better

Harviestoun’s Bitter and Twisted is one of the coolest beers you can get here in Israel, if and when you can get it. Distributed by one Benny Krieger, a Glasgow Celtics fan who fell in love with Scottish beer and imports beer for self-consumption and pocket money for his trips to one of my top-3 favourite cities (together with Berlin and Montreal).

Like a few other beer importers in this country, Benny does it out of passion. It’s not his main business, supply is not always steady and after The Secret Agent drank the bottle of Bitter and Twister we had in our stash a couple of weeks ago, I couldn’t find it at the shops. Hunting was easy, though. The Big Bear’s brewery, HaDubim, was pouring at Benny’s village, so he dropped by at Benny’s for a visit. I called the latter in the morning and got the Big Bear delivering me a couple of bottles. Thanks, guys!

Why do I like Bitter and Twisted so much (besides the obvious – the cute mouse on the label)? Because it tastes great when it’s fresh, bitter, grainy and malty, with matching grainy, biscuit and caramel aroma. It has a medium body and it’s super-easy and refreshing to drink, perfect for the summer. We drank Harviestoun’s lager, Schiehallion, at the BrewDog tasting not too long ago. I hope both become more available at stores and in pubs this summer.

Meanwhile, here’s beer #60 I must try before I die. And here, to your right, on the sidebar, is a link to The Beer Gatherer’s new Facebook page. If you like us, Like us.

Fear and Loathing in an Imperial Tasting

The mandatory post-tasting pic.

The (soon to be) Texan’s Texaness is getting closer and closer. He’s probably all excited about finally being entitled to a ten gallon hat and a lone star belt buckle, but us local beergeeks are less than thrilled. For once, who will treat us to guided tastings of beer that will never, ever be available in our neck of the woods?

In the past couple of months The (soon to be) Texan held 3 themed tastings of mostly American beer, with some German and Belgian sidekicks. The first and the second tasting were seasonal: Christmas/ Winter ales and Springtime beers. The third and last tasting took place the Friday before Last and was imperial-themed: heavy brews, rich in aroma and flavor, that are meant to be shared, because drinking straight bottles of their content almost makes no sense.  We sampled seven beers, three of which are in the book and one was already ticked, Ommegang Abbey Ale.

Southampton Double White opened the event and poured cloudy pale golden with a nice frothy white head. It had a fine orange and bun aroma which sadly didn’t match the taste: soft, forgettable, watery bitterness. Medium body, short, yeasty finish and not quite imperial in my books.

However, Flying Dog Gonzo did the job. Nothing short of amazing it was, as the insane label predicts. Opaque, brown-black with a dark tan head, great aroma of coffee, cocoa and delicate roast, bitter and dry with a full body and roasty finish, it immediately became a favourite (mental note: find the time to re-read Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Oh, retirement, when do we meet?).

We also tasted Mad River Steelhead Double IPA, Thirsty Dog Siberian Night that The Actuary brought to one of the recent tastings, Flying Dog’s Double Pale Ale and Augustiner Maximator. All were great, but Gonzo and Double White are beers #58 and #59 I must try before I die.

Recap Madness #1: Last Saturday

Last Saturday the tasters and raters gathered at the Big Bear’s place for what was initially announced as Georgia vs. Italy tasting, a result of Big Bear’s dad’s trip to Italy and Dead Swedish Girl’s mom’s excursion to Georgia. Meanwhile most of the Georgian beer had already been sampled in previous tastings and we all brought bottles and cans from our stashes. The Secret Agent and I contributed beer from the book, but The (soon to be) Texan and  DSG also shared helpful stuff.

Cantillon Iris is  one of the 5 different brews from Cantillon that appear in the 1001 book and the third we’ve sampled so far. It’s good to have Sour lovers around. Drinking Cantillon in a regular tasting was not as intense and challenging as it was during the sour tasting. It probably was for the hopheads in the room, but for me it went OK. Cider vinegar and limestone aroma, extremely pickle juice-like taste (you know, the water that preserve gherkins), medium body and thankfully short finish. I still consider those lambics weird (blended, unblended, I still can’t tell the difference), but it was strangely fine.

DSG said that Tipopils by Birrificio Italiano is the best pilsner he has ever tasted. Having just rated his 3000th beer, he has had his share of pilsner. I’d vouch for some fresh Czech draught pils myself, but Tipopils was more than decent. Clear to hazy golden with white foam, green, hemp-like aroma, fresh bitterness and a crisp finish – a beer to drink all by yourself, had it been distributed locally.

We also brought pilsner, Lagunitas Pils. We’ve drank the brewery’s great Olde GnarlyWine (with a dog on the label – another dog beer!) last month and thoroughly enjoyed it. The pils was so-so. Sweet, flowery aroma, some cookie dough even and delicate bitterness with light body and quick finish. Not bad but really, nothing unusual.

Two Brothers Cane and Ebel was a beer I was looking forward to drink and I wasn’t disappointed. Amber coloured American Strong Ale with a light body, the beer has a strong hoppy aroma with evergreen, flowers and hints of citrus and a delicate, just slightly dry taste. Smooth texture, soft carbonation and fruity-bitter finish.

We tasted many other beers, some were good, others were not, but time’s short. Lots of catching up to do and we need to get out to the beer fest taking place in town.

These were beers #54, 55, 56 and 57 I Must Try Before I Die.

Primator in Tel Aviv-Jaffa

I’m so behind with this blog it’s getting ridiculous. Drinking beer is not a problem. I always find time for this, but writing about it is another story. In the past weeks I have probably drank 20 beers that are a part of my mission, dozens of other beers that are worth mentioning and and Israeli beer and breweries that I so want to write about, but due to work, school, homework, gym (heaven forbid) and tasting sessions, I don’t.

So there’s a lot of recap to do on my part, and I’ll start with an easy one, Czech-brewed Primator, now sold on bottles across the country and poured at the Norma Jean bistro in Jaffa. Primátor Polotmavý 13° and Primátor Weizenbier appear in the 1001 book. Primátor Premium Lager 12° isn’t, but it’s ratable, DSG, his partner, The Secret Agent and I met and rated a few weeks ago. The beers are served in boot glasses, my first time ever drinking from such a vessel. I did manage to avoided the air pocket, but it took some effort.

How was the beer? Polotmavý  is a sweet and buttery  Vienna lager with a somewhat sour finish. The Weizenbier was decent: cloudy, banana-clove aroma, spicy, a little sweet and a little sour, easy to drink with a sweet banana finish.

The Premium Lager is not in the book, but still, it’s an OK pilsner. Definitely better than the Polotmavý. Not sure what is the added value of those beers to the local market, but alas, at least I didn’t have to hunt beer #52 and #53 I must Try Before I Die overseas.

German Saviours.

I’m behind. I’m so, so behind that the notes for one of the beers in this post was taken in St. Patrick’s Day, shortly after the unforgettable Samuel Adams Tasting.  As that tasting ended, we chased away some of the guests and headed north, to check out the Goose Pub in Kibbutz Ein Shemer. Located in a unique converted wooden barn, it seemed as if the place catered to all the youngsters who live within 30 kilometers from Ein Shemer. The pub that night was unpleasantly crowded and smokey, although us four had a good time, in our gallery table, munching on friend food and not drinking Guinness. See, I’m too old for this shit – high volume pop music, commercial traditions… I don’t do Valentine, I don’t do St. Paddy’s. So I opted for the secular German option, that like Guinness is also marketed by Carlsberg/ Coca Cola Israel – Weihenstephaner Hefe Weissbier (and so did the Secret Agent and The Dead Swedish Girl but not  the still nickname-less Shachar). It is an awesome beer and if there’s one good thing about Coca Cola’s domination in the local market is the beer’s availability. You can find it all over, and as long as the pipes are clean and the bartenders don’t manage to ruin the brew pouring it wrong or something, you are in for a treat: cloudy-orange colour, ripe banana and clove aroma, taste that alternates bitter, sweet and sour, light body and sheer joy – in the mediocre pub near you (and also in the Goose Pub, which must be pretty cool on weekdays and off-season).

too old for the madding crowd – Goose Pub in St. Patrick’s Day.

Anyway, Bayerische Staatsbrauerei Weihenstephan makes lots of different kinds of beer. The Hefe Weizen is the one available here, but occasionally, others make a guest appearance in the taps, such as the Weihenstephaner Dunkel and the Weihenstephaner Vitus that are now being poured at the makeshift Beer Garden in Ta’am Ha’Ir, Tel Aviv’s annual food festival. Established in the late 1990’s, the fest was an opportunity to sample top restaurants dishes for cheap. Today, with the abundance of good restaurants who offer affordable business menus and the coupons that make chef resturants a little more accessible,  Ta’am Ha’Ir is just a big fest, with lots of commercial compounds for junk food, the national lottery and even cigarettes, a few restaurants who offer the famous sample dishes and other food stalls, lots of plastic and wet waste and thousands of suburbanites of all ages who show the beautiful face of Israel: pushing, noise, disrespect of personal space and the inability to stand in line. I was there last year, as a part of last year’s mission. Yesterday I was there too, as a part of the current mission, as Vitus is also in the book, 7.7% heavenly ABV. Fresh banana aroma, fruit and a little clove are revealed once you dip your nose in the rocky head. Tastes sweet and somewhat sour but balanced and not alcoholic at all.

The Dunkel, dark wheat beer, is sweet as well, really refreshing and clove and banana aroma, and also mud that I’m not sure whether it belonged to the beer or to the surrounding. I did manage to neutralize the grass and not associate it with hops. At least that. Anyway, although having a body, it’s a refreshing beer that I’d be glad to drink occasionally, if I could. I can’t drink neither the Dunkel nor the Vitus occasionally, so when I have the opportunity, I’d even drag myself to crowded events.

Weihenstephaner Hefe Weissbier and Weihenstephaner Vitus are beers #50 and #51 I must try before I die. 950 more to go, peanuts!

Forgive me whoever, for I have sinned.

Last weekend bore two beer-centered meetings: a small bottle-can tasting at our place on Friday night and a one-on-one get-together with The Ovarian Sis at the Porter & Sons on Saturday afternoon.

Tasting was mellow. Most of the regulars are family men and spend the weekend with their kin. My kin and I had two people over this time and some bottles that normally don’t make it to the tasting sessions were opened: various unrateable homebrews and stuff from Beer of the Month Club, which usually contain rather mediocre stuff, from obscure and rather forgettable breweries.  Beer you never hear about nor couldn’t live without them. I was quite surprised to find out that Lancaster Milk Stout from Lancaster Brewing Co., that arrived in one of the latest shipping is listed as one of the 1001 Beers You Must Try Before You Die book.

I was looking forward to receiving Lancaster’s samples, because one of the beers we received is called Amish Four Grain. I’ve been a sucker for anything Amish since my Greyhound trips in the 1990’s and my introduction to quilting, which happened more or less at the same time. There’s a drawing of a silhouette of an Amish carriage on the label – how awesome is that? –  Alas, the Four Grain was disappointing. Tasted like old malt, unpleasant bitterness. The milk stout was somewhat better: dark brown-black with a light brown head and smells like chocolate milk made with dark chocolate and also some roast. Tastes bitter, delicate but rather bland, light bodied and softly carbonated. Beer was OK, but had there not been the mission, I could’ve lived without it.

It was strange drinking this specific bottle. I went vegan last October and solved the conflict of drinking milk stout in a rather rabbinical way: I didn’t buy the bottle especially for the tasting;  got it as a part of the monthly deal on an account the lacto-vegetarian Secret Agent and I share; we split the bottle between four people. Enough of the apologetica: drinking cow-stout is uncool, brewing it is even uncooler.

Fast forward to Saturday. Early evening with the Ovarian Sis, one of Israel’s beer pioneers. Drank Oketz by HaDubim and for the second round I opted for Newcastle Brown Ale, that I recalled was in the book.

While writing the paragraphs about Lancaster Milk Stout I suddenly recalled a conversation I had 15 years ago, in a London squat. I just went vegan for the first time (and then lasted around a year) and  my buddy Orly filled me up about hidden animal abuse in food. She said that Newcastle use blood in order to dye their beer in that deep brown colour. Back then I didn’t even know what Newcastle beer was, but the info stuck, apparently. I googled “is newcastle brown ale vegan” and landed in Barnivore who unsurprisingly had nothing to say about blood, but mentioned isinglass.

Beer was tasty, but I’m a little sad.

There must be alternatives to fish-derived agents.

#48, #49 beers I crossed off the list of Beers I must Try Before I Die.

Temple of the Dog

I’ve been completing an Excel sheet to help me tracking down my progress through the 1001 book, and while transferring data I couldn’t help but notice the relative abundance of breweries that are either called Dog-Something, or have dogs on the label, or call specific beers after dogs.

In the world of Fat Dog, Alpha Dog and even Dogfish Head, there is one dog that makes beergeeks drool like a rabid British Bulldogs: Scotland’s favourite son, BrewDog, that is.

Tomer, owner of the Goose Pub in Kibbutz Ein Shemer, whiskey aficionado and also a BrewDog shareholder, mail ordered a stock of BD stuff. Shachar got a hold of a couple of other Scottish brews. Dagan donated his wife’s scrapbook store and bought bread and spreads, us laypeople schlepped the Geld and thus a tasting was born.

The bottles and our charming host Dagan. thanks DSG for the pics.

We started with a soon-to-be-marketed in Israel lager by Harviestoun, that carries the catchy name Schiehallion. Clear, golden bubbly liquid that bore crisp orange aroma and malt and has a bitter, fruity taste with a sweet finish. It’s a decent beer and one I’ll sure drink again once it’s commercially available here.

Some cases of Butcombe Brunel IPA made their way to Israel. We got to sample this decent clear copper liquid that has a sweet malty aroma that bore some hints of honey and rich, delicate bitter taste – malty and round.  Those nice, potentially everyday drinks, preceded the evening’s real deal, that started with a bottle of BrewDog 77 Lager, Equity for Punks version. Don’t think there’s a difference from the regular other than the EFP logo on the label. The Secret Agent and I drank it before and actually liked it much better before. Whereas in January I was raving about rich, fresh bitter taste, this time I sensed sour and mellower bitter. also, didn’t smell much besides some lemon. It’s a good beer, it was good in this tasting, just not awesomely amazing. We then shared another bottle, that smelled of sweet old malt and tasted better – no sourness this time, but still, far from being awesomely amazing.

Trashy Blonde was better. Cloudy, almost opaque golden in colour, I smelled marjoram and evergreen and tasted delicately bitter ale with a light body and lively fizz. 5 A.M Saint is another beer that I wish was commercially available here – a great beer for everyday drinking. Clear dark copper in colour, light tan head, with pineapple and evergreen aroma and sweet, pineapple undertones beneath the bitter taste. Light body, balanced with an abrupt bitter finish.

Alice Porter was the first BrewDog beer in this tasting we haven’t drank before. Dark purple-black in colour, dark tan head, it has a chocolate liquor with faint smoke aroma and a nice bitter taste. Its body is light, texture is sleek, carbonation is mild and was nice overall. After that, back to the familiar realms of Hardcore IPA, an old bottle, then new. I liked them both, but the new bottle was better: Clear copper in colour, as opposed to the cloudy honey of the old drink, green, hemp, evergreen aroma as opposed to apple cider notes I smelled in the old, better taste, sweet, then bitter, a little more carbonation and sweet finish.

At this point the tasting turned into the event we were all waiting for and the interesting bottles were popped open. Abstrakt 08, bottle #1081 out of 6500. Clear dark golden in colour, with sweet roast, bonfire, potato aroma and taste that alternates between alcoholic and sweet bonfire smokiness. Faint smoke aftertaste, oily texture and light body. Thoroughly enjoyable. Then we made another turn from BrewDog, this time to Belgium. Embrasse Peated Oak Aged (Whiskey-Cask) by De Dochter van de Korenaar comes wrapped in delicate pink-red paper wrap. that hides aggressive aromas and gentler tastes. Tasting notes are similar to those you’d read in anything related to Islay distilleries: fuel, peat, smoke, salt. Texture is smooth, carbonation – delicate. This beer made me happy.

I drank Paradox before. Don’t remember which, but do remember I loved it. In this tasting we had both Isle of Arran and Smokehead – collaborations with two distilleries, cask-aged beer. Arran reveals black, opaque, headless liquid with dry, somewhat smokey aroma and dry bitter taste with hints of wine and faint smokiness. Smooth, sweet finish, no carbonation and good, but not as amazing as Paradox Smokehead. The latter is opaque dark brown in colour, with a condensed tan head that smells of smoke and burnt tires and tastes bitter, like liquid smoke. It’s a smooth brew, with smokey finish and light carbonation. I know next-to-nothing about whiskey, but I’m easy to buy with beer that shares features with distilled barley.

Smokehead must have been my favourite in this session, but the tasting wasn’t over: Tactical Nuclear Penguin, Paradox’ hardcore, nasty cousin, was poured to our tasting glasses and goblets, after being aged, iced, bottled and shipped: Headless opaque beer with brutal tearing tar and miso aroma that brought tears in my eyes. Taste was umami more than anything else – sweet, salty, a little chocolatey, very alcoholic and weirdly amazing. Smooth, oily, very mild carbonation and so, so good.

It was a long tasting and quite a heavy one. Thank you Tomer for your generousity and for bringing me one step further to the finish line. Paradox and Schiehallion are both in the book. #46 and #47 beers I must try before I die.

Hangin’ Out With The Coopers

 

Y.D, one of the major Importers of beer and spirits, has recently began marketing Australia’s only major family-owned beer (and homebrewing products) makers, Cooper’s. That’s a weird beer to import, considering that their portfolio consists of macros, such as Estrella, Miller, Bass, Urquell and La Trappe as well as Australia’s own Foster’s. Rumors are that a family member drank this Cooper’s in a private holiday Down Under, got hooked up and a container dull of bottles followed his return. In a perfect world this person’s next holiday destination would be West Coast U.S.

Out of Cooper’s wide portfolio, three ales are available here. Out of the three Cooper ales that are listed in 1001 Beers You Must Try Before You Die, two are available here. One is the wonderful Cooper’s Best Extra Stout, that smells roasty with a hint of iodine, looks good – opaque and almost black in colour – and tastes bitter and rougher that most commercial stouts available; that’s how I like my stouts.

 

The second is the rather disappointing beer with the rather redundant name Cooper’s Sparkling Ale. English not being my first language, I must admit that the first association I had reading the beer’s name was, well, sparkles. As in glitter. Yup, not an average beer’s natural condition, but rather something that My Little Pony fans would think of (moi? of course not! The MLP I bought for our niece a few years back is an educational toy! It is!! I swear!!! [and she lives to far away for me to enjoy it, ok?]) It took a beer lover and a reminder of the literal translation for me to get the idea.

Anyway, Cooper’s Sparkling Ale pours sparkly smells sweet, light cookie dough and oranges and tastes like strawberry soda, childish taste that has no room in beer or in a beer-lover’s mouth. Light body, fizzy with a fruity and WTF question mark floating in the air as the taste is leaving the tongue.

But there’s a third beer, that may not be in the book, but is worth mentioning: Cooper’s Original Pale Ale is a well-balanced golden ale with grass and malt aroma (and also a little vegetable soup), bitter, lemon and grass taste that make room for roasty flavour and delicate bitter finish. This would be a great summer beer.

Cooper’s Best Extra Stout and Cooper’s Sparkly Ale are #44 and #45 beers I must try before I die.

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