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 “September, 2012”

A Night Out With The Belgians

I went out by myself last night. The Secret Agent was working and I visited my grandma after work. Dealing with my family would make a devoted Scientologist resume to psychiatric medication, but I just headed up the street from grandma, walked past  my beloved Little Prague, turned right in the alley and at the sight of the usual madding crowd at the Minzar kept walking. Don’t care much about that smokey hipster bar near Salon Berlin so I stopped at Norman’s.

Opened like 10 years ago by the people who run Norman Premium, probably the biggest marketers of craft beer in Israel,  the drinks that are poured and served at the bar are still mainly Norman products, even under the new ownership. We are not big fans of the place: the tiny space is claustrophobic, prices are high and the tap selection is pretty much limited to Belgian stuff and seems to never change. Anyway, it wasn’t as full or familiar as the other bars around and I just wanted a quiet drink. A quick look at the tables and I knew what to order: Bel Pils, light beer to lighten up my mood. That’s a Belgian Pilsener brewed by Duvel Moortgat that I first saw served in bars some 2 years ago. Guess that Norman Premium had to add a light lager to their line of products for the sake of the pubs that pour their stuff or something. This is a clear blond beer that has fresh grassy saaz hops aroma  and lacks the smell of lemon that so many pilseners have. As the beer sits in the glass malty aroma is released and does it good. Taste is bitter, lemony and tangy,  the body is light and carbonation is lively – a little too lively to my taste – and its finish rich for its kind.  To sum up, Bel Pils is a fun choice when you are surrounded by heavy Belgian ales and fancy something lighter. It cannot be compared to the Czech goodness that’s poured up the alley, though.

I was going to drink one glass and head home, but Ms. Dover responded to my FB check-in, saying she’s on her way there so I waited and ordered another glass, this time St. Bernardus Abt 12. When I started to mind what I drink, this used to be my favourite beer. Its complexity fascinated me and The Secret Agent and I bought it and ordered it whenever we could. I reviewed it last year in my Hebrew beer blog and it tasted a little strange to me. At that time I related the strangeness to a hoppy phase, but last night’s taste revealed that I just can’t stand this beer anymore. It smelled of raisins and spices and was heavy on my nose. I sniffed it for quite some time, making a fool of myself at the bar, scared to taste. Finally I closed my eyes and sipped. It’s been a long time since I last drank St. Bernardus, any St. Bernardus. I expected sweetness, but the alcoholic smack was a true surprise. Sweetness came afterwards but what I used to enjoy now feels too crude. Full body, carbonation, long bitter alcoholic finish and general WTF sensation.

a long time ago we used to be friends

Shocked, I left Ms. Dover and her friend and took the bus home. It happens to be that we live right by Chouffeland, a small street bar that pours Brassarie d’Achouffe ales from its 3 taps but mostly serves commercial bottled lagers to the d’Ouchebags of the neighbourhood. The Shmupis, two AVID fans of Belgian ales, such avid fans that calling them avid fans is belittling the phenomenon, had checked in there so I stopped by and called The Secret Agent, who just returned from work. In need of hop-infusion, I ordered Chouffe Houblon. The Secret Agent opted for Mc Chouffe which I’ve already written about. Mine was exactly what the doctor prescribed: Hazy golden blond liquid protected by a bright white frothy head that smells hoppy; some grass, some fruit and grapefruit, a little alcoholic too, but nothing to fuss about. It tasted bitter, hoppy and fun. With a light-to-medium body, long, bitter finish and a surprising balance, it was a fun beer for a summery night. Yup, late September, sun sets practically in the afternoon, thanks to the thoughtless arrogant bastards that run this country, but temperature is still in the upper 20’s (Celsius, right?).

How was the Mc Chouffe? It was good. Sweet, bun-like aroma, a little malt and some wine. It tasted sweet and malty and had a full body, mild carbonation and a long malty finish. Good beer. I was happy that I could enjoy a full dose of strong Belgian ale; during tastings we only sample beer and at home we share bottles and hardly ever drink Belgian beer these days. All in all it was a good experience.

With the Mc Chouffe and beers #113, #114 and #115 I Must Try Before I Die in my system, falling asleep and putting family shit behind, if only for a short while, was easy.

Drink Historically.

This is how  I often preferred my music, circa 1997: Slowish, heavier, grinding vocals with heavy accent that overshadows the words, pressed on vinyl packed in sleeves loaded with Pictish imagery and complex Celtic knot-work.

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Beer-wise, back then I drank mostly alco-pops (I lived in England and Hooch just came into the market and made getting drunk less painful) and cheap lager. Couldn’t tell lager from ale, but that’s what my ex always ordered at the pub; a pint of lager. When we felt like splurging we paid for perfection and got a six-pack of Stella Artois.
Meanwhile in Scotland, Williams Brothers Brewing Company released Heather Ales historic beer series,  sharing common ground with the records I was playing: pride in the regional history and myth and fascinating knotwork. I can’t recall seeing the bottles back then, definitely not in the offy where we got our booze; there’s a difference between being into beer and being into drinking, see? I would’ve probably not buy the bottles had I seen them anyway. I was skint and, let’s face it, cheap, and there’s no way I’d have spent my thinning budget on fancy beer.

That was then, this is now. Knotwork is still beautiful, Celtic punk still rules (tho I rarely listen to it), but my fascination with Scotland has drifted to new shores – just look at the fat Scottish Beer category tab to the right of this blog entry.

Heather Ales are recreated from old Highlands ale recipes. Traditionally bitterness and preservation were achieved using local herbs and plants, not hops, but because commercial bottled beer has to hold up for a few months at least, minimal amount of hops is added to the beer. There are five different beers in the series, sold either individually or in a 4-pack titled Historic Ales from Scotland which is a variety pack of 4 out of the 5. The Secret Agent and I tasted 3 of them so far,and here are the tasting notes.

Heather Ales Ebulum is the first we tried, courtesy of the Dead Swedish Girl who shared it at a tasting last spring. That’s a recreation of a 16th century domestic recipe where elderberries are added to the brew during fermentation. It’s a tasty beer. Black and opaque with heavy berry and chocolate aroma, heavy body, and roast, a little smoke and some coffee in the mouth. So many of my favourite traits in one beer – an addition of wood would’ve made it perfect.

Next we tried Heather Ales Alba. Introduced to the Scottish Highlanders by the Vikings, this is a 7.5% abv. drink with pine and spruce shoots. We sampled it twice, first at a spring beer tasting organized by Beer and Beyond and then at Nimrod’s. After sampling Beerlao. My tasting notes date back to march, that’s six months ago and testify that I had hard time dealing with this beer. Its colour is hazy reddish amber and its aroma contains moss, mold and some bubblegum (where did this come from? weird…) It has weird bitterness and jellybeans – so much for traditional beer!In March I remarked that I wouldn’t taste it again but then in May I did but didn’t take any notes. What’s also weird is that between uploading the notes and writing this entry I didn’t look at them and was quite surprised to read them; I recall liking Alba and really feeling the pine. Maybe it’s the result of drinking literally dozens of Simcoe and Chinook-dominated IPA’s.

The latest we tried is Heather Ales Fraoch, the label of which is so beautiful it can easily compete with Scatha’s album covers! I think that’s the first one that was brewed in the series. Heather flowers are added to the boiling malt and another batch of flowers is added right before fermentation. This is thought to be the oldest style of ale still produced in the world. The beer pours greenish and pale and smells flowery and melon-like. Taste reminds me of light summer fruit and its body is light. Despite the name and the serious label, the beer was surprisingly delicate, really delicate and quite nice.

Heather Ales Fraoch is listed in the book and therefore it’s beer #112 I Must Try Before I Die. though not listed in the book, I’d also love to try Kelpie – the seaweed beer that’s also in the historic ales collection –  before I die.

Listing Beer Before the New Year

Ugh, time’s running out! Exam on Thursday, then 2 papers, then another killer exam on the 11th. I must’ve been tripping while signing up to two summer courses. Never again! Anyway, before I head back to the other table, where colourful, overly-markered Marketing Management textbooks are waiting for my return, I gotta tell you about 4 American beers I drank recently. They don’t have much in common, but since my drinking pace is faster than my writing, I have to catch up.

Anchor Steam Beer is a pretty common craft stuff, but for me it was a first. I was sure that its  brewing process involved steaming in one way or another, but then I read, became a little less ignorant and understood why there was nothing really unusual in this beer. I mean, it’s alright: condensed, rich white head above clear golden body, rich malty, warming aroma and taste that brings forward both the hops and the malt. With its light body and soft carbonation, Anchor Steam is a very communicative beer, but far from being exciting. But sometimes beer should just be beer, not a crazy roller coaster.

REL always brings the most interesting stuff to the tasting table, and it seems that they always arrive via the strangest connections: friends of his friends or some person he once met and then found herself in a brewery tour in Vermont and thought of REL and his hobby/line of work (yup, he makes money brewing beer)… And the coolest thing is that he never gets generic pale lagers. Far from it: as far as Sierra Nevada Southern Hemisphere Harvest goes. Clear and nutty liquid, wine and cherry aroma, hoppily bitter but not too dry, especially with the malt-bread undertones and bitter finish. It was a good beer, like it usually is with Sierra Nevada’s beers.

Off to the East Coast and to a sample of Weyerbacher Brewing Co.’s Double Simcoe IPA, brought from Europe, I think, by idonis. That’s a hazy amber beer that’s loaded with – surprise! –  Simcoe hops that are characterized with piney aroma and citrusy taste. I smelled pine alright, but along with pine came Kef-li, a vintage Israeli onion-flavoured snack. Naturally, that onion snicked to the mouth as well and joined the hoppy bitterness, and then stayed for the aftertaste. It was kinda fun and evoked a new culinary trend in our household.

fun with kef-li

Finally, another East Coast ale whose name indicates its content, Cascazilla from Ithaca Beer Co. We shared it at the same tasting we had the Double Simcoe and it was OK, not much more. Murky amber in the eyes, peach and pear in the nose, soft bitterness in the mouth, soft fizz and hoppy finish. Despite the name, no extremities were found in this beer whatsoever. But a listed beer is a listed beer and brilliant, mediocre or shitty, I’m clad to cross it off my list.

So these were beers #108, #109, #110 and #111 I Must Try Before You Die. Happy Jewish New Year to those who celebrate. Skip that supermarket wine your aunt bought – it’s a shame to waste your calories intake and your liver on that crap – drink water and pour yourself a cup of decent brew upon your return home. I’m back at the desk!

Dogfish Head-to-Head

Seems like there’s been quite a hype around Dogfish Head. Fellow bloggers review their stuff, fellow beergeeks get a hold on bottles and 4 of their beers appear in 1001 Beers you Must Try Before You Die. It’s one of those breweries that I always feel like I need to drink more of. Innovative brews and beautiful, ever-changing (and easy to peel) labels are a good reason to follow Dogfish Head. And the labels are beautiful. So beautiful that beer blogger Beer Drinker Rob from the Daily Beer Review even held a contest for which the prizes were Dogfish Head labels signed by artist Tara MacPherson.

So far we drank 2 out of the  4 represented in the book. We shared 90 Minute Imperial IPA at a tasting that took place in early July. I must admit that we got an old bottle which clearly affected our impression. We smelled hops, a little citrus and alcohol. At 9% ABV one would not be surprised to smell alcohol, but other reviews I read don’t mention this trait Taste was bitter but rather soft and reminiscent of acetone. Body was medium, carbonation quite alright an finish was bitter and alcoholic. In a perfect world I would’ve bought another bottle, but I’m in the Middle East, where most imported beer belongs to the pale lager category.

Last week we drank Raison D’Etre at home, which I liked much better. Cloudy mahogany in colour, no head and like the name hints, strong raisin aroma, but also hard candy and raspberry.  It tastes sweet, wine-like with a touch of wood, with a full body, no carbonation and smooth texture. Neither The Secret Agent, nor a few other friends who tasted it before fell off their chairs, but although it wasn’t as good as the Aprihop and the Burton Baton that friends shared at tastings recently, I kinda like it.

Raison D’Etre and 90 Minute Imperial IPA are beers #106 and #107 I must try before I die.

Famous Five

Not quite sure how we came to mention Enid Blyton‘s series, The Famous Five, The Secret Seven (my favourite) and The Adventurous Series at this week’s tasting that took place in our place, but the Famous Five opening theme has been stuck with me ever since. Not going to embed the clip here, mind you, but the association is clear: out of the 15  bottles shared in our small living room, 5 are on my list. There are always bottles from the list in the  group tastings, because The Secret Agent and I mind the list when we shop, order and share. We provided two out of the five, 2 coincidentally popped up and another one was shared by The Beer Greek who was list-minded on his business trip to Copenhagen a few months ago.
We opened our contribution quite early on the tasting, as they were significantly lighter than most of the stuff we had.

First we had Unibroue Éphémère Apple, which is Unibroue’s summer fruit beer, followed by cassis, cranberry and peach – a fruit beer for each season. That’s the only one in the series that appears in the book but one out of the five that are represented in the 1001 Beers book. The label shows a fantastic drawing of a faery goddess that I find fascinating and at the same time cheesy. This is a white ale that’s brewed with apple must. It’s hazy greenish gold in colour and its white head dissolves quickly. I smelled ripe apple, oranges, blue cheese and something green and fruity and tasted sweet fruitiness and bubblegum. The beer had a medium body and sweet and sticky finish. It was quite alright and I’m tempted to get my hold on the other three seasonal fruit beers, although it means getting distracted from my mission.

Our bottle of Rogue Mocha Porter has been cooling in the fridge for a couple of months now. It got shoved to the back and I’m glad we found it and got to share it with the crew. With a label portrays a blue collar, mullet-sporting guy. The mocha porter is the love child between his morning diner drink and his after-work drink at the bar. Ugh, how’s that for a Bruce Springsteen cliche’? The beer pours reddish black with a small tan head and definitely smells of mocha. Other than mocha I sensed roastiness, chocolate sweetness and hints of sherry. Taste-wise the Rogue Mocha Porter is bitter and hoppy, but not too heavy and towards the end of the sip the malt is revealed. It has a medium body and a slightly dry finish. Quite a success.

The Covert Beer Tycoon (we’ll see if this nick works) brought an old bottle of Trappist Rochefort 10. That’s the second beer The Secret Agent and I drank on Belgian ground last October, at Le Bouffon Du Roi in Namur (the only place in our trip that served us glasses of tap water free of charge, kudos to them!). According to the notes in my travel journal we smellled chocolate and yeast and tasted an almost-winey sweetness. We prefered the first beer we had there, which was Trappist Rochefort 8. Back then, less than a year ago, we weren’t used to taking tasting notes, hence the lack of details. This week’s Rochefort 10 poured cloudy brown with a bubbly light tan head. and smelled of chocolate liquor. It tasted like sweet and heavy wine and had a full body and sweet aftertaste. Although it’s an expired bottle I pretty much enjoyed it. The crew agreed that aging beer is pretty much impossible in Israel coastal line. Well, comparing this week’s notes with lines written in a busy bar in the brewery’s proximity, it seems that the beer kept its basic traits despite its age and location.

Midtfyns Imperial Stout is probably the last bottle that the Beer Greek got from the list I sent him. I loved it. how can I not like a beer that pours black? Most of them are good. This one also had a tan film on top. The creamy chocolate aroma with the hints of cherry and wood was great and so was the taste: sweet, a little wood and cherry, deep and complicated. The beer has  full body and a very soft carbonation. I could have finished half a bottle by myself but there were 8 other tasters around the table and I was the last in the round anyway.

Fifth and last for this entry was De Molen Hemel & Aarde Bruichladdich Barrel. There was a controversy as to whether I should cross it off my list. Dead Swedish Girl, who is more conservative said I shouldn’t. She believes I should hunt the classic Hemel and Arade and list it. Others based their decisions on previous entries, like the *rum cask* Innis and Gunn, Ola Dubh *40* and Brewdog Paradox *whichever*. Naturally, I took the others’ side, hoping to drink the original version one day. This one was shared by The 9th, who brought it from Amsterdam, I think. It pours opaque, almost black with a tan film and bears an amazing smoke, burnt, iodine aroma. It tastes sweet, burnt-ash-dry with soft hints of vanilla. It’s a heavy beer. No carbonation. no need for them either. Texture is sleek and its finish bears wood and is slightly burning. This is the bottle that closed the session. I could’ve spent an evening with this bottle all by myself, it is THAT amazing.

Those were beers #101, 102, 103, 104, 105 I Must Try Before I Die. Hey, That’s past 10%!

Midi Bear and Troubles doing the Kelly and Brenda thing.


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