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 “January, 2013”

No Need to Compromise.


Celiac awareness as well as gluten-free diets that became trendy in the past couple of years. have both created a consumers’ base and demand for, well, gluten-free products. This of course includes beer. When we started blogging about beer – almost two years ago in our Hebrew blog beerdrinking – the only gluten-free beer available in the market was New Grist. As such, it was almost one of the most expensive beers available in the country and doubtless, one of the worst. Meanwhile other importers discovered the nieche andsome more brands appeared: Celia from the Czech Republic, Mongozo and recently – Estrella Dam Daura. A homebrewer who attempted at brewing buckwheat-based ale went commercial with the help of contract brewers Mivshelet Ha’am.

Predictably, There’s a gluten-free beer in the book. Bard’s The Original Sorghum Malt Beer is a lager-type  American craft beer that’s suitable to those who avoid gluten. I’m not one of them. Quite the opposite actually and not because of beer or bread even: the seitan-based vegan döner kebab that’s sold at the Vegetarian Shawarma in Tel Aviv is one of the best dishes a cruelty-free foodie can enjoy in the city. Anyway, Bard’s not available in Israel and my Excellent Little Brother got me a bottle from Wholefoods in New York. How was the beer? Greenish gold, clear and headless. It smelled sweet and apple-like and tasted at first a little sour, vinegar-like and then sweet. It had almost no carbonation, light body and short finish. Despite being craft beer, the target audience must be fans of pale lagers. Our beer buddies hated it, I didn’t really get the beer; it’s pretty tasteless. Maybe it’s a beggars can’t be choosers case and celiacs have to compromise? Uh, I beg to differ. Can’t drink good beer? Move on to distilled beer. Whiskey.

Anyway, apparently Bard’s The Original Sorghum Malt Beer is beer #167 I Must Try Before I Die. Oh well.


Multi-Taps in Israel

Despite the recent craft beer renaissance, With an annual beer consumption of 14L per capita Israel still has a long way to go until it truly becomes a beer country. Like in many other countries, the local industry is dominated by two multinationals: Heineken (represented by Tempo Industries) and Carlsberg (represented by Israeli Beer Breweries). Each markets a number of beers. The former has local icons such as Macabbee, Nesher and Goldstar as well as Murphy’s, Newcastle, Samuel Adams, Paulaner and of course, Heineken. The latter has Wheinstephan, Guinness, Carlsberg, Tuborg (and Israel’s own Tuborg Red), Stella Artois, Leffe and probably a bunch of others. The duopoly enjoys a market share estimated in 95%-98%, which means that until a serious shift in consumers’ taste occurs, importers and local craft breweries hold 2-5% of the market.

The way things are, it is a miracle that Israelis are actually in the business of making and marketing beer  in the first place and a wonder that there are bars that serve more than the taps offered to them by the big player they are connected to. There are a bunch of places that offer 10 or even 15 taps, but real multi-taps that operate a system consists of 50 taps or more are still a rare sight here. As far as I know there are three bars like that. All three are located in Central Israel.

porterandsonslogoThe first and oldest, i.e being in operation for 3 years or so is Porter and Sons in Tel Aviv city center. Opened by industry veterans, owners of Norma Jean bistro/ former owners of Norman bar/ the people behind Norman Premium who import brands such as Duvel Moortgat, Chimay, Brooklyn Brewery and Fuller’s. With 50 beers on tap, dozens of bottles and special keg-events in occasions such as Independence Day (Israeli craft beers), Oktoberfest and winter – time for heavy Belgian ales, this is a favourite spot and a must for beer lovers. We sit at the Porter and Sons quite alot and the place has been mentioned in the blog before. Recent visits yielded notes about Erdinger Dunkel on tap, that had sweet plastic, caramel, malt and raisin aroma and sweetish yet slightly bitter taste. Of all the German beer available in Israel, I think that Erdinger is our least favourite. It just isn’t as great as other, even commercial, German brands have.


I also got to drink a couple of Belgian beers there lately: Hoegaarden is widely available and its jar-sized glass can be seen in plenty of bars, only The Secret Agent and I don’t frequent plenty of bars. Visit The Beer Gatherer’s Facebook page to see where we usually drink – we posted a link to DSG’s picture gallery that sums it up. Syncing my 1001 follow-up list  to my Andriod allowed me on our last visit to the bar to look up beers that need to be sampled, so Hoegaarden it was, and it was not bad at all – quite good even. Fresh, citrusy, chewy and as rich as Belgian wheat beer gets. We also ordered Tripel Karmeliet on tap. I used to love Karmeliet but now it’s just too sweet and heavy on my taste buds, with too much honey and too much flower.

2 more multi-tap bars joined the local scene last summer. Both are located in the monstrous suburb Rishon LeZion (which is actually the 4th largest city in the country). 55 Drafts & More is a corporate bar that is a part of a cinema multiplex in the western industrial area. Size matters, the owners think, and quantity counts more than quality. Mostly commercial beer, apathetic staff and high prices to captured audience or perhaps an audience that doesn’t really care about beer and is just happy to have another faceless, soulless night out option in the ‘burbs.

The Pirate Pub is the complete opposite. Located on the other side of town, in the old eastern industrial area in what used to  be a wedding hall and then a night club that caters to the Russian immigrant crowd, the Pirate is huge, filled with endless wooden boots and a great, rustic atmosphere. Despite the trilingual menu, it is clear that the target audience is Russian: the food served there is not your typical bar food but mostly Russian dishes, the beer in the 50 taps includes plenty of German and Czech brews that are popular among this crowd, the staff is Russian and so is the default language you’ll be approached to. The rustic atmosphere mentioned above is expressed in the relaxed, homey feeling on one hand, but on the other hand it is also apparent in the somewhat low-maintenance of the taps and some lack of knowledge among the friendly and willing staff.

The Pirate Pub. This goes on and on (note the ceiling)

The Pirate Pub. This goes on and on (note the ceiling)

Being Tel Avivians who don’t drink and drive but are also too busy to take the long bus ride to the suburb we don’t frequent the Pirat as much as we would have liked. Last time we visited was 3 months ago. They threw an Oktoberfest event with Bischoff Kellerbier, Löwenbräu Oktoberfestbier and Tucher Bergkirchweih Festbier on tap. We drank them all and also took a mug of Gambrinus Premium that was a bit old but we drank it anyway because it’s a pretty hard to get pils. Its aroma was delicate and crispy and it tasted somewhat sweet and a little medicinal – not what you’d expect to taste. Old. The Pirate Pub is one of those places where it’s good to ask what’s popular or keg was recently replaced, but despite all its flaws, which might have been fixed since our visit, it’s one of the nicer places for beer in central Israel.

Erdinger Dunkel, Hoegaarden, Tripel Karmeliet and Gambrinus Premium are beers #163′ #164, #165 and #166 I Must Try Before I Die.

A Weekend In Switzerland Part III: Progress

The European Beer Consumers Union tells us that “The eastern two-thirds [of Switzerland], that is roughly the German-speaking part […] is very much pale lager country, with very few deviations from the Germanic norm. Even micros and brewpubs tend to produce little else than unfiltered pale lagers, a few dark variations and the odd Weizen.” unfortunately, the newer beer institutions we visited on our short weekend in Basel and Zürich did little to contradict the quoted statement.

We drank the first round of beer about an hour after arriving to Basel. We checked in at our hotel, Ibis near the Railway station and headed straight to Unser Bier. Located in a converted factory that is now used for a trendy backpackers hostel, the brewery and the brewpub, Unser Bier was established in 1998 by a group of homebrewers, owned by thousands of shareholders and in 2011 produced some 600,000 liters that were consumed locally, in Basel and vicinity. Whereas the cheeky king can be seen in trendy cafe’s all over town and crates adorned by his face fill the local Drinks of the World, it was nowhere to be seen in Zürich. We were lucky to visit the brewpub, as it is open only two evenings a week. We were also fortunate to find the entrance (which is to the left of the main entrance of the building, in a courtyard).

High ceiling, minimal decoration, smartly dressed audience and a supercool lampshade made of beer glasses make it a modern, trendy spot. The Secret Agent and I prefer more shady looking watering holes, but we thought, maybe the creative design indicates creative beer?  IMG_2677Well, not quite. We sampled the 4 beers that were offered on tap: blond, amber, Wheinschaft – Christmas beer – and schwarzbier. All were really fresh and accurate. Granted, you may think, we were drinking at the brewpub, with only a door standing between us and the fermentation tanks. It isn’t taken for granted in Israel, that’s for sure. Fresh, accurate, filtered and not bad, but nothing was really great. We then shared a bottle of Aypiey, their organic IPA that again was alright: some citrus and pine in the nose and unoffensive bitterness in the mouth, but again not exciting. It’s cool that Unser Bier offers more than the traditional styles, but a bit more risque would have done them good.

IMG_2694Later in the evening, after fun time in Fischerstube we dropped by Cafe’ Hirscheneck, hoping to score a vegan meal. The kitchen was closed by the time we made it there, so we stayed for beer. Appenzeller on tap.  Locher Appenzeller Naturperle was first brewed in 1996 and is Switzerland’s first organic beer. This unfiltered, unpasturized brew contains 5.2% abv and smells a little like vegetable broth, as well as malt and grass. Broth is also apparent in the mouth, along with malt and canned corn water. It has a light body and smooth texture, but hardly any carbonation. I guess it’s because it’s unfiltered that the drink reminded me of vegetable soup, but hey, it was quite fine. The Secret Agent ordered Appenzeller’s helles lager, called Locher Appenzeller Swiss Mountain, which was also quite alright for a lager.

IMG_2763We told you about our first night in Zürich in a previous post. The following day, Saturday, began with hunting down Amboss 5. This is a local brewery that contract brews its stuff elsewhere. Their German-language website and a review on ratebeer indicate that they have some kind of brewpub/ Club. 10:30 a.m on Saturday may be a little too early for beer, but the place was open and we learned that there’s no brewpub in the address, only a warehouse/ distribution center. However, there were people at the place who pointed at a neighbouring cafe’ that pours Amboss 5 beer and brews Amboss coffee – they also roast and grind beans. I love coffee in my beer, both as an addition or as roasty porter/ imperial stout aromata, but these are two separate businesses. The beers we sampled were two rather standard lagers. Amboss Amber, Märzen beer, is grainy and has just a little roast, with fruity bitter taste (quite untypical for the genre). Amboss Blond is standard light lager. Again, alright, refreshing – which is the last thing you want from a beer in the freezing Swiss winter – but standard.

A couple of hours later we were the first customers on the bar at Steinfels, a trendy bar that serves burgers and brews beer in a well-designed space. The beer menu shows an attempt to think out of the Swiss box and we jumped at the opportunity to taste Swiss Saison. Well, it was as aromatic as tea, with cinnamon and jasmine and clove and tasted like tea as well. Nice, but definitely not Saison. The Weizen, however, was very good, with orange peel aroma, biscuit and somewhat sour taste. One of the better beers we tried at the brewpubs we visited. IMG_2783

With the 1001 mission in mind, we allowed ourselves to drift away from Swiss beer and visit Bonnie Prince Pub. Located near Zürich’s touristic old town, this is a Scottish-like public house that serves commercial Heineken bottles and cans as well as Scotch and Scottish beers in a stuffy atmosphere with velvet-covered walls, wooden bar  and squeaky stools and Walkers crisps for sale – of course. They offer some 8 different Scottish beers, out of which we chose Isle of Skye Black Cuillin which is a rather good porter and Harviestoun Old Engine Oil, our reason for dropping by and staying in despite the bartender’s refusal to let us use the Wi-fi. This is the 4th Harviestoun beer we ever drank and like its predecessors, this is one great beer. All black, with honey and cocoa aroma, aggressive cocoa and coffee taste and syrupy, engine oil-like texture. A great beer and definitely a fresh change in the Land of Pale Lager.


Locher Appenzeller Naturperle and Harivestoun Old Engine Oil are beers #162 and #163 I Must Try Before I Die. Stay tuned for the 4th part of the Swiss Weekend series and other 1001 Beers adventures.

Popular for a Reason

Recently we drank two beers that’s been around for quite a while. I’ve been busy chasing rare brews, scamming bottles from my family and hustling my friends that the easily available beer is. Take Duvel for example. Not Duvel Triple Hop or Duvel Single Fermentation that’s making its official draught debut here in Israel. Simple bottled Duvel that’s available all over: at stores, in bars and in restaurants. The Secret Agent drank a bottle on his birthday dinner at the trendy Abraxas North resto-bar, we see it every time we go out, but it took a giveaway that we got at the fancy launch of Duvel Single at the residency of Belgium’s ambassador in Israel for us to drink, rate and write about the beer; we wanted to compare the classic devil beer to the new, lighter version. Well, it pours beautifully: cloudy blond with a big, frothy white head. The aroma is sweet with hints of cookie dough. In the mouth the beer is chewy and bitter, alcoholic and a tad bit dry. It finishes sweet with an alcoholic aftertaste and its body is full. I like Duvel alot, but really, for me drinking a whole glass of the beer is challenging.


Also Wytchwood Hobgoblin. This beer’s quite popular as well: its bottles are sold in one of the supermarket chains, a few bars serve it on tap. Not only is Hobgoblin a popular beer, The Secret Agent and I quite like it, as well as the other Wytchwood products available here, especially Scarecrow and yet, we needed a PR tasting to give this great beer the time of the day and the few lines here. Hobgoblin pours deep bronze with a slightly murky, cream-coloured head.  It smells nutty, toasty  with hints of caramel and  tastes lightly bitter and pleasing. Light carbonation, medium body, smooth texture with bitter finish, it is a really enjoyable beer and one I’d tend to order in a bar.


These two beers are #160 and #161 I Must Try Before I Die. You don’t have to but if you don’t know these two, they are highly recommended.

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