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 “March, 2013”

Switzerland On My Mind

Before we take off to a new adventure, a short recap of last winter’s Swiss beer loot. It’s past midnight already so yes, it’s last winter we’re talking about – welcome, spring!

Locher Appenzeller Hanfblüte is a nice, refreshing lager that’s brewed with hemp. It is a hazy beer that looks a little greenish. Not like Saint Patrick’s green beer, mind you; like greenish gold – quite fits its contents. Hemp oil, pine needles and lemon are apparent in the nose, followed by a fresh hempy-lemony taste. The beer is light-bodied, fizzy and has a malty finish. Based on Appenzeller stuff we had, we didn’t have high expectations, so this one surprise us.

We did, however, held high expectations from BFM La Meule, if only because of its name, as meu’lè in Hebrew means excellent. This is another herb-beer, this time top-fermented and brewed with sage. This beer is strongly influenced by Vallonian beer tradition. 6% abv., cloudy piss-colour with a frothy white head (and a flip top!) and strong herbal aromas: sage, that’s supposed to be the main attraction of this brew, hides underneath layers of nutmeg, olives and coriander.

However, it reveals itself in the mouth, along with delicate sweetness. Also, there’s something fruity about La Meule, that becomes more dominant in the finish. It feels chewy and has medium body. And it’s  a fine beer – a good deal, isn’t it?

Whereas these two spice-girls above are nice thirst-quenchers, Appenzeller Schwarzer Kristall is simply wonderful. You may ask, what there to be wonderful about dark beer. Well, based on previous tastings of Appenzeller beer, we weren’t hoping for much. However, that oily, opaque, black liquid bore great roasty, chocolate syrup (or maybe chocolate liquor?) aroma with hints of liquorice. It has rich, sweet flavour, faintly wooden, faintly dry. The body is full, there is hardly any carbonation and this makes sipping smooth and enjoyable. Other than the crafty Bad Attitude brews, Appenzeller Schwarzer Kristall is the best Swiss beer I have tasted up to date.

Appenzeller Hanfblüte, BFM La Meule and Appenzeller Schwarzer Kristall are beers #201, #202 and #203 I Must Try Before I Die.

Happy Spring!

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200!

It’s 10 minutes past midnight. I’m a bit tipsy after a single-hop tasting followed by a visit to our local pub. Gotta wake up in a few hours in order to make it to a conference – work-related – and yet, I really want to cross the 200th mark in the book tonight, so here I am.

Why tonight? Because my “blog entries to be written” spreadsheet’s full of data that needs to make it to this blog, that’s why, and also, I really want to cross out the 200th beer.

pabstLet’s start with ber #199. That would be Pabst Blue Ribbon. Yes, this old-school-turned-hipster beer is listed in the book. Why is it there, this “[…] uninteresting, factory-made, corn-based lager?” for its retro status, of course! Unlike the beers mentioned in the last blog entry, but like most American beers, PBR is not imported to Israel. Why should it? We have our own share of bad lagers, domestic and imported alike. But our dear friend Oren, that if it’s up to us will be beatified while still gracing Planet Earth with his presence, brought a can from one of his business excursions. Surprise! There’s nothing interesting here. That usual metallic, apple and corny aroma, that faint synthetic bitterness and cornish taste, that light body and insignificant finish. Definitely a beer I could do without. Pabst Blue Ribbon is beer #199 I must Try Before I Die, and let’s move on to the crown jewel – here it goes:

Spending time with competitive drinkers, AKA Ratebeerians, milestones is a part of my beergeek routine, and when Dead Swedish Girl was about to hit 1000 American beers, we knew it’s an excuse to celebrate with something unique. The last blog entry pretty much summed up whatever there is to say about American beer in Israel, so we had to seek the celebratory beer outside the local shelves.

DSG is one of those ‘been there, done that’ gals. She’s tasted rarities and limited editions to no end; Three Floyds Dark Lord doesn’t even tickle her. We needed something hardcore, something festive to celebrate her 1000th American beer. Something that none of our beergeek friends would’ve thought of bringing it in their suitcase. It was time for desperate actions and thus I crossed a line I promised myself to never, ever cross; I sought a colleague’s help.

See, I work in a pharmaceutical marketing company. I’m an office/HR person, but the vast majority of the staff consists of marketing personnel. They always travel, them lucky bastards. From conference to kick-off, from stand-alone to congress, my colleagues are always somewhere where there’s good beer. Yet, I never ask them to get me anything; mixing business and pleasure still makes me feel a little awkward. However, desperate actions, right? As the Dead Swedish Girl was getting ready to drink her 1000th American, I looked at the corporate calendar and found out that we have people in Florida, at the Lysosomal World Symposium (trust me, you don’t wanna know what this is). One email to the nicest product manager in the organization, a short list of potential beers that can be brought from the Sunshine State and within a couple of days it landed on my desk. The King of Beers. Budweiser.

budweiser_bong

shotgun!

A tall-boy Budweiser it was and we shared it at a tasting.

Yeah, shoot me. In my circles American Budweiser is considered a novelty. How was it? Surprise! Budweiser pours clear, greenish pale-golden with white head. It has a sweet rice milk aroma and a sweet, apple-like taste and faint something that I cannot put my finger on, so let’s call it nothingness. Light body, too long finish. Pretty tasteless, very light and not too fulfilling. But hey, this is both a beer we never tasted AND it’s in the book – beer #200 I must Try Before I Die, so thank you Elad V. for being a beer angel.

So yeah, in the next entry we’ll pass %20. That’s pretty cool, isn’t it? Let’s hope that the next 800 – 801, actually – are better than these two fine American brews.

A Tale of Two Cities

You know all those American beers we review? We work hard to get them. Hustle friends, trade, be kind to strangers. We sometimes pay thrice as much for a bottle of decent American craft beer than what the Average Joe pays at Trader Joe’s. American beers are simply unavailable here in Israel. I guess it’s a combination of higher shipping costs and the natives’ preference of heavy Belgians that leaves us an availability of three American brands only, of which one is Miller Genuine Draft.

Thankfully the other two are Brooklyn and Samuel Adams. These two breweries produce some great stuff, although most of it doesn’t make it here. The importers are still hesitant and stick to the popular and mentally accessible styles released by the breweries. Thus, for the limited editions and seasonal releases we still need to lobby whoever visits (from) the US or takes a pilgrimage to a large craft beer store in Europe. See, none of the 11 different Sams that were opened in the historic tasting that took place in our place last St. Patrick’s Day were bought here, though only a handful of them can be considered as rarities.

cool mug!

cool mug!

Anyway, this entry is about lagers, which are most likely the best-selling beers from each brewery. for the purpose of this blog we drank Samuel Adams Boston Lager in a smoky, trendy and quite repulsive Tel Avivian bar, into which we entered one Friday night. The glass was filled with clear golden liquid that was protected by white head. We managed to smell some straw, malt and minerals but because the bar was so condensed sniffing was quite a challenge. The beer tasted bitter and wholesome and with its light body and sticky texture, I could’ve easily adopted it as a default summer beer in our regular, had our regular not been a brewpub, or if the other pubs we frequent didn’t carry kegs of Pilsner Urquell.

 

cool stars!

cool stars!

We opened a bottle of Brooklyn Lager last night, a a companion to a rich and heavy stew that called for a thirst-quencher. Brooklyn is Vienna lager, darker and more complex than your usual blond. The beer has a clear deep amber colour and it smells of candy, malt and caramel. Caramel was apparent in the mouth as well as bitterness. Light body, long and mildly bitter finish. Quite enjoyable but like former, this lager is definitely not the brewery’s best feature.

Samuel Adams Boston Lager and Brooklyn Lager are beers #197 and #198 I Must Try Before I Die. These are certainly not the last American beers on this mission. In fact, two other American beers which are unavailable in Israel will be the center of the next entry. Stay tuned.

 

US Does Belgium (and vice versa)

Ommegang3

new label art – fancy!

Reading blogs and forums, it seems that for European US is Beer Heaven, whereas Americans, as much as they take pride in their beer, carry their inferiority complex to our beloved beverage. This is not surprising. Give them Italian Sculpting, English literature, Swiss cheese and French luxury bags – and Belgian beers. Two of the finest Belgian beers we came across as of late are actually American.

Brewery Ommegang has two beers in the book We already covered Ommegang Abbey Ale, which we drank at least twice in the past year. The brewery resides in the Belgian colony of Cooperstown, NY, where good beer is made and no arms are cut during the production. The brewery is owned by Duvel Moortgat, whose beers are quite popular in Israel – this keeps my hopes to get Ommebeer in Tel Aviv quite high.  Ommegang Three Philosophers is probably the brewery’s crown jewel: this Quadruple is a blend of 98% Quadruple ale and 2% Liefman Kriek. This results in a layered, complex drink that has cherry and sour elements in the nose as well as alcohol and flowers in bloom. It tastes slightly sour, but also sweet and yeasty. As in other beers I drank from the brewery, this one too is pretty carbonated.

I adored Three Philosophers the first time I drank the beer and I’m glad to say that hundreds of beers later, I still like it alot.

CelisWhiteCelis White is the creation of Pierre Celis, who is the mind behind Hoegaarden. This is another hardcore-Belgian beer that’s brewed in the US, Belgian wheat beer this time. This is a beer with rocky history behind it. After selling Hoegaarden to Interbrew-Labatt in the 80’s due to a financial mess that was caused by fire, Celis family immigrated to Texas where Pierre started brewing under his name. In 1996 Celis Brewery too was sold to a multinational and after the Miller plant where the beer was brewed was shut down a couple of their brands, among them is Celis White, were sold to Michigan Brewery that was closed in 2012. Pierre Celis died in 2011 and a few months ago his family bought back the trademark and is now planning to reopen and brew Pierre Celis’ original recipes in Celis Brewery original hometown, Austin, TX. It’s a story with a happy ending but as of now it is unclear when the beer is available again. Luckily Shachar fetched a bottle on a trip to Germany. I’m glad we don’t have to hunt it down. This is a great Belgian witbier, pale cloudy blond with white head, delicate spicy aroma with the necessary orange peel, sweet taste with sour touch and some petroleum, full body, chewy texture and this unique, delicate balance that makes it all such an enjoyable drink.

Ommegang Three Philosophers and Celis White are beers #195 and #196 I Must Try Before I Die.

3 Continenets, 4 Beers, 1 entry

It is time for another random list of beers tasted in a number of occasions over the past few months. Other than basic ingredients the following don’t have much in common, but whatever.

Goose Island India Pale Ale is a pretty much ass-kickin’ IPA. It is amber in colour and has a smooth, peachy aroma with some hints of grass. The taste indicates that the bottle we shared with our friends was a little old but it was still tasty – fruity and mildly bitter. Medium-bodied, fruity finish and pleasing.

5 Barrel Pale Ale from Odell Brewery that resides in beautiful Fort Collins, Colorado, is the first beer in the book. It has a beautiful label that looks a little like block-print. Sadly, the beer itself didn’t stand up to the beautiful label. I believe it’s due to age but it was rather stale and tasteless. The aroma was alright though, mango and asian persimmon (also known as sharon fruit) were dominant.

Dragon Stout hails from Jamaica, a country whose rum we love. This stout is high on alcohol, 7.5%, and its recipe includes both corn syrup and sugar. The result: sticky-sweet aroma and an indistinguishable fruity sweetness in the mouth. The beer is not good and its thin body adds to the disappointment.

Sinebrychoff Porter is one of the three Finnish representatives in the book, but the only one that’s actually available outside Finland. However, its source is a Finnish beergeek that traded with the Dead Swedish Girl and Troubles. This is a decent Baltic Porter, black-bodied and tan-headed with roast, raisins and a little wood in the nose. It tastes dry, wooden and bitter and finishes roasty too. It is a decent beer .

As usual, I save the best for last. Tusker Lager is one of the worst beers I have tasted up to date. Seriously. This Kenyan Pale Lager “is best drunk for refreshment – rather than taste” says the book. Writer Tim Hampson actually admits that there’s nothing to this beer, so why must I try it before I die? To witness how shitty it is? I can sure live well without trying yet another piss-looking liquid, especially one that smells like rotten fruit and has no taste at all yet still manages to be disgusting. It has a light body and a watery finish. Now, remember the rotten fruit aroma? Apparently it was a hint to the garbage juice aftertaste. It’s a disgusting beer, I’m telling you. There’s another Tusker beer in the book: Tusker Malt Lager. I’d like to say that I’m not looking forward to drink it but shamefully I do, because beergeekness sometimes equals masochism.

Indeed, Goose Island India Pale Ale, Odell 5 Barrel Pale Ale, Dragon Stout, Sinerbrychoff Porter and Tusker Lager are beers #190, #191, #192, #193 and #194 I Must Try Before I Die.

Schneider Brothers

I believe that’s a first: two consecutive beers on the list.

Both Aventinus and Aventinus Weizen-Eisbock from Weissbierbrauerei G. Schneider and Sohn are listed in the 1001 book. We drank these two shortly after drinking Schneider Weisse on the train from Basel to Zürich and by that crossed out the three beers the brewery has in the book. Aventinus, Bavarian wheat doppelbock with 8.2% abv. which, despite traditionally being a spring beer, is a great winter warmer. The Secret Agent and I drank it in December and it was quite appropriate. The beer pours cloudy muddy brown with a quick dissolving pinkish white head. It has banana, raisins and apple puree’ aroma and a sweet, yeasty, a little plastic taste. Full body, smooth texture, long phenoly aftertaste. We really enjoyed this one. The Weizen-Eisbock is an iced version of Aventinus that Shachar got us when he guided a tour in Germany and the Czech Republic last November. Its alcoholic content is 12% and natürlich, there’s an alcoholic dominance in the nose and the mouth. Other than alcohol we smelled raisins and cheesecake and tasted sour soft cheese before the alcohol-derived sweetness arrived. It’s a full-bodied, smooth-textured beer. Quite good, but the ‘regular’ version is better.

Aventinus and Aventinus Weizen-Eisbock are beers #188 and #189 I Must Try Before I Die.

An Unexpected Surprise In The Fridge.

la trappe dubbel

That bottle of La Trappe Dubbel has been standing in our fridge for months and nobody wanted to touch it. Another Belgian-style, heavy beer. Unsuitable for the summer, no interesting enough for the rest of the year. We drank it before of course, and that’s how our beer-infested memory cells categorized it.

Boy were we wrong. One night I just took it out of the fridge – it was during another FIFO attempt – and poured it. Dark brown, nearly red colour that smells of plum and berries and has a balanced, fruity sweet and slightly tangy taste. The texture is smooth and the beer is drinkable despite being 7%abv. Medium-to-full body and a long, pleasing aftertaste. It is a great beer and quite different from the Trappist beers from across the border. If you like your ales heavy and sweet – you must try this one.

La Trappe Dubbel is beer #187 I Must Try Before I Die. Have a great Saturday y’all! We’re off to breakfast by the beach.

 

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