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 category “Scottish Beer”

English Beer Recap Pt. 3 – Scottish and Manx from Cask!

I should be studying for tomorrow’s exam and I would be studying, had the builders not drilled and hammered the flat downstairs, where the hoarder who turned our lives into a nightmare for the better half of the past decade used to reside. So today’s entry is not procrastination, but rather an attempt to make the most of junk time. Anyway, English Beer Recap is becoming interesting, as I’m leaving the bottles behind and get to write about beers I drank from cask – which means that I’m finally getting to share anecdotes and images from the Real Ale Trail The Secret Agent and I took in September 2013.

A little background – 3 months into my new job at the time, launching a huge campaign that involved emails and phone calls during weekends, Rosh HaShana and Yom Kippur, lack of sleep and loss of vitality, The Secret Agent bought us tickets to Manchester. Initially he wanted us to go to Scotland, a long time dream of ours and back then – relevant more than ever, as I was managing both The Glenlivet and Chivas brands in the local market; however, due to the little time I had for proper holiday, we “settled” on Yorkshire. A peek at CAMRA website revealed that a festival in York was taking place at the time we were visiting, Good Beer Guide 2013 indicated that there are good pubs in Huddersfield, and thus an itinerary was constructed.

Let’s keep the personal mode here. I lived in Yorkshire in the 90’s. Fell in love with an English boy I met in Philadelphia, where his touring band was playing – I went backpacking from coast-to-coast, from record store to punk show – and moved in with him in Bradford. It was as intense as only first love can be – full of drama and with amazing background music. To stay within the blog’s realm, C and I drank cheap lagers in the local pubs and I discovered Hooch – the alcopop. I also discovered CAMRA then. Found a zine on the counter at the 1in12 – the local club/ anarchist community space/ info-shop – and picked it up. Had no idea what a Campaign for Real Ale meant, or what Real Ale is (though they served some at the 1in12 – I’m almost certainly sure!), but there was a heartfelt diatribe against the favourite beverage category of 19 y/o me – alcopop. I vaguely recall something about irresponsible drinking and lack of tradition, but maybe it’s adult me who thinks she remembers.

Back to the trip. Hotel rooms/ B&B/ Air BnB in Manchester, Huddersfield and York were booked and so was rental car, and some destinations were marked on the map: Bradford, of course, cos I haven’t been there since 2000, and cos I wanted The Secret Agent to visit the location of so many stories from my formative years; Masham – cos of Black Sheep and Theakston; and the Coast. Coast with capital C, because of the brilliant BBC series that we always get back to and never have enough from. As ambitious and thorough as a documentary series gets. Prior to the trip we watched the relevant episodes and decided that Scarborough and Whitby are a must. Rarely in the past couple of years do we decide on destination first and look for watering holes second, but In Good Beer Guide Book And App We Trust. Oh, and some Yorkshire Dales and Moors and country pubs were also on my wishlist.

Before we went, I went through my list of beers from the book. I was determined to drink most of the beers who were listed, but into the second day of our trip I realized that it’s not gonna happen; cask ales distribution depends on so many factors such as pub owners (free house or chain-bound?); regional distribution is a big thing in the world of casks; and ever-changing selection is also something that characterizes good pubs.

This introduction took too much beer-text space, so let’s get rid of the non-English cask beers from the list. Deuchars IPA hails from Caledonian Brewing Company in¬† Scotland. I found it in a small pub named Ye Dolphin, a small pub in the small coastal town Robin Hood Bay – as picturesque as it gets and one of our favourite spots in this amazing trip. Narrow and steep streets that lead to the foot of the sea, quaint alleys and the end of the English coast-to-coast trail.

coast-to-coastye dolphin robin hood bay

You can see that there’s a seating area outside, and although the weather that day was t-shirt friendly, beergeeks tend to be indoor patrons, where it’s easier to focus on the brew and dwell in the atmosphere. According to the 2008 Book, Deuchars is Scotland’s best-selling cask ale. Book states it’s a 4.4% abv., ratebeer begs to differ and indicated 3.8%. Our beer was clear, golden and had white head. Its aroma was fruity, like preserved fruit, exotic fruit syrup like Monin Passion Fruit, and also had some piss notes. Mild bitter, English hops were apparent in the mouth. Light body, oily, malty finish. deuchars_robin_hood_bay

Second non-English Beer in this English beer recap is Dr Okells IPA from the Isle of Mann. We had it in Old Bell Tavern in Harrogate, a busy place in a location that used to be a toffee shop that also carries a large varieties of bottled and imported beer in a marvelous spa town. We were too busy drinking beer to visit the baths – next time. Last summer someone brought a bottle of this beer to a tasting. It was mediocre at best; however, from cask it was delicious! Clear pale gold with a frothy white head. Slightly citrusy aroma, beet and fresh cut red apples. Bitter and grainy and robust. Medium body, a little carbonated and bitter finish – perfect English India Pale Ale, or Manx, in this case. There are two more beers from Okell’s in the book and I hope to get to drink them soon.

old bell tavern

Dr. Okell IPA and Deuchars IPA are beers #398 and #399 I Must Try Before I Die. More of the Real Ale Trail beers to come ūüôā

Not the proper way to do things.


A medium-sized supermarket chain that specializes in premium/ deli products has recently began importing ales from Scotland. Those who’ve been following this blog¬† know that I’m a fan of Scottish beer. Those who know me in person may also know that I’m a fan of all things Scottish – from Irn-Bru to single malt, From Scatha to Stiff-Little Fingers, from Irvine Welsh to — to no one — despite many fall-outs we’ve had along the way, he is still one of my favourite writers. Anyway, with¬† an abundance of brands and types of beers to choose from, they went for 4 relatively shitty beers. Nothing disappointing because you learn not to expect much from purchase department personae, who look to fill a category gap with the least expenses and the best profit. It is disappointing to find out that one of these shitty beers is no other that Black Wolf 1488, or 1488 Whisky Beer, that’s also in the book. Well, it’s great that I could find it Israel and not go out of my way to look for a Book Beer, but it is disappointing that this is another lame beer that appears in the book. Marketing claim is a collaboration between Black Wolf Brewery and Tullibardine distillery resulted in “a unique beer with a light whisky aroma and clean fresh aftertaste”.

This is the beer I tasted: alcoholic aroma with candy and oxidation, rather sweet and alcoholic taste with surprising malty undertones and toffee that spreads in your mouth and lingers. Long finish, full body. Too sweet and heavy for me, and not a good use for whisky.

However, 1488 is Beer #369 I Must Try Before I Die and I didn’t really have to hunt for it, so that’s pretty cool.


Traquair House Beers


I love, love, love Scottish beer. Basically, I love anything Scottish – be it their banknotes that are different from the ones printed in England, their soft drinks – how can you not like IRN BRU – orange-coloured, spicy bubblegum taste and domestic sales that surpass Coca Cola? If not the taste, you gotta love the concept! Then there’s Irvine Welsh’s early work that’s pretty much the reason I pursued my English Linguistics and Comp Lit degree (some of his latest work is quite good too – check out Skagboys, Trainspotting’s prequel), and The Rezillos and Ex Cathedra whose music make the ride to work a little bit more fun, and Glasgow’s tough but honest vibe and the imbibing goodness that is beer and whisky. In fact, Scottish whisky is the reason for this blog’s slowdown over the past year: one year ago I started working as Spirits Brand Manager for Pernod-Ricard’s local distributor. For 6 months I managed most of the whisky portfolio, that consists of Jameson Irish Whisky and the wonderful Chivas Brothers brands Chivas Regal, The Glenlivet, Scapa (my personal fave!) and Aberlour. I now work mainly on Gin and Rum but I also manage Ballantine’s range of blended scotch, so I actually contribute to Scotland’s economy on a day-to-day basis, and this excludes whisky tasting and the small bottle collection The Secret Agent and I started building.

And then there’s Scottish beer, that a part from Brewdog does not seem to enjoy the latest craft beer hype, but I find it rich, interesting and varied nonetheless. There are 23 Scottish beers listed in 1001 Beers You Must Try Before You Die and I’ve already reviewed 12 of them. Today’s post is about two more, that come from Traquair, that is said to be the oldest inhabited house in Scotland – some 30 miles south of Edinburgh. It’s been occupied since the 12th century and beer was brewed there since the early 1700’s, for domestic use. The commercial brewery opened in the 1960’s and their ales are distributed worldwide. Their two wildly known beers are listed in the book and we shared them at a group tasting last month:
Traquair House Ale Рwe got our bottle from a distributor in New York State. 7.2% Scotch Ale, vinous, date honey in the nose , a little bitter, a little sweet and inoffensively alcoholic. Hardly any carbonation, vinous finish and rather good.

Traquair Jacobite Ale – bottle bought at Beermoth craft beer shoppe in Manchester, on the last day of our real-ale trip which I must write about one of these days. This one is heavier on the alcohol, with 8% abv. and other than that date honey aroma (that maybe remained in the glass from the Traquir House Ale), I smelled wood, black pepper and moss. It has a deep fruity taste, like cooked fruit, long fruity finish, very soft carbonation and a full body. It’s a great beer that should be sipped slowly and due to its heaviness is ideal for sharing.

traquaire house traquire jacobite

There are two other beers in the range, one is sold only during the summer months from draught at the brewery – which makes Traquair House another must visit in my ever-expanding must-visit-in-Scotland list. Well, ignoring the scenic coastal road, that’s practically on the way between the Barbour factory outlet store and Edinburgh, so there’s a good chance we’ll make it there sooner or later.

Traquair House Ale and Traquair Jacobite Ale are beers #323 and #324 I Must Try Before I Die

Romanian Beer Adventures Pt. III: Craft Beer Bars in Bucharest

What's the time? Why, it's Beer O'clock!

What’s the time? Why, it’s Beer O’clock!

Our good friend Shmupi is an avid Foursquare user. He is also a big fan of Belgian blond ales. And he is Romanian – born, raised and with grandparents in the homeland. His Facebook updates from Beer O’clock answered the first question we asked ourselves when Family Agent started planning the trip to Romania, which is, of course – the state of craft beer in the nation. Besides following Shmupi’s check-ins we visited and thus built a short but sweet beer itinerary for Bucharest: Beer O’clock, Beer O’clock 2 and La 100 de Beri. 3 bars, conveniently located within a few meters of each other, in the city’s old town, some 1o minutes walk from our hotel. The latter prides itself with 100 beers on the menu. The former’s website counts 165. Way more modest number than Delirium Cafe’s menu, much more extensive than any bar in Israel. We figured we’d find plenty of new things to drink there without being overwhelmed. Moreover, these places focused on being beer bars and not tourist attractions, or so it seemed from Shmupi’s check-ins and the reviews we read – suit us just fine.

My fave spot on the bar - behind the taps.

My fave spot on the bar – behind the taps.

The first bar we visited was La 100 de Beri. Just like everywhere else in Romania, the place is smokers-friendly and breathers’ enemy. No proper ventilation, but there’s a spacier room in the back that has more air and is more tolerable. Several beers on tap, including hand-pumped English ales and German and Czech representatives. The inventory does not necessarily corresponds with the menu – many beers were missing so after the 3rd attempt we just asked to look at the refrigerators, that stocked plenty of stuff that’s not on the menu, for example Engel Aloisius from Germany or Wychwood fruit beer. The staff is helpful and knowledgeable – they were nice enough to tolerate our beergeek idiosyncrasies: taking pictures, writing notes, peeling off labels and collecting caps. This is our favourite bar in Bucharest and after our initial visit on the first night of our trip we sat there twice more when we returned to Bucharest in the end of the trip. The staff recognized us on the third time; too bad we had to fly back just when we started to be regular customers. 3 visits, two heavy drinkers and one Californian Agent who joined us in our last session there – that means plenty of beer. In order to make this short and sweet, here are the beers that are listed in the 1001 book that we drank there:


Rychtar Premium 12 Рa bottle of generic Czech pils; Stiegl Goldbrau РAustrian lager, fresh and bitter; Shepherd Neame Bishops Finger which was both beautiful and tasty; Orkney Dark Island Рone of the few Orkney brews we sampled in the trip Рrobust, salty, roasty Old Ale with sausage, iodine and dried fruit taste; and König Ludwig Dunkel that obviously had gone bad (BB date April 2013) but tasted fine by me Рgrainy and chocolatey.

On the first night we headed to Beer O’clock after leaving La 100 de Beri. Bigger space, broader selection. The extensive menu includes rarities such as aged bottles of Trappist ales and Brewdog’s expensive editions such as Abstrakt and Tactical Nuclear Penguin. Despite the inviting menu we only stayed for one round: the place reeks of cigarette smoke in such a way that The Secret Agent’s eyes reddened and I had to go out to the cold street in order to smell my beer. I drank De Ranke XX Bitter, a fine Belgian Ale that we enjoyed a couple of years ago in Belgium and were happy to drink again and enjoy its toffee and citrus notes. We bought a bunch of bottles to drink in the following days and take home and left.

A fridge to die for

A fridge to die for

After traveling all over –¬† in pastoral villages, touristic cities, small towns where the family’s from – we returned to Bucharest. On the first afternoon The Secret Agent and I split from the family and checked out Beer O’clock II, which is located in a small alley, filled with cafe’s and shisha lounges. At 4 or 5 p.m. the door was closed but the place was just opening. Sleazy heavy metal in the background, same extensive menu but due to the early hour and the fact that we were the first customers – no smoke. This bar is smaller than the mother ship, with a bar on the first floor and tables in the gallery. Looks less shiny but we liked it better because of the cleaner air. We hung out for a few rounds and drank a couple of beers from the book: Oakham JHB from England, tropical hoppiness and bitter with nettle-like finish that I liked alot, liked enough to order Oakham Citra that didn’t disappoint either. La Caracole Nostradamus is a pretty good Belgian Strong Ale that is very fruity in the nose and and tastes sweet and spicy. We ordered a couple of German beers that we enjoyed and Primator Double 24, a nasty, 10.5% abv. Czech Doppelbock that I simply couldn’t finish; it tasted like overly sugared coffee and alcohol.

So, what have we got here, count-wise? The bold-marked ones are beers #270-#278 I Must Try Before I Die. Noroc!

No Sleep Til Dunno When.

I always make an effort to Get Things Done on Saturday morning, before The Secret Agent wakes up, in the sense of catching up on personal emails, updating both blogs, reading books and magazines (if “reading books and magazines” is synonymous to scrolling down Facebook) and making time to further weekend activities and studying. But I was so exhausted last Saturday that I couldn’t bring myself to turn on the laptop. Instead, I was sitting on the couch for the better part of the day, slowly studying, doing something that has no relation to alcohol consumption, documentation or marketing – something different, for a change.

Writing during the week is difficult these days as well. New job, so much to learn, so many things to do. I come back home at dusk and just want to eat something and go to sleep, that is if nothing keeps me outside til midnight. Things aren’t gonna get easier anytime soon, but I believe that in a couple of months, when I get a better grip on work, quick updates during the week will come easier.

So what’s with this weekday update? Oh, I spent the day in the field, meeting our customers and learning what they need. Got to soak some sunlight, sat on the passenger’s seat, arrived early and now I’m all charged with energy to report last week’s tasting’s 1001 Beer Book’s samples.

???????????????????????????????It’s a bad picture, taken in the end of the session. First arrow to the right is Thirsty Dog’s Hoppus Maximus that is actually not in the book, but its label is so atrocious, it should be shared:

WTF Label of the Year Award

WTF Label of the Year Award

It’s a good beer though. Bottle was quite old but it still felt fresh and hoppy.

Next – Poperings Hommelbier from Belgium, 7.5% abv. of Belgian aleness, cloudy amber with a yeasty, somewhat medicinal-bitterness aroma and fun taste that reminds me of bubblegum and marzipan. It has a rather refreshing hoppy bitter finish and a light body, considering the alcohol volume – but it works well for this beer.

Meantime India Pale Ale came from a trade I did with a Kansas beergeek. Imagine the journey this bottle made! From the London Brewhouse to its US distributors in Texas, to the Sunflower State to the Land of Rape and Honey. That’s a way more radical journey than the England-Subcontinent route that IPA’s were designed for. The 1001 book tells us that brewery’s founder Alastair Hook’s first ambition was to recreate 19th century style IPA and porter. He conducted historical research, loaded the IPA with Fuggle and Goldings hops and recommends to age the beer in a cellar for a few years. I think this tri-continental journey is enough for one beer. It’s an unpretty cloudy orange with a bitter, leafy and grassy aroma that also had notes of the liquid used to store gherkin and it tastes bitter and rather stale. With a medium body, soft fizz for IPA’s as we usually know them and a long, bitter finish, this is an OK beer, but nothing more. Meantime Coffee Porter, however, was really good with a delicious ash-dry bitterness and coffee taste that has that nice sweet undertones. Its nose matches the mouth, with coffee, cocoa and ash. It has a medium-to-full body that’s easy to drink and smooth coffee texture – delicious!

Finally, Skull Splitter from Orkney Brewery that’s located in Orkney Island – a place that’s on our destination map because of the wind and the whisky and, well, the beer. Up to this date all the Orkney Brewery’s beers I’ve drank were in the awesome-amazing spectrum. Sadly, especially because of its name that gives the beer automatic awesomeness points, Skull Splitter is rather dull. Too sweet – cookie-candy in the nose, sweet, a little stale with alcoholic bitter undertones in the mouth. It’s drinkable – . 8.5% and goes down quickly, but there’s nothing amazing (or, ignoring the name, awesome) about this beer and it’s just too alcoholic. Maybe I just don’t get the Scotch Ale thing?

Poperings Hommelbier, Meantime India Pale Ale, Meantime Coffee Porter and Orkney Skull Splitter were beers #261, #262, #263 and #264 I must Try Before I Die

Bye Bye Brewdoggie


This is the last mandatory Brewdog entry here in this beer blog. Over the past year+ this blog’s been online we drank stuff from this all-too-hyped, ever innovative Scottish brewery in many occasions, the most memorable of which was a thorough Brewdog tasting that included goodies such as Tactical Nuclear Penguin and Abstrakt 08. This brewery has 4 representatives in the book and in the first few months of this blog we drank 3 of them. Last October friends brought me the missing bottle and we kept it for the right opportunity. We returned from Romania with three bottles and decided to open all 4 in one meeting. When I shared my plan with The Beer Greek, he told me I should get in touch with Maor of Herzl Beer (who is in the process of opening a licensed, rebranded brewery in Jerusalem in like a month from now – yay!); he had some new bottles someone bought for him. Maor was kind enough to join our Brewdog-focused tasting and we were happy to have him over. Sadly, The Beer Greek’s kids were sick and we sure felt his absence.

Here are the beers we sampled:

Dead Pony Club is a pretty awesome American Pale Ale. Very aromatic and citrusy, in the mouth and the nose alike. It feels juicy and it kinda is, with only 3.8% abv. It’s a great summer beer, if Scotland even needs one.

El Dorado is from the brewery’s IPA Is Dead series of single hop brews. I both smelled and tasted mint, something quite unusual. Other than mint I sensed tropical aroma and piney taste. With a light, lager-like body, this also can be a summery thirst-quencher.

Barrel Aged 7.7 Lager is a 7.7% abv. that’s well, aged in barrels. Is this a version of the 77 Lager? Sounds like, although 77 is a standard 4.9% abv. beer and a really good one, too. The Barrel Aged one isn’t. Wine and raisins in the nose, sweetish petrol in the mouth. Medium body, very fizzy, long, white wine finish. It’s just not working, OK?

The Secret Agent and I drank Dogma in Basel last winter. It was good the first time we tried it and it was good on the second time around too.

Libertine Black Ale is a kick-ass name for a kick-ass beer, a rich, interesting black IPA. Dark purple with beige head, slightly smoky aroma and also bears liquor, chocolate and withered flowers. It tastes bitter, smoky and a little salty and has a smoky finish, full body and very mild carbonation. What more can one ask for?

From the back of Dr. Troubles’ fridge came Bashah, a retired Brewdog-Stone collaboration that was bottled in 2009 and resulted in an American Strong Ale that’s blacker than black and smells of liquor and a little iodine.¬† It tastes very dry and bitter, has full and heavy body, and smooth texture that ends in a long, dry, liquor-like finish. I liked it, yes I did.

We opened a bottle of Paradox Smokehead that many if not all of us drank before but it is one of those beers I can never get tired of but the highlight of the evening, mission-wise at least was of course Brewdog Tokyo*, an Imperial Stout of 18.2% abv. With this high volume, drinking alone is not even an option. This brew, flavoured with jasmine and cranberry and aged on French toasted oak chips is a sipper. A sipper that after sipping I felt a slight regret for being impatient and not aging it for several years. This is a cloudy-to-opaque muddy brown beer with dark tan head. When I first sniffed my sample I smelled smoke and cranberry but then came lots of fruit, jasmine tea and then Рink. It is a heavy beer, sweet, a little alcoholic, liquor-like and perhaps a little soy tasting. Its texture is syrupy and smooth, full-bodied and non-carbonated. Complex and very digestif-y.  If you can get a hold on a bottle Рbuy it cos its worth it. Just be wiser and keep it for a few years, ok?

Tokyo* (spelled Tokio* in our edition) is beer #232 I Must Try Before I Die. Bye Bye Brewdog, til next time ūüôā

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 Z√ľrich 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 Z√ľrich. 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 Z√ľrich 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, M√§rzen 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 Z√ľrich’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.

A Weekend in Switzerland Part I: Beer on the Go

The Secret Agent and I spent the last weekend of November/ First weekend of December in Switzerland. Sort of an early birthday getaway and making my latest biggest wish come true: seeing The Young Gods Live. I wrote about going to Switzerland and returning from Switzerland before, but it’s about time I actually write about the trip. I’ve already written a detailed account about the trip in our Hebrew blog, focusing on date and location, providing travel and (vegan) food tips to the readers. Since the nature of The Beer Gatherer is more geeky, I decided on a different approach for this blog.

First, some background and disclaimer: We spent 4 days in Switzerland, in Basel and Zurich. With 12 Swiss beers in my book, we were also mission-oriented. Naturally, tourists tend to generalize and get a somewhat superficial impression of their travel destination, and despite doing the best research Ratebeer, Google and Bov’s website provide, there’s a good chance we missed stuff or just didn’t get the essence of things due to a language barrier and general cluelessness. Having written that and making this introduction useful in a way, let’s begin with some shopping tips

Actually, in order to get your beer fix to Switzerland, all you need is one tip: Drinks of the World. A small chain that carries, well, drinks from around the world. If the store’s called *Drinks* of the World, it probably means that you can get there all kinds of whine and rum and tequila and scotch, but the truth is, we didn’t notice, because the two branches we visited, in Basel and Zurich, are so loaded with beer that we were almost blinded by the choices we had to face. But first thing first. A small chain, right? It has 5 branches at the railway stations of Zurich, Basel, Bern, Luzern and Winterthur. Unlike other places in the world, Switzerland’s railway stations are well-lit, safe spaces with a thriving commercial space – quite the opposite of Tel Aviv’s Central Bus station, to those who are familiar with the lovely scenery.

We read mediocre reviews about the stores and its selection, but since we compare it to what we know from home, we were thrilled. Europeans, there’s a nice, small selection of American beerP Samuel Adams, Sierra Nevada, Kona, Anchor and Flying Dog (and also some Coors, Miller and Colt 45 if you insist). Americans ‚Äď there’s a decent selection of European Beer. Good German stuff, Belgian ales, French stuff, English beer and also BrewDog. Everybody, there’s a vast selection of Swiss beer, including gift packs for the indecisive, and also a fair bunch of (mostly) pale lagers from “rare” countries: we couldn’t resist and despite being well aware that we’re taking room from good quality beer we bought bottles from Morocco, Mongolia and Cuba (did read this, Americans? Cuban beer).

Although we decided to leave beer shopping to the end of the trip, we bought a couple of bottles before getting on the Train from Basel to Zurich. We are target-oriented and used the 1 hour train ride to drink Schneider Weisse Original that we bought at the store in Basel. Cold from the fridge, this refreshing, full-bodied wheat beer was pleasing to drink, but since we had to look after our suitcase and share our seats with other passengers and, we decided to give up on the other bottle we bought, and take it home with us.

beer on the train

beer on the train

We visited the zurich store right before getting on the train back to Basel, the night before our flight back home. We bought a bunch of bottles to take home with us and since we had a night to kill at the airport before the morning departure, we decided to make the most of our free time and picked some beer to taste in the vacant airport. Here’s what we drank:

Ratebeerians are everywhere!

Ratebeerians are everywhere!

These were selected from the fridge. Vollmond is domestic, brewed only on full moon for mystical aura and promotional reasons, I guess. It’s a regular lager with a nice label and a nice story behind it, that’s all. It has funky piss-like as well as cooked-veggies aroma and that mediocre pale-lager bitterness, or in other words, almost tasteless. Why is it in the book? Probably because of the full-moon story. The other beers we drank in that nightly airport session were better, with Brewdog’s Dogma being the highlight of the tasting: rich tastes of wood and roast, bitter, a little sweet and a little coffee-like sourness and wood, espresso and acetone aroma.

Schwaben Br√§u Das Echte M√§rzen was quite alright too, malty and balanced, and Schl√∂sser Alt was just great: simple, robust, very drinkable although a tad bit on the sour side. Meanwhile at home we already opened our bottle of Trois Dames IPA from Brasserie Trois Dames, one of Switzerland’s new microbreweries. It’s a huge difference from most of the beer we tastes on our weekend, and that’s a compliment. Murky amber in colour with dry and fruity aroma and dry, fresh bitter taste, it is a good, refreshing beer.

Suffice to say that being true beergeeks, we didn’t only rely on these two chain stores. Paul Ullrich in Basel is another good source for beer and drinks in general. There we also explored the other shelves and let me tell you, their rum section is to die for, with great editions from classic and contemporary distilleries alike. Beer Planet in Zurich has a smaller selection than Drinks of the World, but it’s worth mentioning, because sometimes you can get harder-to-find domestic brews over there. We got a bottle of Abbaye de Saint Bon-Chien 2011 there, a beer I didn’t even imagine finding in the German canton.

Stay tuned for more Swiss musings. Meanwhile, Schneider Weisse Original, Vollmond and Trois Dames IPAare beers #155, #156 and #157 I Must Try Before I Die.


Caring is Sharing

Last Passover holiday I created a Google document to help me follow the 1001 beer list and be a little more organized, a challenge to ADD me. Other than crossing out the stuff I drank and wrote about, it helps me keeping tabs with our home-stash, orders and the state of the local beer market, all colour-coded. When cooperative¬† friends and family fly abroad or come to visit from overseas, I copy items from the list for guidance, lest they bring something we’ve already drank or worse – bottles that are available here.

When Teva Boy announced that he’s flying to Teva’s manufacturing plant in Croatia, he asked if there’s anything he should bring from the visit. That’s how I got to taste Tomislav Pivo, a 7.3% abv. Baltic Porter. It’s an ok beer, black in colour, aroma wine, raisins and those wine-filled chocolates that in our part of the world were a popular treat among older relatives in the early 80’s and a sweet, a little metallic, malty taste. Its mild carbonation and medium body made Tomislav rather easy to drink despite the high alcoholic content.

The local ratebeerians asked to see the list, rerardless of any particular travel plans so I shared the file with them. The file brought up some interesting finds, like Business travel was, I think, a one-time gig for Teva Boy, but for Troubles it’s a routine and a focal point for his (Hebrew) blog. His job sends him to places and he explores local beer cultures for the rest of us to drool over.¬† Last year he spent some time in Germany and of course, brought back bottles. Upon looking at the list his eyes met the words St√∂rtebeker Schwarzbier¬†– he was planning to drink the bottle on his own, assuming that there isn’t much interest among the tasters for yet another lager (that isn’t a nasty pale lager from an obscure country, that is. We looooove those!). It’s a decent beer from Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, a Northeastern Bundesland. Despite the name it’s colour is dark purple or so it seemed in the darkness of the pub where we sampled it and it smelled of raisins, ripe figs and some smoke. With a sweet, malty taste and a little dryness in the taste and finish it was a decent beer. Nothing unusual and definitely suitable to finish on one’s own, but I’m glad it was shared.

You can trust the Dead Swedish Girl, with her mighty beer obsession, to go over the list, pretty much memorize it and bring to my attention stuff that’s available here in Israel which I overlooked as well as bringing forth bottles from his personal stash. Last Sukkkot the Secret Agent and I hosted the closest thing to a dinner party we held in our 10 years of marriage. The innocent victims to the heaps of homemade vegan Mexican goodness were Dead Swedish Girl and her partner, The Living Swedish Boy, who, like the yuppies they are brought dessert (vegan Reese’s cake that rocked my world. Peanut butter and chocolate for dessert are like smoke and wood for beer!) and bottles of wine. A true yuppie would have never dared bringing the grape-based equivalent of Utenos Alus, a Lithuanian pale lager that’s on my list. I hope that the other Lithuanian representatives are better than the duller drink that reeked of sweet grape juice and rotten fruit and tasted more like commercial clear cider than beer. But hey, it’s not as if Corona would’ve matched dinner better.

some other goodies salvaged from DSG’s stuff are Speakeasy’s Big Daddy IPA that bore wonderful smells of pine and grass and some grapefruit and tasted bitter, on the verge of dry and green, as my tasting notes indicate. A real American IPA it was and quite a good one.

HandBryggeriet Norwegian Wood was an interesting find. I think she traded it with one of her Scandinavian beer pals. A homage to an old Norwegian brewing tradition, actually a law that required farm owners to produce their own ale, this honey-brown colour ale uses smoked malt and juniper leaves and branches, a combination that results in a wonderful fruity and at the same time smokey aroma and a pleasant bitter and a little roasty taste. A slightly burning sensation towards the finish makes it even better in my book.

In the last tasting she brought a bottle of Brewdog Rip Tide. Brewdog’s been featured in this blog more than once, because of the mission and also because it is one of everybody’s favourite breweries. It has 4 representatives in the book, and after Punk IPA and as many editions of Paradox as I could find, Rip Tide is the third I sample. It’s a 8% Imperial Stout with a pretty tan head on top of an opaque, black body, that smells a little metallic but also roasty and good, tastes very alcoholic, but the kind of bitter alcoholic, with hints of anise, has a full body and is softly carbonated. Definitely a good beer.

Now who’s sorting us out with a bottle of Tokyo*?

Our friends are awesome and we really try to reciprocate. There’s a tasting tonight and they’re in for an unpredictable treat.

Tomislav Pivo, Störtebeker Schwarzbier, Utenos Alos, Big Daddy IPA, Norwegian Wood and Rip Tide are beers #117, #118, #119, #120, #121 and #122 I Must Try Before I Die.

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.

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