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 tag “beer in Israel”

None More Black.

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There’s something about this that’s so black, it’s like how much more black could this be? And the answer is none. None more black.

(Nigel Tufnel, This Is Spinal Tap)

The 1001 Beers book is filled with BS. We have finished around 25% of the book and in the 100+ entries bumped into quite a few mediocre brews and a bunch of beers that for lack of more powerful words can be only described as atrocities. Many of the beers that fall to the above-written adjectives are products of Big Breweries. The object of this post is a Diageo product, but one that doesn’t need a 1001 beers list: it belongs to *any* must-try beer list. Like it or not – Guinness is a classic, a must-try, which can’t be ignored. In fact, it is such an attention whore that it is listed 3 times in the book!

I am not a big Guinness fan. I usually like my stouts to be drier and roastier and Big Brewery stouts tend to feel too crowd-pleasing in my mouth. When I go out to a common bar that stocks the local duopoly’s products, I’d usually opt for a German wheat beer or the local, ever popular Goldstar (mental note: gotta write about Goldstar already!). But when I do crave Guinness I become a picky bitch: I’d only drink it in places known for their Guinness, where the pipes and taps are being taken care of and the kegs are replaced within a couple of days tops.

This is why The Secret Agent and I walked to Amiram’s Pub the other week. This small, homey, quiet public house is located in the northern part of the city, in a quiet corner just across the street from the busy clubbing area, Tel Aviv Port. I saw Amiram for the first time many years ago, before The Secret Agent and I moved to Tel Aviv – hell, it was even before we met really – the outer mural, lack of any sign and the fact that it was always closed when I passed by it on Friday nights misled me to think that it’s some sort of Guinness training/ marketing center. I tried to google pictures of the outside, but instead found many photos from our Hebrew blog, so you’ll have to trust me on that.

Anyway, Amiram is one of the city’s oldest existing pubs – it’s been around since the 1970’s, family owned and operated, sold a couple of years ago to a customer, and was recently sold back to the family.

trinkets and clutter!

trinkets and clutter!

The small space, not much bigger than a living room, is filled with souvenirs, old liquor bottles and beerchendise from days of yore. We sat on a wooden table, in front of the best promo shot Guinness ever did and drank our glasses of black gold. Amiram’s Guinness pours perfectly, with a finger-thick creamy tan head and no shamrock doodling. It starts with a delicate chocolate aroma followed by delicately bitter taste that my tongue that’s so used to hardcore-coffee-wooden stouts finds hard to grasp. The body is medium and the finish is delicate and smooth, a little watery even. With all the merchandise and dedication, Amiram Pub probably pours a perfect pint, but the beer itself is, well, Big-Brew stout.

Other than Guinness as we know it, the 1001 Beers You Must Try Before You Die lists two other Guinnesses. The first is Guinness Foreign Extra Stout a %7.5 abv,  sold in bottles and marketed all over. Shachar shared it in a recent tasting and I liked it alot: wine, a little roast, a little fruit, a little sugar and coffee aroma and roasty, coffee, bitter taste. The beer has full body and roasty dry finish and is less creamy than the usual Guinness. It is not a nice beer and I like it for this.  In that tasting we also tried Guinness Special Export – Belgian version of the Foreign Extra Stout with 8% abv. that’s brewed in Ireland especially for Benelux. Its aroma is little milky and fruity with rich chocolate notes, and its taste is dry and reminds me of bittersweet chocolate. Chocolate is present in the finish and the body is lighter than the regular, slightly less alcoholic Foreign Extra Stout.

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in the pic: genuine quality and a bottle of guinness

The third Guinness in the book is also Guinness Foreign Extra – the Nigerian version. Same abv. as the regular Foreign Extra, but brewed locally since colonial times. Apparently Nigeria is the second largest market for Guinness in the world. Marketing strategy and campaigns over there are local – no Bloomsday or Saint Patrick, but rather football and local imagery. The Irish harp logo remains though. The Beer Greek brought a can of Nigerian Guinness from a business trip. It smells sweet, fruity, faintly alcoholic like cheap wine and has some blackcurrants too – a rather nice aroma actually. It tastes like sweet wine and thankfully its texture lacks the nitro-smoothness that I usually don’t like. Full-bodied, fizzy with a long, fruity finish and quite interesting.

Out of the four, the I think that the Irish Foreign Extra Stout is the best, but nothing beats Amiram’s ambiance.

All three Guinnesses have rightfully gained their pages in the book and Guinness, Guinness Foreign Extra (Ireland) and Guinness Foreign Extra (Nigeria) are beers #242, #243 and #244 I Must Try Before I Die.

And then there suddenly appeared before me…

...a six pack of Blue Moon...

…a six pack of Blue Moon…

Spotted: bottles of Blue Moon Belgian White Ale in that decent, cheap and underrated liquor store in Tel Aviv, posted one of the beergeeks in one of the beergeek Facebook pages. Yup, samples of Miller-Coors attempt at being crafty in the lines of Celis and Hoegaarden, arrived at the country. I was on a sick leave when the message was posted, recovering from a surgery, but didn’t think twice and hopped on a bus, wearing a coat over my PJ’s and got off after 3 stops. There they were, blue-labeled bottles, reasonably priced, relatively to Israel. 15 nis. per bottle ($4, which is, I believe, below the craft beer average here). I got a sixpack. One for The Secret Agent and myself to share, four for fellow Ratebeerians, one for Cousin Michele, who moved to Israel last year and misses her favourite beer.

I asked at check-out WTF and was told that one of the importers considers importing it. Now, I’m all for new beers in our small market, but if you go all the way to import West Coast stuff, why not opt for Sierra Nevada or Anchor that have the commercial appeal as well as variety and creativity? Haven’t seen the beer around since and I wonder what happened.

A few good months have passed between buying our bottle and pouring its content, but we did it a couple of weeks ago. Still it was far from the best before date. The smell was soft – tangerine-orange juice and a little sweet, apricot leather aroma. It was pretty nice and I wish it tasted just as nice but it didn’t: delicate, floral bitterness that does not compete or suit the aroma. The body too was incompetent – too light for a wheat beer. The carbonation was delicate and the finish – floral and fine. I drank slowly and after a while nice maltiness took over the aftertaste. Cool.

Let’s make it clear – this is not a bad beer. It’s nice, but it seems like factors such as marketability and sell-ability and drinkability are more important factors than making a good product. However, I am well aware that I cannot take Blue Moon from its context. Maybe a blind taste would have yielded a different impression and review.

Blue Moon is beer #225 I Must Try Before I Die. Happy dairy-free shavu’ot to those who celebrate.

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.

hoegaarden

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.

My Year of Beer

or rather
What?
Who?
Why?

It all started last March, when The Secret Agent, aka my partner, lover, roommate, BFF and husband of 9+ years and I drove to Mate’ Yehuda Craft Beer Fest. We went to say hello to our friend, brewer/ liquor maker/ cheesemaker Aram from Abeer Ha’Ella brewery and he introduced us to the guy at the nearby stall. It was Shachar Hertz, owner of Beer and Beyond, who was selling a small book he had recently published: Beer Brands in Israel 2011 (Hebrew alert!).

I knew of the book before – a friend or two liked its Facebook page, but it was the first time I saw it. Schachar was nice, I was probably already in a good beer mood so I schlepped some of my beer money and bought us a copy.

Later that day at home, The Secret Agent and I looked through the book. Some 250 beers that are commercially sold in Israel (at the time of editing, as we learned later) are catalogued there, about 35% of which we had already drank before. I thought it would be cool to drink them all by the end of 2011. I also thought it would be cool to blog about it and beerdrinking.wordpress.com (Hebrew alert!) was born.

Thus began our Year of Beer (or 9 month, which led to the birth of this very blog, if you wish), a year in which we took the one-way-ticket to Beergeekdom. We drank from tap and at home, in brewpubs and mall bars; drove 100 miles to a small southern town just to drink draught Goldstar; crossed grim checkpoints to taste freshly-brewed Taybeh; invited friends over for cross-tasting of some 9 Baltikas and learned that it’s ok to pour beer that sucks;  walked into Russian mini marts with lists in our pockets; and learned that true happiness is a dusty, out of date bottle of mediocre lager that is no longer imported to the Unholy Land on the back of a bottom shelf in walk-in fridge at a gas stop somewhere in the north.

And then, without us noticing, it just wasn’t enough. We joined a Beer of the Month Club and then another beer club. I signed up to Ratebeer “just for the ticks” and then “maybe for place rating” and then I found myself drinking with a notebook yet without much time to transfer the tasting notes to the site. We organized tastings, were invited to tastings (a memorable one being a blind tasting of all Bavarian-style wheat beers available in Israel and then some – what was it? 19 beers in 2 hours?) and in October took a 2-week trip to Southern Germany and Belgium where we shared 100 beers in cool cafe’s and classic Brauhausen (can any German in the crowd correct this?). The Secret Agent and I were enjoying the ride and had no intention to stop once the year and the Beer Brands in Israel 2011 book end.

A Comparative Literature undergrad, reference books and bibliographies are my comfort zone. In order to stay focused I bought us a new companion, that unlike the compact Israeli book that was easy to take along, sits at home, near the computer or on the coffee table: 1001 Beers You Must Try Before You Die (of liver failure?). This time, no deadline. The Journey is the destination. Since the Israeli beer market is tiny I thought it would be a good idea to document this phase in English, so here we are, in the world of liquor stores and mail-orders, road trips and begging. Trading too, maybe. I will also use this blog to share notes from the emerging local beer scene – tasting notes, brewery visits and general thoughts and when I get a raise and more paid holidays you’ll get to read about Beer Abroad.

So here it is and here I am.

Enjoy the ride,

MK Keren.

Bush 12% and Quintine Blond @ Vieux Moulin, Ecaussines, Belgium. October 2011

Bush 12% and Quintine Blond @ Vieux Moulin, Ecaussines, Belgium. October 2011

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