31 August 2015

Meet the Hebrews

Tom is a beer geek from Israel, currently seconded to a work project in Dublin. Back in June he offered to bring some beers over from home for a tasting. A group of us got together in the Bull & Castle one quiet Sunday afternoon to get an idea of what's happening in the Israeli craft beer scene.

Under Tom's direction we started, perhaps unusually, with an Oak Porter from Negev brewery. It's only 5% ABV but smells a lot stronger. It doesn't look great in the glass, all murky and opaque. The wood has been laid on very thick with massive amounts of vanillin and a sharper lactic quality too. The heavy-handed ageing means any trace of the porter that used to be here is now gone.  Even drinking a small sample was tough going and I can't say I enjoyed it. Shapiro Oatmeal Stout was a much better proposition. 5.2% ABV and again smelling hot, this time with a kind of acetone quality, it's actually smooth and sweet on tasting with no off-flavours at all. There's lots of lovely chocolate and cream, to match the texture. Alexander Black is a more orthodox (not, not that way) stout: 7% ABV and looking clear, pure, but most definitely black, in the glass. It smells oily, like strong coffee, and has an almost Caribbean brown-sugar sweetness. That's about all it delivers, however.

From stout to black IPA and Ha'Dubim Paradox is next, another nasty-looking murky one. It has the spicy vegetal aroma which I'm coming to regard as one of the hallmarks of the style and makes excellent use of its hops. A beautiful chocolate and fresh mandarin flavour opens it up and there's a sharp biting bitterness in the finish. An absolute classic, this, and packing a lot of complexity into 5.6% ABV.

There were two more from Ha'Dubim ("The Bears") and we followed Paradox with Kodiak, badged as an "IPW", so what generally gets called "white IPA", then. It's yellow and cloudy and the aroma is all over the place: a little bleachy, a lot sugary and with added plasticine notes as well. It gels together a bit better on tasting with the sweetness dominating, creating a strong impression of drinking vanilla ice cream, helped along by the creamy texture. The hops arrive late, adding a pithiness to the finish. It's an odd beer and I'm not sure I'd want to investigate it further.

The inevitable Grizzly is Ha'Dubim's special edition double IPA: 9% ABV yet a rather wan and hazy witbier-yellow colour. The aroma is gorgeous, pelting out bittersweet mandarin spritz. The strength is immediately apparent on the first sip, but it's a clean heat, not heavy or boozy, reminding me a little of Trouble Brewing's Hop Priority triple IPA. But it's not all alcohol; the hops are working very hard in here too with an oily dank base cheered up by bursts of citrus zest. Double IPA wouldn't be my favourite beer style but then not many of them are as well executed as this one.

More IPAs next, starting with Pressure Drop by Ha'Shakhen. This 6%-er claims to be an "Extrememly hoppy craft beer" and I'll grant that hops play a big part in how it tastes. Onions on the aroma; mango, papaya and lime rind in the flavour: that's all hops. But there's a lot of caramel in here also and the whole is just a bit too sweet to be enjoyable. We had it next to one of the original Israeli IPAs and one considered to be among the best still: Srigim Brewery's Ha'Hodit Ha'Mekhoeret, "The Ugly Indian". 6.5% ABV, a brownish-orange colour (murky again) but smelling lovely, simultaneously sweet and spicy with lots of citrus promised. The flavour is very unsubtle, being big on bitterness but there's enough malt body to carry it. The murk lets it down a little however, allowing a savoury yeast coating dull the otherwise bright and fresh flavours. This one could do with a little polishing but is still perfectly enjoyable for what it is.

A couple of odd ones to finish. Dictator Irish Red has, for some reason, been blended with Laphroaig whisky, and plasters this fact across the label in huge letters. It's a pale murky orange and smells massively peaty. Peat is there again on the first sip but goes away quickly leaving a fresh, soft, peachy hop flavour. The old peat 'n' peach one-two is not something I've ever experienced in a beer before and it's not at all unpleasant. Shapiro's Jack's Winter Ale has also been liquored-up, this time with the addition of Jack Daniel's oak chips. They impart lots of oaky vanillins but no real whisky booze effect. Instead, this 8.2% ABV ale is big on warming toffee malt, all smooth and mellow. Even in the eastern Med, they like something for the fireside, it seems.

Overall impressions? Israeli craft beer is a little rough around the edges and not all of its experiments are worthwhile ones from the drinker's point of view, but there's some real talent on display in this lot. The beer fan certainly won't get bored. Thanks to Tom for the insight.

1 comment:

  1. Great review John! was all my pleasure.
    To many more beers...