It’s been a long time since I last wrote a blog. To squash the vicious rumor running rampant in the blogosphere, this is not because of the complete dearth of emails begging me to write another blog. That is not to say that those emails would not have worked and convinced me to write a blog sooner. One reason is that I was busy doing other things and another is that I didn’t have much to write about. In the last month (December 2013) I’ve collected enough new material for a reasonable blog. So even without the begging, I am sitting down to write again.
One distraction is that I am working on a chapter on beer for a book on Leisure in Israel written for university courses on leisure studies. I have completed a first draft and have comments from the editors, Michael and Sara Leitner. Now I have to actually write something that fits in well with the emphasis of the book. I may not be an academic but I have written a couple conference papers in my prehistoric past so I think I can whip it into shape.
But before that I really have to post a new blog before all my loyal fans forget that I even exist.
Music on the Shores of the Kinneret
Earlier this month my wife and I attended the Jacob’s Ladder Winter Festival at the Kibbutz Ginosar Guest House on the Kinneret (Sea of Galilee). As in the past, this festival presented an excellent lineup of local Israeli and imported musicians. This, along with the superb organization by Judith and Menachem Vinograd, resulted in a very enjoyable and relaxing experience.
Two of the musical groups deserve special note and received an enthusiastic response from the audience.
The La Basta Trio consists of three talented musicians playing a range of Irish, Balkan, American Country, Gypsy and Mediterranean music. Alexey Kochetkov on Violin, Amir Weiss on Guitar and Ivan Chereshnesh on Percussion have a distinct sound and fantastic energy. Alexey is a young virtuoso violinist who deserves a long and rich musical career. His playing got him standing ovations and adoration from the enthusiastic, if not somewhat aging crowd.
However as good as Alexey is on his own, his partners Amir and Ivan added a depth to the music and the glue that held the sound together.
Another musical treat was Liat Rozenberg and Yogev Cohen. Liat plays violin and sings and is a virtuoso on her own right. Yogev demonstrates a talent and command of the guitar that I have rarely seen. Together, these talented young people provided a level of excitement and energy that made it a real joy to see them perform.
Now some of you readers might be wondering at this moment if have perhaps gotten off topic. Perhaps I have but I do want to share the excitement of discovering new musical horizons. However this is more than just about music. As I was listening to these performers and admiring the way they worked together with their various talents and sounds, I had a bit of an epiphany. About beer of course.
Good music is about talented musicians coming together to produce something they could not produce alone. The same thing can be said about beer. I am not talking about brewers cooperating, but rather of the individual ingredients of beer coming together to make a taste experience that is far above what any of the single ingredients could do alone. I am talking about the way an experienced brewer brings together the basic elements of malt, hops and yeast to create a unified flavor that soars above any single component.
My epiphany was that there are two different approaches that are typified by the two musical groups I mentioned above.
One approach is the virtuoso with accompaniment. The other is the synergy of virtuosos.
Some beers feature a star ingredient. Stouts highlight the strong flavor of the highly roasted barley. American Pale Ales often feature the distinct flavors of the new varieties of American bred hops. German classic Weissbiers feature the remarkable flavor of the yeast used in the brewing process.
In each of the above cases, and in many other beers, one characteristic stands out above all the rest. However without the accompanying players, whether it is the malt, hops or yeast, properly playing their parts, the results would be at best, mediocre and at worst, truly awful.
Most beers are not distinguished by a virtuoso performance by a single ingredient. Considering some of the Israeli beers I know well like Jems Amber Ale or Alexander Green, it is the contribution of all the ingredients that make these truly enjoyable beers.
I have used the word “balanced” a lot in describing beers in the past. Balance is a word I use to signify the synergy of the ingredients of the beers coming together to produce a taste experience that is richer than any single component can provide.
This is not to say that those beers with a dominant characteristic are not balanced. In fact, dominant may not be the proper word to use since as I gain a more refined palate with time and experience, I can notice the contributions of the other components and how they come together to make the “dominant” flavor truly a star. Even a musical virtuoso knows that there are times he or she has to sit back and let someone else take the spotlight.
Berlin or Bust
Right after I got back from Jacob’s Ladder I had to prepare for another trip for work. This was my first travelling since my visit to Stockholm in August. I have to admit that I enjoyed the break in my travel schedule but was raring to go to Berlin.
Berlin of course has deep connotations for those of us who grew up on the shadow of the Holocaust and the Cold War. The Germans themselves are not ones to forget history and whitewash over the tragic past. Memorials and reminders of the darker periods of 20th century European history abound but are done in what I considered a tasteful way.
While Germany may be synonymous with beer, Berlin is not known as an outstanding brewing city. That is changing due to the craft brewing revolution that has taken hold of Europe.
The one beer Berlin is traditionally known for is Berliner Weisse. This is a wheat beer but tastes very different from the traditional Bavarian Hefeweizen I have mentioned in the past (and will talk about later in this blog too).
According to what I read, Berliner Weisse is a low alcohol wheat beer that is brewed by adding Lactobacillus. This gives it a distinctly sour taste. The Germans usually drink it with flavored syrup, either red or green. The red is raspberry and the green something they call Woodruff (Waldmeistersirup).
On my first night in Berlin I was on my own and could go exploring. I had read about a restaurant that purported to be the oldest restaurant in Berlin. Zur Letzen Instanz (the last instance/chance) is purported to date from 1621. It has very traditional decor and a small bar that is not made for sitting at. I tried my first genuine Berliner Weisse. I was served by the gentleman manning the bar who I assumed was the manager. He asked what syrup I would like and was a bit surprised when I told him I wanted it without any flavoring. It informed me that is was sour and I assured him that I knew. After all, I am in it for the adventure.
It was indeed sour. But not unpleasantly so. In fact it is a flavor that I adjusted to as I drank the beer. The sourness was very distinct and even unique. I love sour things and am a big fan of straight yogurt, sour pickles and the like. However I can see how others might not quite find the flavor appealing. I saw several glasses of red beer get served that night so I guess it is quite the “thing” to have your Berliner Weisse with syrup.
I did have a chance to try a couple classic German Hefeweizens, the distinctive wheat beer that I am growing quite fond of. One was a Maisel’s Weisse on draft. I first encountered Maisel’s Weisse when I was in Osnabruck, Germany, two years ago and mentioned in my blog. Then it was a real revelation. Since then a lot of hefeweizen has flowed under the proverbial bridge and I am no longer overwhelmed by the distinctive flavor. It’s just not a surprise any more. So tasting the Maisel’s Weisse now wasn’t the experience it was last time. But it was sure good. A lot of the beer there was good.
I bought a couple bottles from a local supermarket including a Schofferhofer Hefeweizen and an amber color beer called Duckstein (I kid you not). The Schofferhofer was a full flavored hefewiezen and the Duckstein was really good. I mean really good. A bit different in taste but smooth and rich. Lots of depth and, for fear of overusing the word, balanced.
What I didn’t have a chance to do was explore. Berlin, like any other city I have visited in Europe, has it’s share of microbreweries, brewpubs and craft beer enthusiasts opening stored and pubs to offer the best boutique beers in Europe. The New York Times even has an article called “Good Beer in Berlin? Finally Yes”. If I get back there, then I will use that article as my travel guide.
Another Beer Blogger
One other thing that came out of the Jacob’s Ladder Festival was the discovery of another English language beer blogger. Douglas Greener writes a blog called Israel Brews and Views. Doug is dedicated to writing about the local brewing scene. I am too of course but he actually seems to go out and talk to people as opposed to my promising to do so. His latest blog is on Denny Neilson and his Winemaker store in Mevasseret Zion outside of Jerusalem.
In my defense I need to point out that Doug lives in Jerusalem so it’s much easier for him to get to Denny than for me. Just pointing it out.
I hope to meet Doug soon and share a local craft brewed beer and talk about beer in Israel.
I also wish to mention that this Friday January 10th there will be music at the Dancing Camel Pub in Tel Aviv. It should start about 12 noon. Of course there is great tasting Dancing Camel beer on tap and excellent food, especially the sandwiches. Michael Leitner will be playing at 1:30 and knowing Michael (which I have for 20 years), there will be Beatles. So feel free to come and join us. No reservations necessary.
Any comments and ideas are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org.