Home Brewed Beer in Israel

by Sarah on January 30, 2010

I hate beer, or so I thought. Several months ago, when I heard that a friend, Isaac Diwan brewed his own beer, I invited myself over as up until then I thought it was done only in high-tech facilities.  I imagined some kind of complicated process including mixers, metal tubes, pumps and huge cauldrons but at his house only simple equipment was used, yet I learned that to produce an elegant beer timing, imagination, ingredients, technique and precision are critical.

Up until now I have tasted only sips of the Israeli produced Maccabi beer which to my indiscreet palate tasted bitter and acidic.  After tasting several types of Isaac’s beers I discovered that beer could have undertones of spices and fruit and could be much deeper or lighter than the commercial counterparts. He made a pumpkin beer in honor of Halloween, another with coriander seeds which was delicious and a darker more alcoholic brew. This is when I told him “you must do a guest post!” and as he is an amiable fellow he agreed.

Before I hand over the post to Isaac, I decided to read more about the history of beer and found out that there are entire web sites dedicated to this golden liquid. It seems that beer has been around for as long as history, with the first recorded beer recipe found in the Sumerian region about four thousand years ago and chemical evidence dating even earlier. In the Epic of Gildamesh, one of the earliest literary writings found in Iraq, beer is mentioned as one of the beverages that is drunk by the half wild Enkidu, the hero of the story.  Beer brewing quickly spread to other parts of the world from Greeks, to Romans and from there to the rest of Europe. Although beer drinking began in the Middle East, the introduction of Islam and the religious observance of not drinking alcoholic beverages has decreased its popularity in that part of the world. Most of the larger breweries are now located either in Europe or in America.

The best beer, however, is the type that is homebrewed, tweaked to perfection and this is the kind that Isaac makes. (I will need to trade a few of my homemade ma’amouls for a couple of his beers).

I swiped this ma'amoul mold at Isaac's house, but I gave it back when I found my own

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I’ve always been interested in beer – I started sneaking into the local bars in Montreal at age 16, and have never looked back. In fact, my beer bottle labels proudly state: Brewing since 2007, drinking since 1977. Homebrewing had been on the back of my mind for a long time, but it’s really only a few years ago that I started to take things seriously.  I signed up for an introductory brewing class, met a bunch of other like minded individuals, and joined the Israel Craft Brewers Club (ICBC). Through meetings, reading, and talking to others, I’ve had a chance to brew different beers, improve my recipes, and obtain feedback on my progress.

Some say that brewing beer predates breadmaking.  Beer was made as far back as Ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia – although materials (and tastes) were probably much different from today. At the Carlsberg brewery in Ashkelon, there is a little museum depicting brewing history in the middle east. They have brewing equipment and beer drinking implements dating more than 3000 years. In modern brewing, the materials and processes have become pretty much standardized, while beer styles and tastes are left to the expertise and imagination of the individual brewer.

Home brewers typically have a big brewing kettle (I bought my 40 liter pot at a restaurant supply store), a variety of buckets, a cooler modified to be a mash tun (a filtration unit and tap added for removing the liquid from the mash), a gravity gauge to check sugar content, an airlock and assorted hoses and connectors to transfer the beer in various stages from one container to the other. Brewers also have a bottle capper, and an ample supply of bottle caps, and tend to collect used beer bottles for refilling with their handiwork.

I like to buy my brewing supplies (malt, hops, yeast, bottle caps etc.) from Gadi at  Beer-D in Tel Aviv, and from Denny at the WineMaker in Mevasseret. I find these guys to be really knowledgeable and experienced, and always learn something new by just hanging out at the store while my order is filled (also, there’s always someone’s home brew, or a new imported beer available to try out while waiting).

Here is the brewing process in short:

1. Malted barley is soaked in hot water to release the malt sugars.

2. The malt sugar solution is boiled with Hops for seasoning.

3. The solution is cooled and yeast is added to begin fermentation.

4. The yeast ferments the sugars, releasing CO2 and ethyl alcohol.

5. When the main fermentation is complete, the beer is bottled with a little bit of added sugar to provide the carbonation.

I invited Sarah over to see the brewing process on a day I was brewing a relatively small batch (10 liters) of smoked ale (This is an ale in which smoke flavor is added using a bit of smoked grain).

In the first step, the ground malt grains are dumped into the mash tun (my modifed cooler with a filter and tap), and hot water is added.  The mash is maintained at around 65-70 degrees C for 60 minutes.  This allows the enzymes to convert the starches in the grain into sugars that can be digested into alcohol by the yeast.

The mash

After 60 minutes, the grains are drained, and sparged (washed with additional hot water) to remove all sugars.  The liquid that is drained is called the Wort.

Draining the wort after sparging. The more concentrated wort from the mash in the white bucket, and the lighter wort from the sparging.

At this point, (after checking the density) the wort is boiled for about 60 minutes.

Checking the wort density to determine sugar content

The boiling process further modifies the sugars, and evaporates some of the water to get closer to the desired density.  During the boil, hops are added at different intervals to impart bitterness and aroma to the beer.

Pouring the wort into the brew pot

Hop pellets

At the end of the boiling process, the liquid is cooled as fast as possible.  Some people use an immersion cooler (essentially a copper coil through which they run cold water), or a heat exchanger (here’s a picture of mine, recycled from an industrial machine) to cool the liquid to about 20 degrees C.

Cooling the wort

The liquid is filtered in my now empty cooler, and passes through the black heat exchanger into the fermentation vessel, while cold tap water is run through the green hose and drains out of the heat exchanger.

At this point, yeast is added, and the brewing vessel closed with an airlock that allows venting of CO2 gas while preventing contamination of the beer.

Pitching yeast into the cool wort

Fermentation vessel with an airlock

After about 10 days, after all bubbling in the airlock has died down, I check the gravity of the liquid again, and am ready to bottle. The beer is filtered into a bottling bucket, and sugar is added to provide carbonation to the bottles. Sanitized beer bottles are then filled with the beer and capped.  Another 2-week wait, and the beer is ready to drink.

If you want to get more details about home brewing, please feel free to contact me, or get in touch with the ICBC, Beer-D or WineMaker.

Spent Grain Bread

What do to with all the spent grain?  Well, mostly it ends up in the garden, spread around the flower beds or in a compost pile.  Since moving to an apartment though, I feel bad throwing the stuff out, so I found this recipe for spent grain bread: (By Joe Thompson )

1 cup warm water
4 Tbsp sugar
2 cups spent grain
1 pkg dry bakers yeast
1 Tbsp salt
2 Tbsp vegetable oil
3 to 3 1/2 cups bread flour

Combine sugar and yeast with warm water.

Add salt, oil, spent grain, and 1 cup of the flour. Mix well. Stir in enough of the remaining flour to make a stiff dough.

Knead well, cover, and let rise for several hours (until doubled). Punch down and shape into two loaves. Place on a greased baking sheet, cover, and let rise until doubled.

Bake at 425 degrees F. for 20 minutes. Reduce heat to 375 degrees F. and bake for 10 more minutes or until nicely browned.

I  recently ran across an informational cartoon about beer which I really like because it provides a nice synopsis.
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