Photograph by Jon Wunder
Gift No. 3
The holiday season is upon us, which for many means a time of social gatherings, family, friends and traditions both religious and secular.
This time of year brings me back to my youth, when I believed December was the time the Jews celebrated Hanukkah as well as Passover — when Santa Claus passed over our house and went to everyone else’s. Were it not for Cecil B. DeMille and his documentary, “The Ten Commandments,” I might still be disillusioned.
Needless to say, as an adult I have no sentimental attachment to any of December’s celebrations, but thanks to Shmaltz Brewing Company, that is all about to change. Because if there’s one tradition I can full invest in, it’s one that involves craft beer.
Zane Caplansky shows off his new beer in his eponymous Toronto deli./Renee Ghert-Zand
Forget the lime wedge or orange slice. This beer comes with a pickle garnish.
Caplansky’s Delicatessen in Toronto has introduced its own brew, called Deli King Spiced Dark Rye Lager, and it really does taste better accompanied by a sour dill.
This is not only because the beer is brewed with rye (in addition to barley). It’s also because it is flavored by the proprietary brisket rub deli man Zane Caplansky uses to make his delicious smoked meat (sort of like a deli sandwich in a bottle).
“The vinegar of the pickle cuts across the hoppiness of the beer,” Caplansky told the Forward, referring to a lager’s bitter, tangy taste. “And in any case, garnishing a beer with a pickle just goes with the chutzpah and humor I’m known for.”
Although some diners might order a beer to go with their deli sandwich, most people do not usually associate Jewish delicatessens with alcoholic beverages. Many delis are not even licensed to sell them, and even at Caplansky’s, which has been licensed since its opening, most patrons ask for a dark cherry soda or gingerale.
“Newsflash: Jews don’t drink!” Caplansky, 46, said with tongue in cheek. In fact, two years after the deli opened, he moved the bar to the back of the restaurant so that the meat slicing station could be in a more prominent position.
Honestly, I don’t like beer. No matter how many Summer barbecues and picnics I have been to, nothing has changed. You would think that that would prevent me from appreciating the process that goes into making the “water of the gods,” as a professor of mine once called it. Yet, after speaking with Katie Wallace, the sustainability specialist from New Belgium Brewery, I received a glimpse into the beauty, connection, and sustainable practices that can go into making this “godly” beverage.
It all began for New Belgium Brewery before the first beer was even sold. The two co-founders of the company decided to take a hike in the Rocky Mountain National Park. The magnificent beauty they found in the nature around them made it inevitable that protecting that beauty would be a core value in the Brewery.
Sombreros, kegs, and teddy bears surround the gleaming Hanukkah lights, on display in a album on Shmaltz Brewing Company’s Facebook page. But what distinguish these holiday scenes are not accessories but rather the very menorahs themselves — they’re made out of beer bottles. They are all entries in Shmaltz’s annual Beer Bottle Menorah Contest, an online holiday contest that is now in its third year.
A beer bottle menorah is exactly what it sounds like: eight brewskis lined in a row, with Hanukkah candles sticking out of them. The problem is how to get those candles to stay put. Creative solutions include placing playing cards, tin foil, upturned bottle caps, and even small dreidels on the top of the beer bottle — all in order to hold that candle in place. The guidelines for last year’s contest offer little help: “We realize the traditional candles still will not fit in the top of the bottles, but we are a handy people from tent dwellers to Jewish carpenters to craft brewers. Behold! A second chance to prove yourselves.” They suggest stuffing a matzo ball in the nape, as a way of holding the candle in place.
With dancing rabbis, clowns, and unicorns adorning their bottles, and names like Genesis Ale and Funky Jewbelation, Shmaltz Brewing Company’s He’Brew beer commands the attention of the liquor store browser — myself included.
The little-engine-that-could brewing company has made big waves over the past 16 years. Starting as an inside joke between Southern Californian friends, the brewing company, which celebrates “delicious beer and delicious shtick,” now has products on the shelves of 31 states. And its beer, brewed in Saratoga Springs, has won worldwide acclaim.
And so, I gathered some fellow beer connoisseurs and foodies in order to judge how good this He’brew beer actually was. Lucky for us, Shmaltz’s Holiday Gift Pack just hit store shelves, and includes eight diverse varieties of their wildly different craft brews.
The results? Delight. These brews are fun, distinctive, flavorful, clever and generally enjoyable to drink. The packs are expensive, from $25 to $30 depending on the store, but worth it. And so, with the opinions and insights of my overly opinionated sensitively-beer-tongued-friends, I provide you with a guide for enjoying each beer to its fullest flavor potential.
With the explosion of craft beers in the past five years, it was only a matter of time before an intrepid soul conquered the final brewery frontier: Queens, New York. Rich Buceta and the team at Single Cut brewery are opening a 5,000 square foot brewery there later this month. And the star of the Single Cut lineup? Matzoh-based beer.
“The folks at [local pub] Queens Kickshaw came up with the idea for this beer as a tribute to the Jewish tradition of eating Chinese food on Christmas Eve,” brewmaster Rich Buceta explained. The brew, which is made by mixing Szechuan peppercorns and matzoh into the malted barley mash, is dubbed a “White Lagrr,” perhaps because of the ferocious kick that the spicing will bring to it.
Aside from creating what sounds like the perfect Chanukah beer, Buceta plans a number of other yet-to-be-revealed concoctions. “We’ll be aging several beers in rum barrels, as well as brewing a number of Belgian-style ales,” he said. But the heart of the brewery lies in hoppy ales, like the Halfstack India Pale Ale that clocks in at 6.6% alcohol by volume. They plan to release a seasonal “Fullstack” IPA that’s even more alcoholic — a whopping 8.6%.
As a young country with no legacy of beer brewing, the recent rise of microbreweries in Israel has been nothing short of remarkable. And the new breed of Israeli brew masters isn’t just sticking to the rule book. They’re being creative with their brews, incorporating local flavors and putting their own stamp on an ancient — but very foreign — tradition. Negev Brewery is well known for their light and fruity passion fruit beer, and also won an award a few years ago for a smoked salmon variety they produced. Dancing Camel Brewery in Tel Aviv makes a popular mint and rosemary-flavored blonde ale for the summer, and Gal Sapir flavors Gal’s Craft Beer with everything from star anise to Sichuan pepper.
Beer isn’t an entirely new concept in Israel. The country’s first commercial “beer” — non-alcoholic Nesher Malt — was brewed by Palestine Brewery Ltd. in Rishon Le-Zion in 1935. It remains a popular beverage today, and they even try to tout its health benefits like vitamins and anti-oxidants. These days Goldstar (which has been in production since 1950) and Maccabee (since 1968) are the two best selling Israeli brews. All three beers are now owned by Tempo Industries, Israel’s largest brewer and second largest beverage company.
If you think about it, Super Bowl Sunday is a lot like a Jewish holiday — it’s all about the food.
In an homage to the two teams playing in the big game — the Pittsburgh Steelers and Green Bay Packers — we asked three Jewish chefs and a Pittsburgh deli owner to reimagine the teams’ hometown foods, with a Jewish twist of course.
For Green Bay, Wisconsin, the hometown favorites are cheese curds and cheddar cheese.
Pittsburgh’s signature sandwich (treyf as it is), is courtesy of the Primanti Bros. chain of restaurants, and features meat, melted cheese, French fries and coleslaw between two slices of Italian bread.
Follow your stomach’s desire or go with the food in line with your favorite team. But remember, if you eat too much of these, you may find yourself looking like a line backer.
For beer pairings, we suggest the new Samuel Adams variety pack, which includes White Ale, Boston Lager, Revolutionary Rye, Irish Red, Scotch Ale and Noble Pils. There’s something for everyone. And what’s Super Bowl Sunday without some beer? (Helmet is optional).
Here’s what the experts came up with:
New York Times Dining Critic Sam Sifton fields a reader’s question of where she should take her kosher-keeping boyfriend for an intensely treyf meal and dubs famous Jewish cookbook author Arthur Schwartz his hero in the process.
Israel is known for its hummus, falafel and well, the birthplace of monotheism. But beer? Not so much. At least until now, Café Liz reports on the holy land’s first beer expo and shares some tasting highlights.
Epicurious gives us some “Yom Kippur Recipes and Menus” including ones for Yemenite holiday soup, plumb dumplings and some traditional Jewish fare.
The LA Times explores different break fast traditions of Jews around the world.
“A former army man’s boutique brewery may change the face of Israeli beer,” according to Haaretz
Nikki Cascone, “Top Chef” alum, who is opening Octavia’s Porch, a global Jewish cuisine restaurant in New York speaks with The Village Voice.