In the blinding light and swampy heat of New Orleans, myself and GBH editor Austin L. Ray were making the rounds at Courtyard Brewing on a day with no air conditioning and a direct fire system in the back wafting oven-like puffs of heat into the taproom. During prime siesta time the taproom was crickets spare these two guys straddling the literal threshold between the scant breeze of the eponymous courtyard and the shade of the garage: Shaked and Dor on a post-military service escapade across the US looking for great beer.
From a small town near Tel Aviv, these two have been curious about beer from an early age. "In Israel you have to be 18 to drink," says Shaked. But he had his first taste of IPA at his Barmitzva and it stuck. As they came of age, they were delighted about a brewery and beer market in town that catered to their interests. "Unfortunately it's closing right now, our favorite," Shaked laments, "they had a big shop in Tel Aviv called The Beer Market. It displayed around 20-25, maybe more like around 50 Israeli beers. The freshest, the newest, the coolest breweries, and people that are crafting at home and putting Israeli craft beer into public notice. It went very well for them, and unfortunately it closed due to the rent of the market that they were placed being very, very high. Which is very sad for us because we used to go there at least once a week. We’d grab beers for home, and have drinks there. And people knew us there. It is very unfortunate."
After their recent military service, they were discharged and immediately chose to come to the US. "And we thought, fuck, let's go drink and travel, pretty much."
The duo started in New York City. As they excitedly talked over one another about their discoveries, names like Other Half, Single Cut, and Brooklyn Brewery spilled out onto the table. "Brooklyn, which is surprisingly good I must say. We were very surprised," said Shaked. "You can see it in every store," explains Dor. The more chatty Shaked further explains, "From our perspective, we have some very select places in Israel that we have Brooklyn beers. So because we were kind of used to the name, and used to the taste of it. This is my third time in the states. You kind of get the sense that because it is bigger, the quality is going to go down. We were very surprised. Even the Defender, which you can find in every convenience store in a six pack. Is very, very solid. It is very, very fruity, and all around good IPA. And that made us very very happy."
In Chicago they went after the Zombie Dust. As one does.
"We were going to go to Indiana,"recalls Shaked, "but then we saw that we could get it in the city. And the first evening in Chicago we were lucky enough to find a pint from draft at Lone Wolf. We really liked it. We were lucky."
After a burger at Au Cheval (these guys either got very very lucky or did their research), they continued scrounging for Zombie Dust. "We spent a good amount of our time in Chicago looking for the Zombie Dust everywhere," says Dor with a bit of an exhausted tone. "Every Whole Foods, beer, wine, spirits shop," says Shaked, "we presumed they had it and went inside." No luck. "They told us that the delivery guy only comes whenever he feels like it," says Dor.
And finally to New Orleans — but not for beer, for bourbon. "Our image was that New Orleans was like bourbon, jazz, concerts," says Dor. "Yes, French Quarter," affirms Shaked. But after discovering there was a brewery a short walk away, they braved the humidity and took the chance that their brewery luck would turn. "And we nearly didn’t even come today because we walked all the way over here from, I don’t know it was maybe a 30 minute walk. The walk in this kind of humidity, and I said we’re losing fluids, let's get some more," says Shaked. From the looks of them, they must of crawled up the ramp to the taproom.
"We had the Minimum Effort IPA," says Shaked holding up the glass. "And we were like, 'I think we are going to come here again.' They have some very good beers. Again, once you set your expectations a little lower, then once you get to New Orleans you know it is bourbon, and French Quarter, and bourbon, and music. Then when you think about beer here it is not really a normal part. But then you get here and you see that it should be. I don’t really know about the beer scene here, but if there are other breweries like Courtyard in New Orleans, then it should be considered. So, I’m glad we came here."
Thinking ahead to their imminent return home, the two seem a bit sad to be near the end of the journey, but also emboldened in their suspicions of what amazing beer can be. "Israel has a lot to learn," says Shaked. Dor agrees: "We had a couple of juice beers, New England IPAs, and that’s something that doesn’t really exist in Israel. I know a couple of home brewers who started doing this kind of beer, but in my opinion it is great beer. It's a whole new thing. We certainly have a lot to learn."
They may have to find the willpower to try it themselves. "If you could be a pioneer in Israel," says Shaked "it is something very important. A pioneer of a style, anything. Yeah, we’ll probably buy hops and stuff from here and bring it home. He does most of the cooking, I usually taste. Next time I will help him, as it seems like a bit of a tedious process."