Not Your NORMAl Experience

“Samichlaus is a beer which is brewed on only one day a year. It has a sweet yet potent aroma, but no make no mistake – after half a bottle, you will feel like you yourself are in a Belgian attic…” Nir Bar Lev was exposed to some new beers at Norma Jean bar in Tel Aviv.

Judging by my drinking habits, no one would mistake me for being British, but when a small bird (with a not so small beer belly) whispered in my ear that there is a bar in the Florentin neighborhood which offers dozens of beer varieties, including many rarities, as well as hundreds of whiskeys, and a special kitchen which recommends the dishes to go with its drinks, I could not pass up the experience. I got on the bike with my girlfriend and off zoomed off towards the south-city neighborhood.

I have eaten in quite a few restaurants and have had my share of beer, but prior to going there, I had yet to see an alcohol menu as impressive as the one in Norma Jean. The menu itself is a sort of beer compendium, shedding light on the local ad international bar culture. Reading this menu taught us, for example, that the beer kingdom is actually Belgium, not Britain as is commonly though. Norma Jean also invests a great deal in its beer offerings: it is one of only a few places in our tiny nation which has a special cooling room for beer kegs, maintaining the quality of the brew.

We decided to go wild, and order beers we have yet to taste. Out of all the beers I had – and God help me, there were plenty – I fell in love with one, a fruity, peachy, sourish beer, which goes by the name of Peach, and which contains only 3.5% alcohol. Call me feminine, call me gentle, but this beer excited me more than others have in the past, with each sip furthering my realization that Belgium has more to offer than Godiva. What excited me even more about this beer was its story, told to us by the experienced barman, who knows the history of all the Norma Jean drinks by heart. The Peach was naturally brewed in Brussels, with the special Brussels air uniquely fit for its creation. It brews in a tub in an attic, with the windows open. In any other place, this beer would spoil. Aside from the peach-flavored beer, Norma Jean offers beers flavored with cherry, raspberry, and apple – all so rare that you would search long and hard before finding them in the Holy Land.

Norma Jean takes good care to improve the Israeli bar culture, and listed next to each dish, is the beer that is recommended to drink when having it. To go with our beer, we had a dish of Maatjes in wheat-beer – homemade herring served with cream cheese and beer-batter rolls. This dish sort of reminded us of holidays in a Polish home, and we found the taste refreshing. We also had Avram Grants skewers – juicy entrecote skewers in a sweet whiskey sauce, served over soft and delicious mashed potatoes. On top of all this, we also had the house sausage which included bacon, fine whiskey, and coriander seeds. It reminded me of the romantic sausage stands in snowy Prague. Norma Jean has a sausage chef, a man whose main mission is to make sausages and make them well. Jobs like this one make me question my decision to go to law school.

Then it was on to the entr?es. My girlfriend, who for the first time in five years has seen me drink more than 1/3 serving of beer (much more), chose the hamburger. This may seem like a run of the mill selection, but with meat so juicy and so choice, the flavors mix in the mouth and the result is a great gastronomical experience. My choice was less conventional: two linked Irish sausages, cooked in dark ale, and served over a bed of sauerkraut. I usually am not floored by food, but I won’t exaggerate if I said that these were the best sausages I ever had. I did mention the designated sausage-chef already, right?

Like any respectable couple, we refused to forgo the dessert, and Norma Jean’s, even the dessert isn’t served by itself. We were served an unconventional dessert of Samichlaus and two cheeses. Samichlaus is a beer containing 14% alcohol (until recently, this was the strongest beer in the world) which is brewed on only one day a year – the 6th of December is the day the entire world gets its yearly stock of this rare and pricey