There is no product more suitable for the Israeli climate than beer. Even winemakers are sometimes seen wearing T-shirts with the slogan “It takes a lot of beer to make fine wine.” There are some hamsin evenings when only a beer will do.
However, Israel is far from a beer country, whereas it has made wine for at least 5,000 years. The world may be divided into the grain and the grape. Here, it is the grape that grows naturally, and it is wine that flourishes.
Israel has made beer since 1934 when Palestine Beer Industries was founded in Rishon Lezion at what is now Carmel’s Rishon Lezion Winery. Nesher, Israel’s oldest beer brand, and the well-known Goldstar were first made there. The brewery closed in 1960 because, apart from the British, no one drank beer, and the days of the British Mandate had long passed.
The next major date was 1985 when a soft-drink company called Tempo gathered together the strands of Israeli brewing under one umbrella and formed Tempo Beer Industries in Netanya. It became Israel’s largest brewer. In 1995, Israel Beer Breweries (IBBL) opened a brewery in Ashkelon to produce the Danish beers Carlsberg and Tuborg. For the first time, there was healthy competition. Later, Dutch brewery giant Heineken bought a stake in Tempo. Then Tempo and IBBL started bringing some interesting imported beers to a thirsty Israeli public, opening minds to new possibilities.
In the early 2000s there was an explosion of home brewing, and in the last few years a number of small commercial breweries have been established, echoing the boom in boutique wineries that had begun 15 to 20 years earlier.
Of the new wave of breweries, arguably one of the best is Pavo. The word pavo means “peacock” in Latin. The company describes itself as Israel’s most beautiful brewery. If you visit, you may be compelled to agree that they’re right. Most small breweries are located in industrial centers or spare corners of warehouses.
Pavo Brewery is situated on the southern slopes of Mount Carmel at Givat Zamarin.
It was there in 1882 that Jews from Romania first settled on a hill that later became the cornerstone of Zichron Ya’acov.
The brewery has been designed to fit in with the contours of the building that houses it. What makes it unique are the balcony, the garden and the tranquility.
The balcony offers a spectacular view overlooking Wadi Milek to the east. There is a genuine beer garden in the courtyard, complete with long tables. When buzzing with people, it will remind you of the Munich beer festival, though on a small scale. On a regular day, when there is no event in the garden, you can sit on the balcony with a sampler of each of the beers, eat some flavorful sausages and enjoy the solitude while overlooking the vineyards of Meir Shefeya.
The driving force behind the operation is ginger-haired Nachi Bargida. An international businessman with family roots in Zamarin, he decided to give it all up to create a dream. It started with home brewing, honing the product by constantly sending samples to Bavaria, and resulted in one of the country’s finest new breweries.
The brewer is Lior Balmas from Haifa, another home brewer who caught the bug.
He studied food technology at Tel Hai College and then went to the heart of German brewing country to learn all the secrets. He studied at the Rumies Institute in Bavaria.
The impressively shiny stainless steel and copper brewing equipment was imported from Slovakia. No additives are used in Pavo’s beers, and they use only the traditional raw materials of malt, wheat, yeast and hops, which are imported from Germany.
The only Israeli aspect apart from the labor is the water, which is crucial to brewing. Unfortunately, Israeli water does need to be treated. Firstly, it has to be distilled, and then the correct minerals have to be reintroduced. Once, a brewery would almost by definition have to be close to a good water source. Today, the water can be treated anywhere, so this is now far less of an issue.
Pavo produces five different types of beer: a yeasty aromatic wheat beer, reminiscent of a Bavarian Wheat or “Weissbier”; a refreshing, minerally Pilsener, bringing to mind the Czech standard; the stout is not Guinness, but it really is black and velvety with the bitter-sweet, mocha-coffee taste one would hope for. My favorite is the fruity and hoppy IPA. This is an Indian Pale Ale, which Pavo cleverly renames Israeli Pale Ale. Each of these is international quality and among the best of its type in Israel. As an ex-Brit, I think I am a fairly good judge of an ale. I was weaned on draught Bass and Charrington IPA, having begun my drinks career working for Bass and Charrington breweries. Pavo IPA is pretty good. They also have Reddish Lager and Tripel, a strong beer in Belgian style, which in my opinion don’t wow like the others.
Givat Zamarin may be the forgotten part of Zichron Ya’acov, but there are other places to visit after quenching your thirst.
A spit from the brewery is Carmel Winery, which was built exactly 120 years ago, also in Givat Zamarin. This is Israel’s largest winery, and the country’s oldest industrial building still in use. In 2011 it was totally refurbished and renovated.
There are two restaurants in Givat Zamarin. Adama is a family-owned restaurant in a restored stone house, offering an excellent seasonal menu in a wonderful setting. It is not kosher. Bistro de Carmel is a Mediterranean-style kosher restaurant, perfect for Friday morning breakfasts, and a great original venue for an event or function.
Pavo’s address is 14 Ma’aleh Rishonim Street, Givat Zamarin, Zichron Ya’acov. The visitors’ center is closed on Shabbat. Call (04) 639-8988 for more details. The obvious professionalism of the brewery, with no expense spared, the sheer quality of the beers and the unique surrounding beauty make it a place worthy of a special visit.
Maybe that is why the strutting peacock on every beer glass looks so proud.
Adam Montefiore works for Carmel Winery and regularly writes about wine in both Israeli and international publications. [email protected]