Wine Talk: Getting Better

In recent years, Israeli beer has become a vibrant industry, producing a beverage ideal for our climate.

beers_311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Winemakers often say it takes a lot of beer to make a good wine. This is because winemakers drink a lot of beer. So in this article we will focus on the beer renaissance in Israel.
Beer was not traditionally associated with Israel. In ancient times Israelites planted vineyards and made wine while Babylonians grew grain and made beer. However in recent years Israeli beer has become a new vibrant industry, producing a product ideal for our climate.
The revolution has had four parts. The beginning was in 1934 when Gaston Dreyfus and James Rothschild founded Palestine Breweries at Rishon Le Zion Wine Cellars . Thus the two Frenchmen established a modern beer industry in Israel.
The first Nesher and Goldstar, Israel’’s oldest beer brands, were made at Palestine Breweries, but it closed in 1960. The main drinkers of beer had been the British and when they left, the market declined.
The next important phase was in 1985 when a soft drink company called Tempo decided to gather together the strands of Israeli brewing under one umbrella. Tempo took over breweries like Nesher Beer Co. and the National Brwery and formed Tempo Beer Industries.
The company marketed brands such as Goldstar, Maccabee and Nesher, and became the dominant factor in Israeli beer. For the first time Israel brewers had an important voice, although Israelis still preferred Coca Cola and Sprite.
In the 1990s, the industry benefited both from international investment and from new competition. Firstly, Coca Cola Israel went into beer, initially importing Carlsberg to Israel and then building a brewery in Ashkelon in 1995 to produce Carlsberg and Tuborg. Tempo reacted by importing Heineken. The competition between Goldstar and Heineken on one hand and Carlsberg and Tuborg on the other revitalized the beer industry.
The major players then started to import major international brands. Carlsberg Israel, also known as Israel Beer Breweries or IBBL, brought in Guinness, Leffe, Hoegaarden, Stella Artois, Kilkenny and Weihenstephan, and Tempo imported brands like Samuel Adams, Paulaner and Murphy’s, in addition to Heineken, which took a share in Tempo. The Israeli beer industry had come of age.
The final phase was in the 2000s when many home brewers replicated the boutique winery explosion of the 1990s by starting to produce beer.
Though the two giants continued to dominate, the new small producers brought color and variety to Israel.
The first of the new wave small breweries to break through was Dancing Camel, situated in Tel Aviv, which became known for its seasonal brews and creative brewing.
Today there is no lack of choice for the Israeli beer consumer.
What kinds of beer?
A small glossary of the main styles
Pilsener: The most well-known lager style beer. It is golden in color, with a delicate flowery aroma and a tight, dry, clean refreshing finish. This style originated in Pilsen in Czechoslovakia. The most famous brand is Pilsener Urquell.
Pale Ale: This is a copper colored ale in the British style. The main feature is the refreshing bitterness produced through the addition of hops. Bass ale is a good example.
Amber Ale: Known as Ambree in France, this is an alternative style of ale. It is less hoppy, smoother and more malty than a pale ale. Kilkenny, an Irish red ale, may be the closest international brand here.
Stout: An extra-dark Porter style beer made from highly roasted malts. The bittersweet contrast and full flavor with hints of chocolate and coffee make this a unique style. The most famous Stout is Guinness, which is produced in Ireland.
Weisse Beer or Wheat Beer: This Bavarian style beer usually has a pale head, is cloudy, and very aromatic. It is the muscat of beers. An acquired taste to some, but those who like the style won’t drink anything else. Weihenstephaner is the main international Wheat Beer here.
Our Choice
Three of the best new Israeli breweries are Jems in Petach Tikvah, Pavo in Zichron Ya’acov and Alexander in Emek Hefer.
Out of these quality operations, my personal favorites in each style are: Pavo Pale Ale; Alexander Amber Ale; Jems Stout; Pavo Pilsener; Jems Wheat Beer.
Quite apart from the beer, some of the new breweries are wonderful places to visit. The most unique visitors’ center is Pavo Brewey, which is situated at Givat Zamarin, the original part of Zichron Ya’acov.
Pavo has an authentic beer garden and a raised terrace overlooking the slopes and valleys surrounding the southern part of Mount Carmel. There you can sample the beers while sitting outside and marveling at the wonderful view.
If that is too quiet for you, I recommend a visit to the Jems Beer Factory in Petah Tikva. Here a cavernous room has been converted into a pub that is full of atmosphere and has an innovative and unique design. With the brewery in the corner and a great bar to sit at, Jems also offers an attractive menu of food and good music. It is a great venue for an evening out. Jems, a kosher operation, is a place where all Israelis can drink together and feel at home.

Adam Montefiore works for Carmel Winery and regularly writes about wine both in Israeli and international publications. [email protected]