Ben-Gurion's beer-brewer

Yochai Kudler knows how to produce beer; now his studies have given him a business plan.

Yochai Kudler 88 248 (photo credit: Courtesy/Dani Machlis)
Yochai Kudler 88 248
(photo credit: Courtesy/Dani Machlis)
Undergraduate Yochai Kudler is studying for his bachelor's degree in hotel and tourism management, yet he has no desire to open or manage a hotel, run a travel agency or do anything else related to tourism. Kudler's passion is beer, or more precisely, beer brewing. At the end of every week of studies at the Guilford Glazer School of Business and Management at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, he goes home to Kibbutz Urim, where, together with a partner, he boils, ferments and bottles four different kinds of beer. Out of the two-room kibbutz operation, he gives demonstrations on home-brewing to tourists, and even sells the odd bottle for NIS 8 each. Kudler, 29, remembers being a young beer freak reading the labels on the local brands and not being able to figure out exactly what the ingredients "letet" and "kishot" really meant. It wasn't until he went to Alaska in the summer of 2002 that he found out that letet means malted barley and kishot means hops. More fatefully, in Alaska he finally learned how to actually brew beer. He's been at it for five years now, combing the world for the best micro-brewing equipment and ingredients, tasting the world's best beers and in the process becoming an amateur beer historian. He's finally nearing the end of the seemingly endless bureaucratic and financial process involved in getting his micro-brewery up and running as a legal beer distributorship. Why decide to study tourism and hotel management? Noting that half his course work is in basic business subjects like accounting, economics, investment, banking and the like, he replies, "I already had the knowledge I needed to produce beer. What I needed was the knowledge of how to run a business." And he's getting it. "One of my professors described what he called the 'Via Dolorosa' of getting a business started in Israel. Now that I'm going through it, I can say that he taught me exactly what to expect." For Kudler, the dream began during his army service. "Everybody was talking about where they wanted to go after the army - to India, to Thailand, to Nepal. My dream was always to go to Alaska. I really love the cold." After the army, he headed for Homer, on the south coast of Alaska, hoping to get a job in the local fishing industry and pursue his interest in beer. It seemed like the right place; a popular local bumper sticker reads "Homer - a quaint little drinking village with a fishing problem." Kudler never did get a job in fishing, but worked at construction and odd jobs while staying at a local hostel with other international travelers. He and a buddy went to a provisions store, and for $20 each, they bought a home-brewing kit. "We made a few kegs of pretty good beer," he recalls. "We had some good parties." After a second summer in Alaska, Kudler began setting up his home-brewery at Urim, where he had grown up. "We make a golden ale that tastes of passion fruit, an amber ale like Goldstar only more bitter, an Indian pale ale that's bitter with a lot of hops and a porter that's dark like Guinness, only with more body." To perfect his craft, build his reputation and make contacts, Kudler enters the beer festivals held every few months around the country. He's even won first-place awards. However, gearing up for a micro-brewery that could produce industrial quantities of high-quality, high-price beer for distribution has proven to be a more difficult challenge. Kudler traveled to Boulder, Colorado where he spent time at a micro-brewery and learned enough to design his own operation. "But brewing equipment requires very precise welding, and I couldn't find a welder in Israel who was both skilled enough and would do it cheaply enough for me to afford," he relates, "so I ended up buying the equipment from Germany." Even more challenging, though, were the bureaucratic hurdles to setting up a micro-brewery - especially here, where it is a brand new field and where only two commercial micro-breweries are currently operating, one in Tel Aviv, the other in the Golan Heights. Nevertheless, after two and a half years of laying the groundwork for his business, Kudler is confident he'll have the necessary permits by the end of this year. The key step remaining is finding a sufficiently large and affordable plant for a commercial micro-brewery. "My studies are helping me a lot," he says, "opening my mind to things I need to know: accounting, economics, marketing, profit-and-loss statements, banking fees, investments, the works." Ultimately, of course, he says he has learned the golden rule of good management: To stay in business, he will have to turn a profit, and profit depends not only how good his beer is, but how good a businessman he is. "The bottom line is that it isn't enough to make a good beer," he concludes, "You have to build a good business."