New Israeli beers for the new year

Looking for new beers to celebrate the new year? Try these new Israeli beers.

 THE FIRST three beers from the Shikma Brewery  in Ashkelon: Amber Lager, Märzen Lager and IPA.  (photo credit: AMIR YAKOBY)
THE FIRST three beers from the Shikma Brewery in Ashkelon: Amber Lager, Märzen Lager and IPA.
(photo credit: AMIR YAKOBY)

Fall has arrived, the days are getting shorter and cooler – and some recent beers from Israeli craft breweries have arrived to help us enjoy the changing weather.

Let’s begin with the Shikma Brewery in Ashkelon, opened in July as a wholly owned subsidiary of the giant Israel Beer Breweries Ltd., makers of popular brands such as Tuborg and Carlsberg.

It’s one of the two recent events that mark the entry of Israel’s industrial brewers into the craft market. (The other was Tempo Beer Industries’ purchase of the Shapiro Brewery, a family-owned business in Beit Shemesh.) 

“Shikma” means “sycamore tree” in Hebrew, and the first three beers are an India Pale Ale, an Amber Ale and a Märzen Lager.

The India Pale Ale (IPA) is more in the tradition of the British version than the more hoppy American style. It’s a semi-hazy golden orange color, with fresh aromas of grass, earth and citrus. The taste is bitter up front and at the finish, with flavors in between of lemon, citrus and pine. The mouthfeel has some warmth from the alcohol (which is 5.2%), astringency, and mid-body and mid-carbonation. 

The Amber Ale is also true to its style. On the lighter end of the amber color spectrum, it’s slightly hazy with a thin, bubbly head. The aromas have lots of yeast, bready malt and caramel. The taste is basically sweet; I detected flavors of caramel, malt, zesty hops, and sourdough bread. The finish is mid-bitter and acerbic. Alcohol by volume is 5.5%.

The Märzen Lager is probably the first of its kind made in Israel. The name means “March” (as an adjective) in German, and these beers were traditionally brewed at the end of the winter for drinking during the summer. In time, Märzens became the beer style associated with the Oktoberfest, the giant beer festival held in Munich. 

The Shikma Märzen pours out a golden amber with a creamy white head that bubbles away rather quickly. Like with other lagers, you get scents of yeast and malt against a sweet background. The taste is full and rich with caramel, sweet from toasted malt, but balanced by the hops. The body is medium and the carbonation is low. It’s a smooth and refreshing beer, 5.7% alcohol, brewed successfully as a summer and autumn lager. 

THE OAK & Ash Brewery in Beit Shemesh has been brewing there for around two years (after it took over the facility from Buster’s). Brewers Asher Zimble and Leiby Chapler recently acquired a new partner with considerable experience in the retail trade. At his initiative, the brewery is producing a new line of beers called “A beer,” which also means “knight” in Hebrew. The bottles are heavily branded with knightly images and mythical fantasy language. 

There are four “A beer” beers:

 THE Red Knight, an Irish Red Ale from  the Shevet Brewery in Pardes Hanna: Low hop  bitterness and caramel.  (credit: Courtesy Shevet Brewery) THE Red Knight, an Irish Red Ale from the Shevet Brewery in Pardes Hanna: Low hop bitterness and caramel. (credit: Courtesy Shevet Brewery)

The Lager is 5% alcohol, pale and clear. You don’t see the carbonation, but you feel it. Stick your nose in the glass (not in the beer!) and you’ll get some smells of lager yeast, grass and wheat cookies. The taste is lemony, with a mid-bitter, crisp and dry finish. 

The Red Lager is indeed a clear reddish brown, also 5% alcohol. With the aroma, you get strong malt and caramel – on the mark for a red lager. The taste is mildly bitter, with more malt, caramel and toastiness. The mouthfeel is astringent with fine, tingly carbonation. 

The Dark Lager is a translucent, very dark brown with a thin and creamy beige head. There’s an aroma of malt, caramel, chocolate and yeast. The flavor is a bit sweet, with roasted malt, dark bread and caramel. Actually, a very nice combination. It’s medium-bodied (5% alcohol), and you finish with a nice dry astringency.

The IPA is a clear, mid-amber color with light carbonation. The aromas brought some malt, and pine from the hops. The taste was bitter, full of piney hoppiness and citrus. No other distinguishable fruits that I could get, but if you’re looking for a bitter piney IPA, this is for you. Alcohol by volume is 6%. 

(Oak & Ash has also introduced a new line of beers with “Ash” as the common brand name.)

UNDER THE guiding hand of German brewmaster Felix Magdziarz, the Shevet Brewery in Pardess Hanna has been producing new core beers, seasonal brews, and oak barrel-aged special editions. There are two new core beers which are excellent examples of their styles.

The Red Knight (what is it with beer and knights?) is an Irish Red Ale, a style noted for its sweet caramel and toffee flavors from the malt, with low hop bitterness. The Red Knight is a clear, crimson gold color with aromas of malt, sweet caramel and butterscotch. It has flavors of rich malt, and some citrus fruit from the yeast esters. Alcohol by volume: 5.1%. 

Hop Guru is Shevet’s new IPA, bursting with citrus and pine flavors, with grapefruit dominating. It’s not very bitter like a lot of other IPAs, actually bittersweet. The mouthfeel is medium-body and acerbic. Alcohol is 5.7%. 

Another new IPA is Ashan Lavan (“White Smoke”) from HaDubim, whose brewer-brothers Rotem and Dagan Bar Ilan are known for their excellent IPAs. The beer is made at the BeerBazaar Brewery in Kiryat Gat.

Ashan Lavan is a hazy, golden-amber color. The pour releases aromas of stone fruits, citrus and light pine. The first sip is dry and bitter, but then it unfolds into bitter fruit: peach, mango, orange.

 HOP Guru, the new IPA  from the Shevet Brewery in Pardess  Hanna: Strong citrus and pine  flavors. (credit: Courtesy Shevet Brewery) HOP Guru, the new IPA from the Shevet Brewery in Pardess Hanna: Strong citrus and pine flavors. (credit: Courtesy Shevet Brewery)

In some IPAs, the bitterness blocks out the flavors, but not here. Ashan Lavan has a short, bitter finish that makes you want to take another gulp. At 6.2% alcohol, a superior IPA.

A VERY different but equally enjoyable IPA – actually called “Imperial IPA” – is DOX2 from Dancing Camel in Tel Aviv, Israel’s first craft brewery, owned by American-born David Cohen. The 9% alcohol makes this beer Imperial, but so does the dark amber color, and the strong and complex aromas and tastes. Malt, caramel, citrus, dried fruits, leather, vanilla and chocolate are some of the sensations I detected. The finish is acerbic and dry and full of alcoholic warmth. DOX2 is quite an amazing IPA, not at all typical for this style.

One more beer that should be mentioned is an international collaboration between Negev Beer (in the Tefen industrial park) and Mikkeller, Europe’s famous gypsy brewer based in Denmark. The beer’s unwieldy name is Desert Haze: Mikkeller X Negev. It was actually brewed in the De Proef Brewery in Lochristi, Belgium, and shipped to Israel in cans. Since no Israeli microbrewery has a canning line, you can actually call Desert Haze the first Israeli craft beer in cans, even though it isn’t really “from” Israel. 

Desert Haze was brewed to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Hacarem Spirits, an import agency and co-owner of several Israeli properties, including the Malka Brewery, where Malka, Negev and Herzl beers are brewed. The recipe is a collaborative effort of Mikkeller representatives and Hacarem employees Maor Helfman and Yoni Fliderman. 

Desert Haze is a creamy and hazy New England-style IPA, 4.9% alcohol, very low bitterness and with flavors of mango, pineapple and red grapefruit. It is delicious, but there are not many cans left out there. If you’re lucky enough you still might be able to find one in your local store. 

The writer is the owner of MediawiSe, an agency for advertising and direct marketing in Jerusalem. He writes a web log on Israeli craft beers at