Untapping Israel’s craft beer scene

World champion beer sommelier Oliver Wesseloh samples what’s brewing in the Holy Land so he can spread the word in Germany.

Oliver Wesseloh posing with the two founders of Srigim Brewery (photo credit: LIA KAMANA)
Oliver Wesseloh posing with the two founders of Srigim Brewery
(photo credit: LIA KAMANA)
Oliver Wesseloh came to Israel to experience the best of what the nation is brewing – and no, he wasn’t looking for coffee.
Wesseloh, a native of Hamburg, Germany, is the world champion beer sommelier. He was recently brought to the country as part of the Tourism Ministry’s effort to promote the varied touring and leisure options, including the emerging craft beer scene.
Becoming a world champion beer sommelier was no small feat. In order to be crowned, he had to beat 58 sommeliers from 11 countries at the 2013 World Championship held in Munich.
A beer sommelier is a trained and knowledgeable professional, and he has been one since 2012. He said that there are two approaches that sommeliers take when it comes to beer. The first is to evaluate a beer as a judge and the second is to promote good beer.
For Wesseloh, the second approach is the angle he takes because it assists in helping him accomplish his mission.
“My mission is that I want people to think about and talk about beer again,” he said.
It is this personal mission that made the Tourism Ministry bring Wesseloh to Israel in hopes that he will help expose the growing craft beer scene to the German population.
The ministry sponsored a five-day trip centered on craft beer. Wesseloh visited the Carmel Beer Bazaar Brewery, Jem’s Beer Factory in Petah Tikva and Alexander Brewery in the Hefer Valley on one day, and Srigim Brewery in the Eila Valley and Shapiro Brewery in the Beit Shemesh area on another.
According to the ministry, Germany is the fourth-largest source of tourism in Israel, following the US, Russia and France. In 2013 over 250,000 Germans visited and so far it looks like this year there is going to be an increase.
“The potential is big over there, 80 million people, great culture of travel, it’s a very promising country,” said a ministry representative.
Through its Berlin office, the ministry actively promotes Israel as a destination to the German public. In addition to public relations and marketing techniques, increases in flight capacity and frequency, is helping to bring in German citizens who are “known around the world as being curious tourists.”
The reasoning for the ministry’s bringing in the world champion beer sommelier, according to one representative, was sharing the experience of beer in the daily life in Israel.
“People have one image of what we eat and drink, and we want to show people that people drink beer here, we make beer here and it’s good,” a ministry spokesman said.
Wesseloh, who comes from a place where beer is considered a part of the heritage and culture, says it only seems right that the idea of beer in Israel could be a huge draw factor.
German beer and food journalists accompanied Wesseloh on the tour of breweries throughout the country, and through their articles, they can show people that it is nice to come here and visit, the spokesman said.
However, not only the ministry saw the value of bringing journalists along.
“What the journalists will say is important for Germans to see, because people just don’t know what beer can do,” said Wesseloh.
According to him, there is less variety in Germany and the number of styles available to the public is limited.
He describes beer as having more to offer, when asked about how beer compares to other alcoholic beverages.
“You can enjoy a very good spirit, but it’s one glass, with beer you can go through a huge range and be okay,” said Wesseloh, before adding with a smile, “not saying you should drive, though.”
He believes that beer is much more of a flavor experience than wine, because where wine just has grapes, beer starts off with a malt and then there are more than 200 different types of hops that all have a different aroma and taste depending on climate and soil.
“There are more flavors in beer than wine and there are more impressions in beer, beer delivers much more,” said the sommelier.
The craft beer scene has helped develop the flavors that he is referring to, because he believes that international beers tend to be the most boring when it comes to taste.
What seems to be unique about craft beer worldwide is that “craft beer changes consumption habits,” according to Wesseloh.
He believes that craft beer is aimed at the age range of 25 to 45, and not so much towards the younger drinking audience because they haven’t made up their mind on what they want or like. Craft beer is for those who have settled into their drinking ways.
Besides going around judging and promoting others’ beer creations, Wesseloh is a brewer himself. He described his brewing company, Kehrwieder KreativBrauerei, as “gypsy brewing,” because while they have beers on the market, they don’t have an actual location yet. He uses friends’ breweries, because he believes it’s important to brew his beer himself.
Kehrwieder KreativBrauerei beer can be found in cities around Germany, but mainly in Hamburg, where Wesseloh lives. And like himself, one of his beers, the Imperial Black Prototyp, which was made for the brewery’s anniversary, is a world champion.
The trip was the sommelier’s first experience in Israel and he said he definitely wants to come back. Wesseloh said being here has moved Israel higher up on his list of places to travel and he wants to bring his family and see more of the country.