Grinning from beer to beer

Take a trip to the new hotspot that is Jaffa to get a taste of Jerusalem’s own BeerBazaar.

The opening night crowd enjoys some brews. (photo credit: BEERBAZAAR)
The opening night crowd enjoys some brews.
(photo credit: BEERBAZAAR)
Here are a few fun facts about beer that you probably did not know. As it happens, beer is the third most popular drink in the world, after water and tea. That’s right, beer – not coffee, not milk, nor any kind of internationally mass-marketed soft drink.
Beer is also quite probably the second-oldest drink in the world, right after water, made and consumed by human beings since the end of the Paleolithic or Old Stone Age. And if that weren’t enough to grab your attention, here is something a little closer to home. The earliest archaeological evidence for beer fermentation comes from right here in Israel, not far from Haifa, at Rakefet Cave in the Carmel Mountains. It was made and consumed more than 13,000 years ago by people known to archaeologists as the Natufans, pre-agricultural hunters and gatherers who lived during the Mesolithic era, a period of time between the Old and New Stone Ages.
To be honest, the beer made by these Natufians was probably more like porridge, more eaten than really drunk. But liquid beer more or less as we know it today was soon produced and quaffed throughout the Middle East, with abundant archaeological evidence from what is now Iran, Iraq, Egypt and of course Israel. Beer production and consumption are mentioned in some of the world’s oldest literature as well, notably the “Hymn to Ninkasi,” the Sumerian goddess of beer, the Babylonian “Epic of Gilgamesh,” as well as Egyptian pyramid hieroglyphics. Which leads us to the ironic observation that although beer began in this part of the world, devel- oped in this part of the world, and is recorded in the earliest writing from this part of the world, it is not particularly popular in this part of the world. As men- tioned a moment ago, beer is the third most popular drink in the world – but popular overall, not everywhere. Despite having two mass-production breweries, Israel has traditionally been a place where drinks like orange juice and chocolate milk have far out- paced beer as popular adult beverages.
That is changing, however, as Israel – and particularly Tel Aviv and parts of Jerusalem – become ever younger, edgier, more sybaritic and less constrained by tradition. A few weeks ago, for example, a crowd estimated to have reached around 2,000 people packed Olei Zion Street in Jaffa and swarmed through the rest of the surrounding flea market to celebrate the opening of the sixth branch of BeerBazaar, a growing chain of bars specializing in “craft beers” made here in Israel, with a popular branch in Jerusalem’s own Mahaneh Yehuda. The rather large number of people who showed up to wish the new franchise success can probably be explained by the fact that everyone was promised free tastings from all 100 of the Israeli craft beers available at any of the company’s branches.
Each of these beers, in the lingo of beer brewers, marketers, bartenders and aficionados, is called a “style.” Each of these styles, at least in theory, is brewed differently, made from distinctive ingredients, and has its own unique aroma, flavor and palate.
What kind of people are getting into this business? Haim Moskowitz is one example. Born 29 years ago in Staten Island, New York, Moskowitz is a partner at the Jaffa franchise, along with his father, who is CEO and a partner of the now six-year-old BeerBazaar brand. “I’ve always helped out because it’s fun and I love beer,” Moskowitz says. “And I love the Israeli craft beer scene. It’s special and the people are special. My dad draws comparisons with the Israeli wine scene in the 1980s. Then there was only a handful of wineries; today there are over 350.
“When we first started thinking about beer here, I frankly thought it was kind of crazy. Israelis drink beer, but they drink Maccabee and they drink Goldstar. But even that, if you look at the per-capita consumption rates, we’re below America, which is below Europe. But in the past few years, we’ve seen an emergence of people interested in artisanal, craft, authentic, small-batch things – in food generally, but especially in beer. We carry more than 100 different styles of Israeli craft beer, which is kind of a niche within a niche.” BeerBazaar itself brews around nine of these under its own label, around 10 “contract brews” for others, and the rest come from other breweries across Israel.
In much the same spirit in which Henry Ford ushered in the modern 20th-century industrial period with mass assembly-line production of millions of Model T Fords – and declared that customers could get the car in any color they wanted, as long as it was black – companies like BeerBazaar are contributing to our current 21st-century postmodern period, characterized by narrow niche marketing and many, many choices. Whereas most Israelis in the late 1970s watched one television station, read one of two daily Hebrew language newspapers, drank one brand of tea and one brand of coffee, a younger and more diverse Israel demands more choices. The appearance of bars serving 100 brands of craft, artisanal beer should thus come as no surprise.
“We love what the craft beer scene has become and what it con- tinues to become,” Moskowitz says. “The buzzwords we keep coming back to are “authentic,” “craft” and “artisanal.” It’s the opposite of the big corporation, conglomerate, mass-manufactured beer. It’s about coming back to the roots. We created BeerBazaar to spread love and beer the Israeli way, and we won’t rest until everybody has a cold, delicious, fresh, Israeli craft beer in their hand.”