Brewing a vision

High-end craft beer is coming out of Talpiot

Jerusalem brewery 521 (photo credit: Mike horton)
Jerusalem brewery 521
(photo credit: Mike horton)
The boutique beer revolution in Israel has been going on for about seven years – but it had always bypassed Jerusalem. No breweries had opened in this city. In fact, beers brewed in nearby cities saw this void and jumped in to claim our name. Shapiro Beer, brewed in Beit Shemesh, calls itself “Jerusalem Beer,” while Canaan Beer from Mishor Adumim proudly announces “Beer of Jerusalem” on its bottles.
No more. Now there really is a Jerusalem beer.
Herzl Brewery began production in the Talpiot industrial zone about four months ago. There, among the little stores and the grimy workshops, heavenly beer is being brewed for the country’s thirsty beer lovers.
The owners – and so far the only workers – are two 30-year-old Jerusalemites, Maor Helfman and Itai Gutman.
“We share a love of beer and brewing, and our dream to make beer and earn a living from it,” explains Helfman.
The two partners both interned as brewers abroad – Helfman in Scotland and Gutman in Scotland and Germany. Helfman continues: “When I started working in Scotland, they saw I was Israeli and they asked me if I knew Itai, who had worked there earlier. I said no, but later, after I was back in Israel, I met him in Jerusalem, where he was working as a bartender. I remembered his name.”
It didn’t take long for them to decide that they wanted to brew beer together. What did take a long time was jumping over the bureaucratic and financial hurdles.
“It took us two years to get all the necessary forms and approvals from the various government ministries, and [to secure] a bank loan,” explains Gutman.
While they were doing all the legwork, they found a place in Talpiot to open their brewery, purchased the equipment, and developed a plan for their beers.
We tour around the small but well-equipped brewery, beginning with the mash tun, where the malted barley is first mixed with hot water to produce the wort (pronounced “wert”), a sugarrich broth that is the basis of all beer. Then the wort moves to the kettle, where it is boiled with hops (and often other ingredients) to add flavor and bitterness. After the liquid is cooled down under very controlled conditions, it goes into the fermenter and yeast is added.
The brewery has several water-jacketed fermenters that keep the beer-to-be at the proper temperatures as the yeast does its magic. The sugars in the liquid are converted into carbon dioxide and, of course, alcohol. A few weeks later, we have beer.
At the Herzl Brewery, the bottling and labeling are done by hand.
“We didn’t want to do the same thing as the other Israeli microbreweries,” continues Gutman, who serves as the brewmaster. “They usually produce a pale ale, a darker or red ale, a stout or porter, and a wheat beer. We chose three different beers, and we named them using Jerusalem slang rather than beer categories.”
As we talk, Helfman and Gutman open their bottles of beers for me to taste. (This is the best part of my job.) First is “Shesh Ahuz Kapara” (“kapara” is a tough word to translate, but the closest American slang is probably “Six Percent, Fuggedaboutit”), a mild, red, British-inspired ale, with a nice aroma of fruit and hops. At 6% alcohol by volume (ABV), it’s a beer that makes a powerful, malty impression.
Then we try “Dulce de Asal,” a Spanish and Arabic name that means “the sweetness of honey.” This is a strong ale with 8% ABV. It’s suitable for drinkers who don’t like their beer very bitter. Gutman says the beer is in the family of heavy Scottish ales, and influenced by the fermented honey drink of mead.
Mead producing actually goes back 4,000 years, but Gutman looked at old medieval recipes and puts in the same exotic spices.
My favorite of the three comes last: “IPA... V’zeh” (India Pale Ale... and All That). Helfman and Gutman claim that other Israeli breweries make pale ales, but theirs is the only IPA made in Israel. The taste and aroma of hops is massive (hops are added both during the boiling of the wort and after, during the fermentation process, known as “dry hopping”). The resultant bitterness is unbelievably refreshing, and the strength (7% ABV) gives it an exhilarating feel on the way down.
Helfman explains that Herzl Beer is priced at the high end of the beer market because the brewery imports only the highest-quality malted barley and hops. A pile of sacks of Whole Pale Malt from England (Maris Otter Blend) attests to this. Most of the hops used in Herzl Beer come from the US Pacific Northwest – Washington state and Oregon.
Helfman is the marketing maven at Herzl Brewery, and he has big plans for getting his beer into the Israeli bloodstream. In the meantime, Herzl is available at pubs and restaurants in Jerusalem, including Bardak (where I discovered it), Chakra, Adom, Colony, Shanti, Bourla, Tel Aviv and Jabotinsky, as well as at the SOS convenience stores.
Today, the brewery produces around 7,000 bottles a month, a respectable number, but Helfman and Gutman are always aiming higher.
“Brewing beer is something we both enjoy,” concludes Helfman. “We just want to continue what we love doing – and perhaps make some money from it as well.”
Thanks to Herzl Breweries, the Israeli beer revolution has finally reached Jerusalem.