Popping up beer in the center of town

Shapira’s family-owned brewery has created a temporary home in the heart of the city (photo credit: JONI SCHWARTZ)
Shapira’s family-owned brewery has created a temporary home in the heart of the city
(photo credit: JONI SCHWARTZ)
For nearly three years after gourmet restaurant Cavaliere closed its doors, its Ben-Sira Street space was unused and up for grabs in Jerusalem’s precarious real estate market – until last month. That was when the owner of the adjacent Sira pub, beer mogul Itzik Shapiro opened a pop-up bar known as Shapira Ba Sira.
For the first time, Shapira’s family-owned brewery has created a unique and temporary home in the heart of the city for their six types of beer. The idea came about when Shapiro wanted to create a space not only to serve his family’s suds to locals but also offer learning experiences for beer enthusiasts and local bartenders in the form of educational beer-themed workshops.
Situated in front of the popular Sira pub, two doors down from the hipster and art student-friendly Horko Bar and around the corner from Ben-Shetach boulevard, which is home to a number of popular mainstream bars and restaurants, this location has proven to be a microcosm of Jerusalem’s eclectic nightlife.
For those who haven’t yet made their way to the Sira Pub, the place has a reputation as the underground bar for everyone. Mostly catering to local art students and travelers, on a given evening, one can find all sorts of characters sitting outside sipping beer or dancing all night on its small dance floor to beats spun by local DJs, who use this space to play their hand picked playlists.
At first glance, Shapira Ba Sira might appear to be a grown-up version of the aforementioned pub, but Shapiro insists that there’s more to the place. “I wouldn’t say it’s Sira for older people, it’s just an extension.
“This is a four-month project. The most important thing for me is marketing to connect with people; we offer workshops and lectures.
Until 4 p.m. we are closed and we use the back room for workshops about our beers. We bring waiters and other people in the business here, tell them our story, tell them about beer, in order for them to understand what goes into it [the beer]. The last workshop the guys from the Taklit, Video and Casetta, all nearby bars, came by for a demonstration.”
“We also offer workshops for tourist groups. It’s fun because they get to taste beer (almost a liter for tasting!) and they learn about ingredients and the process. So that’s what we do in the morning, and then we open the bar, and from there, we give people a chance to try our beer,” Shapiro says.
The venue is somewhat evocative of a brewery’s bar, complete with long tables and benches, high ceilings and seats at the bar with a faint smell of barley and yeast wafting through the bar. The space is open and bright with plenty of natural light coming through the floor-toceiling windows. Unlike the Sira, which is dark and cave-like, Shapira Ba Sira offers customers a touch of class to go with their glasses of craft beer. There’s also plenty of outdoor seating, allowing for mingling with the patrons of the Sira pub. If sitting at the Sira is flying coach, Shapira Ba Sira is an upgrade to business class.
The selection of beers is exclusive to Shapira Beer and patrons can select from their pale ale, IPA, lager, wheat, oatmeal stout or seasonal winter ale, all on tap. The prices will set patrons back between NIS 27 to NIS 29 for a pint (400 ml.). A tasting flight of five 200-ml. glasses of the brews on tap is also an option for NIS 70.
Unlike the Sira’s dining options, consisting of a small complimentary bowl of mini-pretzels, Shapira Ba Sira offers small and simple dishes that are classic pairs to beer, such as homemade sausages, latkes – which they affectionately call “Ashkenazi fries” – and homemade pickles that are stored in sealed glass jars atop the back-end bar.
A side note on the pickles: These were by far the best pickles this writer had in Israel, hands down. Super garlicky, crunchy, sour delights are worth the NIS 5 investment, as there’s nothing quite like a fresh pickle straight from the barrel (or in this case, a glass jar), and it also pairs quite well with their summery wheat beer.
In addition to beers and fun snacks, they also offer local wines from the Bat Shlomo winery (sauvignon blanc and a blend called “Regavim” that combines four types of red wines), spirits from Julius Distilleries from the Galilee and a rare bottle of one of the first batches of oneyear- old single malt whisky from the Israeli whisky distillery, Milk and Honey, based outside of Tel Aviv. “Everything here is local,” Shapiro proudly asserts. “We want to give our customers only local, quality stuff and not steal people’s wallets from them.”
Talking to Shapiro is a good reminder of the leaps and bounds that Israelis – and in particular Jerusalemites – have managed to overcome in their imbibing and production of potables.
It was not even a decade ago when the only beers available at any given pub were Goldstar, Tuborg or Carlsberg, and Stella Artois if you were lucky. But within the last eight years, local brewers began popping up all over Israel and installing kegs of their many types of malt beverages in bars and pubs all over the land – including Shapira Beer.
The Jerusalem-based brewery is a family business that Itzik Shapiro started with his brother 15 years ago when they learned how to brew beer at their parents’ house in the German Colony. What was once a hobby became a lucrative business thanks to the boom in Israeli micro-brews that began to pop up in the past decade, and Shapira became the beer representing the city of gold.
“We branded it as a Jerusalem beer. We have our lion, which is the symbol of the city, we have the three languages to represent the three cultures living here and also most of our beers are served here in Jerusalem,” Shapiro explains. Another selling point to his beer, he adds, is its lack of preservatives. Because of the brewing technique, time is of the essence and he maintains that you can really taste the freshness in each glass.
“To see places like Beer Bazaar teaching people about craft beers is amazing. This whole craft beers thing is exploding and we are the pioneers. People can go to a bar and order a Shapira and enjoy it more than a Goldstar. Its like a renaissance and this place is here on the front end to teach people about beer.”
“Take this craft beer,” he says, pointing to the lager this writer is drinking. “It’s more expensive, but it’s better. People don’t understand that yet because all their life it was just Maccabi and Goldstar, but this is better. So they are slowly getting into their head that it’s better.
“Another cool thing is that we [other brewers] are all friends. We are not fighting with Alexander or Malka, we are not at that stage where we are fighting about profit margins or anything. I think it’s a cool time.”
For a bar that features the capital’s signature beer, it is a bit odd that the Shapira Ba Sira does not intend to stick around for the long haul. But Itzik Shapiro has other plans, and who knows? Maybe this might lead to something better in this vibrant and dynamic part of town.
But in the meantime, those wishing to ride the bubbly beer wave that’s sweeping the nation can grab a seat and try some local beer from now until after the High Holy Days.