How Israeli breweries are coping with the shutdown

People are drinking more than ever to cope with corona, but can the brew businesses survive?

DAVID COHEN, owner of the Dancing Camel Brewery in Tel Aviv, greets visitors at a local beer festival.  (photo credit: Courtesy)
DAVID COHEN, owner of the Dancing Camel Brewery in Tel Aviv, greets visitors at a local beer festival.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Israeli craft breweries are feeling the effects of the national shutdown like every other business – but even more so.
With restaurants, bars and pubs closed to the public, beer sales are being made only through retail outlets like supermarkets and grocery stores. Although some beer and liquor stores are open or doing home deliveries, foot traffic and sales are way down as customers are confined to their homes.
“All of our retail customers have shut down their businesses,” bemoans Ofer Ronen, founder/partner of Srigim Brewery in Srigim (Li-On), brewers of Ronen and Emek Ha’ela beers. “With all of our employees on ‘vacation,’ we have stopped brewing, of course, and are selling our bottled beer by direct home delivery, even though this is bringing in only about 5% of our regular revenue. We have upgraded our website and are selling beer in 4-packs, 6-packs, and 24-bottle cartons.
“My partner Ohad Eilon and I do everything alone. We prepare the shipments and then deliver them. Sometimes we have to call a customer and ask if we can bring the beer late at night. No one refuses. When you bring beer to someone, they always have a smile on their face.”
Other craft breweries have also begun to do home deliveries, just to keep their business in operation. A partial list includes: Alexander, BeerBazaar, Buster’s (Oak & Ash), Dancing Camel, Shevet, Jem’s, Sheeta, Arava, Barzel, HaGibor, Shapiro and HaDubim. Beer specialty stores and pubs are also delivering, including Beerateinu, Beer & Beyond, Kishkashta, Beit HaBira, Beer Station, Bira Nekuda, Beer Point, and Beer Shop. Check their Facebook pages or website for details, including areas of delivery.
ONE BREWERY resisting the delivery trend is Malka Beer in the Tefen Industrial Area (where Negev and Herzl beer are also brewed). Partner and brewer Assaf Lavi explains: “Our distributors and wholesalers cover enough supermarket chains and grocery stores to keep our beer moving, even in these difficult times. Also, we think it’s an ethical problem to be competing, even in a small way, with the retail outlets that are continuing to sell our beer.
“What we do on our new Web page is to give a list of the retail outlets that are selling our beers by home delivery. This seems to be a fair compromise.”
Lavi noted that even if the retail sales are continuing (though much less than usual), the sale of Malka Beer in kegs to bars and restaurants accounted for 70% of turnover, and this is completely ended. This figure appears to be the norm with all other breweries as well.
Nevertheless, Lavi is optimistic enough to believe that Israelis will be drinking their usual quantities of beer on this Independence Day (Yom Atzmaut). For the second year in a row, Malka has prepared its beers in special bottles with caricatures of personalities from Jewish and Israeli history: Golda Meir, David Ben-Gurion, Menachem Begin, Chaim Weizmann and Theodore Herzl.
The Dancing Camel Brewery in Tel Aviv (Israel’s first micro-brewery) is only delivering to “faithful local customers,” according to owner David Cohen. “We are now scheduling a wider distribution,” he adds.
“The virus hit us at a very critical time. Before Passover, retail outlets order a lot less beer because they don’t want to get stuck with it over the holiday. And that’s exactly when the shutdown began. So even the recovery we were expecting after Passover isn’t going to happen.”
Cohen says that government support is now crucial if small breweries are to survive. 
“We have some staying power, but it’s not unlimited,” he appeals. “There is no plan in place that will save us if this continues even a little while longer. The government has to adopt a program to help small businesses like us.”
Ori Sagy, the owner of Alexander Brewery in Emek Hefer, has developed a policy of free home delivery to anywhere in Israel to keep his brewery in business. 
“We advertise on social media,” he explains, “asking for a minimum order of 12 bottles. This costs 130 shekels. Members of our Customer Club get a 10% discount, but you can join when you order and get the discount immediately.”
For Israeli craft beer, this is considered a low price. It is in line with all other breweries, who have also brought their prices down during this period. 
“This is a great time to buy Israeli craft beer online,” Sagy declares. “Prices are low and we will keep them low for Yom Atzmaut. Now is the time for everyone to buy local and drink excellent Israeli beer!”
The writer is the owner of MediawiSe, an agency for advertising and direct marketing in Jerusalem. He writes a blog on Israeli craft beers at