Brews news: Four breweries and their tasty new brews

Hoppy Hanukka is available (while it lasts) only at the Jem’s restaurants in Petah Tikva, Ramat Hahayal, Ra’anana, Kfar Saba, Caesarea and Modi’in.

MATT NEILSON (left) and father Denny of Buster’s Brewery, with bottles of their apple cider (photo credit: Courtesy)
MATT NEILSON (left) and father Denny of Buster’s Brewery, with bottles of their apple cider
(photo credit: Courtesy)
"Churn” may be a good word to describe the Israeli craft beer industry today. It is always moving, with new beers and exciting events, new faces and constant surprises. The year’s end is a good time to review some new beers and their breweries – some veteran, a newcomer, and even a merger.
The Buster’s Beverage Company on Moshav Naham near Beit Shemesh began originally in the home on Denny Neilson in Mevaseret Zion more than a decade ago. Neilson is a true practitioner of what he calls the “fermentation arts.” He makes – and teaches how to make – beer, wine and distilled spirits, and sells the necessary equipment and ingredients.
Neilson first called his enterprise The Winemaker, then Isra-Ale, and today Buster’s (after his family’s recently deceased dog). The Buster’s distillery- brewery turns out three kinds of hard apple cider and two kinds of alcoholic lemonade, all delicious.
They also distill and bottle a line of liquors under the Pioneer label: so far spiced rum, arak, vodka, moonshine and apple brandy. This year they also began to brew a new line of craft beers, which now includes a pilsner, oak-aged stout, India pale ale (IPA), and a smoked lager.
Neilson says: “When we came on aliya around 15 years ago, and I told people what I want to do, they said, ‘Nobody drinks beer.’ But we believed there was a market for people who wanted to make their own beer and wine. We wanted to provide a one-stop service for all their needs.”
Today, even though Neilson still gives his home-brewing classes, Buster’s concentrates on production rather than education. Beer enthusiasts in Israel have a great appreciation for Neilson’s brewing skills, and they welcomed the introduction of his craft beer line.
The smoked lager is the most recent to appear. In the past year, no fewer than three Israeli craft breweries have introduced smoked beer. The very distinct taste is achieved by smoking the malted grain before it is used to brew the beer.
Buster’s Beverage teamed up with Traeger Grills to smoke the malt. Neilson’s son, Matt, calls Traeger “the Rolls- Royce of meat-smoking grills.” In this case, barley malt, not meat, was smoked in the grill by burning hickory wood. “This took us a few days,” Matt said.
What the hickory-smoked malt does is give the beer a rich barbecue taste – as if the beer itself had been hanging in a Traeger grill.
The aroma from this clear, golden amber liquid is unmistakably smoked meat, maybe sausage or pastrami (at least that’s what I remember from the last time I had them about 40 years ago!), and smoked cheese, along with some sweet malt. On the tongue, you get some spicy bitterness from the hops, but the dominant flavor is smoked malt. Alcohol by volume is 5.5%.
Only one batch of this beer was brewed, so you might have trouble finding any bottles left in stores. However, Matt Neilson tells me that by popular demand, they will probably be brewing more. If you can’t get enough of smoked meats, this is the beer for you.
A few months earlier, Buster’s brought out its second beer, an IPA brewed in the American (West Coast) style: hoppy, fruity and bitter. It’s only 4.8% alcohol by volume, so you can easily enjoy more than one bottle at a time. It’s made with Cascade hops for the bitterness, and then hopped and dry-hopped with Columbus, Centennial and Simcoe hops for the flavors and aromatics.
Buster’s IPA has a partly cloudy, golden orange color and a thin white head. The hop aromas are ripe pineapple, lemon zest and pine, with some peach as well. The tastes continue with fruit and citrus, finishing with dry lemon, very hoppy and very bitter. As Israeli tastes go, this is one of the more “extreme” IPAs and one of the most enjoyable.
The Nazareth Brewery went commercial last year with a lovely American Wheat beer. For four years before that, partners Basel Massad and Amir Elouti had been brewing beer at home and in a smaller facility for their own use and for very local distribution to family and friends.
“We brewed a different beer every week,” says Massad, “but both of us loved this American Wheat and the reactions to it were very good. So we decided to take the big step and brew it in commercial quantities. The two of us, however, kept our day jobs, which are in hi-tech.”
To produce the quantities they need, they contract brew at the Beer Bazaar Brewery in Kiryat Gat. Nazareth American Wheat is now available in liquor and beer stores in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Haifa, Acre and of course, Nazareth.
“In Nazareth, everybody drinks beer, including the Muslims,” jokes Massad. He and Elouti, however, are Christians. Perhaps that explains why they allowed themselves to use a logo which some may say is sacrilegious: It’s the face of Jesus in the shape of a hop cone, with a hop beard and a crown of hop leaves!
In the West Bank there are two other Christian-owned breweries, the veteran Taybeh Brewery in Taybeh, and Shepherd’s Brewery in Bir Zeit near Ramallah.
As to the Nazareth beer itself, it is a fine example of the American wheat ale style. Alcohol by volume is 4.5%. The color is a slightly cloudy orange-gold with a frothy white head.
The aroma is sweet and hoppy, with none of the clove and banana notes you find in the older and more traditional German wheats. The flavor has a gentle bitterness with citrus and yeast. I found the body light and the finish refreshing – sort of like a pale lager but with much more taste. I can see why Nazareth Brewery chose this to be its flagship beer.
Massad and Elouti plan to bring out a second beer early next year. Although they have not yet decided on the style, they say it will be something “different,” like the American Wheat.
Another new wheat beer is named Hoppy Hanukka, brewed to commemorate this festive season by the Jem’s Beer Factory in Petah Tikva. It is not in the image of your other winter holiday ales, popular in Europe and the US, which are dark, sweet and alcohol-heavy.
Hoppy Hanukka is a very moderate 5% alcohol whose color is a medium amber with a thin head. (Jem’s founder and partner, Jeremy Welfeld, claims that the color is like “the light of Hanukka.”) You get some aroma of cloves from the wheat-ale yeast, but mostly tropical and citrus fruits from the hops.
The taste is a very clean and refreshingly bitter, with notes of summer fruits and spice. It’s a very interesting beer. I can say that I have not tasted this combination of flavors before. What that has to do with Hanukka, I cannot tell you, but it is a lovely experience.
Hoppy Hanukka is available (while it lasts) only at the Jem’s restaurants in Petah Tikva, Ramat Hahayal, Ra’anana, Kfar Saba, Caesarea and Modi’in.
Welfeld opened the Jem’s Beer Factory and Brewpub in 2009 with partner Daniel Alon. Today, with all six outlets pumping beer and with sales in stores and restaurants throughout Israel, Jem’s has become a craft beer powerhouse. The brewery produces seven core beers – dark lager, pilsner, wheat, stout, 8.8 Belgian strong, amber ale and IPA – plus occasional seasonal beers like Hoppy Hanukka.
American-born Welfeld came to Israel and served in the IDF from 1984 to 1987, before returning to the US to study food management and brewing science. He earned his wings working in restaurants, brewing and catering – including catering for the White House.
“I’ve always been a service guy,” he says. “That’s what defines what I do. Making the beer is easy. The hard part is to sell it and to keep giving your customers excellent, personal service.”
The South has not lagged behind in the craft beer renaissance. With Beersheba as the hub, a number of small and not-so-small breweries have sprung up, in addition to an active home-brewing community.
Two breweries – Gilad Ne-Eman’s Hechalutz (The Pioneer) and Tomer Ronen’s Hadag Halavan (The White Fish) – have recently merged to form Tog (rhymes with rogue). They brew their beers at the Beer Bazaar Brewery in Kiryat Gat.
“Tog is the name we gave to our new logo mascot, a blue desert lizard,” explains Ne-Eman. “His fearsome face is on every label, and on one label he’s standing there holding the map of Israel like a surfboard!”
Ne-Eman and Ronen have worked together for two years on several projects promoting craft beer in the South. For example, they organize Beersheba’s only beer festival, known as the Beer7 Fest, which attracts dozens of brewers and hundreds of visitors. They run the Brew Shop in Beersheba, a center for learning home brewing and purchasing equipment and ingredients, where Israeli and foreign craft beers are also on sale. They have also founded a home-brewers’ club which is among the biggest in Israel.
Most recently, Ne-Eman and Ronen have organized a competition for home-brewers, known as Isra-Brew, which will award prizes for the best beers in several categories. The winners will be announced at the end of February.
“After working together on so many projects, it was only natural for the two of us to join together to brew our beers,” adds Ne-Eman. “We share the same philosophy about brewing beers that are different and creative, and that is what we pledge to continue doing under the Tog label.”
There are currently three Tog beers being marketed, two of which are versions of beers originally produced by the separate breweries:
40° in the Shade, a blond ale geared for summertime drinking at 4.7% alcohol, has a light, fruity hop aroma and a mildly bitter taste with citrus, yeast and malt. Dry and refreshing, it was brewed originally by Hadag Halavan.
Hechalutz, a 5.5% alcohol American pale ale, has an aroma and taste of citrus and tropical fruits, herbs and grass, well balanced with hops and malt, and moderately bitter. It was originally brewed by Hechalutz and called Totzeret Ha’aretz (Made in Israel). After the merger, the name was changed to Hechalutz because it was the beer most associated with the brewery.
The third beer is a new creation from Tog, called Kimat Esser (Almost Ten), referring to its high 9.8% alcohol by volume. This is a beer in the Belgian tradition of strong ales: dark, red amber color, sweet and high in alcohol. The aroma is fruity and caramel. On the tongue, you get more caramel, a strong alcohol taste (perhaps plum brandy), prune and other dark fruit.
This is a beer that I associate with the winter holiday ales so popular at this time of year. It is best enjoyed in front of a roaring fire while snow is gently falling all around. Hey, where am I living? Kimat Esser is a beautiful, full-flavored beer that will warm you through our Israeli winter months.
Tog beers are available in bottles and on tap in many places in the South, including Beersheba, Sderot and Ofakim, as well as in Kfar Saba, Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. “We are working very hard on expanding our distribution network so that craft beer drinkers everywhere will be able to have our beers,” concludes Ne-Eman.
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