Is beer Israel’s new wine?

Other microbreweries are following in the trail of the Dancing Camel Brewing Company in the quest to give the Jewish homeland its own distinctive flavor.

beer 311 (photo credit: ALESSANDRA DA PRA)
beer 311
(photo credit: ALESSANDRA DA PRA)
‘Out of beer. Life is crap!” states the blue T-shirt brewmaster David Cohen wore on a recent afternoon.
But it is unlikely the New Jersey native will ever face such a crisis.
Tucked into an industrial zone of Tel Aviv, Cohen established the Dancing Camel Brewing Company in 2006.
Although he prizes his brewery as being the first production microbrewery in Israel, others have followed recently the stomps of the Dancing Camel in the quest to give the Jewish homeland its own distinctive flavor.
Today, Israel boosts a dozen boutique breweries scattered around the country, such as the Golan Brewery in Katzrin, Malka Brewery in Western Upper Galilee and Negev Brewery in Kiryat Gat. And more are soon to come.
The rumor is that after the wine revolution, the land of milk and honey is now undergoing a beer awakening.
Some say Israelis are acquiring a more sophisticated palate, some that the rise of imported premiums are changing the way beer is perceived, some that the country is simply mimicking the United States, where the microbrewery phenomenon started in the late 1970s.
Some give credit to the local home-brewing community that is pushing the way and fueling the atmosphere.
Others say that the trend was just bound to happen.
“PEOPLE ARE shifting from big beer names to boutique beers,” said Cohen. “I heard hundreds of times that beer is the new wine in Israel.”
Big beer names being Goldstar and Maccabee, produced by Tempo Beer Industries, and Carlsberg and Tuborg, brewed by Israel Beer Breweries.
According to beer consultant Gad Deviri, these mainstream beers hold 70 percent of the beer market in a country whose population drinks only 14 liters of beer per person each year. Czechs, with their 160 liters of yearly beer consumption per inhabitant, could well scoff at Israeli folks before taking another swig.
But even if Israel can’t compete with some countries in quantity of beer consumption, it holds its own on sophisticated craft beer production, thanks to emerging boutique breweries.
Cohen started home-brewing in his kitchen back in the US way before making aliya in 2003. He brought his family with him, and a dream “to create Israeli beer” by adding local ingredients such as etrog and date honey.
“Nothing screams Israel more than dates,” he said.
Cohen wants to challenge and amuse people with his beers. Recognizing the indigenous herbs and spices in the brews, Israelis can connect to their homeland and think with a smile: “This is a beer that belongs to Israel.”
The Dancing Camel offers five year-round and seven seasonal brews, all with an Israeli twist – such as the Gordon Beach Blonde, named after the popular Tel Aviv beach. A refreshing summer treat, its pronounced herbal flavor of mint and rosemary makes it a blonde ale with a kick.
“A blonde ale is not such an exciting beer,” said Cohen.
“But a blonde ale with nana is a much more interesting experience.”
The ‘Trong Wit, a 6.5 percent alcohol-content Belgianstyle wheat beer with a floral aroma of etrogim, is brewed during Succot. The Leche Del Diablo, a chili pepper beer, fires up the throats of daredevils every first Friday 13th of the year. With a 10.5 percent alcohol level, the Golem IPA beer, named after the legendary savior of the Jews of Prague, comes out with every full moon.
Drafts can be enjoyed at the microbrewery pub, open at 8 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, or at another dozen locations in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. The Dancing Camel bottled beers are also on the shelves of some boutique wine stores.
Cohen says microbreweries are born out of a passion for beer and the desire to create something innovative and intriguing, rather than designing a brew the larger percentage of people will gulp without too much thought.
Yet, the very first microbrewery in Israel was established out of a passion for business, said Tel Aviv Brewhouse primary owner Giora Ben-Ari.
The Brewhouse opened its doors on Sderot Rothschild in 1998, in an establishment once used as a bank. It sits apart from the Dancing Camel, for it is a microbrewery within a restaurant that sells its beers on the premises only.
The Brewhouse produces three lagers, blonde, red and dark, and four fruit beers – cherry, ginger, cider and shandy. All beers, which are not pasteurized and have a short shelf life, are enjoyed fresh out of the tap.
“We gave Israelis all kinds of tastes before deciding that those were the choices Israelis liked the most,” said Ari.
While many dishes are cooked with beer at the Brewhouse, Ben-Ari does not pair food with brews.
What if you ask for a recommendation to go with your beef and lamb kebab? “I would always suggest a beer, but the thinking is selling,” he said.
Cohen is all for it.
“I think it’s much more interesting to match beer with food than to pair wine with food,” he said.
For instance, he recommends the American Pale Ale with lamb dishes, as the citrussy aroma derived from the hops brings out the flavor of this meat. The sharpness of blue cheese helps uncover the softer chocolate notes of the Midnight Stout, otherwise hidden beneath the roasted barley.
ALTHOUGH THE Dancing Camel offers only New York deli-style sandwiches, people can experiment with food and beer matching whenever they feel innovative in their own kitchen.
But if you don’t feel like cooking, bring your date to Porter and Sons, where the Dancing Camel brews can be found along with another 50 premium imported and local beers on tap.
This beer restaurant, which opened last March on Fourth Street in Tel Aviv, is based on the innovative food and brew paring concept.
“We wanted to give Israelis the experience of having quality beers with their meals instead of wine,” said coowner Yoav Alon.
On the menu are yellow tale tartar in olive oil, lemon and herbs, grilled pork chops in an orange, pineapple and chili sauce, and roasted spare ribs with homemade B.B.Q. sauce.
“No question it is a trend today to pair beer with food,” said Daniel Alon, co-founder of Jem’s Beer Factory in Petah Tikva. Launched last year, the brewpub serves kosher meals along with six styles of drafts brewed at the factory, from a German-style wheat beer with clove and banana hints to a dark lager with aromas of caramel and toasted malts. Live music shows add to the atmosphere on Sunday nights.
For now, Jem’s Beer Factory drafts are savored on the premises only, but bottled brews will be available at the microbrewery starting next month.
But microbreweries, producing from 300 to 1,000 liters of beer per batch, are not the only ones to make an impact within the Israeli boutique beer market.
The Laughing Buddha Brewery, a nano-brewery that started operating recently, is a joint adventure of two Russian friends, Vladimir Gershonov and Dmitry Grabak.
Producing only 50 liters of beer per batch, it experiments with existing recipes while creating new ones.
One time, the pair even brewed a beer with a cactus fruit.
Their ever-changing concoctions can be tasted at the nano-brewery in Tel Aviv. A handful of permanent beers are bottled, such as the Honey Flower Wheat, a Belgian-style wheat beer with a flowery gentle aroma of chamomile and honey.
But if you are in the mood for a more “historical” flavor, swing by Abir Saloon on Dizengoff and try Abir, a revival of a brew first produced under this brand name in 1952 by what is today Tempo Beer Industries.
Oren Avrashi, speciality beers manager at Tempo, said that Abir was named after a non-branded beer that was first designed for English troops in the country during the British Mandate for Palestine. The legend says that British soldiers were thirsty for booze and would walk into a bar demanding “a beer.” Hence, “a beer” became “Abir,” which means knight in Hebrew.
For now, this English, classic-style IPA will be found only at the saloon that will officially open in September.
Impatient to try some intriguing beers? About 100 Israeli and international brews will be all in one spot this week in the Old Train Station Plaza for the sixth annual Jerusalem Beer Festival L’chaim!