Five new Israeli beers from ‘comeback’ breweries

This past summer has seen a respectable number of new Israeli beers hit the market; There are several styles, so there’s something for almost everybody.

The brewing brothers Rotem (right) and Dagan Bar-Ilan in their former brewery, Mivshelet Ha’am (photo credit: Courtesy)
The brewing brothers Rotem (right) and Dagan Bar-Ilan in their former brewery, Mivshelet Ha’am
(photo credit: Courtesy)
For me, one of the best things about the Israeli craft beer renaissance is the chance to try different beers all the time, as you search for your favorite.
And even if you never find your favorite, or if it changes every day, it’s the search itself that is so much fun.
This past summer has seen a respectable number of new Israeli beers hit the market. There are several styles, so there’s something for almost everybody.
Interestingly, five of the beers come from micro-breweries which were functioning, closed, and now have reopened.
THE FIRST three new beers carry “The Dictator” label – and fancy labels they are indeed. Each beer has a different caricature likeness of an infamous “dictator.”
The brewery itself was started about three years ago by partners Yotam Baras and Tomer Goren. Using shocking dictator imagery, the beers achieved recognition, mostly among Israeli craft beer aficionados.
Especially appreciated was the Laphroaig Irish Red, an ale made with single malt Laphroaig Scotch whisky.
Around two years ago, The Dictator brewery stopped functioning when Baras left to begin a new career as marketing manager for the Protary’s Craft Beers import agency. He left that a few months ago and returned to brewing with Goren and a new partner, Nir Gilat.
The beers are now made at the brewing facility of Mivshelet Ha’aretz (“The Land Brewery”) in Kiryat Gat, originally used by Negev Beer and now owned by the Beer Bazaar chain of pubs, which brews its own line of beers there.
“In this brewery, we now make around 5,000 liters of beer a month, up from 600 liters a month when we first started The Dictator,” Baras told me. “We have three year-round beers, and we plan to make five seasonal or ‘special edition’ beers every year.”
The first year-round beer is an English Bitter. This one has a Guy Fawkes mask on the label – not exactly a “dictator,” but certainly remembered as a baddie.
The beer itself is an Israeli interpretation of a popular British-style beer. It is toned down for the Israeli summer heat, at only 3.8% alcohol. As Baras noted, “This one is for drinking beer in the middle of the day.” With a pleasant sweetness from the malt, it’s not really “bitter” by today’s standards. I found its grassy aroma and light body very refreshing.
The Irish Red, graced with Lenin on the label, is a little stronger at 4.7%, and is close to the amber ale category with its deep reddish hue. I found it to be a very classic Irish Red, with an aroma of hops and chocolate/caramel, a moderately bitter taste and a malty finish. It would go well with any strong, roasted dish.
The Dictator Pale Ale (with the late, unmissed Saddam Hussein on the label), at 5.5%, is in the American pale ale category. Though it boasts a strong aroma of citrusy and piney hops, the taste is balanced by the malt.
You feel the strong bitterness of this hazy orange/amber beer at first sip, but it then mellows to a pleasant spice and chocolate. When I had a bottle at home with a rather bland okra and tofu curry, the beer added a very welcome spiciness to the meal. I think it would also complement fatty cheese and fruity desserts.
Baras disclosed that the first of The Dictator “special edition” beers will be a stronger version of the Laphroaig Irish Red. With a hefty 6.9% alcoholic content, this beer has the powerful smoky aroma and taste of the Scotch whisky, with a bittersweet finish.
“You either love or hate the smokiness,” Baras warned, when he launched the beer a few weeks ago. It should be reaching the stores and pubs right around now.
So, the best of luck to Yotam Baras on his return to brewing. The Dictator’s slogan is: “He just wants what’s best for you.” And maybe he does.
THE OTHER brewery that has resurrected itself is Hadubim (The Bears), begun six years ago by the two very talented brewing brothers, Dagan and Rotem Bar-Ilan.
Six years ago, they opened a brewery in Even Yehuda called Mivshelet Ha’am (“The People’s Brewery”), where they made not only Hadubim beers, but also contract brewed for other brewers. They also opened up a retail store in the Jaffa Port called Beer Market, which is today located in the Sarona shopping mall in Tel Aviv.
“Due to economic problems, we had to close Mivshelet Ha’am around a year ago,” Dagan relates sadly. “But we never gave up hope to renew Hadubim beers.”
They didn’t have to wait long, as the hope came alive around six months ago, when the Bar-Ilan brothers reached agreement with the Mivshelet Ha’aretz in Kiryat Gat to begin brewing there.
“We also signed a contract with the Protary’s Craft Beers agency for them to market and distribute our beers. We are the only local beer they currently handle.
All of their others are imported.”
Whatever the arrangements, it’s good to see Hadubim back on the shelves.
Their first two beers are Israeli versions of pale ales – one American (known as APA), the other India (IPA).
“We’re hop-heads; there’s nothing you can do about that,” laughs Dagan, referring to the plant that adds bitterness and flavor to almost all beers.
Hadubim’s first two beers are very “hop-forward,” as beer snobs are wont to say.
The American pale ale is called The Doctor, in recognition of an American physician in California who first introduced the Bar-Ilan brothers to home brewing. His likeness is even on the bottle label. Before they closed their brewery, Dagan and Rotem were brewing a different version of The Doctor.
The Doctor is a very hazy, pale colored beer, with a grassy and citrusy hop aroma.
This is a very bitter beer, from the start to the finish, but the light body and low alcoholic content (4.8%) make it a refreshing summer beer, even when you’re having more than one.
The India pale ale is named Phoenix, in honor, of course, of the brewery’s resurrection. It pours out a lovely reddish- orange color, quite cloudy, and has an aroma of pine, citrus and other fruits. In the taste, the fruits and citrus take a back seat to the strong bitterness, although Phoenix has a good malt backbone as well. At 6.3% alcohol, it is a well-balanced IPA, bitter as it should be and with a dry finish. It would go very well with any strong, spicy food, such as curry, or any sweet dessert.
It’s good to have The Bears – and The Dictator – back on the Israeli craft beer scene. They have brewed some wonderful beers in the past, and after their auspicious return, we should expect more in the future.
The writer has a web log on Israeli craft beers at www.IsraelBrewsAndViews.blogspot., and is the owner of MediawiSe, an agency for advertising and marketing in Jerusalem.