Word reached me recently about changes in the Meadan Brewery in Karmiel in the central Galilee. Up until now, the owner, Bryan Meadan, had been brewing his gluten-free, kosher-for-Passover beers. Now, a new owner is producing a new brand of regular craft beers.At the same time, 12 kilometers north, in the Tefen Industrial Park, Malka Beer opened a new brewery, the biggest craft brewery in Israel, producing 70,000 liters a month.Clearly, it was time for me to get off my perch and up to the Galilee.
With Mike Horton at my side for capturing digital images, I rode due north to Karmiel, now a bustling town in the Galilee mountains, founded a little more than 50 years ago.Meadan chose Karmiel for his brewery partly because it’s near his home in Har Halutz.“We’re located in a hi-tech building that has a brewery,” Meadan joked as he greeted us.Meadan shook up the Jewish world two years ago when he introduced kosher-for-Passover beer, long thought to be an oxymoron. The gluten-free beer that Meadan was brewing for celiac patients (himself included) was also able to be certiﬁed as kosher-for-Passover. It’s brewed without any malted grain, relying on date syrup (silan) and brown sugar to supply the fermentable sugars.For this last Passover, Meadan brewed about 40,000 bottles, which were sold in Israel and exported to California. Sales were also made via the Liquorama website.“This was quite a bit less than last year,” explained Meadan.“We had issues with the distribution. Things should be much better next year.”The two kosher-for-Passover beers are now available yearround as gluten-free beers. Special Date Ale is very bitter and tart, 5.3% alcohol by volume, very well carbonated with a thin body and long dry ﬁnish. It has ﬂavors of bitter dates, hops and other dried fruits.Amber Date Ale is similar to the Special Date, but has less hop bitterness and is more fruity. It’s moving closer to what you would expect from a cider.Some gluten-free beers use an enzyme that destroys the gluten in the malted grain. Meadan has refused to use this method, since he spurns the overuse of chemicals. However, this means that he has chosen to forgo the malt aromas and ﬂavors which many associate with beer.Several months ago, Meadan sold a major share of his brewery to an entrepreneur who has begun brewing regular (read “gluten-full”) beers under the brand name of Hagibor (“The Hero”).These beers will soon be available to the public, primarily in bars and restaurants in the north of the country. But while I was in the brewery, I had a chance to taste them directly from the fermentation tanks – and I liked what I tasted.These beers are brewed by Meadan himself. However, since he is a celiac, he is in the unenviable position of being able to smell the fruits of his labor, but not to taste them. I compare this to the aging Beethoven, who was not able to hear his divine symphonies.Nevertheless, Meadan was very enthusiastic about offering Horton and me tastes of the new Hagibor beers.The India Pale Ale (7.2% alcohol) was exceptionally smooth, full of fruit esters from the hops, but not overly bitter.The Wheat Ale (5.2%) is in the German Hefeweizen style, with aromas of cloves and ﬂowers.For the Brown Ale (5.5%), I would have liked stronger nutty ﬂavors and a body approaching that of a stout. But it had a nice malty taste, a little tart and thirst-quenching.The Stout, at 5.6% alcohol, shared the same smoothness of the other Hagibor beers. It was strong and ﬂavorful, with more coffee taste than chocolate.The Blond Ale was the lightest of the lot with 4.2% alcohol, light bitterness and ﬂavors of malt and yeast.After we had this tasty and very diverse assortment of beers, Meadan led us over to another fermentation tank where he tapped some pale, quiescent liquid – mead.“We made this just with water and honey from Kibbutz Ayelet Hashahar. It’s an experimental batch, and I’m not sure what we’ll do with it.”It was dry, bitter and potent (7% alcohol), and even though mead is growing in popularity worldwide, I wonder if Israeli tastes are ready for this medieval super-drink.From what I tasted of the Hagibor beers, I’m looking forward to their introduction, and I hope the brewery ﬁnds a way to reach countrywide distribution.MEADAN GRACIOUSLY invited Horton and me to spend the night at his home in Har Halutz. In the morning, we continued north to Tefen and the new Malka Brewery, opened just a few months ago.Partner and brewer Assaf Lavi greeted us and showed us around the still sparkling 2,000-square-meter facility.“We are now the largest Israeli craft brewer,” said Lavi matter-of-factly. “We are currently producing 70,000 liters of beer a month. I wouldn’t have even dreamed of this just a couple of years ago.”The brewery also produces Negev Beer (which for several years has not been brewed in the Negev!). Both brands are partially owned by Hacarem Spirits Ltd., one of Israel’s leading importers and distributors of alcoholic beverages.The Malka facility is certainly the most modern and automated craft brewery I have seen in Israel. We joined Lavi for a tour of several of the rooms.The huge storage room for malted grain includes a mill which can handle one one-ton sack at a time, with conveying tubes to send the milled malt directly to the mash tun.A room for the mash tuns, kettles and fermenters with the capacity to brew four batches of 4,000 liters a day – a total of 16,000 liters.A packing-material room for bottles, kegs and cases.A refrigerator room for storing hops and dry yeast.A machine room which includes an automated line for sterilizing beer kegs in three steps: caustic soda, acid and water.A nitrogen separator which extracts nitrogen from the air, which is used to propel the beer and other material through the pipes. Normally, carbon dioxide is used, but carbon dioxide has to be purchased.A recycling machine for steam and condensate.A water puriﬁer operated by reverse osmosis.“The local water is high in calcium,” explained Lavi.“The puriﬁer enables us to achieve the same quality of water we had on Kibbutz Yehiam when we brewed there.”Another piece of equipment was stationed among the fermenters. “That’s our ‘hop gun,’” Lavi pointed out. “It’s used mostly for dry hopping. Instead of putting hops into the fermenters with the beer, the beer is circulated through the hops in the hop gun. It’s much more efﬁcient and gives stronger ﬂavors.”The hop gun also has another purpose. One of the Negev beers is an oak-aged porter. Until now, oak chips were added to the beer during fermentation to give it the distinctive “wood-aged” ﬂavor.“Now, we put the oak chips in the hop gun and circulate the beer through it,” said Lavi.I tasted the Negev Oak Porter (“Porter Alon”) that was made this way, and I was able to clearly distinguish, for the ﬁrst time, the oak and wood notes in this beer. For me, a delightful discovery.After the tour, Lavi explained Malka’s rise from home brewery to Israel’s biggest craft brewery in 12 years.Assaf and his brother Dan began brewing in 2006 while they were owners of two bars in Tel Aviv. They named their beer Malka (which means “queen” in Hebrew) because it’s a feminine word, as is beer in Hebrew, projects royalty, and is connected to Israel’s history.They entered the beer in a competition and, although it didn’t win any prizes, the public loved it. That was enough for Assaf and Dan, and they decided that brewing was what they wanted to do.The ﬁrst Malka Brewery was on Yehiam near the Lebanese border. The excellent water was drawn from a well right under the brewery. The pub and restaurant they opened adjacent to the brewery quickly became a popular weekend rendezvous.Still, the Lavi brothers were aiming higher. With investment from their shareholders, they were able to open their new brewery in Tefen.Today, the brewery produces four core beers, much as it did since the ﬁrst brewery was opened.The best-seller has always been Malka Blond, a 6.5% alcohol Belgian-style blond ale, rich in citrus and other fruit ﬂavors. Cascade hops are used, and orange peels and coriander seeds are added to the malt before boiling.The result is a hazy, pale amber beer, with aromas of citrus, malt and spice. The taste is also citrusy and tart, though not very bitter.Malka Pale Ale (called in Hebrew “Admonit”) is a reddish amber British-style pale ale (5.5% alcohol), brewed with coriander seeds. The aromas I picked up were caramel and tropical fruits, with the flavors of caramel and grapefruit. The finish is dry and bitter – for me, just right.Though I’m not a big fan of stout beers, the Malka Stout is one of my favorites. It placed well in our Israel Brews and Views Stout Tasting Panel. This is an Irishstyle stout at 6% alcohol. It is roasty, with light bitterness, and ﬂavors of bitter chocolate and coffee.Malka’s newest beer is Hindi, an India Pale Ale, 6.2% alcohol. Hindi is a good “introduction level” IPA, suitable for Israeli tastes, not shockingly bitter like so many American IPAs, but with ﬂavors of citrusy hops and caramel, balanced by the malt.“You may have noticed that our ﬁfth beer, a Wheat Ale, hasn’t been on sale for more than a year,” Assaf reminded me. “We stopped making it because it was just another German-style Hefeweizen, the kind that almost every other brewery in Israel is making. We are now developing a new ‘Israeli wheat beer,’ better attuned to our local market. It should be on the shelves pretty soon.”Over the next several months, the Malka Brewery will concentrate on “stabilizing” the production and sale of these beers in Israel. But Assaf and Dan are already looking at distant horizons. For a brief time a few years ago, Malka Beer was exported to the US.“We would like to restart sales to the American market,” added Assaf, “and we are also looking at a few European contacts that have shown interest. In addition, we are now running a pilot project in Russia through a local distributor.”Through private initiative and hard work, the Malka Brewery and the Meadan-Hagibor project are changing the deﬁnition of Israeli craft beer. Modernization, innovation and quality: that’s what’s brewing in the Galilee.The writer is the owner of MediawiSe, an agency for advertising and direct marketing in Jerusalem. He writes a web log on Israeli craft beers at www.IsraelBrewsAndViews.blogspot.co.il