Cool music, great beer

The microbrewery trend hits Israel, as hot spots like the Dancing Camel and Jem’s enliven Tel Aviv and Petah Tikva.

Music at the Dancing Camel (photo credit: MIRIAM KRESH)
Music at the Dancing Camel
(photo credit: MIRIAM KRESH)
I sraelis are acquiring a taste for specialty beers, and the good news is that microbreweries are popping up all over. Serious brewmasters around the country are crafting fine beers that range from classic to fun to experimental, and opening up sales venues for them.
Taking advantage, we visited two independent breweries that not only offer craft beer, but live music as well.
We hopped off a bus on a Friday afternoon and walked down Hamasger Street in Tel Aviv. No need to ask for directions: the sound of cool jazz blew down the street, and all we had to do was follow it. Walking past some tables set out on the sidewalk, we went up a few steps and entered The Dancing Camel brewery and pub.
Students of the Israel Conservatory of Music were playing the easy kind of jazz you most want to hear on a hot afternoon when you’re drinking beer with friends.
Dancing Camel is the oldest licensed brewery in Tel Aviv, operating since 2006. The owners are David Cohen, brewmaster, with David Kastriano as business manager. Lilach Bonani, a musician who is half of the Just Married duo and music manager at the brewery, put us in the picture.
“There’s a lot of indie music out there; people are looking for more places to play. So we decided to start the Friday afternoon songwriter’s showcase. Every week different musicians come, and each plays half an hour. The show is from 1 to 5 p.m., although on summer Fridays it can go longer than that. We close about an hour before Shabbat.
“A lot of performers you’ll see at the Jacob’s Ladder Festival come by on a Friday afternoon and play here. Visiting musicians from the States and Canada always wind up here; you never know who you’re going to hear.
The crowd’s a mix of people of all ages from 20 to 70. Kids are welcome on Fridays. They really enjoy the music while parents enjoy a beer. The show is free, and there’s always a good international vibe.”
Dancing Camel stages festivals, like the Oktoberfest Friday when they flew in a band from Germany that played traditional Oktoberfest music; there are also Fridays with themes.
On Tuesday nights there is another show from 9 to 11 p.m., also free of charge, featuring one band. “It can be folk, rock & roll, jazz, show tunes, or blues,” says Bonani. “We always make sure we get top-level musicians.”
Dancing Camel’s Facebook page advertises upcoming shows, as does its website (see below).
What about the food? “It’s bar food,” explains Bonani. “Great corned beef sandwiches, cholent, pretzels to go with the beer. It’s all meat, and all the meat is kosher, but we don’t have a kashrut certificate.”
As the tables were full, we settled at the bar and exchanged casual greetings with fellow imbibers. Kastriano set a flight of beers in front of us. We sipped and tapped our feet to the music while he explained the beers.
“We brew standard beers and seasonal beers,” he said over the cheerful hubbub. “Some of our standards are Eve, a light Pilsner type; India Pale Ale, a hoppy American pale ale; Hefe- Wit, a Belgian-style Wit-beer spiced with coriander and orange; and American Pale Ale, which has notes of grapefruit.
“The seasonals are Leche del Diablo, a wheat beer infused with chilies; and The Golem, on tap every month at the full moon, with a big 11% alcohol by volume.
“Others are brewed only once a year, like 613, a sweet-sour pomegran-ate ale for Rosh Hashana, and ‘Trog Wit for Succot, a tart, floral brew infused with etrogim.”
We enjoyed the pleasant sting of Leche del Diablo and the soothing black Midnight Stout, but the seasonal Scottish Ale, a finely balanced blend of caramel and hoppy flavors, was our favorite.
Dancing Camel beer is available at a number of pubs, restaurants and liquor stores, as well as at the brewery.
There is a Dancing Camel branch in the Florentin section of Tel Aviv, but only the pub on Hata’asiya Street offers live music.
Dancing Camel Brewery
12 Hata’asiya Street, corner of Hamasger Street
Tel Aviv
(03) 624-2783
Jem’s Beer Factory in Petah Tikva manages to create a sophisticated atmosphere in a workaday industrial neighborhood.
The brewery is surrounded by warehouses and office buildings; a basketball court in front has tables for customers who prefer to dine outdoors.
When we were there, a giant TV screen showing the World Cup games kept football fans entranced as they munched on crisp onion rings and spicy sausages.
But enter the building and you’re greeted by a hostess who places you at a table in the dimly lit restaurant and bar. For restaurant it is, with a limited but very good meat menu, and a business- casual atmosphere. No hiding the brewing system: Enormous brewing vats stand behind the tables, their copper and stainless steel pipes shining like futuristic interior decoration.
Jem’s founder is Jeremy Welfeld, a native of Boston and brought up in Washington.
He made aliya in 1984 and married here. The couple spent several years in the US, where Welfeld worked as an event organizer at the White House during the Clinton administration and eventually began home-brewing.
Realizing that beer was becoming a passion, he went on to study microbiology and advanced brewing.
On the family’s return to Israel, he found a business partner and put his brewery plan to work. Jem’s Beer Factory in Petah Tikva opened in 2009, and its success has grown to include a branch in Ra’anana, with another to follow in Kfar Saba shortly.
All the Jem’s facilities are kosher.
“We’re going to stick to kosher,” says Welfeld. “We want everyone to be able to come, it’s an important part of our ideology. Religious people also want to go out and drink in a cool, fun atmosphere, and feel comfortable wearing a kippa.”
Asked how he views the Israeli beer drinker today, Welfeld responds, ”The Israeli public is maturing and beginning to appreciate beers like India Pale Ale, which are a little more flavorful, a little more bitter. We brewed a summer special, an India Pale Ale which we named Gadi Pale Ale in honor of my son’s recent bar mitzva – it flew off the taps.”
There’s a live performance every Sunday evening at Jem’s Petah Tikva.
Performances have included songwriter/ musician Meir Banai, stand-up comedian Kobi Maimon, a redo of the Beatles Magical Mystery Tour and a returning favorite, singer Efrat Gosh, who’s been known to walk across the tabletops and dance on the bar. “It’s really fun, a great buzz night where the customers get an intimate show,” says Welfeld. “We have really good names coming to Jem’s these days.”
Due to local noise regulations, Jem’s Ra’anana and Kfar Saba branches do not feature live music. “They’re small, neighborhood bars that attract a more mature crowd,” explains Welfeld.
Beers at Jem’s are Pils, an aromatic pale Czech lager; malty and mild Dark Lager; mildly bitter Amber Ale; light gold and fruity Wheat; the 8.8 Belgian-style ale, and Stout, a very dark, slightly dry Irish stout. All are brewed on the premises under Welfeld’s masterful eye.
Dinner reservations are recommended, especially on Sunday nights.
Jem’s Beer Factory
15 Hamagshimim Street
Kiryat Matalon, Petah Tikva
(03) 919-5367