Inside Israel's Craft Beer Boom - Indiarox
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Inside Israel’s Craft Beer Boom

Indiarox

Israel, internationally known for its wineries, may seem like an unlikely place for a craft beer boom. But in the last decade, it’s welcomed a plethora of microbreweries and bottle shops, kicking off a wave of craft beer enthusiasm.

Since the 1950s, macro-brewer Tempo Beer has produced Goldstar and Maccabee, two of the most recognizable brews available across Israel today. But it wasn’t until the early 2000s that a nascent tribe of hobby-driven homebrewers began crafting beers in the country, experimenting with indigenous herbs, spices and fruits.

Since the first microbrewery in Israel, The Dancing Camel, opened in Tel Aviv in 2005, the country has introduced annual craft beer festivals, homebrewing competitions and workshops. And of late, the global community has taken notice: In 2017, the Alexander Brewery won internationally renowned and coveted European Beer Stars for its Alexander Black, Alexander Blonde and a collaboration stout called The Beer of Milk & Honey.

From hoppy IPAs to kosher small-batch homebrews, Israel has plenty to discover and savor….whether you’re new to craft beer, a reluctant beer companion or a passport-wielding beer geek. Here’s a list of breweries where the perfect Israel craft brew could be waiting for you.

Shapiro Beer is one of many microbreweries saying "Cheers" in Israel.

Dancing Camel Brewery

Opened in 2005, the Dancing Camel Brewery in Tel Aviv makes beer that’s sourced locally and with a focus on honoring Jewish history. One of the brewery’s signature beers, the Olde Pappa, is inspired by Rav Papa, a Jewish Talmudist who brewed beer in Babylonia some 1,600 years ago. The beer and brewery itself are strictly kosher.

Visitors can savor brews from eight different taps at the brewery, and enjoy a tour conducted in Hebrew or English. Bottles of Dancing Camel beer can also be enjoyed at BeerBazaar, located in Jerusalem’s Mahane Yehuda market.

Israel's first microbrewery remains one of its best.

Shapiro Beer

Brothers Itzik and Dani Shapiro homebrewed in their Jerusalem basement for a decade before launching their own namesake brewery in Beit Shemesh, about 30 minutes from Jerusalem’s city center. Today, the brothers make an assortment of excellent brews, including a barrel-aged chocolate porter and a lager made with spring water from the hills of Jerusalem.

One of the best places to taste Shapiro brews is at Time Bar & Coffee in the Mahane Yahuda market. By day, this shop sits calmly among piles of spices, stacks of baklava and dried fruit. By night, it’s at the center of the action after the market packs away its vegetables and fruits, music cuts through the air, and the party kicks off.

You can also taste a Shapiro IPA or Oatmeal Stout with an espresso or iced coffee at Roasters, a cozy, often-crowded coffee bar in Jerusalem.

Shapiro is a true family affair.

Srigim Brewery

Srigim Brewery, a 40-minute drive from Jerusalem’s city center, produces award-winning European- and American-style brews, and boasts a wonderful beer garden.

Staying in Jerusalem? You can try selections from the brewery’s Ronen collections on draft at Que Pasa, a lively tapas bar tucked away in Mahane Yehuda. The Ronen collection is the brainchild of the brewery’s co-owner, Ofer Ronen, who decided to bring the American-style beers he fell in love with back to Israel after living in the States.

The brewery’s Emek Ha’Ela Belgian Tripel can also be enjoyed at Jerusalem’s Time Bar & Coffee.

Come for Srigim's beer garden; stay for the brews.

Taybeh Brewing Company

Taybeh Brewing Company prides itself on being the first Palestinian-owned microbrewery in the Middle East. After living in The States for more than 20 years, brothers Nadim and David Khoury returned to their West Bank village of Taybeh north of Ramallah in the mid-1990s. It was then that veteran homebrewer Nadim began brewing simple handcrafted beers according to the German Purity Laws, which strictly prohibit the use of preservatives or additives.

Every October since 2005, the Khoury brothers have hosted the Taybeh Oktoberfest. In addition to serving beer, this two-day celebration presents a unique opportunity to bring together people of all cultures and ethnicities while supporting the local economy.

Free tours of the brewery are available Monday through Saturday, and no reservation is required. When visiting the brewery, make sure to meet the only female Palestinian brewer in Israel, Nadim’s daughter Madees.

The Middle East's first Palestinian-owned microbrewery serves a wonderful Summer Cherry Sour beer.

Buster’s Cider 

Buster’s Cider, located five minutes from Beit Shemesh, is a family-run business that brews dry, spiced and sweet Israel ciders, as well as a hard lemonade and cranberry lemonade. Walk-in facility tours are offered on Fridays, but be aware: The cidery shuts down at 3 p.m. for the Jewish Shabbat and doesn’t reopen until Tuesday at 10 a.m.

Buster’s proprietor, Denny Neilson, has been described by Vice as “the American father of Israeli microbrewing and the sole purveyor of hard apple cider in the land of milk and honey.” Six of Israel’s microbrewers learned their craft at one of Neilson’s popular brewing workshops.

Bottles of Buster’s cider can be found throughout Israel, including at Roasters in Jerusalem.

The only hard cider microbrewery in Israel is well worth a visit.

The Alexander Brewery

The Alexander Brewery, born in 2008, prides itself on importing the highest quality malt and hops for its craft beers (Israel currently doesn’t grow its own malt or hops). Additionally, all Alexander beer is brewed with Israeli water that’s been purified through a reverse osmosis treatment, leaving no doubt that the folks at Alexander take their brews seriously.

The brewery is located in the region of Emek Hefer near the Alexander stream after which it’s named. Brews include Milk & Honey, a sweet beer tinged with honey and orange chocolate that nods to the moment in the Bible when God told Moses he would redeem Israelites by bringing them to “a land flowing with milk and honey.”

Alexander beer is featured at many establishments in Jerusalem, including A Buddy’s Bar and Soramelo. At Crave Gourmet Street Food, you can pair a meal with a beer brewed especially for the restaurant, called Pure Love. It can also be found at various pubs and bars throughout the rest of the country.

The magic ingredient in this beer? Specially processed Israel water.

 Golan Brewhouse

Golan Brewhouse is located in Golan Heights, a region in the Levant about two hours from Jerusalem’s city center where, it’s believed, beer was produced in ancient times.

Today, Golan features four beers in its Bazelet series, including an excellent pilsner and double bock. At the visitor center, you can learn about the beer-making process and the history of Golan Heights by enjoying a multisensory show on a 180-degree screen.

At Soramelo in Jerusalem, sip on Golan beer paired with a crispy waffle smothered in Nutella.

Don't go to this brewery without checking out its visitor center.

Birzeit Brewery

  After graduating with his masters in Business and Finance from university in England, Alaa Sayej followed his passion back home to his native village of Birzeit, in the West Bank, and in 2013 established Birzeit Brewery. Together with his two younger brothers, Aziz and Khalid, they created Shepherds beer — “a beer brewed by brothers for friends.”

Throughout the year, Shepherds Amber Ale, Blonde and Stout craft beers are carefully brewed with malts imported from the Czech Republic and hops from England and New Zealand. Annually added to the mix is a Summer Ale, a light beer that offers cooling relief from the scorching summer temperatures, and a celebratory Christmas Ale for the holiday season.

In addition to giving his patrons hand-crafted beer, Alla hopes that Birzeit Brewery will introduce his fellow Palestinians in the Muslim majority West Bank to what he calls a positive beer drinking experience. And the adults aren’t the only people Alla wants to reach; he also hosts brewery tours for children in an effort to teach them how to drink responsibly. Ultimately the Sayej brothers are determined to foster the West Bank’s beer drinking culture one craft brew at a time.

Birzeit brews beers by brothers, for friends.

Jem’s Beer Factory

This brewery’s co-owner, Jeremy (aka Jem), started out by operating a home brewery in The States. After years of study and research, he indulged his dream of brewing beer in the Holy Land, and relocated his family to Israel. Soon he met Dan, a lawyer from New York who, inspired by Jeremy’s passion for craft beer, wanted in on the dream.

Eventually, the two opened the first Jem’s Beer Factory in an industrial zone in Petach Tikva near Tel Aviv. Since then, Jem’s has expanded to include six additional brewpubs throughout Israel, all featuring Jem’s beer and tasty food like homemade sausage.

Jem’s beer, which is brewed in small batches to ensure quality, can also be found on other menus throughout the country. At Sabayos in Jerusalem, pair a Jem’s beer on tap with a savory or sweet crepe.

Jem's takes extra steps to ensure quality is high.

Hatch

Hatch, a brewpub located in Jerusalem’s Mahane Yehuda market, pairs hand-crafted brews with homemade sausage sandwiches. Recently, owner and home-brewer Ephraim Greenblatt expanded his tap room; it now includes eight Hatch craft beer taps (styles rotate weekly), a soda water tap for craft soft drinks, and a sophisticated, smart cocktail menu.

In addition to sausage, the menu includes Samboosak, a Middle Eastern meat-filled donut often served during Ramadan.

At Hatch, homebrews taste even better alongside sausage sandwiches.

Malka Brewery 

Located in the Kibbutz Yehaim in the Upper Galilee, north of Jerusalem, Malka Brewery dates back to 2006. In Hebrew, “Malka” means “Queen,” a name selected because beer in Hebrew is feminine, and the owners wanted their beer to have broad appeal.

The brewery ferments beer in two stages: the first in fermentation tanks and the second in bottles and kegs. The brewers at Malta believe it’s this double fermentation process that creates the unique flavors and lite carbonation that locals have come to love and expect.

 Herzl Brewery 

Herzl Brewery, Jerusalem’s first and only microbrewery, has been at the forefront of the Holy City’s craft beer scene. Established in 2006 by owner and operator Itai Gutman, the brewery serves as a beer lab where experimentation and innovation allow Gutman and fellow brewmaster Maor Helfman to brew beyond what they call boring everyday beer.

In 2016, after reading about Tel Aviv University’s development of a mother grain — a heritage grain that’s as close as possible to the 2,000-year-old wheat from which modern wheat was developed — Gutman did what any beer scientist would do: He contacted the university, secured a sample of grain seeds and used them to brew a biblical-era beer. Or, at least, a beer that’s believed to be close to what would’ve been consumed around the time of Jesus.

While this small batch, ancient brew was never made available to the public, Gutman and Helfman continue to experiment with modern-day ingredients. Recently, the brewery released its Embargo Cuban Tobacco Leaf Porter, made with cigar leaves. This beer is in addition to the English Strong Ale, English Pale Ale and IPA that the brewery produces on a regular basis.

Herzl Brewery doesn’t have a visitor’s center or taproom yet, but given the beer’s popularity among Israelis, it’s readily available throughout bars and restaurants in Jerusalem.

Herzl is Jerusalem's first and only microbrewery.

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