Brewing up a beer culture

Does Israel have a beer culture? Well, kind of. A young one. One that’s perhaps largely imported. What it does have now is a beer expo.

To be precise, Israel has had one beer expo to date — yesterday was the day for professionals, and today it’s open to the public at large, all those beer drinkers who want to get to know the country’s importers and microbrewers.

Imported beer — I know it well, since most of the decent beer sold at bars is imported, with a few notable exceptions. (And many of them were pushing their beers with all sorts of large stands and colorful costumes — in the above photo, Singha beer.) So I was there to meet the microbrewers, along with a rather large group of bloggers including Sarah, Yael, Miriam, Michelle and new-girl-in-town Ariella. Our friend Irene was working the booth for the Golan Brewery, and my cousin-in-law Noam was there representing his own microbrewery, Shibolet.

(In the photo: Isaac explains different kinds of wheat to Yael, Sarah and me.)

Many of the brewers were native English speakers, or had spent time abroad — after all, this is not a country known for its beer culture, and they had to learn it somewhere, as we discussed with Susan from Lone Tree Brewery. This may be because the climate is not very conducive to large-scale brewing — all the malt is imported, Noam told us. This country grows only a small fraction of the wheat it consumes, and the process of preparing wheat for brewing takes a lot of water, which is something we lack here.

According to the organizers’ website, there were 16 mid-sized microbreweries and 19 small microbreweries (1,000 to 5,000 liters a year). So why aren’t we seeing more good, local beer being served in bars? Probably because most of those places don’t make enough to be widely distributed, and some aren’t distributed at all, per se — they’re brewed by hobbyists in it for the craft. Many don’t even have real websites — most of the links below are to their pages on the beer expo’s site.

Maybe that’s changing. There certainly are enough people in Israel who drink things other than Goldstar and Tuborg (with all due respect to Goldstar and Tuborg). And I suppose the point of a beer expo is to increase knowledge about the brands. Will we start seeing these beers popping up in bars? Well, let’s hope.

Worth tasting

The following is a list of beers that I thought stood out. Mind you, it could be a bit biased, because my taste in beer is very specific — wheat beer — and I sampled accordingly; I didn’t try many dark or amber beers.

BEST IN SHOW: My overall favorite beer was Golan‘s Bazelet wheat beer (green label), and I swear it had nothing to do with the fact that my friend was working their stand (above photo). It had a mix of flavors that I’d be happy to sit down and drink a glass of — fruity, with hints of banana even, and herbal. I also liked the Bazelet Pilsner beer (yellow label).

At the Pavo brewery, I liked the wheat beer (shockingly). It, too had the light herbal flavor I look for in my beers.

FUN FLAVORS: While I don’t always like flavored beers, I liked Negev‘s passionfruit beer — the passion fruit added a light, gentle tang that did not overwhelm the flavor. And Tel Aviv brewery Dancing Camel‘s beer Hefe-Wit was flavored with coriander seeds and orange peel, which I thought actually gave it a minty flavor. In a good way.

Another interesting twist was Golda‘s Royal Oak, which was brewed with bits of oak. Oak does good things for other kinds of alcoholic beverages, and it turns out that it does good things for beer, too.

COOL BREWERY: Palestinian brewery Taybeh drew lots of attention, by virtue of what it is. Madees, the brewer’s daughter, was friendly and informative, and she invited us to the brewery’s annual Oktoberfest. Taybeh (the town) is Christian, although Madees told us that plenty of Muslims enjoy the brewery’s beer, too. (Above photo: Nana interviewing the brewer.)

BRILLIANT NAMES: Winning the best-name category was the brewery Isra-Ale (photo below, also run by expats). Is that not the greatest name for an Israeli beer? Second best was Abir, meaning “knight” in Hebrew, which is based on a British Mandate-era recipe and is named after the English soldiers’ requests for “a beer.”

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