Along the Judean hills, beer is the new wine
In the lush green land where David battled Goliath, local micro-breweries are sprouting up at a rapid pace, offering refreshing beers with inventive flavors.
I have a soft spot for the Mateh Yehuda Region, which extends southeast of Beit Shemesh. To me, it seems modest, unassuming and unpretentious. There are no major tourist attractions, but the area abounds with places mentioned in the Bible. There are several lovely monasteries, a beautiful orchard in Park Britannia, and a number of interesting caves. The hill of Tel Azekah offers a wonderful view, green even in summertime, some of it forested. The battle between David and Goliath is said to have taken place in the valley below.
And since I hold such high regard for Mateh Yehuda, I was suspicious of local brewery tours that began springing up around the region. The last brewery tour I took was in Dublin, Ireland, in the pouring rain. It was a long time ago and I don’t remember many of the details.
While Dublin is a beer-lover’s Mecca, Beit Shemesh doesn’t exactly have the same reputation. Undeterred by this, I embarked on a visit to four breweries in the area during our recent blazing heat-wave. My cynicism soon evaporated -- like all the liquid around me – and was replaced by a broad love for humanity.
Abeer Haela in Tzafririm
On the terrace of the Abeer Haela Brewery in Tzafririm, owner Aram Dekel explained the proliferation of local breweries in his community and in others nearby, such as Tzelafon (north of Beit Shemesh), Aviad, and Srigim and Tzafririm. The expansion of this particular trade, he says, has nothing to do with tradition or a nod to Samson, the area’s most famous native son, who ultimately abandoned his nazirite vows to abstain from alcohol. The reason is much more prosaic.
According to Dekel, the residents of the area were simply unable to support themselves through agriculture. They had to find other ways to make a living, and breweries were an interesting option. According to him, 15 local breweries operate in the area, producing small quantities of beer in unique flavors.
This budding industry is located on the same land where small boutique wineries were cultivated about 20 years ago.
The owners are private entrepreneurs, who are pursuing a hobby and trying to make it profitable. The local council, Dekel says, is happy to encourage any initiatives that will enhance tourism. He says that customers come because of the high-quality beer, but also because of the pleasant environment and homemade food (he specializes in sausages and his wife, Bat Sheva, prepares delicious goat cheeses).
Dekel established Abeer Haela in 2008 in a small cellar in his yard. The name Abeer Haela, a play on words that translates to Knight of the Elah Valley, is well suited to Dekel, a large man with a long, graying beard. His beer is brewed with natural ingredients – malt, barley, wheat or other grains, real hops – and then enriched with brewer’s yeast without filtering or pasteurization. His beer is one-of-a-kind because of the spices used in its preparation, and because of its unusual ingredient combinations, such as wheat with chili and honey, or barley with silan, a syrup made from dates.
Abeer Haela is located in the heart of Moshav Tzafririm. It has an enjoyable covered terrace and about ten tables alongside a large bar. It is open all day on Fridays and Saturdays. During the week, it is advisable to arrange a visit in advance. For more information, call the brewery at 054-700-0512 or email email@example.com.
Gal’s on Aviezer
Gal Sapir describes his business as “a serious hobby.” He has been brewing beer for three years, developing four main recipes. His brewery, covered overhead with a fluttering cloth, is located at the end of a short dirt path on Moshav Aviezer and offers a splendid view of the Elah Valley.
As he pours his beer into glasses, Sapir happily quotes a review that appeared on a bikers’ website about his Phachem beer that described it as “black as motorcycle tires and smoky as exhaust,” which appears to be a thumbs up. Sapir, who has participated in many biker events, says bikers are actually rather boring and never mix drinking and driving. It’s the jeep drivers, he says, who visit often and leave with cases of his beer.
Gal’s Brewery is located on Moshav Aviezer. Drive to the end of the moshav and turn left, following the signs. Call in advance for tastings and purchases. For more information: www.galsbeer.com.
Until several months ago, Ofer Ronen and Ohad Ayalon worked in high-tech. Ronen spent a few months in Germany then lived for several years in the U.S. It was there, he says, that he fell in love with the unique flavors produced by small, local breweries, whose products are not sold in large chain stores.
“I realized that this was what I wanted to do,” he says. “Now we’re developing a second career that came entirely from a love of beer. It’s a drink that’s tasty, healthy, varied and known around the world.” When I ask him why there are so many breweries in this small area, he says it comes from the inspiration of the region.
“When you deal with beer, you meet nicer people,” he says, comparing his new profession to his old one in high-tech, which he also enjoyed. The Srigim Brewery produces seven kinds of beer. Ayalon specializes in classic European beers, while Ronen brews American-style beers like dark ale, wheat beer and India pale ale.
The Srigim Brewery is located opposite the entrance to Moshav Srigim, immediately after a yellow gate on the right. Although the brewery will soon be opened to the public on certain days, for now visitors must call in advance. For more information, call Ofer at 052-622-7679 or Ohad at 052-593-8287, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Moti Bohadana, owner of the Pepo Brewery, gestures toward his father, who is sipping coffee, and says that the brewery is named after him. Bohadana has been producing wine in the Navot Winery for the past 12 years. But he recently realized that during the hot summer, a lighter, colder and more inviting drink is needed.
“If you have a feel for taste and can navigate the process of preparation, you’ll get to some interesting flavors,” he says. He produces small quantities so he can sell his beer freshly made – the shelf life is no more than six months.
Bohadana compares his production method to an espresso machine, demonstrating how hot water pushes through the barley grains. He produces eight kind of beer fit for an Israeli palate (more carbonated and colder than Scottish and Irish beer). The Elisheva beer is named after his grandmother: “forceful, bitter, with a lot of presence.” The Golda beer refers to his mother-in-law and the Alma brew comes from his daughter. Other flavors include Edna, Tirtza and Ofra.
The brewery is located on Moshav Tzelafon, near the Nahshon junction. Follow the signs to the Navot Winery. Visits on Friday and Saturday do not need to be coordinated in advance. On weekdays, they do. For details, call 02-999-2291 or email email@example.com.
The regional beer festival
The Mateh Yehuda Regional Council Beer Festival begins on August 30 and continues for three weekends until September 15. Local breweries will be open to the public, offering regular tastings. For more information, call the Mateh Yehuda Tourism Department at *8108.