Hop(s) on Over to the Best Independent Israeli Beer Breweries

As local microbreweries take off in Israel, there’s now a brew suited to every palate.

 Rotem Maimon
Rotem Maimon
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From left: Isis, Herzl, Klara, Meidan, Beertzinut.
From left: Isis, Herzl, Klara, Meidan, Beertzinut.Credit: Courtesy
 Rotem Maimon
Rotem Maimon

An Israeli wine that wins an international prize is almost a matter of routine. But what about beer? For quite a few years it stood shyly on the side, allowing international and local brands (mainly Goldstar and Maccabee) to become household names. But quietly a small industry has grown here that has taken a totally different direction from the wine industry: It started out in homes, when people decided to try to prepare it by themselves.

Israel now has about 25 commercial breweries. Of the hundreds of beers and many promising home and commercial breweries, most of which were displayed at the Beers 2015 exhibition in Tel Aviv in mid-August, we have selected a number of breweries and small brands worthy of attention.

Klara Japanese hops and Belgian tripels

Klara.Credit: Courtesy

Naama Ashkenazi came to the beer world by chance. After participating in a beer-brewing course she was so enthusiastic about the tasty final result that she started to brew beer at home regularly. And as often happens, she received so many compliments from friends and family that she opened a small business. In the international beer competition BIRA2011 her home-made beer won a gold rating, and her second beer, Status, won a silver rating. In addition, she won the title of “Best small brewery in Israel.” The awards and prizes led to the transfer of production from the house to a more professional setup, and that’s how Klara beer was born.

The beer is brewed according to the original home recipe, with meticulous use of fresh and high-quality ingredients. At present there are three beers in the brewery: The local version of British India Pale Ale made with a rare Japanese species of hops called Sorachi Ace, called ACE IPA; Belgian Tripel, a sweeter and very fruity beer from special Belgian yeast that is so sweet that it’s surprising to discover that it contains quite a lot of alcohol; and Stout, a pleasant dark beer whose roasted flavor contains hints of espresso and bittersweet chocolate.

Meidan – the first gluten-free beer in Israel

Meidan.Credit: Courtesy

The Meidan brewery in Carmiel was established to meet the need of beer-loving celiac sufferers to get what they deserve – a gluten-free beer. That’s why we can easily declare that this is the first Israeli beer that does not contain barley or wheat, or any gluten.

In the summer of 2007 Brian Meidan was diagnosed with celiac, and therefore had to change his diet completely. When he didn’t find any totally gluten-free beer on the market that was also drinkable, he decided to try to produce such a beer himself. After finding a basic recipe and beginning to play around with it and with the percentages of alcohol for two years, after many trials he produced an ale with a strong taste of hops. Six years later he has already begun to market his beer (in a limited edition), and today the brewery includes three gluten-free beers.

So if there’s no wheat or barley, what is there? Organic malt, buckwheat and quinoa, honey and humus malt.

Isis Brewing Company – ale from the Egyptian salient

Isis.Credit: Courtesy

In moshav Dekel in the western Negev, on the way to Egypt, Isaac Levy started a brewery that produces only ales. Levy, who lived for a long time in United States, fell in love with American and Canadian beers. When he returned to Israel and did some gardening and landscape architecture, then decided to let the beer conquer him and in 2007 built a small brewery in his back yard.

There are six main beers in the brewery and all of them are ales, which balance between the sweetness of malt and the flowery bitterness of hops, and the bread-like taste of the yeast. The brewery’s pale ale is a light and perfect summer beer that requires a frozen glass alongside it. The “free style” will be popular with those who like beer with strong hops flavors, and on the other hand the amber ale will be popular with those who like somewhat fruity beers. You can also find dessert ale, a beer in the style of IPA, and a black ale like stout – dark and bitter, “like life in the desert.”

And in case you were wondering – the brewery is named after the Egyptian goddess, not the Islamic State.

Beer stop on the way to Eilat the Beertzinut brewery

Beertzinut.Credit: Gal Nakdimon

Kibbutz Ketura represents the Arava on the list. As opposed to many small breweries, Beertzinut has at least five types of beer in the stores, and on the kibbutz itself you can find about another 20 types of home-brewed beer which they prepare. One of the brewery’s best-known beers is the surprising Cool Medjool, which mixes smoked barley malt with a seasoning of Arava dates. Cucamonga, a pleasant amber pale ale in the style of the West Coast beers in the U.S., puts a blossoming orchard in your mouth, and mainly grapefruit fragrances and flavors. There are also two IPA beers: Laila (“night”), which like its name is black and bitter, with a pleasant fragrance of wood in your nose; and Shlishiya (“triplet), a strong beer thanks to three species of hops.

Herzl Brewery – the first (and smallest) in the capital

Maor Helfman and Itai Gutman are two young Jerusalemites behind the first and only brewery, for now, in the capital – and they are also the biggest name on the list, which is an example of crossing the line between a tiny brewery to one that is taking its first steps on the grownups’ playing field. The story of Herzl beer begins a little over a decade ago, when Helfman began to brew beer at home. Later, in order to take the business seriously, he flew to a brewery in Scotland to learn and acquire expertise. He discovered that he was the second Israeli to work there: The first was Gutman. A profound conversation about beer led to a friendship, and later to a business partnership. Slightly over two years ago they became the owners of the Herzl Brewery in the Talpiot industrial zone.

Herzl has three types of beer. It begins with interesting names such as “Six Percent Kapara,” a British-style beer produced traditionally in a lovely reddish color with a light and pleasant fruity taste. Dolce De Assal is a strong beer (8 percent alcohol) that like its name is sweet as honey. As in quite a number of other places, here too IPA is de rigeur – here it’s called “IPA and Zeh” and has an aromatic fragrance and a bitter taste. Occasionally you can find special and temporary versions, so that if you can, get hold of “Embargo,” a dark beer seasoned with no less that Cuban cigar leaves.

Beera Cabara homage to those who drained the swamps

According to legend, the pioneers who drained the Cabara swamps in the area of kibbutz Ma’agan Michael always had a simple beer at their lunch break, which was cold and charged their batteries. Closing a circle decades later, Alon Etzioni began to brew beer in his home on the kibbutz, and was singled out by friends as the one responsible for bringing the golden liquid to social events. With demand came an increase in production and about half a year ago the beers named after the lands of the Carmel coast began to be sold commercially.

Etzioni actually comes from a family that owns a winery. The desire to produce his own beer originated with his great frustration each time from the nerve-racking wait between the preparation and the drinking of the wine. With beer, he says, in three weeks at most you can drink.

Beera Cabara makes three kinds of beer. Its IPA is for beginners, balanced and without much hops – the beauty here is that you don’t need an acquired taste for it. On the other hand, the wheat beer is unconventional and has an atypical presence of hops, and therefore is not only light in color but its sweetness is reminiscent of the taste of a banana that was recently picked on the Carmel coast. The third beer we tasted is a pale ale with a classic recipe, with caramel and a citrus fragrance and a refreshing lychee conclusion, but everything is far more moderate. A pleasure.

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