10 best craft beers from Israel
Microbrews and artisanal beers are popping up all over the country, and our chef taste-tests them all.
From the north to the south, Israeli microbreweries are popping up like mushrooms. Showcased in two annual beer festivals every summer – one in Tel Aviv and one in Jerusalem – Israel’s craft beers display a nice variety of styles. Some are traditional, some are modern, and all are delicious.
Many brewers are originally Americans who brought their brewing know-how with them to Israel. Others freely acknowledge the influence of American beers on their own styles and methods. Almost all insist that fresh, unpasteurized and unfiltered beer is the only way to go.
Israelis prefer locally made food and drink, so the new beers pique curiosity everywhere they appear. It takes a little time to get to know the beers, because of the sheer variety. It’s not like running into the store and picking up a six-pack of Budweiser, when there are so many more beer styles to choose from than the usual lagers and ales.
None of the new breweries are more than 10 years old, and the brewers express their preferences and even personal quirks and sense of humor in their methods and ingredients.
This craft brewery offers three ales and a porter. Their Ambrée ale revives an old French country style – Bière de Garde – whose recipe was almost lost, then rediscovered by home brewers in the U.S. and Europe. Their Belgian Blonde ale is fruity and tart, with less alcohol by volume (ABV). Their Black, which is complex and rich, has a higher ABV and is good for winter quaffing.
These fans are raising a glass at the Bazelet Beer Festival in Israel. (Photo: Shishi Bagolan/Facebook)
The brewery is owned by a prize-winning winery in Israel. Brewed in the Golan mountains, Bazelet beers are made with mineral water filtered naturally through the local basalt rock. Bazelet offers Pilsner – pale, light, lager beer with a pleasant, grainy bitter and slightly sweet malt flavor (4.9% ABV); Amber Ale – red amber ale with a good balance between bitter and fruity (6.4% ABV); Bavarian-style Wheat Beer (5.1% ABV), and Double Bock Beer, a strong, dark lager (8% ABV).
The philosophy of Dancing Camel is fully expressed in distinctive beers such as The Golem, an India Pale Ale with 11% ABV; Leche del Diablo, a spicy Wit beer that gets its heat from Israeli chilies (5% ABV); and Hefe-Wit, a Belgian-style Wit-beer, spiced with coriander and orange (5% ABV). Brewmaster David Cohen, who hails from Brooklyn, says that the American Pale Ale (5.2% ABV) harks back to the old days in the U.S. The brewery offers 13 beers in all. They offer Friday jam sessions and fun events, such as the upcoming Halloween Night.
“Our goal is to make exciting beer," Cohen says. "Beer that makes people think and smile. Sure, we make traditional styles, but they are nuanced in a way that is distinctly Israeli. This country is rich in herbs, fruits and spices that belong in beer but have never been tried before.”
Isra-Ale was one of the first microbreweries in Israel. Danny Nielsen, an American winemaker and brewmaster, sells Smoked Lager made with malts smoked in beechwood (5.6% ABV) and Chutzpah, a hoppy, high-alcohol IPA (8.9% ABV). Nielsen’s beginnings were in beer, but he has branched out to dry and sweet hard ciders and hard lemonade, which are both excellent. He teaches beer-making as well as how to make cider, wine and whiskey.
This is a beer factory inside a restaurant. Or is it the other way around? In any case, American Jeremy Walfeld came to Israel after studying microbiology and brewing science at UC Davis in California, finishing with an advanced brewing course at the Siebel Institute of Technology in Chicago. He and his business partner opened Jem's Beer Factory in the bustling town of Petach Tikvah, renovating an abandoned warehouse and creating a brewery/eatery with a hip atmosphere. Jem's offers German-style Dark Lager, Czech Pils, Bavarian-style Wheat, English-style Amber Ale and Irish-style Stout – all around 5% ABV. Plus, there's the red Belgian ale 8.8, named for its alcohol content.
Naama Ashkenazi named her brewery for her grandmother, Klara. Naama, who has been brewing since 2005, is part of a growing number of female brewers. Her India Pale Ale won the gold grade in a 2011 international competition held in Israel, and her stout won the silver grade. At the time, she was still fermenting beer in her kitchen. She was awarded “the best small brewery in Israel" at the competition. "I didn’t even have a brewery yet!” she says, laughing.
Klara beers are stout, Belgian Tripel and IPA, in traditional styles. Ashkenazi teaches cooking with beer, holds brewing workshops and beer-tasting sessions. She also guides tours to microbreweries, a fun option for group tours or a family day.
Asaf Lavi of Malka Beer crafts five different ales, all of which go through a second fermentation in the bottle. Their Pale Ale is a hoppy, classic British style with a bready taste of barley (5.5% ABV). They also offer Wheat, IPA, Stout and Blond Ale. Malka, founded in 2006, exports beers to the U.S. Their stout is receiving the most praise, with one reviewer on BeerAdvocate describing its taste as "sweet, dark, roasted caramel malt, cacao and some espresso notes."
This brewery offers distinct beer types. The most traditional are their Amber ale (4.9% ABV), with a distinctive roasted malt note, and the Porter (5% ABV) with notes of chocolate, coffee and caramel. The most interesting is their Passiflora beer (4.9% abv), whose fruity flavor is light and pleasantly surprising. Negev's seasonal beers tend to have higher ABV, with their Hariton Abbey Ale (7.8% ABV) and their Omer, a German-style bock at 6.5%.
Shapiro Jerusalem Beers
The brewery, which offers traditional ales and stouts, is run by six siblings. It all started in their parents’ Jerusalem basement, when one of the brothers got a home brewing kit he found while studying in Milwaukee, a beer haven and their mother's hometown. Their seasonals include a winter brew fermented with wood chips soaked in Jack Daniel's whiskey, then aged in an oak barrel for three months.
This brewery offers seven kinds of beer. I tasted their India Pale Ale (6.5% ABV). It was very good with noticeable flavors of lichi, passiflora and grapefruit. They said that when the Rolling Stones performed in Israel, their beer of choice was Srigim IPA. They offer dark ale, Belgian Tripel (9.2% ABV), and Irish Red Ale (5.2% ABV) among the rest.
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