Israel is now home to dozens of small breweries, and the American influence is there for the next time you hoist a cold one.
By Yakir Benzion, United With Israel
Israel’s formerly boring beer scene has been taken over by craft breweries that are not only working their way into Israeli culinary culture, but also slowly gaining a bigger slice of the market share.
For decades tourists to Israel were used to the three choices: Maccabee, Goldstar and Nesher. It was a thrill to return home with a great conversation maker of an Israeli beer t-shirt, or a beer can in Hebrew to add to your collection.
That changed in 2006 when an American oleh (immigrant) from New York, David Cohen, opened Israel’s first micro-brewery, the Dancing Camel Brewery in Tel Aviv.
“There’s a very lively craft-beer culture in Israel, not the dimensions of Europe or the USA, but it’s got a growing market share,” said Doug Greener, the “beer writer” for the Jerusalem Post whose blog “Israel Brews and Views” keeps on top of what’s brewing.
Israel now has some 30 craft breweries, and Greener says that the quality ales, lagers and stouts are catching on with young Israelis.
Greener says he doesn’t have the marketing statistics, but his “gut feeling” is that the older drinkers tend to continue with the established macro-breweries drinking the three Israeli mainstays or foreign labels like Tuborg, Carlsberg or Budweiser that are brewed under license.
However, he says “the younger generation reflects its counterparts abroad and has developed an appreciation for craft beers.”
“Einstein said that everything is relative. Compared to where Israel was a decade ago, we are doing quite well,” he noted. “The understanding of craft beer is spreading to many different sectors of the population, and they are demanding it in restaurants, bars and retail shops.”
And they aren’t just numerous. Israel craft beers have a reputation of being good, including several medals for breweries at international beer competitions.
A couple of the small breweries have tried exporting to the U.S., with Malka and Alexander beers once handled by a distributor in Texas, but Greener says it didn’t work out. However, he noted that Good Stuff Brewing in Beit Shemesh, about halfway between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, has successfully exported its Buster’s line of ciders and hard lemonade to America because they are kosher for Passover.
Greener knows of at least six other Israeli micro-breweries that are owned by American ex-pats.
Neil Wasserman of Shevet Brewery, also a former New Yorker, is also producing a local whiskey and said he’s expanding his facilities to include a visitors’ center and a separate building for barrel storage and whisky tasting.
“Wait until we’re done. There will be no other place like this in Israel,” Wasserman said.
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