While craft beer was a rarity in Israel a decade ago, its eager proponents have been making up for lost time: Today there are nearly 30 microbreweries in the Land of Milk and Honey. And why not? The weather is perfect for cracking open a cold one, and Tel Aviv’s vibrant nightlife gives even New York a run for its money. Here are eight of Israel’s top craft brewers and where to drink their beer.
1. Dancing CamelPhoto courtesy of Dancing Camel
After tasting the now-defunct Pete’s Wicked Ale, Brooklyn resident David Cohen took up homebrewing, a hobby he brought with him when he moved to Israel. In 2006, he set up Dancing Camel in Tel Aviv and today produces six year-round beers and 12 to 14 brews that change seasonally. Cohen is devoted to using the bounty of spices, fresh fruits, and herbs available in Israel. Among the year-rounders is the Midnight Stout, “which, in beer-geek terms,” Cohen says, “straddles the fence between a stout and a porter, [with] the coffee you expect from a stout and the bittersweet chocolate you expect from a porter.” For Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish new year, Cohen brewed the 613, a sweet-sour pomegranate ale (pomegranates are said to have 613 seeds).
Drink it: The Dancing Camel Pub is located at 12 Ha’Taasiya between HaMasger and Menachem Begin in Tel Aviv (+972-3-624-2783).
2. Buster’s Beverage Co.
Denny Neilson did not speak a lick of Hebrew when he moved to Israel 13 years ago with his wife and kids. After teaching others to homebrew, and making their own beer under the name Isra-Ale, the Neilsons started Buster’s Beverage Co., named for their dog. The company is a family affair: 25-year-old Matt does marketing and sales, Pam handles accounting, and Denny is in R&D—or, as he puts it, “I make it, he sells it, she counts it.” For now they’re focusing on cider. As well as a dry cider, a sweet cider, and a hard lemonade, Buster’s also has a seasonal winter cider flavored with local unfiltered wildflower honey, cinnamon, and cloves. They run free tours on Friday mornings, with tastings accompanied by cheese from a local goat farm. Tasting tours the rest of the week are 25 shekels per person (approximately $6.50) and should be booked in advance.
Drink it: At the brewery in Nacham Industrial Park, Beit Shemesh (+972-54-638-1106), and in stores and bars across the country.
3. Herzl Beer
Herzl Beer, brewed in Jerusalem, is the brainchild of 30-something Jerusalemites Maor Helfman and Itai Gutman. Both did brewing internships in Scotland before meeting in Israel and deciding to open a brewery, which launched in late 2013. Herzl today produces five beers, including the strong but sweet Dulce de Asal (its Spanish/Arabic name translates to “the sweetness of honey”) and the medium-bodied, mildly fruity Bira Levana. It was the duo’s Embargo, though—a porter made with Cuban tobacco leaves—that led them to collaborate with German brewery Crew Republic. Brewed to commemorate the 500th anniversary of Germany’s first beer purity law, California Common debuted in April at the Jewish Museum Munich. You’ll have to go to Germany to taste this one—it’s only for sale in the museum restaurant and at a few local bars.
Drink it: Find Herzl Beer at Chakra, 41 King George Street, Jerusalem (+972-2-625-2733).
4. Lone Tree BreweryPhoto courtesy of Lone Tree Brewery
A post-grad program brought Scot David Shire to Israel in 1983, and he met his Tunisian wife, Myriam, while working at Hadassah Medical Center as a biologist. The couple, along with their American neighbors Susan and John Levin, were avid homebrewers, but “it’s one thing to make beer and give it away; it’s another thing to be able to sell it,” Shire says. The foursome wanted to prove their beer was good enough to sell, and opened Lone Tree Brewery in 2010. Lone Tree has six year-round beers—five ales and a stout—and a seasonal Pomegranate Date Ale, available for Rosh Hashanah.
Drink it: At the brewery, inside Gush Etzion Park at Kfar Etzion (+972-2-930-9010). Tours and tastings cost just 20 shekels (approx. $5), and kids are welcome.
After 25 years as a beer hobbyist, former Air Force pilot Ori Sagy decided to go pro. Partnering with fellow pilot Aviem Sella and restaurateur brothers Yoram and Ari Yarzin, he opened Alexander in 2008, named for the nearby river. Brewmaster Dan Taub oversees production of Alexander’s four beers, made with water from the Sea of Galilee. Year-round, Taub dishes up Ambrée, the brewery’s take on the French Bière de Garde (“beer for keeping”), which gets its amber hue from roasted malts, and the floral, fruity Blonde. Light and just sweet enough, the Blonde is well suited to Israel’s climate, practically begging to be nestled in a cooler and taken to the beach.
Drink it: Either at the brewery—19 Tzvi Hanahal Street between He-Karish and Beit HaRishonim Streets, in Emek Hefer (+972-74-703-4094)—or in Tel Aviv at Beer Bazaar, Beer & Beyond, Cafe Italia, and Magazzino.
6. LiBiraPhoto courtesy of LiBira Brewery Pub
In Haifa’s trendy Lower City, a block from the Mediterranean, Leonid Lipkin and Erik Salarov are slinging beer and wings. Lipkin emigrated to Israel from Ukraine in 1987 and 20 years later opened a commercial brewery, adding a pub after three more years. Salarov had been brewing commercial for years, and when Lipkin closed his initial brewery in 2013, the pair merged to form LiBira. Despite its de rigueur concrete floors and columns, exposed brick, and soaring ceiling, this is a chummy neighborhood gastropub. Lipkin favors LiBira’s Double Pils, a German-style lager, while Salarov goes for the full-bodied Smoked Stout. If you’re coming off a day at nearby Dado Beach, though, cool off with the lighter Bitter Beer, with notes of biscuit and caramel that’ll whet your appetite.
Drink it: At the pub/brewery, 26 Ha-Namal Street near Sha’ar Palmer Street, Haifa (+972-52-228-4840).
7. Shapiro Beer
Shapiro Beer is Israel’s only craft brewery with its own YouTube channel—one with 900-plus subscribers, more than a million views, and viral videos. With little in the way of a marketing budget, brothers Daniel, Itzik, and Avi Shapiro turned to their friend Vanya Hyman and began producing short, goofy videos ending with their tagline “beer for everyone.” The brewing itself started out as a backyard hobby, with a home-brewing kit their older brother had brought back to Jerusalem from Milwaukee, their mother’s hometown. In 2011, the brothers three decided to start brewing commercially, and with brewmaster Yochai Kotler at the helm, the brewery now pumps out 15,000 liters per month. Shapiro Beer is straightforward—a pale ale, a wheat beer, and an oatmeal stout.
Drink it: Either at Sira—4 Ben Sira Street between Hillel and Queen Shlomzion Streets, Jerusalem (+972-2-623-4366)—or at Porter & Sons, 14 HaArba'a Street near Leonardo da Vinci Street in Tel Aviv (+972-3-624-4355).
8. Taybeh Brewing Company
Special mention must be made of Taybeh Brewing Company, a Palestinian brewery in the West Bank that’s been producing craft beer since 1994. There were no microbreweries in the Middle East in 1994. But after 20 years in the United States, brothers David and Nadim Khoury returned to their home village of Taybeh and wanted to support the village economy. Nadim parlayed his college-days homebrewing experience into commercial brewing and brought on his daughter, Madees, to brew alongside him. The Khourys keep it simple, with Golden, Amber, Light, Dark, and White beers. On a hot day, the white, made with local wheat, coriander, and orange peel, is like manna from heaven.
Drink it: At the brewery, 1 Taybeh Road, Taybeh, Ramallah District, +972-2-289-8868, and in stores and bars across the country.
© 2016 AFAR Media