It’s hard to believe that Israel had no microbreweries just a few years ago. Now the country is practically awash in ales. Israel has more than 20 licensed “boutique” breweries and a rapidly evolving drinking culture.
Since the 1950s, the Israeli beer industry typically has been dominated by two breweries at a time. Since the 1990s Israel Beer Breweries and Tempo Beer Industries have controlled about 70 percent of Israel’s beer market. Tempo produces the Goldstar and Maccabee labels, while Israel Beer produces Carlsberg and Tuborg.
But over the past decade, American immigrants have brought their love of beer to Israel. The first microbrewery in Israel, Dancing Camel, opened in Tel Aviv’s Yad Harutzim industrial area in 2006. New Jersey native David Cohen left a business career to follow his dream to make this quality beer in Israel. I think that boutique breweries are the next big thing in Israel. Every brewery has its own pub and sells their beer there. Young adults in Israel today like going out and trying new beers, so those pubs are usually packed with young people. When I asked my friends in Israel what they think about the phenomenon of new beers in the Israeli market, they all replied that they love it and hope to see more microbreweries open up.
Beer festivals are the best time to try new beers because all the breweries come together to the same place. I like to try new beers every time I go to a festival in Israel.
The Jerusalem Beer Festival is one of the largest beer festivals in Israel, held annually in the summer since 2004. Other festivals are held in Tel Aviv, Haifa and the Mateh Yehuda region. A wine and beer festival is held annually in Ber Sheva. The city of Ashdod held its first beer festival in 2011.
In 2011 I went to the Jerusalem beer festival. Every beer company has a small bar. The festival is outside and bands play all night long. About 20,000 to 30,000 people attend to try the more than 150 kinds of beer showcased at the festival. As is common at nearly every Israeli event, people just start talking to each other randomly. At the beer festivals, they all have their own opinions about which beers are best.
Israelis reportedly drink only 14 liters (3.7 gallons) of beer per person each year. That’s not much compared to the Czechs and their 160 liters (42 gallons) of yearly beer consumption per inhabitant. But even if Israel can’t compete with some countries in beer consumption, it now holds its own on sophisticated craft beer production, thanks to emerging boutique breweries. Some of the more established craft breweries are Dancing Camel, Jem’s Beer Factory, Alexander, Malka and Shapiro.
Just be sure to say l’chaim, which means “to life” in Hebrew, whether you’re having a drink with friends in Israel or at Jewish gatherings here in the United States.
Natalie Nahome is an Israeli Shlicha (emissary) living in the United States.