Israeli Craft Beer

My rather euphoric discovery of the Israeli craft beer scene was on a beautiful sunny spring afternoon in 2013. I spent several hours, chatting, eating and drinking microbrews at Beer Market in Jaffa Port, Tel Aviv.

I snagged a few local bottles to sample back in the UK and tasted them at the Stormbird with a few good beer pals. They included: Des de Moor, Richard Warmsley, Sam Hill, Mark Charlwood and the infamous Glynn Roberts.

We started things off with Shapiro Pale Ale which had been a brewery I had liked in TA. Their Pale at 5% abv was hazy and full of yeast. There was some peach, tin corn and mint with a creamy bitter texture. Just ok.

Screen Shot 2014-11-20 at 13.29.52Next was HaDubim Kiwi (5.3%). I had met Dagan their brewer while I was at the Beer Market in Jaffa, very nice guy. His Kiwi poured hazy golden with aromas of zesty gooseberry jam. Ultra dry with tart citrus and a kiwi skin finish. Pretty good.

Numero three was from family run brewery Taybeh actually based in the West Bank. Their Amber (5.5%) despite being brewed according to the German purity laws whiffed of brewed tea and sour Gueze. We established without tasting it that it was infected. A real shame as it had travelled so far.

Our bad run continued with Alexander and their Green (6%). An IPA with an “Israeli twist” that smelt of soapy cotton wool was also infected.

Screen Shot 2014-11-20 at 13.30.30We were due some luck and it came in the lusciously dense molasses black form of Alon Porter (5%) from Negev. Metalic aromas of copper, Lebanese spices, cayenne pepper and baked black plum. The texture of velvet, pure earthy mineral expression, roasted coffee with a long dry finish. Very very good.

Maibeerovicz was last up and their Doppelbock (7.5%) was a hazy muck brown with a Kirsh nail polish remover nose. Oh no… Sour cherry, liquorice root and peach on the palate but like all three blended up and left out on a window sill for a few days in summer. Yep it was infected with something nasty.

Perhaps I fell victim to those “Holiday Booze Blues”? Where one is sorely underwhelmed or even downright disappointed with a tipple that filled you with such pleasure in a foreign land.

That said the beers I drank in Tel Aviv were quite fresh and one cannot account for randomising factors that may haunt novice brewers in a fledgling brew scene.

Besides the superb Negev and solid Hadubim here’s hoping the next time I am able to try the rest that their beers are in better shape…

Good Beer and food in Tel Aviv

I went out to Israel for work last year, where I happily stumbled upon a vibrant and growing micro brew scene. Though on my 1st night I only managed to try Goldstar, one of only a few mass produced beers in Israel. They had it on IMG_1966draft at Frank, a hot dog palace of some quality. IMG_1962The Goldstar was amber brown, had some dark malt flavours and was very cold. It obviously did the trick with my red hot, because I didn’t even get a picture of it before it was woofed down. IMG_1975

The next day it was as if some unknown force drew me along the beach to Jaffa Port Market, in the beautiful bustling seaside to the south of Tel Aviv. Once inside the market I was reminded of Granville Island in Vancouver, back in my native Canada. A buzzing modern space with restaurants, cafes and stalls selling all manner of consumables. I hadn’t gone more than 30 feet when there it was, my El Dorado. Occupying a prime corner space near an entrance stood Beer Market, one of only a handful of craft beer shops/bars in all of Israel. I felt giddy and exalted perusing the shelves of local brews.

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To begin I sampled the 2 keg beers on offer: Dancing Camel IPA & Hamaka Harishona (First Punch) a Smoked Ale by HaDubim. The Dancing Camel was everything a modern style IPA should be, well hopped, fresh fruity & fully flavoured. HaDubim HH was subtle on the smokiness, had a good balance, overall a decent effort. Beers in hand I installed myself at the little bar attached to the shop, and blissfully spent the next five or so hours drinking beer, eating and talking to anyone who came near me.
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After the draft beers I was getting peckish and was directed by the boys at Beer Market to the hummus stand about 8 feet to my right. The line wasn’t too long, but I waited for nearly 15 minutes because every transaction became a negotiation: more of this, less of that, give me a few of those, before finally the money was handed over. I was getting a lesson in culture while I cued! I got my traditional hummus and spicy Israeli salad. Now I just needed a something to drink… After some back and forth I settled on a Wheat Ale From Malka. Screen Shot 2013-11-06 at 17.04.29Tucking into my grub & sipping the beer I fell into a sort of trance, the kind where the harmony of food and drink are completely in tune. The hummus was out of this world, as good as I have ever had; the sort of texture that bordered on the sensual. I was thankful for the bracing electrical chilli heat and citrus crunch of the cucumber tomato salad, as it kept my moaning with every bite to a minimum. Screen Shot 2013-11-06 at 17.03.21

Personally I think wheat beers are a versatile match for lots of cuisines. Good examples like Malka have a fresh lemony acidity and herbaceousness to them, which cuts through richness and cleans the palate. At the same time they have a freshness which allows them to pair well with more delicate dishes as well.

IMG_1997I chatted some more with the guys and met Hadubim brewer Dagan while I sipped a draft pale ale from Shapiro, which was perfectly good.

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I was getting hungry again and only had to go about 3 meters to a stall selling sandwiches, where I procured this rare roast beef beauty. The bread was as soft as velvet and biting into it, I felt a surge of endorphins as my pleasure center lit up. The flavours of that oh so tender beef balanced perfectly against the crunch of lettuce and sting of mustard. Of course another beer was needed so I returned to Dancing Camel and their very good APA. It had a lovely weight and richness, with a persistent but not overwhelming hop character. A superb match for the sandwich.Screen Shot 2013-11-06 at 17.05.08

What struck me most as I sat watching men and woman of different ages come and go at Beer Market, was the genuine excitement that illuminated on so many faces as they saw or heard that all these beers were brewed in Israel. The country doesn’t have a brewing history as such and I felt as if I was glimpsing something at it’s very beginning.

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My most vivid recollection was of three men in their late 50’s. Working lads with broad shoulders and calloused hands, one with a pack of cigarettes rolled up in his short sleeve shirt. They were hunting the shelves, asking questions and making their individual selections with the all the care and focus of school boys in a candy or comic shop. Their purchases made; they stood at the till admiring their choices, smiling to each other, giggling here and there, their eyes glinting with mixture of mischief, anticipation and pride.

Screen Shot 2013-11-06 at 17.03.01Time was getting on so I had to get back to my hotel and freshen up. But I wasn’t about to leave without a few souvenirs, so I bought a half dozen bottles and bid farewell to my very gracious hosts.

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My gastronomic adventures did not end there though. IMG_2018That evening I went with a colleague to the heaving Port Sa’id for dinner. It was obviously a place very popular with the young and trendy set of Tel Aviv and we had to wait for a table. Once sat the menu arrived, all in Hebrew, so after some help from the waitress we ordered an array of dishes.

This smoky fruit Barkan Shiraz hit the right notes without being too in your face and paired well with our meal. Though the first thing I tasted wasn’t even ours,IMG_2008 it belonged to the very friendly locals on the next table, who let me try this beautiful beetroot carpaccio with garlic yogurt while we waited for our food to arrive. IMG_2012

Now not having a menu to refer to I sadly I don’t have an exact recall each plate. But the flavours! I can still taste the unique spicing, texture and seasoning nearly a year on.

Things like Beans ‘Masabaha’ Salad, slow cooked beef, BBQ lamb and an astonishing roasted cabbage were all utterly delicious.

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The menu changes daily depending on what the eclectic chefs are able to source, but Port Sa’id is a must for any foodie visiting Tel Aviv. A real gem.

Sadly I wasn’t able to see much more of the city during my short visit, due to my work commitment. I felt though that I’d gotten a small taste of this exceptional city, and it’s fascinating inhabitants. I came away with a greater appreciation and respect that I had not anticipated. For that I am truly grateful.