|Itai Gutman (left) and Maor Helfman with their beautiful Herzl Beers.|
But now, finally, the craft beer revolution has really reached Jerusalem.
Last week I visited the first commercial brewery to open in the city: Herzl Beer, owned and operated by two 30-year-old Jerusalemites, Maor Helfman and Itai Gutman. The brewery is located in the Talpiot industrial area, right between the small stores and grimy workshops. But the beer, the beer is heavenly.
“We dreamed about opening a brewery together for about two years,” says Maor, “and we finally did around three months ago, after going through all the bureaucracy, the approvals, and the bank loans.” Maor and Itai both did internships in beer brewing in Scotland. Itai had previously studied beer brewing in Berlin. It didn’t take long after they met in Israel to decide that this is what they wanted to do with their lives: to earn a livelihood by brewing great beer.
Helfman and Gutman decided that they didn’t want to go mainstream. Most other boutique breweries in Israel will typically make a pale ale, a red ale, a stout (or porter), and a wheat beer. Herzl produces three different ales, and the names are inspired more by Jerusalem slang than by descriptive categories.
“Shesh Achuz Kapara” – A mild, red, British-inspired ale, with a nice aroma of fruit and hops. At 6% alcohol by volume, it’s a beer that makes a powerful, malty impression.
“Dulce de Asal” – The Spanish and Arabic name means “the sweetness of honey,” and this strong ale (8% ABV) doesn’t disappoint. This is for drinkers who don’t like their beer very bitter. Brewmaster Gutman says the beer is in the family of heavy Scottish ales, and influenced by the fermented honey drink of mead. Mead producing actually goes back 4,000 years, but Gutman looked at old medieval recipes and puts in the same exotic spices.
“IPA . . . v’Zeh” – My favorite. (I guess India Pale Ales will always be my favorite.) Helfman and Gutman say that very few other Israeli breweries make India Pale Ale. In my opinion, this is a great beer. The taste and aroma of hops is massive (hops are added both during the boiling of the wort and after, during the fermentation process, known as “dry hopping”), the resultant bitterness is unbelievably refreshing, and the strength (7% ABV) lets you know that this is real beer.
Helfman is the marketing maven at Herzl Brewery, and he has big plans for getting his beer into the Israeli bloodstream. In the meantime, Herzl is available at pubs and restaurants only in Jerusalem, including Bardak (where I discovered it), Chakra, Adom, Colony, Shanti, Bourla, Tel Aviv, and Jabotinsky, and at the SOS convenience stores.
Today, the brewery produces around 7,000 bottles a month, a very respectable number, but Helfman and Gutman are always aiming higher. “Brewing beer is something we both enjoy,” concludes Helfman. “We just want to continue what we love doing – and perhaps make some money from it as well.”
Thanks to Herzl, Jerusalem is on the beer map, and we’re going to stay on the beer map.