July 12, 2015

A Jem of a brewery

Jeremy Welfeld came to Modi'in especially to meet with me.  That's quite a compliment because the man is very busy.

Jeremy is the founder and partner of Jem's Beer Factory, one of Israel's most recognized craft beer brands, as well as three thriving brewpubs -- in Petach Tikva, Ra'anana and Kfar Saba -- with a fourth being planned in Modi'in.  A busy man.

Jeremy Welfeld meets the old blogger in Modi'in.
How Jeremy (whose nickname is Jem) came to brewing craft beer in Israel is well documented on the internet.  But to recap briefly, he came to Israel from the States to do his army service from 1984-87, and then returned to the U.S. to study food management and brewing science, and worked in restaurants and catering and brewing.

He returned to Israel in 1999 and ten years later he and partner Daniel Alon nailed down a business plan and found 30 investors who put up the money needed to open the Jem's Beer Factory and Brewpub in Petach Tikva.

"I've always been a service guy," he told me.  "That's what defines what I do.  Making the beer is easy.  [Well, some would argue with that.--DG]  The hard part is to sell it and to keep giving your customers excellent, personal service."

Jeremy with Jem's beer.
Jem's brews about 20,000 liters a month of six core beers, which are sold in bottles and on tap in its own brewpubs and a few other restaurants.  These six beers represent different national styles.

Dark Lager -- Germany
Pils -- Czech Republic
Wheat -- Bavaria, Germany
Stout -- Ireland
8.8 -- Belgian strong ale
Amber Ale -- England

In addition, they brew occasional seasonal beers.  Two years ago, Jem's teamed up with Blazer, a Hebrew-language magazine for men, to brew the first Blazer beer.  The magazine wanted to produce a beer which would satisfy what it believed to be the tastes of its readers.  The result was a strong brown ale (6% alcohol), brewed with roasted malt and dry-hopped.  Jem's Blazer struck a fine balance between the bitterness of the hops and the sweetness of the malt.

Last winter, Jem's came out with the Black Mamba, a dark IPA made with roasted malt and dry-hopped with Cascade and Citra hops.

"The strong malt all but hid the hop flavor," says Jeremy, "so we brewed a second batch with less roasted malt, called Black Beauty.  This was just right."

Jem's seasonal Summer Ale for 2015.
Jem's new seasonal beer is Summer Ale.  It's on sale on tap at the Jem's Brewpubs and in bottles in the Derech Hayayin chain of liquor stores.

"This is a beer that Derech Hayayin asked us to brew," says Jeremy.  "They wanted a beer that was toned down from our core beers, with less extreme flavors.  So we designed our Summer Ale with Citra hops and a refreshing, clean finish.  It's basically a Pilsner with more aroma."

Jeremy brought me a bottle of his Summer Ale.  (There are no Derech Hayayin stores in Jerusalem.  What else is new?)

I found it to be a refreshing blond ale, hazy and pale colored, with a flowery and yeast aroma.  It's a little bitter and a little sour and, at 5% alcohol, is an easy drinking beer for a summer day.  The label says it's an "Israeli pale ale," and perhaps one day we will all know for sure what this means.

Speaking about the brewery in general, Jeremy told me that Jem's beer is delivered in the brewery's own vehicles, "except in Jerusalem, where it's done through a distributor.  To ensure freshness, we remove any beer which is still on the shelves after four months.

"Another quality rule we follow is processing our own water.  We insist on a level of purity which cannot be found naturally in Israel."

Jem's also has an educational service program for home-brewers and would-be home-brewers.  "We bring them into our brewery to learn the basic techniques of brewing and to get hands-on experience," explains Jeremy.            

Waxing more philosophical, Jeremy thinks that for now, the craft beer market in Israel is pretty saturated.  "There might be room for a few more player, but not more than that.  I personally don't think that Israeli tastes are changing, but the younger generation is drinking more beer.  They drink more out of the house, and they also keep beer in the refrigerator on a regular basis.  This is something their elders never did."

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