June 27, 2016

Jerusalem's new "European" beer garden

"Munich Beer Garden"
The famous painting by Max Liebermann (1884)
Egalitarian seating, beer for the entire family,
and Gem├╝tlichkeit
One of the simple pleasures of the summertime is sitting outdoors with friends and family, eating and drinking beer together, while all around you hundreds, perhaps thousands, of others are doing the same.  After the sun sets, overhead lights and candles on the table provide just enough light to see those sitting near you and what's on your plate.  All around is lively conversation, sometimes broken by laughter and even singing.

Such are the joys of a beer garden, an institution begun in Bavaria in the 19th century, but now a part of life throughout southern Germany and in other countries as well. 

Eventually, they say, everything arrives in Jerusalem – and now's the time for a beer garden. 

The Jerusalem Beer Garden opened a few months ago at the First Train Station, the old Turkish railroad station at 4 David Remez Street.  The wooden tables, the lights, the beer, the food, and the music – all are there.  There's even a big outdoor screen to watch sporting events, something I don't think you'll find in European beer gardens.

The Jerusalem Beer Garden at night.
(Photo: Mike Horton)
"We're open every day from around 2:00 p.m. to around midnight," says manager Moshe Mor, whom everybody calls by his nickname, Roger.  "Every Tuesday evening, we have live music and a sing-along, which is very popular.

"Our aim is to make beer as ubiquitous as coffee is today, where it's available everywhere you look and sit down.  Actually, our weather here is more suitable for beer than in Europe, where summers are much shorter."   

Mor also reminds me that the Jerusalem Beer Garden, like its European antecedents, will be closed for the winter.  "Our plan is to shut down in October," he says.  "That's long after German beer gardens have closed."

Some of the smaller beer gardens, at least in Munich (where there are about 180), bring their tables indoors for the winter and continue to serve.  They may also put out heaters for the guests, but this ends as soon as the first snow arrives.  For the larger beer gardens – and there are some in Munich which can sit 7,000 - 8,000 people! – practices such as these would be logistical nightmares so they simply close for the winter.   

The Jerusalem Beer Garden has 15 rotating taps for beers, a pretty impressive number by Israeli standards.  Most of them are for imported European beers, but when I was there, they also had Herzl craft beer from Jerusalem (Mor is a partner in that brewery), Bazelet beer from the Golan Brewery in Katzrin, Shapiro beer from Beit Shemesh, and Alexander beer from Emek Hefer.  The price for a 400 milliliter glass of beer ranges from 19 to 29 shekels.  There is a small bar for other alcoholic drinks.

The old blogger enjoys a mushroom
burger and a Herzl IPA with
manager "Roger" Mor (left).

(Photo: Mike Horton)
The food menu is compact, but just right for a beer garden.  There's the usual burger, sausage, chicken wings and fries – but also a delicious Portobello mushroom burger known as "Meat is Murder."

Although the food served is kosher-meat, the Beer Garden has no certification since it is open on Shabbat.

Before he opened up his own, Mor delved into the history of beer gardens.  "Did you know," he asked me rhetorically, "that in the 19th century, beer brewers in Munich began to brew their beer outside of the city, along the banks of the Isar River?  This was because explosions sometimes occurred in breweries and the authorities didn’t want this happening inside the city. 

"Also, beer had to be brewed during the cold months and kept cool for serving in the summer.  The brewers dug cellars along the river to keep the beer cold, put gravel on the top as further insulation, and planted lots of leafy chestnut trees to keep the ground temperature even cooler."

It wasn't long before they were putting simple tables and benches right over the cellars and selling their beer on the spot.  When they began to also sell food, however, the smaller restaurants in the city cried unfair competition.  King Maximilian the First of Bavaria issued a compromise ruling which forbade the "beer gardens" from selling food, but which allowed visitors to bring their own victuals.

Today, almost all German beer gardens provide food, but in keeping with tradition, also allow patrons to bring their own.  The tables are clearly marked: Those with signs like "No self-service" ("keine Selbstbedienung") are served food by waiters and waitresses; those with signs like "Self-service" ("Selbstbedienung") are not. 

Mor chuckles when I ask him if he allows visitors to the Jerusalem Beer Garden to bring their own food: "Well, our 'traditions' are different in Israel and we can't allow that." 

What is the same is the practice of sharing your table with complete strangers.  This often leads to conversations and even new friendships and who knows what else.  From the start, beer gardens were the most democratic of institutions, with professors sitting next to housewives with children, sitting next to army officers, sitting next to workmen.  The common denominator, then as today, is beer.

How much beer you have is a different question.  In Bavarian beer gardens, most people order their beer in "mass" mugs, holding a liter of beer.  Not too unusual in a country where individuals consume on average 116 liters of beer per year.  Here in Israel, where per capita beer consumption is a measly 14 liters a year, the Jerusalem Beer Garden sells it in 400 milliliter glasses. 

"That's still a nice quantity of beer," concludes Mor. "We supply you with that and everything else, including what the Germans call Gem├╝tlichkeit, a cozy and relaxed sociability which makes for a real beer garden experience."  

The article originally appeared in The Jerusalem Post.      

June 23, 2016

Jerusalem Craft Beer Fair -- July 20-21

It was only a few days ago that I learned that there will be a Craft Beer Fair in Jerusalem on Wednesday, July 20 and Thursday, July 21, at the First Station, the old Turkish railroad station on David Remez Street.  And from what I learned, I don't want to miss it.

Organizer Leon Shvartz, owner of the Glen Whisky Bar, along with Shmuel Naky (his partner at Beerateinu, the Jerusalem Beer Center), came up with the idea of a craft beer fair and are running with it.

"Jerusalem's annual beer festival is very nice," admitted Leon, "but it has come to be dominated by Israel's industrial beer duopoly" -- Tempo Beer Industries (brewers of Goldstar and Maccabee) and Israel Beer Breweries Ltd. (Tuborg and Carlsberg).  "There are stands for some Israeli craft beers, but most of the attendees come to load up on the industrial beers and their foreign imports."

To solve this problem, Leon and Shmuel invited only craft breweries to participate in their Fair, and so far 13 have agreed:

Emek Ha'ela
Hadag Halavan (The White Fish)
The Dictator
HeChalutz (The Pioneer)

Two or three others may still come on board.

The previous "Dictators."

It's interesting to note that The Dictator is making a comeback after more than a year's absence, during which partner Yotam Baras was in charge of sales for the Protary Craft Beers import agency.  "My two partners and I are back to brewing," Yotam told me.  "We'll be serving three beers at the Fair: an American pale ale, an Irish red ale, and a session Bitter, perfect for the Israeli summer."  To add a "shock value," something Yotam has never hesitated to do, each beer label has the picture of a different famous dictator!

The Fair will also be the venue where the very talented home-brewing team of Dvir Flom and Omer Basha from Beersheva are launching their first commercially brewed beer -- a saison, probably named Pushkin.  The beer is being brewed on contract at the Srigim Brewery.  Omer stressed that this is the only commercial beer from Basha-Flom.  "We will stay a full-power home-brewery and continue to create beers that have not been seen before in Israel," he insisted.  However, just to be on the safe side, they recently unveiled a new modern logo.

Getting back to Leon, he told me that all of the booths will be the same size and are being rented for the same price.  "I kept the price low," he insists, "so all the brewers will have a chance to make money at the Fair."

The grounds of the First Station in Jerusalem.
Tastings of 100 milliliters will be sold for 8 shekels, and one-third liter glasses for 20 shekels.
Entrance is free.


"You heard me.  Entrance is free.  And we're having deejay and live music at different times."

Visitors can eat at any of the restaurants in the First Station.  There will be a central booth for buying bottles of beer and beer-related merchandise.

"As you can see, we're introducing several concepts which are new for beer festivals and fairs," concludes Leon.  "If we are successful, we may be holding these fairs more than once a year."

Dates announced for Haifa Beer Festival:
August 17-18

Polina Charnovelsky from the "Cooperation" Office of the Cultural Department of the Haifa Municipality, has just informed me that the Haifa Beer City Festival will be held August 17-18, 2016, at the Agritech Grounds, near the Convention Center.

This is one of Israel's major music festivals, attracting tens of thousands of visitors every year with free entrance and entertainment by the country's top rock groups.  It's a place to kick-back, unwind, and enjoy beer, food and great music with friends in a fantastic summer ambiance.

But be warned: This is not the place to experience Israeli craft beers.  The Festival is sponsored by Tempo Beer Industries, and the only beers being served are their own (Goldstar and Maccabee) and the beers they import.

June 14, 2016

Taking it on the road, again

Your old blogger was recently called out of his comfort zone once again to bring the message of Israeli craft beer to two different audiences.

In the framework of a late night study session during the Shavuot holiday, I spoke to members of several liberal synagogues in Modi'in on the history and customs of beer brewing in the Middle East, from ancient times until today's craft breweries.  In fact, it was a Hebrew version of a lecture I've given several times. (Read about it here.)

Shavuot is the Jewish holiday marking the start of the wheat harvest and the Revelation on Mt. Sinai.  Because of the holiday's restrictions on some forms of work, I used color posters instead of slides.

I'm happy to report that it was very well received, and some of the audience might have enjoyed my lecture as much as they did the beer tastings which followed.  We tasted three craft styles: Wheat (Emek Ha'ela Bavarian Wheat and Mosco Wheat), India Pale Ale (Herzl IPA v'Zeh and Shapiro Citra 2016), and Stout (Jem's Stout and Lela Stout).    

The Dorot Fellows face the panel.
(Photo: Mike Horton)
Earlier I was asked to organize and run a seminar on Israeli craft brewing for participants in the Dorot Fellowships in Israel.

These are American Jews, aged 20-something, who are brought to Israel for a year to work and study.  Where they work as volunteer interns and what they study can be pretty much where their hearts take them.  The Dorot Fellowships foots the bill.

According to Ben Bennett, a member of the group and one of the organizers in Israel, they also have to attend a number of activities and lectures while they're here.  One of these was a Food 'n Booze day -- and that was where the old blogger was called in.

Jeremy hearkening.
(Photo: Mike Horton)
For the panel, I invited Jeremy Welfeld of Jem's Beer Factory in Petach Tikva, Bryan Meadan of the Meadan Brewery (gluten-free and kosher-for-Passover beer) in Carmiel, and home-brewer Kevin Unger of Gecko Beer in Beit Shemesh.  They were all kind enough to agree, and Kevin even offered his home as the venue.

After my introductory historical remarks, the panel discussed the nitty-gritty of starting and running a craft brewery in Israel.  That was exactly what the Dorot Fellows wanted to hear.

Bryan deciphering.
(Photo: Mike Horton)
How do you deal with the government bureaucracy and regulations?  Taxation?  Kashrut supervision?  Changing the beer culture in Israel?  Importing ingredients?

Well, you get the picture.  These Fellows wanted to hear it all, straight from the trenches of running a craft brewery in Israel.  And the panelists obliged, no punches pulled.

Kevin rejoicing.
(Photo: Mike Horton)
Of course, at every opportunity Jeremy also did what he loves best: Exhort the Fellows to come live in Israel.  "This is the place for you to be," he exclaimed.  "Craft beer unites all of Am Yisrael (the People of Israel) under one roof."

While the panel was discussing craft beers, everybody was also drinking them.  We tasted around nine beers brewed by the panelists, and somewhere along the way we turned into one happy family.  The Fellows showed that their interest in beer equaled their interest in business.  A very good crowd, as they say in show biz.

Some of the Fellows tried drinking and
paying attention at the same time.

(Photo: Mike Horton)
So, three cheers and a hearty "L'chaim" to the Dorot Fellowship program for introducing their charges to Israeli craft beer in such an original and thought-provoking setting; and to Jeremy, Bryan and Kevin for sharing their knowledge and their beer with a very appreciative audience.

And thanks also to the Achva Masorati Congregation in Modi'in for putting craft beer on their Shavuot curriculum and for giving the old blogger such a bully pulpit.