April 23, 2020

How Israeli breweries are coping with the shutdown

Israeli craft breweries are feeling the effects of the national shutdown like every other business -- but even more so! 

With restaurants, bars and pubs closed to the public, beer sales are being made only through retail outlets like supermarkets and grocery stores.  Although some beer and liquor stores are open or doing home deliveries, foot traffic and sales are way down as customers are confined to their homes.

Ofer Ronen, partner of the Srigim Brewery
in Srigim (Li-On), welcomed
the old blogger to the brewery
in better days.  
"All of our retail customers have shut down their businesses," bemoans Ofer Ronen, founder/partner of Srigim Brewery in Srigim (Li-On), brewers of Ronen and Emek Ha'ela beers.  

"With all of our employees on 'vacation,' we have stopped brewing, of course, and are selling our bottled beer by direct home delivery, even though this is bringing in only about 5% of our regular revenue.  We have upgraded our website and are selling beer in 4-packs, 6-packs, and 24-bottle cartons.

"My partner Ohad Eilon and I do everything alone.  We prepare the shipments and then deliver them.  Sometimes we have to call a customer and ask if we can bring the beer late at night.  No one refuses.  When you bring beer to someone, they always have a smile on their face."

Other Israeli craft breweries have also begun to do home deliveries, just to keep their business in operation.  A partial list includes: Alexander, BeerBazaar, Buster's (Oak & Ash), Jem's, Mosco, Shevet, Dancing Camel, Sheeta, Arava, Barzel, HaGibor, Shapiro and HaDubim.  Beer specialty stores and pubs are also delivering, including Beerateinu, Beer Market, Beer & Beyond, Kishkashta, Beit HaBira, Beer Station, Bira Nekuda, Beer Point, and Beer Shop.  Check their Facebook pages or website for details, including areas of delivery.

Assaf Lavi, brewer and partner 
of the Malka Brewery in Tefen, 
holds some of the malted barley 
used in making beer.  
(Photo: Mike Horton)
One brewery resisting the delivery trend is Malka Beer in the Tefen Industrial Area (where Negev and Herzl beer are also brewed).  Partner and brewer Assaf Lavi explains: "Our distributors and wholesalers cover enough supermarket chains and grocery stores to keep our beer moving, even in these difficult times.  Also, we think it's an ethical problem to be competing, even in a small way, with the retail outlets that are continuing to sell our beer.

"What we do on our new web page is to give a list of the retail outlets that are selling our beers by home delivery.  This seems to be a fair compromise."

Lavi noted that even if the retail sales are continuing (though much less than usual), the sale of Malka Beer in kegs to bars and restaurants accounted for 70% of turnover, and this is completely ended.  This figure appears to be the norm with all other breweries as well.

Image may contain: 4 people, text
The five new bottles which the Malka Brewery
is releasing for Yom Atzmaut. 
Each has the image of a different
Jewish or Israeli leader.
Nevertheless, Lavi is optimistic enough to believe that Israelis will be drinking their usual quantities of beer on this Independence Day (Yom Atzmaut).  For the second year in a row, Malka has prepared its beers in special bottles with caricatures of Jewish and Israeli leaders: Golda Meir, David Ben-Gurion, Menachem Begin, Chaim Weizmann and Theodore Herzl.

David Cohen, owner of the
Dancing Camel Brewery in Tel Aviv,
greets visitors at a local beer festival.  
The Dancing Camel Brewery in Tel Aviv (Israel's first micro-brewery) is only delivering to "faithful local customers," according to owner David Cohen.  "We are now scheduling a wider distribution," he adds. 

"The virus hit us at a very critical time.  Before Pesach, retail outlets order a lot less beer because they don't want to get stuck with it over the holiday.  And that's exactly when the shutdown began.  So even the recovery we were expecting after Pesach isn’t going to happen."

Cohen says that government support is now crucial if small breweries are to survive.  "We have some staying power, but it's not unlimited," he appeals.  "There is no plan in place that will save us if this continues even a little while longer.  The government has to adopt a program to help small businesses like us."

Ori Sagy (right), owner of the Alexander Brewery
in Emek Hefer, talks with Octavio Costa,
organizer of the ARTBEERFEST in
Caminha, Portugal, last year. 
Alexander was the first Israeli craft brewery
to participate in this major European beer festival. 
Ori Sagy, the owner of Alexander Brewery in Emek Hefer, has developed a policy of free home delivery to anywhere in Israel to keep his brewery in business.

"We advertise on social media," he explains, "asking for a minimum order of 12 bottles.  This costs 130 shekels.  Members of our Customer Club get a 10% discount, but you can join when you order and get the discount immediately."

For Israeli craft beer, this is considered a low price.  It is in line with all other breweries, who have also brought their prices down during this period.    
"This is great time to buy Israeli craft beer online," Sagy declares.  "Prices are low and we will keep them low for Yom Atzmaut.  Now is the time for everyone to buy local and drink excellent Israeli beer!"  

A version of this article appeared Friday, April 24, in 
                                 The Jerusalem Post local weekly, In Jerusalem. 

April 4, 2020

Tipple Hop kosher-for-Passover beer now brewed and available in Israel

The search for kosher-for-Passover beer in Israel (and throughout the Jewish world) has gone on for several years.  This year, the leading candidate is called Tipple Hop, a "Belgian Ginger IPA," brewed at the Oak & Ash (Buster's) Brewery in Beit Shemesh.

Jeremy Sulzbacher in Jerusalem,
during less contagious days.
Tipple Hop was developed by Jeremy Sulzbacher, a brewer who live in Antwerp, Belgium, with family and business connections in Israel.  [Read more about Jeremy here.]

"We have been working on the recipes for these beers for five years," Jeremy said.  "Some of Belgium's leading brewers and beer experts have assisted me in making a gluten-zero and kosher-for-Passover beer.

"One of the early challenges was to convince the kashrut authorities to recognize hops as kosher-for-Passover, given their association with the beer industry."

Jeremy was able to do this to everybody's satisfaction, and Tipple Hop has been selling successfully this year in Belgium and London.  It was brewed in Israel later than planned because of the coronavirus, but is now available through the Buster's website and also at Beerateinu in Jerusalem and Beer & Beyond in Tel Aviv.

So what are we talking about?  Tipple Hop is brewed with water, hops (Cascade and Brewers Gold), fresh ginger, sugars, honey, lime juice and yeast.  It's a nice semi-hazy golden color with lively carbonation and a quickly dissipating head.  The dominant aroma and taste comes from the ginger, but you also get some hop citrus and floral notes.  The body is kind of thin, and the finish is very refreshing and satisfying.

Ginger BeerMy problem here is the same I have always had with non-malt "beers."  I put in the quotation marks after I ran back to my old Webster's New Collegiate Dictionary (1961) from my college days.  Here's what it says about "beer": 
"A fermented liquor brewed . . . from malt or from a mixture of malt and malt substitutes and flavored with hops or other bitter."              
In other words, without the malted grain -- or even a mixture of the grain and something else -- it's not beer.  Note, it doesn't have to contain hops, but it needs the malt.

So, Tipple Hop is a wonderful beverage, and I look forward to drinking it at my two-person Passover Seder on Tuesday and throughout the week-long holiday.  But did I feel that I was drinking a beer?  Very close, but no.

As I said, Tipple Hop is for sale on the Buster's website, and I believe if you order now, you can get your bottles before Passover.

Use this link to order a case of 24 bottles (300 shekels):


Or this link for individual bottles (15 shekels each):


The other KfP beer that was available in Israel was Meadan Date Ale.  Though the Meadan Brewery itself ceased operation last year, the beers were brewed at the Oak & Ash (Buster's) Brewery in Beit Shemesh and were sold through the BeerBazaar home-delivery website.  These are now sold out.  [You can read more about that here, with links to earlier articles about Medan beer.]   

April 2, 2020

HaDubim Imperial Paradox ● Strawberry Fields from BeerBazaar

Two recently released beers are giving us some pleasant flavors: In this case, one with coffee, chocolate and fruits, and the other with strawberries.  Unfortunately, they were both brewed in very limited quantities, and one is already sold out until next winter.  But more about that later. 

From HaDubim ("The Bears") Brewery comes Imperial Paradox, a Double Black IPA.  (HaDubim beers are contract brewed at the BeerBazaar Brewery in Kiryat Gat.)

HaDubim came out with their first Black IPA, called Paradox, about five years ago.  This "Imperial" version has the same IBU strength (63), but is much more alcoholic (8.5% vs. 5.6%).  It's made with Simcoe, Chinook and Cascade hops.  

Black IPA (also known as American Black Ale or Cascadian Dark Ale) is a recognized beer style, combining elements of Stout beer (very dark color, roasted malt aroma and flavor) and IPA (any of the strong hop aromas and flavors).

Imperial Paradox is very dark brown and opaque with a thin tan head.  The stout-IPA combination begins in the aroma, when you get citrusy hops and the roasted malt and coffee.  Goes well together.  The taste is deep and complex:  Very bitter with coffee, chocolate, roasted malt, dried fruits, and IPA-style citrus and pine.  The strong alcohol content is barely felt.  

Getting back to the bitterness, I felt it was exaggerated, to the point of eclipsing some of the other flavors which are in this beer.  This, however, is nit-picking.  Imperial Paradox is a brewing achievement which gives us a chance to taste and appreciate a little-known beer style.  The HaDubim brothers, Rotem and Dagan Bar Ilan, are never satisfied with "just another beer," and Imperial Paradox is anything but.

In these days of isolation and contagion, HaDubim has begun to deliver its beer direct to your home.  In the meantime, they deliver to the area between Ra'anana and Ashdod, but if you live elsewhere, you can leave a message and they will try to get to you.  You can order mixed cases of 24 bottles of their beers -- Imperial Paradox, Yonek Hadvash, Blackout, Typhoon and Phoenix.  The regular price of the case is 300 shekels, but each bottle of Imperial Paradox adds an extra two shekels.  Delivery is free.   

Send a WhatsApp to 054-2884735 or 054-8086565, leave your address and they will get back to you.

Our second flavorful beer is Strawberry Fields, a wheat beer direct from the BeerBazaar Brewery in Kiryat Gat.  The beer is brewed with fresh strawberries and Barbe Rouge hops from France.  

It's the first time I know of that these hops are being used in an Israeli craft beer.  They are kind of experimental and are characterized by imparting the flavor of  . . . fresh strawberries.  So you would think that Barbe Rouge hops together with real strawberries would turn any beer into a strawberry bomb.

But it's not so.  The fruit taste in Strawberry Fields is very subdued.  It pours out a cloudy golden color; thin white head.  The aroma is minimal hops and strawberry in a jelly sort of a way.  

The taste is tart and juicy with sour berries in the background.  Slightly stronger is the sweetness from the malt, which makes this a very well balanced beer.  The finish is refreshing and mellow, with even more strawberries being "felt" on the exhale.  Interesting how that works.  The alcohol by volume is 6.5%, not weak, but hidden very well.

The BeerBazaar also does home delivery and they even have an internet page in English for ordering.


Unfortunately, there will be no more deliveries until after Pesach.  And as I said, there is no more Strawberry Fields until next winter.