Just recently, Israel's two industrial breweries have reached out to embrace craft brewing. Although some may call it a "bear hug" rather than an embrace, it's a clear indication that big beer wants to become a part of the craft phenomenon.
We already wrote about Tempo Beer Industries in Netanya purchasing a controlling share in the Shapiro Brewery, a family-owned business in Beit Shemesh. [You can read that article here.] Tempo brews the popular Goldstar, Maccabee and Heineken brands.
|The first three Shikma beers:|
Amber Ale, Märzen Lager, IPA.
(Photo: Amir Yakoby)
Within a week after that announcement, the other brewing giant, Israel Beer Breweries Ltd. (IBBL) in Ashkelon, began to market its own craft beer, named Shikma, which was made in a new brewery built for this purpose near the IBBL facility. IBBL has brewed Tuborg and Carlsberg beers under contract in Israel since the 1990s.
Shikma (which means "sycamore" in Hebrew) was chosen as the brand name because the tree is very prevalent in the south, where the brewery is located. Shikma is also the name of the natural reservoir where the water for the beer comes from.
|Shikma means "sycamore tree" in Hebrew.|
(Photo: Firma Studio)
What we have here are two models of how "big beer" can move into the craft market. The first paradigm is acquisition, represented by the Tempo-Shapiro deal. Here, the big guy simply buys an existing, functioning brewery which has a known brand, a quality reputation and a ready market. The purchaser gets to add overnight a recognized craft beer to its list of products. The purchasee gets a strong backbone with deep pockets to help finance expansion plans, new product development, distribution and marketing.
In the second model, which is what IBBL chose, the big brewery develops its own craft beer brand and sells it through its existing channels. IBBL went a step further to distance its regular beers from its craft brand by actually building a new and separate brewery for the craft beers.
I asked Elad Horesh, VP Marketing for IBBL, why they opted to build their own craft brewery rather than acquire an existing one? "Because," he answered, "we have the brewmasters with the most knowledge, we have the most advanced laboratory equipment in the country, and also the operational experience. It was also important to let our brewmasters, who for years had dreamed of and played with different recipes, be the ones to make their dreams come true."
|The Shikma Stream and |
natural reservoir flows close to the
Shikma Brewery and provides water for the beer.
Horesh also explained that IBBL has always felt "a responsibility to help develop the beer culture in Israel." For example, IBBL held a craft brewing competition as far back as 2010 to encourage home brewing and micro-breweries. The Carlsberg Challenge in 2010-2013 brought the knowledge of different new beer styles to Israeli consumers.
I asked Horesh why IBBL waited until now, 15 years after the first Israeli micro-brewery opened, to build a subsidiary craft brewery? "Good things take time to ripen," he philosophized. "We felt that only in the last three-five years has there really been a change in the openness of consumers to try and get to know new craft beers."
|Cheers! for the new Shikma beers.|
(Photo: Firma Studio)
The first three Shikma beers are an IPA (India Pale Ale), Amber Ale and Märzen Lager. IBBL's Chief Technologist and Head Brewer Avichai Grinberg, said that these styles were chosen after "we had an internal taste competition, and these three recipes came up as the best."
The Shikma beers are brewed in small batches of 2,000 liters. By comparison, the major IBBL brewery regularly produces "batches" for its flagship beers of 60,000 liters!
Grinberg also explained that the IBBL brewery maintains the industry's highest standards for food safety and quality control, something where size really does matter. "Shikma benefits from these high safety and quality standards," he maintained.
As to what kind of beers we can expect from Shikma in the future, Grinberg said that, "it's too early to say. We started with relatively familiar styles, but later on there will also be more surprising, bolder flavors."
|Shikma Beer: "It was important to let our|
brewmasters . . . be the ones to make their
dreams come true."
(Photo: Amir Yakoby)
According to Grinberg, the ultimate aim of the new Shikma Brewery is very ambitious: To make the term "Israeli craft beer" more than just a geographic title, but to be a meaningful appellation, respected all over the world.
So what do we have to say about the first three Shikma beers?
The India Pale Ale (IPA) is more in the tradition of the British version than the more hoppy American style. It's a semi-hazy golden orange color, with fresh aromas of grass, earth and citrus. The taste is bitter up-front and at the finish, with flavors in between of lemon, citrus and pine. The mouthfeel has some warmth from the alcohol (which is 5.2% ABV), astringency, mid-body and mid-carbonation. I had the feeling this is a well balanced beer, brewed with an eye for precision.
|A case of Shikma Amber Ale |
heads out to the thirsty public.
(Photo: Amir Yakoby)
The Amber Ale is also true to its style. On the lighter end of the amber color spectrum, it's slightly hazy with a thin, bubbly head. The aromas have lots of yeast, bready malt and caramel. The taste is basically sweet, with flavors of caramel, malt, zesty hops, and sourdough bread. (That was either my discerning tongue or my vivid imagination.) The finish is mid-bitter and acerbic. Alcohol by volume is 5.5%.
The third beer is a Märzen Lager, probably the first of its kind in Israel. The name means March (as an adjective) in German, and these beers were traditionally brewed at the end of the winter for drinking during the summer. In time, Märzens became the beer style associated with the Oktoberfest, the giant beer festival held in September.
The Shikma Märzen pours out a golden amber with a creamy white head that bubbles away rather quickly. Like with other lagers, you get scents of yeast and malt against a sweet background. The taste is full and rich with caramel, sweet from toasted malt, but balanced by the hops. The body is medium and the carbonation is low. It's a smooth and refreshing beer, 5.7% ABV, brewed successfully as a summertime lager.
These first three beers from Shikma are neither extreme nor innovative, but they are solid examples of craft styles which should attract the wider beer-drinking public. If that's what the Shikma planners and brewers aimed to do, I believe they will be successful.