Beer Breweries Boom in Israel, Despite High Taxes and Low Consumption
Craft-beer producers and home brewers hope to foster a domestic beer culture that mirrors Israel’s wine culture
The giant of the Ella Valley is the Shapiro Brewery, in the industrial section of Beit Shemesh. Shapiro has billed itself as “the first Jerusalem Beer,” because its brewers, two brothers, started experimenting with malted barley in a Jerusalem backyard. Now they make about 9,000 liters a month.
When I visited, brew-master Yochai Kotler, 34, rushed me through a tour. It was late Friday afternoon, and Shapiro fastidiously keeps the Sabbath to appeal to Jerusalem’s observant drinkers. Kotler studied brewing in the United States and Germany. He makes a Bavarian-style wheat, an American-style pale ale, and an oatmeal stout. The beer, known as much for its flavor as for its promotional videos, has become a fixture in Jerusalem’s bars and restaurants.
A short detour northwest of Beit Shemesh, in the Tzora kibbutz, Leon Solomon, 67, began brewing beer after he retired as a chef. He makes a gluten-free sorghum beer he remembers from growing up in South Africa, along with a Belgian Tripel, wheat beer, and alcoholic cider. Solomon serves them all in his Samson Brewery.
Finally, on the Zelafon moshav west of Jerusalem, Moti Bohadana, 44, welcomes visitors late into Friday afternoon. Bohadana moved here from the north to make a winery. Along the way he experimented with brewing beer and eventually decided to go commercial. Now he makes 1,000 liters a month. He named the brewery Pepo after his father, a restoration carpenter who transformed an old chicken coop into a brewery and tasting hall. Bohadana, a sign-maker by training, welded the stainless-steel equipment. He makes eight beers, each named for the women in his life: Golda is a delicate Scottish ale, named for Bohadana’s mother-in-law. Alma is an airy blonde wheat beer, named for Bohadana’s daughter. “The IPA is named for my grandmother Elisheva, who was born and died in Jerusalem,” he said. “You know how some people had a tough life in Jerusalem, in the Ottoman times? How they would count everything and store things under the bed? She was the same. And her IPA is a hard beer, bitter, but there is a lot of flavor.”
The mushrooming beer industry is supporting a growing number of festivals. Jerusalem will hold its ninth annual beer festival in early August. The Mateh Yehuda Regional Council will hold its festival late August. Other beer events are scattered through the year.
Bohadana, of the Pepo brewery, said Israelis like light beers with a high alcohol content—a counter to the hot summer days. He sees a beer culture slowly fermenting in Israel. “Twenty years ago, people here didn’t know anything about the wine,” he said. “The grapes grew and grew, and people started tasting nice things. The same is happening with beer. Every year we see new people interested in tasting our beer. In five years, you will see a change.”
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Right after Tisha B’Av in 1979, my family left Israel—and splintered into pieces. Despite my hopes, I never made it back.