Still a small industry, Israeli microbreweries take center stage, along with imports, at an annual summer festival in the nation’s capital city.

Jerusalem Beer Festival on tap


Crowds turned out for the 2010 Jerusalem Beer Festival

By Sarah Carnvek

When the first Jerusalem Beer Festival was launched seven years ago, many people were skeptical about the organizers’ sobriety. With almost no legacy of beer brewing in Israel, no one expected the event to be much of a success.

Today, the now annual event has become a fixture on the capital’s culture calendar.

"Every year there’s even more interest than the year before; there are people who wait for the Jerusalem Beer Festival to take place," says Eli Giladi, the event’s producer. "We’re known for our high quality. This is not a drunken teenager bash. This is a festival that celebrates the art of beer-crafting."

More than 100,000 liters of the precious gold liquid will be on tap at the two-day event, August 31 to September 1, 2011. Organizers expect 20,000 people to stop by.

Most of the 150 brands that will be represented at the festival are award-winning international beers. Among them expect to find Erdinger, Bischoff, Hoegaarden, Kozel and Chimay. But Giladi points out that the Israeli-made ales featured at the festival are just as deserving. Dancing Camel and Pavo, for example, are highly regarded. And they come in very Israeli flavors, too.

Dancing Camel, a Tel Aviv brewery, is well-known across Israel for its unusual ales. The nine currently in production include Pale Ale (with Israeli date honey), Six Thirteen – 5768 Pomegranate Ale (fruity) and ‘Trog Wit (with etrog, or citron, fruit).

Pavo, based in Zichron Yaakov, makes five types of beers including Reddish Lager (fruity), Wheat (banana and cloves aftertaste) and an Israeli take on Indian Pale Ale (fruity hops and caramel aroma).

"We’re offering a better variety of beer this year at the festival," Giladi says. "From sweet beer to bitter beer to flavored beer, light beer, heavy beer – you have the chance to taste beer in genres that you don’t usually find. We provide an opportunity to taste beers that are usually hard to get. We challenge the audience."

Microbrewery revolution

There are many beer festivals around the world, but the Jerusalem event stands out for its location.

"To do a beer festival in the capital city is special," says Giladi, noting that there is also a lot of interest from the global beer-drinking community. "Jerusalem is the Holy City. It’s a multicultural city with a multicultural population. The festival takes place at the Old Train Station. It’s a very unique atmosphere."

And whereas beer festivals in Europe or North America make sense considering the population’s appetites, Israel’s per capita consumption of beer is among the lowest in the world. But thanks to the multicultural society – and immigrants from beer-appreciative countries – the last five years have seen a revolution in beer awareness in the country.

"Clearly there’s been a microbrewery revolution over the last five years and even a huge uptake in the last two to three years," says Susan Levin, who moved to Israel from Maryland five years ago and is co-owner of Lone Tree Brewery in Gush Etzion.

"Beer is an international beverage and as Israelis became more exposed to it there’s been more interest. We’ve been able to look around and see the good things out there. Some are relatively easy to bring home. We can make it here and focus on quality and flavor and provide beer for our local population."

Indeed, Israeli microbreweries are popping up at a speedy rate. Israelis still love their local brews, Goldstar and Maccabi, but with the import of such brands as Tuborg, Carlsberg and Heineken in the last couple of decades, Israelis realized there was more to explore. Today, there are some two dozen licensed commercial microbreweries producing ales. 

A great time to be in the industry

"The beer market can be likened to the wine market," says Levin, who with David Shire – a Scotsman who moved to Israel – produces seven ales at Lone Tree. "Twenty years ago, if you were to say ‘Israeli wine,’ people would say ‘yuck.’ Today, no one would bat an eye when you say ‘excellent Israeli wine.’ The same goes for beer. It’s a wonderful time to be in the industry."

And it is in the spirit of this openness to new tastes that the Jerusalem Beer Festival gears up for its seventh year.

Organizers of the big event say it attracts a multicultural and multigenerational medley, mirroring the residents of the city of Jerusalem: Youth, soldiers, students, middle-age parents, golden oldies. "That’s what makes it so special," says producer Giladi.

And like other festivals around the world, the Jerusalem event puts beer in the focus but also offers music concerts and food stalls as side entertainment. Two popular rock bands, Mercedes Band and Beit Habubot, will take the stage alongside local DJs.