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This week the annual Israeli Beer Expo was held at the Nokia Arena in Tel Aviv. I was lucky to secure an invitation to the pre-opening evening for industry professionals on Wednesday, and attend with a group of Israeli food bloggers who came from near and far to sample this what Israel's budding microbreweries (along with a large number of brewers from outside of Israel ) have to offer. There was a lot of excitement, energy and good humor as we made our way from booth to booth, chatting with friendly beer reps as well as the brewers themselves. At first glance the selection seemed a bit overwhelming and I wasn’t sure I’d make it full circle ‘round the arena in an upright position. However, it quickly became apparent that a lot of the vendors were from outside Israel, just along for the ride, and with the guidance of my fellow bloggers I steered towards the Israeli breweries, which was, after all, the reason we were there in the first place.
The culture of beer is very new to Israel and brewing beer is not a native idea, as was explained to us by Susan, of the Lone Tree brewery out of Gush Etzion. Because of this, most of the beers being produced in Israel right now are heavily influenced by one of two things: either an Israeli who has brought his/her knowledge and taste of beer from somewhere outside of Israel (such as India or South America—a lot of the beers we sampled were light, IPA-style, perfect for hot days), or a company within Israel bring in a beer-expert from the outside (one company mentioned that they had imported a German brewer to help them formulate and produce their beers). Our first stop was the Abir אביר company’s booth (abir means knight in Hebrew). Abir is named for a non-branded beer that was served to British troops during the Palestinian mandate, when soldiers would come into bars demanding “A Beer.” The company makes a light, hoppy, IPA style beer, which is very refreshing and is a good choice for casual beer drinkers and summer cookouts.
Next we tasted Dubim’s Virgin IPA, which my new friend Michelle described perfectly as tasting very much like grapefruit. If tangy, citrusy beer is your thing, then this beer might be for you.
A former Israeli food blogger, Irene Sharon Hodes, was working the Golan Brewery’s booth and was more than happy to chat with us about their Bazelet beers, which include a dark double malt (very creamy and delicious), an amber ale that seemed to me like a perfect party beer (fun and tasty, and neither too mild nor too serious) and four different kinds of malt (there was no way I was trying them all -- we were barely halfway through the booths!). The Golan Brewery uses an Irish-German brewing style and they are partners with a German brewing expert. The most significant piece of information about them, however, is that they do not pasteurize their beer, which means that it is very fresh and that bars and restaurants that serve it must use their supply within 3 days or less. The Golan Brewery definitely stood out to me as one of the stars of the event.
We sampled the ‘passiflora’ (passion fruit) beer from the Negev Brewery. A couple of the other bloggers liked it, but some, including me, felt that is was “too fruity” and “weird.” I think people who like the taste of beer probably want to steer clear of this one. The Lone Tree Brewery out of Gush Etzion had some very memorable beers, including Oatmeal Ale and the Belgian Pirate (a great beer). They also seemed quite passionate and were helpful in educating us a bit on the beer scene here in Israel. I also loved the oak beer from the Golda Brewery. It was full-bodied but not heavy.
My last stop at the festival was the Taybeh Brewery, out of the Christian village Taybeh, right outside Ramallah. They make five different beers: golden, dark, light, amber, and a non-alcoholic, apple-flavored beer. All are100% natural and quite tasty. The brewer and his daughter Madees were there to answer our questions and to invite us to the brewery’s annual Oktoberfest, which I believe is open to the public next fall.
Other memorable (non-Israeli) beers were the German Spaten beer from Erdinger, and the Czech beer Budweiser (not be confused with the American beer by the same name). There was no shortage of food at the expo, nor comfortable places to sit. I was impressed by the way the whole shebang was put on and would highly recommend attending next year!