Traditionally known for its wine and olives, Israel and the Palestinian Territories have also become a haven for locally brewed beers in recent years. Inspired by Europe and the United States, new microbreweries are opening all over the region, turning the land of milk and honey into the land of malt and hops.
For decades, Israel’s beer market was dominated by Heineken-owned Tempo, with their Goldstar and Maccabee beers, but today, most pubs in Tel Aviv or Jerusalem serve some local boutique brews, and beer enthusiasts can take tours of the best breweries, or as this writer likes to call it, embark on a ‘pilgrimage on the piss’.
Best for fruity beers: Alexander
Hot on the heels of the Americans came Alexander, an Israeli brewery that opened in 2008 and quickly became a favourite in restaurants and bars. A bona fide boutique brewery, Alexander makes four main beers – Blonde (a Belgian-style fruity beer), Ambree (a French country-style beer made from special roasted malts), Green (a brew with an Israeli twist of grapefruit, guava and mango) and Blazer (a smooth and strong golden ale). Alexander has a few seasonal beers up its sleeve too, including Black, made with dark chocolate and espresso. The brewery welcomes visitors with a 45-minute tour of the brew house, which includes beer tastings.
Alexander is located in the Hefer Valley, a small green belt of kibbutzim slightly inland from Netanya and south of Haifa. The brewery was named after the nearby Alexander stream by founder Ori Sagy, a former Israeli Air Force pilot who brewed beer as a hobby for more than 25 years.
Best Palestinian beer: Taybeh
An unlikely spot to find craft beer is the West Bank, home to Taybeh, the first and only Palestinian brewery. Situated 12km north of Ramallah and 30km northeast of Jerusalem, the village of Taybeh sits atop one of the highest hills in the Jordan Valley. The brewery runs free daily tours (except Sunday), including tastings of their golden, light, amber and dark ales. The village even has its own Taybeh Oktoberfest, held on the first weekend of October.
Although alcohol is forbidden in Islam, the 1500 residents of Taybeh can produce and sell beer as it is an all-Christian village. The brewery was founded in the 1990s by the Koury family, who are rightly proud of their German-style beer, which is made without any additives or preservatives. Beer has no borders, and Taybeh has proved to be a hit in Israeli bars such as Puaa and Minzar in Tel Aviv.
Best for American ales: Dancing Camel
Located in a renovated warehouse in Tel Aviv's Yad Harutzim industrial area is the Dancing Camel. Opened in 2006 by New Jersey native David Cohen, who left a business career to follow his beer-making dream, Dancing Camel beer has a distinctly American taste and mixes ingredients like date honey, bittersweet chocolate and even cherry vanilla in its pale ales and stouts. More than a brewery, Dancing Camel is a huge industrial warehouse-style pub complete with decorative barrels, live sports screens and occasional keg parties.
Best for beer and grub: Jem’s Beer Factory
Another American brewery that now has four branches in central Israel is Jem’s Beer Factory. The original Jem’s is located in the town of Petah Tikva, 10km east of Tel Aviv in the Gush Dan region. Jem’s is the brainchild of Jeremy Waltfeld, who quit his job at the White House in Washington, DC, to start his own brew house. Jem’s sells its own range of fresh ales, stouts and wheat beers along with hearty pub grub, such as fish and chips and homemade kosher sausages that are cooked in a citrus-wood charcoal grill. Drinkers and diners can view the stainless steel tanks used to ferment, brew and store the beer, as well as enjoy live bands and sports events.
Best for beer in the countryside: Malka
A fine brew that comes from the north of Israel, Malka has become one of the most popular craft beers. Malka, which means queen in Hebrew, was opened by Assaf Lavi, who owned two pubs in Tel Aviv and left the big city to start his eco-brewery in the countryside. The brewery is situated in Kibbutz Yehiam, an agricultural village 50km northeast of Haifa in the Lower Galilee region. Brewed in small batches using traditional methods, Malka’s offering includes Belgian-style wheat and blonde ales. The brewery itself (open for visits on Fridays and Saturdays only) is small, but visitors can take their time sipping draught beers on their lounge and porch, surrounded by lush forest.
Best for craft beer tastings: Beer Bazaar
Beer Bazaar was born out of the hustle and bustle of Tel Aviv’s Carmel Market. What started as a market stand is now a mini-empire, with four locations in Tel Aviv and one in Jerusalem’s Mahane Yehuda Market. Beer Bazaar sells other boutique beers, including brews from Alexander, and do a fair amount of brewing of their own, making creations like Bhindi (an Indian IPA) and Fat Cat, an American pale ale. Their main branch, in the hip Tel Aviv neighbourhood of Florentin, makes for a cool place for beer tastings, offering more than a staggering 100 types of beer.
Best place to sample them all: Porter & Sons
If you're short on time, one of the best places to sample many of these local brews is Porter & Sons in Tel Aviv. Although they do not produce their own brew, this German-inspired pub has more than 50 types on tap including both local brews and imported beers. Porter also has an extensive pub food menu, including bratwurst, burgers, fish and chips, and vegan curry. Whatever you drink, be sure to say LeChaim, which means 'to life' in Hebrew, a pleasant way to say 'cheers'.
Last updated November 2017