Alexander is an Israeli brewery that opened in 2008 and quickly became a favourite in restaurants and bars. (Courtesy of the Alexander Brewery)
Large crowds of people stand outside the pub, chatting and clinking beer glasses -- but this is not St Patrick’s Day in Dublin or Oktoberfest in Munich; it is just a regular Thursday night in Tel Aviv.
Inspired by Europe and the United States, the Israeli city is fast becoming a hub for gastropubs and boutique breweries, and many pub menus are filling up with local beers. In fact, new micro-breweries are opening all over Israel, turning the 'land of milk and honey' into the 'land of malt and hops'.
West Bank story
However, in the mid-‘90s competition came from the unlikeliest of places – the West Bank. Founded by Nadim Khoury, who studied the art of brewing in California in the 1980s, Taybeh is 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. It is widely visible thanks to its three church towers and the ruins of a crusader castle built by the Boniface de Montferrat from Italy. But today, its biggest draw is the locally-brewed beer.
Although alcohol is forbidden in Islam, the 1500 residents of Taybeh can produce and sell beer as it is an all-Christian village. The Koury family are rightly proud of their German-style beer, which is made without any additives or preservatives. 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.
Beer has no borders, and Taybeh has proved to be a surprising hit in Israeli bars, particularly in Jaffa and Tel Aviv. Indeed, more than 40% of Taybeh's sales are within neighbouring Israel, and this tiny Palestinian beer seems to have kick-started a micro-brewing trend.
An American ale
Over the past decade, a rising number of American immigrants have brought their love of beer to Israel. The first microbrewery in Israel, Dancing Camel, was opened in Tel Aviv's Yad Harutzim industrial area in 2006 by New Jersey-native David Cohen, who left a business career to follow his dream to make quality beer.
It is not surprising that Dancing Camel beer has a distinctly American taste and mixes ingredients like date honey, bittersweet chocolate or even cherry vanilla in its pale ales and stouts. More than a brewery, Dancing Camel is a huge warehouse-style pub complete with decorative barrels, live sports screens and occasional keg parties. Their beers are sold all over Israel in specialist pubs and the brewery takes part in the Jerusalem Beer Festival, held annually at the end of summer in the city's old train station.
Another American, Jeremy Waltfeld, quit his job at the White House in Washington DC to start his own brew house in the town of Petah Tikva, 10km east of Tel Aviv. Jems Beer Factory sells its own range of fresh ales, stouts and wheat beers along with hearty pub grub such as fish ‘n' chips and homemade kosher sausages.
Let there be lager
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 two main beers – Blonde, a Belgian-style fruity beer, and Amber, a French country-style beer made from special roasted malts. Alexander also offers two seasonal beers: Green, with an Israeli twist of grapefruit, guava and mango, and Black with dark chocolate and espresso.
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. The brewery welcomes visitors with a 45-minute tour of the brew house, which includes beer tastings.
Just north of the Hefer Valley in the Carmel Mountains is the charming rustic town of Zichron Ya’akov. Known for its famous wineries, the town is also home to Pavo, a brewery set in a Tuscan-style building that comprises a visitor’s centre, tasting bar and an impressive balcony with views of the Mediterranean below.
Scattered elsewhere around the country are even smaller micro breweries such as Asif in Ramot Haftali and Malka in Kibbutz Yechiam, both in the Galilee region, Lone Tree in the Judean Mountains and Negev in Kiryat Gat in the southern desert. But if lacking time, the best place to sample many of these local brews is Porter & Sonsin Tel Aviv. Although they do not produce their own brew, this pub has the biggest collection of beer in the country, with more than 50 types on tap including both local brews and imported beers. Whatever you drink, be sure to say LeChaim, which means 'to life' in Hebrew, a pleasant way to say 'cheers'.