HARD to believe, but the summer travel season is almost upon us. As a craft beer fan, finding new places to grab a pint has long been a part of my summer vacation planning. Sometimes, the whole journey is based around breweries and bottle shops.
More often than not I find myself taking side excursions from larger family trips to get in a few local sips. My wife and daughter patiently oblige while I go on yet another brewery tour or have lunch at a local brewpub so I can order a flight of unique brews along with my burger.
Despite taking dozens of beer-focused trips, none of those travels adequately prepared me for beer hunting in the Holy Land.
I just returned from a week in Jerusalem, Israel, that ostensibly revolved around participating in the Jerusalem Marathon and covering that race series for BrewDrinkRun.com (http://brewdrinkrun.com). But as soon as the running clothes and shoes were packed, the rest of my bag was filled to the brim with bottle shippers.
In preparation for my trip, I turned to a fantastic website focusing on Israeli beer, Doug Greener’s Israel Brews and Views (http://israelbrewsandviews.blogspot.com/). Doug is devotedly documenting the craft beer movement in his country, with specific focus on his home base in Jerusalem. I reached out to him via email before I left and we planned a meet-up for bottle shopping. That was a very smart decision.
Hebrew isn’t a written language you can just pick up in a few days, and the strange serifed shapes that adorn the bright bottle labels don’t tell you much about what’s inside. Luckily, a few English keyphrases are typically placed on each bottle. Seeing the letters “IPA” quickly made me feel like I was at home.
But unlike bottle shopping in the USA, I was unencumbered by all of our current beer politics. I didn’t wonder if Anheuser-Busch InBev had a controlling interest in the Dancing Camel Brewery. I just relied on Doug to point me to the good bottles. His help was indispensable and I made sure to leave a Savannah-brewed Service Brewing Rally Point with him to express my gratitude.
Jerusalem proper is home to only one craft brewery, Herzl. Herzl’s Dolce De Asal made for a perfect post-run refresher to complement a hard-fought, very hilly race. Sweet honey malt and spicing with a touch of alcohol burn, it was a great replenisher after a day of strenuous personal effort. Herzl’s newest offering is Embargo, an ambitious beer featuring a tobacco leaf additive.
Later in our travels I found myself sitting on the beach in Tel Aviv, slowly sipping a Jem’s Beer Factory 8.8 while gazing at the Mediterranean Sea and talking beer with new friends. The slowed pace was important as the 8.8 in the name represents its alcohol by volume. The booziest brew I tasted in Israel, it was also one of the most well-rounded with a mild flavor profile that let all aspects of the recipe showcase themselves without overpowering.
For the voyage home, a dozen twelve ounce bottles were shoved side by side into padded, self-sealing bottle shippers or wedged into running shoes and delicately arranged in my checked baggage. Everything made it back safe and sound and I’m currently working my way through the spoils of the journey.
Alexander Green is an early highlight. An easy drinking IPA, the hops aren’t as forward as its more aggressive American counterparts; but it melds well with the sugary malt base to create a very solid pick up. The remaining bottles are now sitting in my fridge, patiently waiting for our next bottle share.
I learned a lot during our visit to Israel, far beyond simply getting a taste of the local beer culture. The people and their environment are directly reflected in regional brewing.
What was most surprising in Israel was the variety of available styles. Unlike many countries with similar latitudes, it was easy to find reprieve from simple-sweet lagers and discover a wealth of complex variety from a half dozen exciting breweries. Israel’s brewing community is on the rise and is definitely worth watching.
A hearty L’chaim! to our brewing brethren in the Holy Land. With all our political, religious and cultural differences, beer is a great reminder of what we share in common.