For years, Maccabee and Goldstar, both produced by the Tempo soft drink company, were the only beers available in Israel. There was no drinking culture per se, how could there be with the lack of choice or quality offered. Tea or coffee was preferred over the watery brew and sunflower seeds over peanuts. When traveling became more prevalent, people realized that beer didn’t have to taste like medicine. A few even took courses in microbrewery, invested in equipment and decided to rekindle a lost art.
This culminated in Israel’s first Beer Expo, bringing together a diverse group of local and international breweries. I think the ancient Mesopotamians, the inventers of the first brew, would have been proud to know that beer has returned to its roots in the Middle East.
So what did we see?
My first impression of the Beer Expo, even before tasting my first lager was the fashion; a bit of Harley Davidson meets bohemian. Jeans, leather coats and black seem to be the basic uniform, with dreadlocks (rastas), bandanas and offbeat accessories finishing the look. One glance at me said I didn’t belong (button-down magenta shirt? What was I thinking?).
Isaac Diwan, an experienced microbrewer and appropriately dressed helped elucidate the fascinating world of beer for me. Unfortunately I forgot most of what he said after the third or fourth beer. What do I remember? The sheer variety available; passion fruit, mango, szechuan pepper and anise, beers made with sage, beers that tasted like salami (that I can do without), rosemary beer, wheat beer, rye beer, red beer, black beer, tall beer, low beer, fast beer, slow beer…
Ok, enough. At some point we took a food break and met up with several other Israeli food bloggers; Liz, Miriam, Michelle, Yael and Ariella. Isaac explained how barley is sprouted and dried to produce the malted grains used in making beer. Most, if not all, of the grains used in brewing beer must be imported. The climatic conditions in this arid country are not favorable for their growth and there isn’t enough to supply large scale breweries. Hops, the main flavoring and preservative agent used in beer is also exclusively grown outside the country.
Israelis seemed much more interested in the small breweries than the type that can be bought at any supermarket. Tuborg’s stand, despite fancy displays, was completely empty while adjacent, lesser known breweries were packed. Taybeh, the only Palestinian brewery received an especially large number of visitors. It brews four varieties including a non-alcoholic version and caters to both the Christian and Muslim community. From the interest their stand garnered perhaps it will become more widely available in Israel as well.
Some of the breweries present have been around for hundreds of years such as Paulaner’s of Germany who produce the famous Oktoberfest beer. Others are made by relative newcomers, brewing in the confines of their house and only enough to supply their friends and family. Many of their beers were very good, with surprising flavor additions that complimented the beer.
According to Isaac the difference between German and Belgium beer is purity of ingredients. “While Belgium allows artificial and natural flavoring agents, Germany focuses on producing beer with only the basics; hops, malted barley and yeast.” Despite the self imposed restriction, they are able to tease out an incredibly rich flavor profile using only these core ingredients. For a country this small, the large variety and quality of breweries that have become established is amazing. Based on the Israeli beer association’s website, the aim of the Expo is to start a beer revolution. That’s exactly what I think will happen.
For more information on the Expo see: Brewing up a beer culture in Cafe Liz
Beer Expo in Tel Aviv by Miriam Kresh
Now for some updates:
Two friendly bloggers have given me a Stylish Blogger Award (yeah!), one is from Yosefa of Cooking Outside the Box and the other from Rochel of Barefoot and Cooking. Thank you! True, it is a chain letter but everyone loves a bit of fun. Here’s how it works. If you are tagged, you must write seven things about yourself and tag seven other food bloggers. Link back their sites, including a link to the award giver (that’s me). Contact them and tell them of their win.
I only recently started to like beer and beer food (thanks Isaac!). My favorite childhood snack was Cracker Jacks. I stress out before hosting a dinner party (is there enough food? will they like it? Aagghh!) It drives me nuts that my husband uses up all the butter in the house for his startup (and there is a butter shortage in Israel) I am more opinionated than I let on I don’t watch food shows, they bore me (how much cooking can one watch?) I don’t understand why people try to make puff pastry at home. Have no patience for trendy-diet picky eaters. (bonus)
I am tagging: Turkey’s for Life (you should get to know them) Chez Loulou (returning the favor) Hope it will rain (’cause she hasn’t blogged for awhile) Life’s a Feast (’cause she’s such a sport) Lisa is Cooking (’cause she’s always too busy cooking) Sticky Rice (best recent food blog discovery) David Lebovitz (a little known food blog)