High on Hops: Jerusalem’s Craft Beer Evangelist
One of the great joys of traveling is the opportunity to explore the local beer culture. Like the culinary and fine arts, the art of brewing reflects the values, experiences and desires of the community. To quickly assimilate and drink like a local, finding a native beer guide is imperative.
Perhaps no place on earth has deeper historical traditions than Jerusalem. Israel’s capital city is home to some of the most important sites of the world’s three monotheistic religions and is a melting pot that blends not only the spirits of the Judaic and Arabic people but incorporates elements from all corners of the globe thanks to its role in tourism and trade. It’s only natural that Jerusalem’s mixing of the old and the new, of disparate pieces finding a collective home, would also make its way into craft beer.
The beer scene in Israel is relatively small, but that doesn’t make it any less complex or daunting to the outsider. With no knowledge of Hebrew, it becomes even more difficult to properly assess the offerings. Thankfully, Jerusalem has Doug Greener.
The author of Israel Brews and Views, Doug is a beer enthusiast and former New Yorker who is elevating the profile of Israeli craft beer through his website. His reviews, news items and opinion pieces expose the growing local beer scene to a world-wide audience. And he’s the perfect guy to guide you through the bottle shops around Jerusalem’s Machane Yehuda market.
Don’t believe me? There’s actually a poster of Doug’s smiling face on the wall inside of Hamisameach, one of the wine, liquor and beer stores we dropped into on Agripas Street. His knowledge and passion for Israeli beer is impressive, and while he’s quick to praise breweries that are pushing boundaries and breaking new ground, he’s also honest about those that may be resting on their past successes.
The truth factor is where a local beer guide really comes in handy. Any store owner can point you to their locals section. In the case of beer made in Israel, it’s actually quite easy to find it on your own thanks to the distinctive Hebrew script on the labels. But a local guide can take you much deeper from just what’s inside the bottle to a meaningful understanding of the place that created the brew.
For example, only one brewery is actually located in Jerusalem, the upstart Herzl. However, two other breweries use variations of the phrase “Jerusalem Beer” on their labels which is more than a little bit confusing.
Herzl itself is a great find. While there were a few bottles from the brewery scattered about in mini markets around the city, the shop Doug took us to had several additional recipes available. We made sure to pick up Dulce de Asal, a mead-influenced brew that eschews hoppy bitterness for a sweet honey malt that comes in at a rather boozy 8% ABV.
Another inspired Herzl offering is Embargo. It would have been impossible to discover this brand new seasonal gem without Doug’s insider knowledge. A porter flavored with tobacco leaves, Embargo attempts to bridge the twin sensations of cigar smoking and drinking a robust beer. Doug’s tasting notes also mention chocolate and pepper, making this a truly unique blend.
And of course there’s beer from breweries like Alexander, Negev, Shapiro and more, each with its own unique philosophies and recipes.
So how do you find your own local beer tutor? You just have to ask. Breweries, bottle shops and restaurants will all know the handful of locals who are regular customers and ask smart questions. Beer blogs specializing in local scenes are another great way to make contact in a remote destination.
If you’re visiting Jerusalem in search of a good beer, Doug Greener’s Israel Brews and Views is a must-visit resource to plan your trip. And who knows? Doug might just be available for a private tour.