A plate of perfectly swirled chummous or delicately grilled lamb — both naturally paired with a bottle or hetzi (the Israeli pint) of beer. At one time, that meant only local beers Maccabi and Goldstar, or Nesher’s non-alcoholic black beer for the younger set. In the last 15 years, however, imported beers have landed on Israel’s shores, building interest in different tastes, with a particular affection for fruity Belgian beers, German style pilsners and Irish stouts. Still, you’re not going to find those exotic offerings in most chummous joints.
And so, it’s been something of a quandary. While Israelis are surely sophisticated eaters and quaffers, and shown some real mastery at winemaking, boutique beers and brew masters hadn’t quite emerged just yet. Finally, back in 2006, Hayim Ohayon partnered with Bavarian brew master, Nikolaus Starkmeth, launching the Golan Brewery. Located in the Golan Heights town of Katzrin, the brewery has been a combined attempt at coaxing local taste buds toward stronger tastes and fresher products (Golan Brewery beers are unpasteurized, with a three-day shelf life), as well as celebrate the liquid bounty of Israel’s northernmost region.
“90% of beer is water,” explains Moti Bar, the Golan Brewery brewer. “We had to connect to the Golan; there are good cheeses and high quality wines up here, why not good quality beer?”
Indeed, all four of the brewery’s Bazelet label beers are made from the crystalline waters of the nearby Saluka spring. No surprise then that the beer is very good, with four types, each with its own flavor profile: Pilsner in the German style, lightly bitter with a nice finish; Amber ale, easy on the tongue with extra fermentation in the bottle; Double Bock, heady and rich with a higher alcohol content; and a tangy and fruity Wheat beer, also with an extra zetz of fermentation in the bottle.
The brewery will start adding seasonal beers in the near future, says Bar, offering even more ways to titillate the beer lovers’ palate. Currently producing 120,000 liters annually with plans to increase to 200,000 liters, their growth has been steady and points to a growing Israeli penchant for quality beers.
The good news is that the beer is bottled and sold at bars and liquor stores countrywide as well as at the brewery’s signature brew house in Katzrin, where you can sample their brews alongside traditional beer snacks — try the sausages — and later step outside to clear your head in the fresh Golan air. Thankfully, the brewery has also set up a local branch in Jerusalem, with fresh brew delivered every three days, so you can drink and snack on tasty treats without making a three-hour drive.
As for Ohayon, he and Starkmeth — who travels back and forth between Germany and Israel, mentoring and teaching — have inspired a new generation of microbrewers, many of them English-speaking immigrants, who have continued their work of expanding the beer-drinking Israeli public. The future is yeasty indeed.