Posted February 2012
Something's brewing ... in Israel
Israeli beer market 2011 was all about beer. Newspapers, magazines, blogs. Microbreweries got tons of great press. So I went to the Middle East to find out what’s really going on.
"You are going to Israel to do ... WHAT? Taste beers?" My friends' response was outright consternation. This took me by surprise. They huffed and puffed and grumbled disapproval. As if I was going to do something frivolous, blasphemous even. I did not think that researching the budding Israeli craft brewing scene was any more outlandish an investigation than travelling to Iceland to study some rare moss.
When I retorted: "How am I supposed to do Israel the proper way? Join a tour group and tick off the sights?" all I got were snorts of derision. "To heck", I said to myself and unperturbed set off in search of Israeli microbrewers.
Of course, I would be the first to acknowledge that Israel is not like the Bahamas, where the worst afflictions that can befall you are a killer hangover and a sun-stroke. Come to think of it, how many countries are there which sport a wall that runs almost the full length of their territory? Germany's wall went down 20 years ago, but the U.S. (with Mexico), Cyprus, Northern Ireland and Israel still have theirs. And how many countries can you think of quickly, where every other person is wearing military garb in the streets? North Korea must be high up on that list - although I have not been there - beating Iran and Israel into second and third slots. But then again, where on earth do you run the very serious risk of having a rocket lobbed on your head as you go about your daily routines?
My friends were right: Israel is different and in more ways than one. In some tourist guidebooks they like to describe Israel and the occupied territories as rich in contrasts. They would, wouldn't they? Israel's got its own Silicon Wadi with thousands of high-tech companies; it's got wide motorways, U.S. style shopping malls, and still half the country under vines; it's got a concrete jungle by the Red Sea and rare tulips in the Negev desert. Add to that the spectacularly scenic Golan Heights (captured from Syria in 1967), where vineyards alternate with cordoned-off minefields, the densely populated West Bank (captured from Jordan in 1967) with its tinderbox atmosphere, the city of Jerusalem, where everybody strives to be holier than thou, and a bunch of downright scary neighbours ... and you will begin to understand why the most frequently used word in Hebrew, by my count, is "lo", meaning "no".
But despite all this - and you will have gathered by now that there is a lot of "ALL THIS" - there are millions of people in Israel and the occupied territories who try to lead normal lives, which include having a beer once in a while. What got me intrigued with Israel in the first place was its low beer consumption. For years I have followed the Barth Report's estimates for Israeli beer production. Although the figures show that beer output has been on the increase for the past few years and stood at 980,000 hl in 2010, Israel still ranked far behind countries like Kazakhstan and Malaysia. Strange, isn't it? How come that a predominantly non-Muslim country drinks so little beer? What do people do at those crazy raves out in the desert, or at these all-night parties on the beaches, one gets to read about? Have a glass of water? That must be the case because my calculator would not budge and told me that in 2010 per capita consumption of beer was 13 litres - if, for simplicity's sake, you divide 1.0 million hl by 7.7 million people. That puts Israel on par with Turkey. Official data claim wine consumption is 4 bottles a year - or hardly any, if you happen to be French. Small wonder, when it comes to total alcohol intake for people 15 years and older, Israelis drink only 2.5 litres per year. This is significantly less than the Americans (8.8 litres) or the Russians (11.5 litres) consume, says the OECD in a 2011 survey. Now if you were to factor in the 2.8 million tourists who travelled to Israel that year and probably also had a beer or a glass of wine during their sojourn, ... well, I have always maintained that medians are highly suspect.
What’s on tap for “Joe Goldstar”?
These figures underline the gargantuan task Israeli microbrewers face when it comes to teaching their countrymen to enjoy a "better beer".Mazel tov if you are a subscriber to Brauwelt International. Because then you can read the rest of this report. Read on