The makers of a fruity-smelling pale ale in southern Israel joke that you have to pay 2,000 shekels just to try it.
The Negev Brewery, tucked away in the town of Kiryat Gat, recently began making Negev Beresheet Desert Beer; but, it’s only available to guests of the swanky Beresheet Hotel in Mizpe Ramon. So if you’re willing to shell out $500 a night, you’ll get a taste.
Not to worry, though. The brewery has other beers as well — ones anyone can buy.
Negev Brewery, which started out as a home-brewing project dreamed up by Ben-Gurion University of the Negev graduate Yochai Kudler, has been open for several years. In addition to the hotel exclusive and several seasonal brews, the brewery offers four beers that are always available: Amber Ale, Oasis, Passion Fruit Ale and Oak Porter. They range in taste from the light, orangey flavor of the Oasis beer, which recently replaced the Amber Ale as the most popular choice, to the porter’s darker earthiness. The passion fruit beer is the only one its makers know of in Israel that features the easily found local fruit.
As with the people of Israel, the country’s beer is a blend of different cultures, brewery employees said. It’s not as aggressive as American beer and not as sweet as European beer.
“We’re not trying to make another commercial beer,” said Sagiv Karlboim, the brewery’s CEO. “Of course we want to sell, we want to be famous, we want to be a big brewery; but we do not want to make regular beer just to sell more. Of course we’d be happy to sell a lot, but we won’t compromise for it.”
That’s not all that makes the Negev Brewery stand out, he added. The people who work there truly love beer.
“I can’t put my finger on it, but I liked beer since I was a child,” said Tomer Ronen, one of the brewers.
He added that when he was young, he tasted everything — the water dripping from drying laundry, ants. Now, he tastes beer for a living.
“I believe everyone gets a gift they can give to the world,” Ronen said. “Mine is to give good beer.”
The brewery produces between 10,000 and 12,000 liters a month, making the most of the Oasis and Amber Ale varieties. Its brews are available around the country, in pubs, restaurants and stores that sell wine, beer — “and vodka for the young kids,” Ronen joked.
Karlboim estimated that a Negev Brewery beer usually costs between 13 and 16 shekels ($3.75-$4.60) in a liquor or grocery store, and between 20 and 34 shekels ($5.80- $9.80) in a bar or restaurant.
All of the work is done inside a barn-like, tan-and-green building in Kiryat Gat. Large fermentation tanks hiding bubbling liquids stand next to a cold maturation room full of kegs. The process can take weeks — and the brewers taste the beer almost every day, checking its process. A large, cantankerous, 44-year-old German-made machine bottles the beer and secures caps. Negev Brewery employees used to stick labels to every bottle by hand, but a new machine helps save time.
Ronen said the company is very particular about the ingredients that go into its beers. And, they’ll tell you that beer is healthy.
“People say it makes you fat, but, in fact, that’s the peanuts you eat with your beer,” Ronen said.
It’s not fair to ask Karlboim which Negev Brewery beer is his favorite, he joked — they’re all his babies. If he had to pick, though, his vote would go to the Oak Porter, which RateBeer, a website dedicated to craft beer, pronounced the best beer in Israel in 2013. RateBeer also named Negev Brewery the country’s best brewery.
The brewery will soon offer a new seasonal beer, called Omer, which takes about two months to brew and will boast a slightly higher alcohol percentage — about 6.5 percent, Karlboim said. After being aged for 49 days, it will be available after the June holiday of Shavuot.
Although Negev Brewery beer is only sold in Israel right now, Karlboim said he regularly receives inquiries about the beer from around Europe and the United States. The brewery is beginning to look into exporting.
As much as possible, the brewer supports the Negev region, using local products and suppliers and asking brewers to live in the Negev area.
And they’re willing to do so, including Sary Diab, who left behind a position with an online casino customer relations company in northern Israel to move to the area and work as a brewer at the Negev Brewery; he said he likes the family atmosphere that comes with a small company.
He started out brewing as a hobby and has been paid for it for about a year. That’s what he likes about it, he says.
“What I’m doing is a hobby,” he said. “It’s cool. It’s beer.”
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