Beer Coalition

banner24jan   By Harley Zipori.  Israel went to the polls this week in a national election to choose the 10’th Knesset. If Israeli coalition politics proves anything, it’s the old American adage “there is strength in numbers”. The real post election activity in Israel is not watching or reading the news to see how many seats each party won in the Knesset but rather adding up these seats in all the possible permutations to make coalitions that could possibly form a government. It’s sort of the Israeli version of American “Fantasy Football”.

 

While it’s completely unjustified to make an analogy between Israeli politics and the Israeli beer scene, the strenght in numbers rule holds in business as it does in politics. If Israeli politics is divided in several “camps”, the Israeli beer market can be divided into it’s own “camps”. The marketers might call these segments but I’m not a marketer so my “camps” might not be the segments that are meaningful to those who bet their money on selling beer.

But before I continue on this fascinating topic, I would like to return briefly to reality.

Last Friday afternoon I had the chance to return to the Dancing  Camel for the Songwriters Showcase. As I wrote about in my previous blog, Lilach Bonanni and Ami Yares organize performances of a variety of local and imported musicians to fill up an afternoon in the comfortable environs of the Dancing Camel pub in Tel Aviv. The 30 minute times slots often leave you yearning for more but at least you know there will be another act in a few minutes.

There were two real treats for me last Friday. First was Alec Gross, a red haired, bearded singer/songwriter who is totally captivating with his guitar playing, voice and intensity.

The other memorable discovery last Friday is that the Dancing Camel has launched a new beer, Dancing Camel Brown Ale. I was told that it only went on tap at the pub the day before but this has not been confirmed by owner/brewmaster David Cohen. Not that David wasn’t there. He was. But why spoil a perfectly enjoyable Friday afternoon with technical details.

This brown ale nicely fills out the Dancing Camel’s beer portfolio which now ranges from the Eve blond ale to the Midnight Stout. The brown ale slips nicely between the IPA and the stout but does make for a difficult choice of which beer to order when you are limited to one. Fortunately, being a new beer it was a no-brainer.

This brown ale is in the style of British brown ales. It was smooth, balanced and lightly hopped with a light caramel flavor. This is an excellent session beer for me and I can easily see ordering another, and another..

The Dancing Camel beers often have an American twist which isn’t surprising considering Dave’s origins, but American brown ales are usually fairly hoppy. The classic example of a microbrewery American brown is Pete’s Wicked Ale.

Some might say that this is pandering to the common tastes but there are Dancing Camel beers that don’t pander to anyones taste so that a nice smooth brown ale is just right for the range of their beers. I look forward to trying this again in the near future.

Back to numbers.

I would divide up the beers sold in Israel into the following “Camps”:

  • The National Camp. This is Goldstar and Maccabee (their spelling not mine). These are the 2 truly national Israeli brands brewed by Tempo.
  • The Foreign Pretenders Camp. These are the foreign labels brewed here in Israel: Carlsberg, Tuborg and Heineken.
  • The Foreign Invaders Camp. These are the foreign brands imported into Israel. These run the gamut from Guinness to Samuel Adams to Weihenstephan.
  • The Local Craft Brew Camp. These are the local brewers of boutique beer, like the Dancing Camel, Alexander, Jems and the list keeps getting longer and longer.

The first two camps are the sole property of the two large brewer/bottlers in Israel. The third camp is controlled by the those same two brewers, at least one other established concern (Norman’s Premium) and a dedicated group of independent importers.

The last group isn’t a group. And perhaps that’s the problem. Where are the numbers. If you add up all the beer brewed that can be marketed to the outside world (from breweries with licenses), it still isn’t much compared to the quantities of locally produced and imported beer served across bars, in restaurants and in stores.

From what I know, the local craft brewers tend to be very friendly toward other craft brewers. But these breweries are businesses and will go under if they don’t make money. I have no idea where the solution lies. What form of cooperation would advance the boutique brewing industry and which would turn it into a closed club for the old boy network of brewing.

It’s food for thought anyway and I might just expand on it in the near future.

Here is a really good place to call for feedback and ideas from the community out there. Let me know what you think about this or any other topic at maof.beer@gmail.com.