Cheers! David Cohen (center) at the microbrewery he founded in 2003.Unlike Americans, or the nearby British, Israelis are not huge beer drinkers. Some may visit Germany’s Oktoberfest for anthropological purposes, but it’s rare to see Israelis making merriment with more than a pint or two when out with friends.
Changing the way beer is consumed and perceived in Israel is beer connoisseur David Cohen, the founder and director of the Dancing Camel brewery in Tel Aviv. Israel’s first official microbrewery to produce beer (founded in 2003), Cohen says that the Israeli beer scene is going through a huge transition.
Now meeting with importers and distributors in the US, it might not be long before “Made in Israel” Dancing Camel beer is being served in your local pub. And it’s likely a taste you will find nowhere else on the planet.
Flavored with local ingredients, such as date honey and etrog (citron), a variety of lemon, Brooklyn-born Cohen is serving about 150,000 pints a year to surprised palates in cities such as Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.
A number of his brews stay constant. There is a pale ale, an Indian pale ale or how about a midnight stout? “Black as coal with a creamy tan head, thick as the afternoon haze over Tel Aviv,” advertises the Dancing Camel website.
But the seasonable varieties get Cohen’s vote. “My favorite beer? It all depends on the environment, temperature, and what I am eating,” Cohen tells ISRAEL21c. “I would say we have a lot of fun with the seasonal beers. Our whole point, and the fun about making beer is watching people smile when they drink it.”
Helping those smiles along are brews made with the unlikely pairings of cherry and vanilla, or jelly doughnut flavor and coffee to honor the Hanukah holiday when Israelis fill up with oily pastries. The chilli pepper beer is also interesting, says Cohen.
It was his wife who gets the credit for fueling Cohen’s beer-making passion after buying him a DIY kit for his birthday. Cohen by this time had already caught the microbrewery beer fever in the east coast of America. That was about 20 years ago. Before that, beer varieties in the US were bland and limited to brands like Coors, Miller and Bud.
The first beer he made was unexceptional, he recalls – it was a recipe for a Canadian brew called Moosehead, but during the process Cohen connected to thousands of years of brewing history.
His hobby started growing into something more and he invested in beer making gear such as glass carboys, kegs and taps, and of course a dedicated beer fridge for maintaining the temperatures needed for brewing.
All the while, he was longing to move to Israel. In a vision, he decided to combine two dreams at once – to move to Israel and to turn his hobby into something much more. To gain the skills needed to go from a brewer at home to a microbrewer, Cohen studied at a local New Jersey brewery in Ocean Township.
Buying up equipment from the Flying Pig brewery in Washington, Cohen had it shipped to Israel, and installed at a grain storage facility from the 1930s in south Tel Aviv.
Today, it’s the complexity of beer and how local flavours influence the body of the beer that interest him the most. He’s also attracted to the way it connects him to history. The art of beer can be traced back about 4,500 years ago to modern day Iraq. “Probably the first recorded history of beer production came from the region of Babylonia. Archaeologists excavated a cuneiform tablet containing a poem as though it were an ode to the brewer,” says Cohen with reverence.
To catch a glimpse of some of Cohen’s enthusiasm for the age-old tradition and to taste his concoctions, consider organizing a beer tour of the Dancing Camel facilities. For about $15 each (a group of 20), get firsthand tastes and an introduction to this unique microbrewery, bound to create beer making history, or at the very least put a lot of smiles on faces.