Shachar Hertz grew up in Israel and found his love for beer when he moved to New York for college. There, at the beginning of the new millennium, the craft beer craze was just getting rolling, so he transferred to UC Davis in California and graduated with a degree in Brewing and Packaging. Back in Israel, he wanted to open a brewery, but decided to open a beer store and a small beer school where he teaches hobby brewers how to brew beer. Along the way, he started a second career as an International Beer Judge. In our podcast episode, Shachar tells his story and reports on the emerging beer market in Israel…
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Markus Raupach: Hello, and welcome to our podcast, BierTalk. Today we record the second episode of our English podcast. And we make a little journey to the Near East, as we say. We go to Israel and meet a dear friend of me, Shachar Hertz, who owns the largest beer store in the country, is also an international beer judge and we meet quite often somewhere in the world. And so I’m very happy to welcome you in the podcast, and maybe you introduce yourself a little bit to the listeners.
Shachar Hertz: Thank you very much, Markus. It’s a pleasure to be here. So I’m Shachar Hertz. I am from Israel. I’m Israeli. I’m one of the local beer experts. And as Markus said, I’m also a beer judge and an owner of a company called Beer and Beyond, which is the largest beer shop and beer school in Israel. I’m also doing some beer tours around the world from time to time and mostly I deal with educating the Israeli people about beer, how to appreciate it, how to know more about it, and hopefully, how to drink a bit more.
Markus Raupach: For us, it sounds a little bit uncommon that people in Israel are drinking beer or in larger scale. So how did you yourself come into the beer thing? And what do you think about the Israeli beer scene?
Shachar Hertz: Well, as a classic Israeli, I was also a bit into alcoholic beverages as a younger person, but beer was not one of my favourite drinks growing up. And when I say growing up, I of course, don’t mean growing up as a kid, but growing up as an adult. But I happened to move to the United States when I was 25 and spend five years in New York. And in those years, which was the early 2000, I was exposed to the amazing craft beer revolution that was going on back then. And I completely fell in love with beer while living in the States. This is also where I went deeply into this hobby. It was a hobby at the beginning, but pretty fast, it became something that I really wanted to do professionally.
So I went to school at UC Davis, in California. And after my five years in the States were done, I got back to Israel and all I wanted is to make other people go through the same process that I did. Make them fall in love with beer and make them realize that beer is a completely different beverage than what they thought about. So that was about 15 years ago when I got back here. But it’s not surprising that Israel is drinking alcohol. It is allowed in the Jewish religion to drink, even the opposite. Like we have to drink wine of course at Shabbat dinners, for example, it’s a mitzvah. But regardless if you’re religious or not, Israelis drink alcohol. But we don’t drink a lot. We do not have a very long history of drinking or tradition or a culture of drinking alcohol. So I found myself trying to raise something that was almost nonexistent here. But slowly, but surely we see it growing.
Markus Raupach: Yeah, that really sounds interesting. What we had here, I’m also researching a lot of the Jewish culture in Germany, and there was maybe about 100 years ago, a big discussion if it is allowed to drink beer for the Jewish high festival days. And then there was a rabbi who said, “If the beer is the wine of the country, then it’s allowed to drink also beer.” So that means if it’s a beer country, you can drink beer and if it’s a wine country, you have to drink wine. So did you know about that?
Shachar Hertz: No. It’s nice to hear. But it makes perfect sense to me. Like if you are Jewish and you live in a country that is not a wine country and beer is like the dominant or main beverage of choice, so yeah, why not? It just makes sense.
Shachar Hertz: I’m saying that Israel is a wine country. Before it’s a beer country, it’s a wine country. So people who don’t need to make that choice. Unfortunately, they go with wine on those festivities. But more and more people are discovering beer and they switch to beer sometimes.
Markus Raupach: Yeah, it’s very interesting. In Germany the Jewish community had a big part in development of brewing. So for example, they invented our deposit system for bottles, or they also invented the hop pellets and things like that. So it’s really interesting how big the impact is of the Jewish people in Germany and brewing. In Israel, you say that people are not really used to drinking beer, but is it a growing market? And is it more the young people or more the older ones?
Shachar Hertz: We definitely see it growing because we pretty much didn’t have work to go down. We could only go up. Like the consumption was, and still is one of the lowest in the world. So the only way is to go up and we see that going up slightly in the last few years. But then the most, or the more interesting change that we see is not necessarily more drinking, but drinking differently. Israelis are discovering the new flavours of beer or the new world or the craft beers, and they start to switch their usual beer, the one that they were used to drink, and they explore other flavours. And this we see going on like significantly in the last few years.
Markus Raupach: And you also become more and more breweries, as far as I know. So I know about the Dancing Camel, for example. But I think there are now many breweries in Israel.
Shachar Hertz: Yeah, we have about 20+ small craft breweries in the country right now. They were all opened, I would say, within two or three waves of opening that we saw here. The first one was actually started with the Dancing Camel. They were the first ever Israeli craft beer brewery to open in Israel. That was 2006. And from 2006 to 2008, we saw like eight, nine breweries opening, and then we had a short break. And then in 2010, to 12, another eight or nine were opened, and a bit more later on. So now we have 20+ and it’s pretty much a status quo in the last few years, maybe a new one gets opened, a new one is closing. So we’re staying at the same number.
Markus Raupach: And what types of beer are they producing? So the typical craft beer styles, or is there a special thing also?
Shachar Hertz: That’s a bit of a complicated question, not because I don’t know the answer, but because I have a lot to say about this subject.
Markus Raupach: We have time.
Shachar Hertz: The Israeli breweries, the craft ones, the new ones are not among the most brave ones, I would say. Most of them go more for the traditional styles, the styles that they think that the Israeli consumers are looking for, which makes sense in a way. I mean, it’s okay, you can create a weak beer or a pale ale or an amber. It’s a new market. It’s a new industry. You don’t want to go immediately to the craziest and most extreme beer styles. But looking back 15 years ago when this is all started, I was hoping that it would take less time for those breweries to start to explore new styles and be more brave. And unfortunately, I see that most of them are sticking to the same good old classic beer styles and recipes, and don’t really make a lot of changes. But parallel to that we do have a few breweries that do the opposite. They do a lot of different beers throughout the years, they explore with local ingredients and different styles. But I would really like to see more breweries going to that direction, because I think this is something that the consumers will really know how to appreciate.
Markus Raupach: Is there a typical Israeli beer style or a typical ingredient from Israel, which is used for beer?
Shachar Hertz: No, not yet. We are a country that is known for having a lot of spices and fruits and herbs and vegetables. But for now, there isn’t like one or a couple ingredients that I see that are being used more popularly within the breweries. But I guess it has to do with what I said earlier that the experimentation level is still low and most of the breweries are sticking to the classic ingredients.
Markus Raupach: And as you have the largest beer store in the country, so you’ll also have beers from foreign breweries like American or English or German ones. And is it easy to bring these beers in and how is the acceptance by the customers?
Shachar Hertz: The acceptance is amazing. Israelis are very open minded and as I said before, they really want to try a lot of new flavours. So within the export market, the import market, actually, we see a lot of beers coming in into Israel. It’s not easy to bring alcoholic beverages into Israel. The regulation is a bit complicated and expensive and cumbersome, but we have some importers that are really into beer and they really try their best to bring the top of the crop of the world leading brands. And I think that Israel actually for a country that is so small and with such a small beer industry and low beer consumption, I think we have a great variety of international brands available.
Markus Raupach: I see when I look for your shop, there are very many interesting breweries and many well-known breweries, but also some Israeli breweries. And I also, something like a network hub for brewers. So can people, do they come to you and ask about beer and brewing and education and maybe brewers will ask for connections? Is that also a little bit of your role?
Shachar Hertz: Yes, of course. I have, I guess, some parts, either small or medium or big in almost all of the breweries that were opened here in the last 15 years. I mean, I am trying to help them and give my consultancy services to them in order for them to create the best beers and promote their brands in the best way. And we teach people how to make beer at home. And as you know, home brewing is the engine that pretty much starting every future craft brewery. They all start by brewing at home and we have a great network of home brewers. We have classes and seminars all the time in order to encourage them to become better at their hobby and eventually open their own first brewery.
Markus Raupach: That’s really amazing. Maybe also the Arab part of the country, do they also drink beer? Because the religion normally is forbidding the alcohol. Is there also an Arab beer culture?
Shachar Hertz: Much, much, much less. But we must remember that Arabs are also have different religions. The Muslims, of course, cannot drink any alcohol whatsoever. Even if a beer is considered a non-alcoholic but it has up to 0.5 alcohol in it, they cannot drink it. So we see a very actually big industry of 0.0 alcohol beers that is being sold for the Arab market and brands like Carlsberg and Heineken and Bavaria, they do greatly with those products within that market. But the Christian Arabs, they are allowed to drink. So we do have a brewery that is called Taybeh that is located in the Palestinian territories in a village that is 100% Christian Arabs. And their brewery was actually the first one in the Middle East. Even before the Dancing Camel. I call Dancing Camel the first Israeli craft brewery. But Taybeh Brewing is the first Middle Eastern craft brewery. I guess they were opened back in 1994 and they make great beers that are also available in other countries, and they also brew their beers under contract in Germany actually.
Markus Raupach: And did you realize any difference in taste between the Israeli and the Arab people? Do they like different beers?
Shachar Hertz: No, it’s pretty much the same. The palate of the average Middle Eastern, it’s pretty much the same. Our food is similar, our flavours are similar. I’m guessing that most people, like lagers and wheat beers are popular. But the Taybeh Brewing are making a great variety of beers, IPAs, ambers, and beers with spices and local herbs as well. Stouts.
Markus Raupach: I also think you have such a big variety of interesting foods and spices and fruits. So there may be a lot of opportunities for doing food pairing things. Is that also something that’s now coming up in Israel to do food pairings, maybe with beer, with wine with your food?
Shachar Hertz: Yes, we see that starting. It’s not very popular yet because restaurants are usually the last type of businesses to get into the craft beer scene. Because those products as you know, are more expensive than your mainstream beers and the restaurant needs to be profitable and they’re not sure that they’ll be able to sell it. But we have a great variety of restaurants here and entrepreneurs that look at things a bit differently and they’re more open minded, and they know that the only way for them to make their restaurant or their business more unique and attractive for customers is to be different. And what’s the best way of being different other than creating a menu with a great selection of special wines and craft beers and do pairings? We are encouraging that a lot. We try our best to push those restaurants to do those things. It will take time for it to be more popular, but we’re definitely pushing.
Markus Raupach: And also you had lockdowns during the Corona crisis. Did this affect also the beer industry and the beer scene?
Shachar Hertz: Yeah, yeah for sure. It’s actually, yeah, it’s a great question because I just had a discussion about it yesterday. There was a launch of a new beer by one of the local breweries and a lot of people from the industry were there. Veterans that, you know, that they saw all the industry coming up together like I did in the last 15 years, and we just went through memory lane. And we got all the way until the last two years and we all realized that those last two years were so different in so many ways. Mostly actually, in a good way because what happened is that most people stayed at home and drank most of their beer at home, and not outside. And when you drink a beer at home and you have all the time in the world, because you have nothing else to do except focusing on what you’re drinking, so you start looking at the bottle or the can and read the label and look at the ingredients and realise that you don’t know what an ale is. And you’re like getting to be curious and a lot of people discovered new flavours in beer within those two years. And they started to buy much more beer at home and drink at home. Pubs and bars and restaurants, of course, we’re doing badly at those times. But the consumers found a way to enjoy beer within those strange periods of times. So we saw the craft beers sales of like takeaways and home deliveries going up significantly. And a lot of new customers that discovered craft beers, thanks to the fact that they were just locked at home, getting curious about what they drink.
Markus Raupach: They had the time to learn and discover and see. And you are doing this home delivery. So as I know, Israel is a quite warm country. Are there issues with cooling chain and things like that to bring the beer in a good shape to the customer?
Shachar Hertz: No, not really, because we are a warm country and not only beer, you know, food, and every other sensitive product that needs to be shipped across the country needs to be kept cool. So most of the logistics companies and delivery companies they know that and they do their best to, you know, keep it cool. The warm climate is mostly affecting pubs and bars that don’t have like, you know, like proper cooling system or draft system for their kegs and keep the beer out when it’s warm outside. Sometimes that creates a lot of foaming problems and beers that go bad. But it’s all about education. And as long as more businesses will understand the importance of keeping beer cold, we will see less than less of that affect.
Markus Raupach: Is there something like a beer school or beer education or something like that in Israel?
Shachar Hertz: Officially, we don’t have a beer school or an academic place to study about beer. Our business is pretty much the only one that calls itself a school but it’s not like an official school. We just educate and do a lot of classes and seminars and courses. But that’s as close as we can get to a beer school. I think it’s also a matter of time. We also didn’t have wine schools here in the country 20 years ago, and now we have like three or four. So when the wine revolution here in Israel started earlier, now it’s beer time, and I’m pretty sure that if it’s not going to be me opening one in the future, I’m sure that there will be somebody who will try and go for that.
Markus Raupach: And I also looked at the website and there’s also your beer education and brewing education. And did you have interesting experiences, especially experiences maybe in your seminars? Are there special things you remember?
Shachar Hertz: Yes, I mean, you never forget the faces of the people that they realise that something that looks completely unrelated to beer for them. Like looking at the raw materials, looking at hop pellets for the first time or putting a hop pellet in your mouth and try to realize the flavour of it, it’s a bit shocking for somebody who doesn’t know what hop is, and the part that it has in beer. And then when the course ends, like three or four weeks later, they taste the beer that we brew together, and they’re like, “Oh, now I connect the flavour that I put in my mouth from this palette in the beer,” and everything becoming much clearer for them and it’s very nice to look at their face when they realize how the beer process goes from start to finish.
Markus Raupach: Yeah, that’s really true. And I also saw you do beer Olympics. What is this?
Shachar Hertz: Yes. Because we try so hard to promote this beverage that’s called beer, we really need to be as flexible as we can, as imaginative as we can in order to reach more potential customers. And one of the, I guess, markets in Israel that we aim for, is to try and offer let’s say, high tech companies or people that work at some workplace, beer activities. You know, every company is putting some effort into making their employees a bit happier. Sometimes they take them to some field trips, sometimes they go to a restaurant, and sometimes they just call us to come and do some beer tasting or this beer Olympics, which is a product that we developed that is more fun, and not just okay, sit and listen a bit about beer. But let’s play some games around it. Not necessarily drinking games, but just funny stuff, like building up the tallest tower that you can from beer coasters. Or trying to blind taste few beers and guess their names. Stuff like that, that people are … they don’t really need to know anything about beer to have fun with it and it just makes them connect to this beverage a bit more.
Markus Raupach: Yeah, that really sounds great. Maybe back to you and yourself a little bit. So you are also travelling because of beers. Are you going to the international competitions? And how did that start? And what are your feelings if you think about beer judging internationally?
Shachar Hertz: Yes, definitely one of my favourite things to do. Not surprisingly, travelling in general, is something that I liked since I was young. Actually, my beer travels started before the judgings. I mean, one thing led to the other of course. But about a decade ago, I decided to add this element to our company and start to offer beer trips around the world for Israelis because I know from my past experience that once you travel to the origin of a certain beer and you experience the brewing process and you meet the people behind the beers, and you see new countries in different traditions and cultures of beers, something is happening to you. Like inside you. Something makes you like this beer much more.
So I wanted to take as many Israelis as possible to other countries to the you know, the main and major beer destinations like Belgium and Germany, Czech Republic, the UK and even the United States. We did a couple of trips all the way there. And I started to do that like a few times a year, not as a main business, but like from time to time. And in one of those trips that was to Belgium, I mean in one of my pre-trips that I went before the group trip I went to Liege and I happened to be there right at the time where the Brussels beer challenge competition was taking place. I think it was 2013. And yeah, and I got to meet the organizer, Luke and we talked and like I told him a bit about myself and he said, “Okay, next year I’m going to call you to like judge,” and this is how it started for me with the judging.
And then I did a few other competitions as well because as you know, this is a small group of colleagues and friends, they all know each other and they recommend one another to other companies, to other competitions, and this is how. And also for me with the judging, I really, really like it. I think it’s a great experience. I mean, I tasted so many different beers in my life, but it’s a different setup. It’s an official tasting. I like the ceremony behind those things and, you know, make an impact, a small personal impact on a beer by giving it a professional review. And I think it’s something that I would keep and enjoy doing as long as I can.
Markus Raupach: Yes, that’s really the same thing I feel. I think the good thing, it’s both, it’s professional, but it’s also family. And that’s really, so you’re really with your heart in the thing and you have very nice people around you and you meet people from all over the world, which you normally never would have had the possibility to meet and you really make friends. And that’s the great thing.
Shachar Hertz: And the people are amazing. Like, beer people in general, whether it’s professional people or just regular consumers, there’s something with this beverage that attracts the good kind of people. And I think it’s really like the thing I like most about beer is that. Is the people that are around this beverage. They’re all good people.
Markus Raupach: Yes.
Shachar Hertz: Amazing.
Markus Raupach: Totally. So maybe we are close to the end of the podcast. Maybe a question: do you have a favourite beer or a favourite beer style, which you like most?
Shachar Hertz: Of course, the question that I’m getting asked the most. I grew to like this question. Once I used to really like rolling my eyes and like how can I answer such a thing? But now I’m getting to actually enjoy answering because I give a different answer each and every time. But at the end of the day, if I have, I mean a specific beer, it’s impossible to choose. But styles, yes for sure. I know by now, after trying so many, I think that if I will end up drinking only altbier from Dusseldorf throughout my entire life, I will be totally okay.
Markus Raupach: That sounds a good thing, especially if you go around the city and have all these different altbiers.
Shachar Hertz: Yes, yes. I really, I really like it. I think it’s the perfect combination of like, it’s the most balanced of all styles. You have everything in it. You have the malt flavour, the hop flavour, the alcohol content is just where you need it, perfectly drinkable. Just super, super nice.
Markus Raupach: And also if you have surrounding with the pubs there and so it’s great, yeah.
Shachar Hertz: Yes. The atmosphere is amazing.
Markus Raupach: Is there many, maybe one special wish or one thing you really would like to do in the beer world, which you didn’t have, which you didn’t do before?
Shachar Hertz: Yes, for sure. There’s one very major element in the beer world that I still didn’t step into, which is to actually have a brewery or be part of a brewery. I thought at the beginning, when I finished my studies at UC Davis, that this is what I’m going to do. I’m going to go back to Israel and open a brewery. But pretty fast, I realized that it’s maybe not the right time. The industry is like almost not existent. So I put that aside. And then I just went so deeply into the business that I have today and I put the dream of having a brewery still in the drawer. But I’m guessing that at some point in the future, I would like to be a part of a brewing business and create my own beers.
Markus Raupach: That sounds great and then I will be very happy to be one of your guests. So thanks a lot for this little insight into your life and into the Israeli beer culture. And so I wish you a nice day today and I’m looking forward to see you in the next beer judging meeting in the near future.
Shachar Hertz: Thank you so much, Markus. Prost.
Markus Raupach: Prost. Thanks and bye.
Shachar Hertz: Bye-bye.
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