I met Tal Bitton at an Arts & Crafts fair in my village last week.
He was sitting on a large cooler under an umbrella selling home-brewed beer. It was a hot day and within hours he’d sold all his “Tavor Brewery” bottles with their distinctive mustard-yellow and ketchup-red beer caps. I was intrigued, bought a six-pack, tasted them at home, was taken by the aroma and flavors, and called him to come see his boutique “brewery” up close and personal.
Tal lives in the next village over, Shadmot Devora, named after the wife of famous Baron Rothschild. It’s a sleepier village than ours, still retains its old world charm. I pull in front of a basalt, volcanic-rock covered house.
He steps out to greet me and we walk in. Tal’s in his forties, married with two young children. I did not know what to expect once he opened his front door.
Ornate furniture, sofas, 19th century English dining tables, china plates take up the entire living room. “My wife Sigal is an art dealer,” he explains. “She imports one-of-a-kind pieces in ship containers, displays them at home and online.” We sidestep the delicate furniture pieces and climb up the stairs to his business. In one of the bedrooms while his kids play soccer on their Playstation, Tal shows me the 25kg sacks of wheat and sacks of malt imported from the UK and other European countries. “I struck a deal with local Galilee farmers to get their wheat this year,” he tells me.
He then goes on to explain about the proper ratio between them (70/30). He first grinds the wheat and malt, places all in a bath at 70 degrees centigrade until a mash develops. He then drains the stuff. To the liquid brew he adds hops as a preservative and as bitterness agent. All comes to a boil. Toward the end he adds his own “secret” spices, essentially coriander, black pepper and orange peels. Once it cools off with reverse osmosis hoses Tal lets the brew ferment for two weeks at 17 degrees (uses A/C in summer or heater in winter), constantly monitoring the fermentation and the alcohol content at around 5.2%. This is a small operation soon to be bigger, so at this stage family members all lend a hand. The bottles are washed and sterilized, grape sugar is added at the end to add effervescence and fizz, and to flatten the last of the fermentation. The beer is poured into bottles, the caps are sealed one by one. “Tavor Brewery” is open for business.
“How did you start out?” I ask.
Tal tells me he’s a casualty of the boom/bust hi-tech in Israel. As a telecom executive he worked in Germany, then in Belgium. After office hours he, the employees and the business partners frequented the local pubs. He became hooked. Back in Israel, he still does consulting work but his passion is evident in the wonderful aroma and flavors of his beer. Each bottle sells for $2.60 (about $15 for a six-pack) – a reasonable price by Israel’s high-priced beer market. He now sells out of his brew-at-home bottles days after they’re available.
He wants to expand but must get permits from the Ministry of Health, get the green light from Ministry of Religious Affairs (has to be kosher), and is required to work out of a warehouse, not his spare bedroom and balcony. It’s a tall order, but I suspect he will succeed.
He ordered new “upgraded” labels for his bottles, and is considering getting the word out with a multi-level marketing model.
The beer is unfiltered, much like Tal – what you see is what you get. On a warm spring day, as an accompaniment to a good meal, there’s nothing like a homegrown beer from Galilee.
What a nice kick to the head.
Maurice Labi is an Israeli-American who lived in Los Angeles for many years. In 2011 He returned to Northern Israel (Galilee) with his wife and twin teenage daughters. He is of two lands, of two cultures and he blogs about his experiences in Israel, particularly from Galilee where Jews and Arabs dwelled for centuries.
He has also written three novels: “Jupiter’s Stone,” “Into the Night,” and “American Moth” — available at Amazon.com
or at BN.com