There’s a longstanding stereotype claiming that Jews don’t drink — that we prefer humus to highballs, brisket to beer. But that’s no longer true. A younger generation, one more adventurous about food in general, has become attuned to the joys of booze. Israelis, in fact, make excellent wine, beer and stronger stuff too. You heard me right: the Holy Land is great for Jews who love booze.
Probably the best example is the fruit of the vine. Many readers will be familiar with the cloying, Robitussin-like wine that appears around Passover. But Israeli wine is another thing entirely. In recent decades, Israeli wine has improved dramatically. In many cases, its quality is indistinguishable from what you might find in France or California.
Israel has five major wine-producing regions, each with its own complex mixture of microclimate and soil. Probably the best-known region is the Galilee, in the north, which has dozens of wineries that welcome visitors. But there is also a lesser known wine route through the Negev Desert. Either way, it’s not an exaggeration to say that wherever you are in Israel, you’re never far from a winery. (You can see a map of Israeli wine regions here; you can find more suggestions for wineries to visit here and here.)
For those who prefer to stick closer to the cities, there are a number of companies providing wine tours not far from Jerusalem. Or you can find tons of chic wine bars in Tel Aviv. Wherever you end up, it’s a good idea to drink local. The quality is excellent, and the grape varieties — which include Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Chardonnay— will be familiar to even casual wine drinkers.
Another great way to drink local is with Israeli beer. Visitors are no longer restricted to Maccabee and Goldstar, Israel’s drinkable-but-meh mass-produced beers. You can find a variety of delicious, locally made brews, from the lightest lagers to the stoutest stouts. Israel has enjoyed a craft beer revolution in recent years, starting with Dancing Camel, a microbrewery (with tours! And a bar!) in the heart of Tel Aviv. But as with wine, you can find microbreweries with tasting rooms all over Israel. Check out the Israel Brews and Views blog for suggestions on where to go and what to drink. The blog also keeps up on beer events in Israel.
If you’re looking for something to put hair on your chest, then you’ve got to try arak. It’s an anise spirit, a cousin of raki and ouzo, and it’s not for the faint of heart. For a milky, surprisingly drinkable concoction, try one part arak to two parts water. Israelis often add lemonade to arak for a refreshing summer drink.
Pretty much any bar in Israel serves arak. But for an interesting take, head to the Dining Hall in Tel Aviv. Their house cocktail mixes, arak, red grapefruit, sage and lemon. You can also find arak cocktails at the Casino de Paris in Jerusalem’s Mahane Yehuda market. Despite its fancy name, it’s an unpretentious place, named not for the casino but for a brothel from the days of the British Mandate.
We have to mention one more Israeli intoxicant: whisky. The Milk and Honey Distillery makes a single malt (and gin!). You can take a tour of the distillery that ends in a tasting. Perhaps the best news of all: its located in Tel Aviv.
Of course we wouldn’t recommend that you get sloshed every night in Israel. Still, Ecclesiastes does remind us that “wine makes life merry.” And a great place to get merry is Israel. So remember: the next time you visit, drink local.
Photo credit: Dana Friedlander for the Israeli Ministry of Tourism