Craft beers are proliferating in Israel, and a Maimonides School graduate is part of the phenomenon.
Asher Zimble ’09 brews a commercial product called Oak and Ash. “Right now we're fairly local... only the real beer places know of us and carry our beer,” he said. “But we're branching out and growing.”
Following Maimonides graduation, Asher learned at Yeshivat Lev HaTorah in Beit Shemesh. “I was more into the trips, hiking, camping, etc. than the formal classes, and I came away with a love for the country and a strong desire to make aliyah,” he said. “By the summer of 2010, I was on a Nefesh B'Nefesh flight to Israel.”
One of his first stops was a mechina (pre-army preparatory program) in a small town called Keshet, “a little bit north of the middle of nowhere. The mechina gave me the skills I needed to thrive in the army, as well as a lot of good friends throughout the country.”
Asher said he discovered brewing a few years ago. “I tasted some commercial lager and remember thinking, ‘I
bet I could make something better than this.’ That's really what got me started as a craft brewer.” While in
Chicago for a simcha after completing three years of army service, he sat in on a college-level course on brewing. For the next year he worked in Israeli breweries, ultimately landing a job as head brewer for the popular Dancing Camel brewery in central Tel Aviv.
There’s no brewery in the Zimble home in Givat Shmuel. “I brew the beer at the Dancing Camel facility. We’re space-sharing to our mutual benefit. I get to use his brewery equipment and he gets to use my packaging equipment.” Asher employs an assistant brewer and a salesperson. Asher’s wife Meira (Altabet) ’09 “is involved with our online content to some degree but she is mostly focused on her master's degree program,” Asher said. They have a one-year-old daughter, Hadar.
“My goal is to make flavorful beers,” Asher explained. “I want people to bring six packs of craft beer when they go to friends for meals or parties. You can enjoy several average-strength beers with your friends, try something different every time, and still wake up the next day to get to work on time. Also, it's not going to break the bank, and each bottle or can is one serving, so you can easily save some for later.”
Asher said that although “making beer is a fairly complicated process, I can try to sum it up on one foot: Brewers make a home for yeast, and yeast makes it into beer.”
He delineated the steps: “Grind your malt. Mix your malt with warm water to activate the enzymes and convert the starch to sugar -- in brewery terms, mash. Let the enzymes do their thing. Then strain your sugary water, called wort, through the grains and into the boil kettle, adding more hot water while you do this so that you get all the sugar and the correct volume of wort in the kettle.”
Then comes boiling, “which sanitizes the wort, denatures the enzymes, removes proteins from the solution, and extracts bitterness and aroma from the hops. Then cool it down so the brewer's yeast doesn’t die -- it can’t handle exposure to temperatures over 33 degrees. Move the liquid to the fermenter and add yeast. Now it's beer.”
“We are working to get certification from the local rabbanut for Oak and Ash, so that our customers won’t have to be concerned about any kashrut issues,” Asher said.
Those issues are interesting “Some beers are aged in wooden barrels previously used to age or store non-kosher wine. Some authorities think this is a problem while others say using wine barrels isn't a problem.” Oak and Ash does not use wine barrels.
Also, “spices, fruit, fish, even meat can be added to beer to give it special flavorings and that's just the natural stuff. Some beers also use coloring agents, and it’s important to know what the dye is made out of. As a rule of thumb, if your beer is vegan the additives are probably also kosher-friendly.
“Some of the filtering aids and other products that are used to help make beer clear can come from non-kosher animals. Although at the end of the day none of these products remain in the beer, I could see how this may be an issue,” Asher said. He noted that “Oak and Ash is careful to use in its beers only those additives and products that have been certified kosher.”
Oak and Ash “is a play on words. We age all of our beers with oak, and I brew them so it's oak and Asher (Ash).”
There are many craft beer festivals in Israel, and Oak and Ash has been featured at one so far. “It was a ton of fun,” Asher recounted. He noted that every year the Dancing Camel serves beer at the American Consulate Fourth of July party, where he chatted with Palestinian Arabs who brew Taybeh beer. “They are nice guys who brew a nice beer, and I could see us working together on something in the future.”