Untapped Israel (now on tap)

| January 5, 2015 | 0 Comments
Ori Sagy is the affable brewmaster at Israel’s Alexander Brewery.

Ori Sagy is the affable brewmaster at Israel’s Alexander Brewery.

On a late-summer day in front of Ottawa City Hall, thousands of beer lovers gathered to partake of one, two or several cold beverages. The atmosphere was just right. The sounds of great music and smells of good food filtered through the air. Originating from Peterborough, Perth, Kemptville and Stittsville and many places in between, more than 30 regional breweries had set up shop for the third annual National Capital Craft Beer Festival. Standing out in the pack, however, and coming 9,000 kilometres for this special event was Israel’s Alexander Brewery and its affable brewmaster, Ori Sagy.
There is something unique about beer, something universal. It is not a coincidence that beer is found on every continent and in every culture. Beer is an essential element in the human desire to celebrate life. It also goes back to the very beginnings of civilisation. More than 6,000 years ago, beer was invented by the ancient Sumerians in the Middle East. Historians point to evidence that beer was consumed by the Babylonians, Egyptians and throughout the “cradle of civilisation.”
Today, with the help of Mr. Sagy, beer culture in the Middle East is making a comeback and a craft beer industry has emerged in Israel. As Israeli brewmasters excel on the international stage and look to forge partnerships in an increasingly globalised industry, our embassy recognised an opportunity to promote Israel’s nascent sector and offer Canadians a new perspective on its vibrant multicultural society with a growing reputation for great music, art, food and drink.
Beer’s ability to create new bonds makes it an excellent untapped tool for public diplomacy. Moreover, craft beer, which brings together those with a true passion for the taste of the product rather than its intoxicating potential, is even more effective. In our experience this past summer, we found two unique features of beer diplomacy: First, it engages the average Canadian; and second, it allows for serendipitous connections.
A quick scan of Ottawa’s public diplomacy landscape reveals a bias towards elitist, “high-art” cultural events: wine and exotic food tastings, vernissages, museum exhibitions, ballet performances, jazz shows, chamber music offerings and photography exhibits. While all of these certainly have an important place, they simply mirror the tastes of diplomats and create a blindspot to the leisure activities of the general public. Public diplomacy must go where the public goes. The average Canadian does not dress in formal wear or spend his or her leisure time in dark rooms; rather, the average Canadian seeks out popular culture and more inclusive events.
At this summer’s beer festival, I saw hundreds of Canadians from all walks of life eagerly approaching Alexander Brewery’s booth. Ori Sagy warmly received them and was quick to offer one of his cold beers. I overheard many of the conversations and a pattern emerged: people were amazed that Israel, of all places, brewed great craft beer. The buzz generated by extensive media coverage (four local and one national news story) and word-of-mouth made the Israeli booth the hit of the festival.
While we achieved our goal of giving the average “beer-drinking” Canadian a positive experience, what we did not expect were the connections and spin-offs from this event. Mr. Sagy forged a special bond with festival founder and Turtle Island Brewing owner,  J.P. Fournier. This friendship came to be after an incredible coincidence — the two breweries proudly brandish turtles in their logos. The two men shared a passion for beer and the same slow, turtle-like approach to brewing. They decided to turn this inspirational experience into a lasting partnership by agreeing to brew a special Canada-Israel friendship beer, which has since been put into production.
Public diplomacy has quickly emerged as a core element of any embassy. Recently, the buzz is over digital diplomacy and using social media to reach new audiences. However, at the end of the day, the key to any effective campaign comes down to tactile experiences that leave a lasting positive impression. The Embassy of Israel learned that beer, when used
appropriately, can foster connections with a wide range of audiences, in a way that is unmatched by elitist activities and digital technologies.

Eitan Weiss is the spokesman and head of public diplomacy at the  Embassy of Israel.

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Eitan Weiss is the spokesman and head of public diplomacy at the Embassy of Israel.

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