He's got some bottle

It's not easy brewing beer in the occupied West Bank. But, despite Israeli blockades and Islamic militants, one Palestinian entrepreneur has managed to create a truly exceptional lager, now on sale in Britain

If you had wanted to set up a brewery producing high-quality Pilsner to the specifications of the German Beer Purity Laws of 1516, the occupied Palestinian West Bank would be just about the last place you would think of trying.

If you had wanted to set up a brewery producing high-quality Pilsner to the specifications of the German Beer Purity Laws of 1516, the occupied Palestinian West Bank would be just about the last place you would think of trying.

Given the difficulties of transporting anything thanks to the Intifada and the Israeli checkpoints, not to mention the fact that the majority of the local market is made up of tee- total Muslims, it seems a crazy proposition. But Nadim Khoury, the dapper, American-accented proprietor of the Taybeh Brewery, doesn't seem crazy. He just happens to believe that his national pride is best expressed by making Palestine's first-ever beer.

"When we started, there was a peace process and we knew that tourism would be one of Palestine's best hopes for development. But any people visiting who would want to drink local beers would only be offered Israeli-made beer. I had studied in the US and got interested in beer when the micro-brewery phenomenon took off there in the early 1990s. I even did a brewing engineering course, and when I decided I wanted to come back and help my country, I knew it would be to create the first-ever Palestinian brewery."

Khoury is Christian, as is his home village of Taybeh, up in the West Bank hills north of Ramallah. But he still needed to get the support of the late President Arafat to forestall any criticism by Palestine's many Islamic militants. "We couldn't get any bank loans to get started, because the banks were scared of the idea of making alcohol on Palestinian soil. But the President was very supportive. He knew that we would be helping to break our dependency on Israeli goods," he says.

In addition to Arafat's approval, Khoury made the unusual decision for a Palestinian businessman of seeking endorsement from a Jewish settlement near his village. He had the rabbi from the Ofra settlement certify his beer as kosher so that he could sell it to the Israeli market. Before the start of the Intifada, 70 per cent of his sales were in Israeli bars and clubs.

However, the difficulties are not only religious and political. Apart from the local supply of spring water, Khoury has to import everything else he needs. His brew house is next to his family home in the village, and had to be kitted out from around the world. His mashing tanks are French, his fermenting vats are US and his filling line is from Germany.

But at least all of this equipment arrived before the start of the current strife. His hops come from Bavaria and the Czech Republic, the yeast from London and malted barley from Belgium and France. To maintain production, he needs to deal with the barrier, the checkpoints and the curfews that Israel has imposed on the West Bank. His costs have risen dramatically and supplies that take two weeks to get from Europe to Israel can then take another three months to finally reach him in the West Bank. Despite these difficulties, Khoury is convinced that getting the finest ingredients for his beer is his best chance of survival. His main product, Taybeh Golden, has just become available in the UK and he is hopeful that its high quality and unusual provenance will open a new market for him.

Khoury admits , "I was a bit optimistic at first and produced bottle-fermenting cloudy beers. I was also interested in trying fruit beers and all of the things that you increasingly find coming from the micro-breweries in the US. But the local market in the Middle East was too used to what I call 'mouthwash beers' - all chemical tasting and mass-produced."

"Most mass-produced beer," he continues, "has 10 chemicals in it, from foam stabilizers to colour regulators and preservatives that give it a longer shelf-life. We follow the German Beer Purity Laws of 1516 and only put in the four natural products: hops, water, barley and yeast. Absolutely nothing else - no corn or rice to bulk it out. Even very few German breweries make beer like this anymore, but the only way a small business can compete is by being distinctive."

That distinctive recipe has made Taybeh appeal to a following of European drinkers and the beer has been brewed under licence in Germany since 1997. This is the version which has been available for the past few months in the UK through the Alternative Beer Company, a small business set up by Rowan Davis, a peace campaigner who plans to give a share of her profits to Palestinian and Israeli charities.

Davis has mostly been supplying the beer to bars, restaurants and clubs around London but is now in the process of bringing her first batch of Taybeh direct from the West Bank to the UK. "The specialist bars and stockists are more interested in the original than the beer brewed under licence," she says. "But it's going to prove a big challenge getting shipments out of the West Bank. The hardest part is getting it through checkpoints from Nadim's brewery to the Israeli port. Even little things are more complex than they should be. Under British law, the labels on the bottles we bring in have to have the importer's name on, but even arranging to get a few boxes of these labels to the West Bank has taken weeks longer than it should."

Davis has so far been successful in getting her beer stocked by the simple method of sending out samples - because the beer really is very good. Taybeh Golden tends to be the tipple of choice for diplomats and reporters covering the dispute in Jerusalem. It has a slightly dark golden colour and its barley has been more malted than most lager, so giving it a mildly caramel and nutty taste. It is a little reminiscent of the Boston Lager produced by the Samuel Adams brewery, which is hardly surprising as Nadim once lived in Brookline, Massachusetts.

The brewery could do with the extra sales to the UK. Since the start of the Intifada, production has had to be cut by three-quarters as tourism to the region has dwindled and Israeli stockists have stopped selling it. In areas like Nablus and the Gaza Strip, the sale of alcohol, while still strictly legal, has ceased, as Hamas and other Islamic groups have grown stronger.

"It was just as well we didn't take out any loans," says Nadim, whose family has invested $1.5m [£800,000] in the business. "The banks would have come and taken the equipment. As it is we can survive by just covering our costs. It is sad, but what can we do? We need to have our own port - we need to have our own country - to be able to make our business work. But when we do, Palestine will have its own beer."

For more information, see www.taybehbeer.net. Taybeh Golden, £1.85/330ml, from The Alternative Beer Company, www.alternativebeer.co.uk

PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Sport
Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi during Barcelona training in August
footballPete Jenson co-ghost wrote Suarez’s autobiography and reveals how desperate he's been to return
Money
Welcome to tinsel town: retailers such as Selfridges will be Santa's little helpers this Christmas, working hard to persuade shoppers to stock up on gifts
news
Arts and Entertainment
Soul singer Sam Smith cleared up at the Mobo awards this week
arts + entsSam Smith’s Mobo triumph is just the latest example of a trend
News
Laurence Easeman and Russell Brand
people
Sport
Fans of Dulwich Hamlet FC at their ground Champion Hill
footballFans are rejecting the £2,000 season tickets, officious stewarding, and airline-stadium sponsorship
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    Junior Application Support Engineer (ERP / SSRS)

    £23000 - £30000 per annum + pension, 25days holiday: Ashdown Group: An industr...

    IT Systems Analyst / Application Support Engineer (ERP / SSRS)

    £23000 - £30000 per annum + pension, 25days holiday: Ashdown Group: An industr...

    SCRUM Master

    £30 - 50k (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a SCRUM Master to joi...

    Franchise Support Assistant

    £13,520: Recruitment Genius: As this role can be customer facing at times, the...

    Day In a Page

    Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

    Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

    Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
    Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

    Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

    The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
    New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

    New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

    Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
    Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

    Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

    The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
    DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

    Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

    Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
    The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

    Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

    The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
    Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

    Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

    The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
    11 best sonic skincare brushes

    11 best sonic skincare brushes

    Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
    Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

    Paul Scholes column

    I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
    Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

    Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

    While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
    Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

    Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

    Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

    A crime that reveals London's dark heart

    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
    Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

    Lost in translation: Western monikers

    Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
    Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

    Handy hacks that make life easier

    New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
    KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

    KidZania: It's a small world

    The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker