Palestine's Taybeh Brewery is a hop-ful symbol of national pride
The story of Palestine’s first beer brewery is one of defiance, duty, but above all, family.
The family-run Taybeh Brewery founded by Nadim Khoury in 1994 opened after years of toil and a green light from none other than Yasser Arafat himself.
The beer tzar fondly recalls his daughter Madees “rushing into the brewery at the age of nine to help pack the bottles of beer into the boxes.”
"Much like their father’s early days of hustle, the second-generation beer brewers’ perseverance and adaptability very much reflect the wider Palestinian struggle against occupation"
Madees, now 36, would go on to become the first female beer brewer not only in Palestine but likely the entire Middle East.
Adopting the family’s beer obsession was a no-brainer for her.
“We drink it every day, we never get sick of it,” Madees says.
The family is passionate about the business, including the recently launched winery, but that does not mean running it is without its headaches.
“My kids don’t listen to me,” Nadim laments as his children forge their own paths in the industry.
Madees and her brother Canaan, 30, might not always follow their dad’s instructions dutifully but the brewery is in good hands and they have great respect for Nadim’s mission.
“We’re a family business and my father and uncle have a passion for what they do, a love for the country and for the town,” Canaan explains.
“Watching them work really hard non-stop even until their mid-60s, shows their passion and perseverance. They've gone through so many difficulties and challenges throughout the years and they've overcome them all.”
The self-described “man with a mission”, Nadim passed down the strong sense of obligation to Palestine he learned from his father.
Nadim’s dad insisted his business graduate son return from the US after the 1993 Oslo Accords because he had a duty to his homeland.
The Oslo Accords between the Israeli government and the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO) gave the fleeting hope of autonomy and as Canaan describes, “a big movement for people to come back and build the economy.”
Nadim fell in love with beer brewing while in the US, knowing his contribution to Palestine would be a ground-breaking beer company and a legacy “sustainable for my grandchildren.”
“My proudest moment has been opening the first microbrewery in the Middle East,” Nadim explains.
But trying to establish an alcohol manufacturing business in a country with a majority Muslim population was not without hurdles.
After 10 years of trying, Nadim took the drastic step of flying to Tunisia with his brother to meet with PLO leader Yasser Arafat where he lived in exile until 1993.
Arafat gave the men the green light because he saw they shared a common purpose – a prosperous and free Palestine.
“He was open-minded to our idea, and recognised we had the same vision,” Nadim says.
Not long after, Taybeh brewery opened and has become a remarkable success story.
“This has been a long process,” Canaan recalls adding, “we had to start by educating the consumers about different kinds of beers and trying to get them caring about quality.”
With time people realised the brewery was an invaluable asset, not only to the local community in Taybeh, a small Christian town about 18 kilometres north-east of Ramallah but throughout Palestine, thanks to the company’s policy of only using locally grown products.
“The [grape] farmers used to sell to wineries in Israel, but often their grapes would be held at the border and then go bad, they would also not get paid the full price for their grapes,” Canaan says.
“They were extremely happy we opened the winery because it’s only a 30-minute drive, no need for permits… and no need for any problems.”
Taybeh helps bolster the local economy and directly employs around 20 locals, many of whom have worked there for decades.
Even a number of practising Muslims work at the brewery.
“Like this gentleman who just walked by, he has never drunk alcohol and can brew the perfect beer,” boasts Canaan as he points to a passing worker.
Taybeh has also been at the centre of tourism growth, thanks to its annual Oktoberfest which is making its return this September after a Covid-induced three-year hiatus.
The festival brings in 15,000 visitors from around the world for the two-day celebration, which sees the local town’s streets lined with food and craft stalls.
“They sell more in those two days than they do all year,” Canaan says.
The family is constantly driven to create tasty, top-quality beers designed to be enjoyed as fresh as possible.
None of their beers at a bar or liquor store in the country was brewed more than three months before delivery, if you’re lucky you could even land yourself a beer that’s been bottled and delivered on the same day.
"Taybeh helps bolster the local economy and directly employs around 20 locals, many of whom have worked there for decades"
Taybeh’s limited edition range consists of unique blends including the Palestinian Herbal beer with za’atar, sage and anise.
They also make seasonal beers like their Winter Lager and recently launched their first non-alcoholic beer.
Canaan even insisted on creating a Taybeh IPA after falling in love with the beer while studying in the US.
“It’s gone on to be one of our best sellers,” he explains proudly.
Around 70% of Taybeh’s market is in Israel where their beers take pride of place in cities with significant Palestinian populations, such as Haifa and Jaffa.
While some Israelis may be opposed to drinking a Palestinian beer – as was the case in 2017 when locals in Haifa boycotted an Israeli-owned bar that stocked another Ramallah beer, Shepherds – many are just as curious to try it. Outside of Israel most of their market is in Europe with Taybeh also available to buy in the USA, Japan and Chile.
Much like their father’s early days of hustle, the second-generation beer brewers’ perseverance and adaptability very much reflect the wider Palestinian struggle against the occupation.
Often their exports are held up by Israeli authorities which affects revenue, or on the other end, critical infrastructure and ingredients, such as malt, can be delayed reaching them, holding up production.
Then there was the time, contrary to the Oslo Accords, Israel cut off the water supply leaving homes and businesses without running water for two weeks.
“Resilience is everything,” Canaan explains, describing trying to get to school in Ramallah during the violent Second Intifada.
“There were checkpoints every day and it was unpredictable.”
He describes always having “to think on a whim”, whether it was escaping the wrath of Israeli soldiers or finding ways to still study without electricity.
“Our upbringing taught us to be resilient, to be creative and think of solutions, to tackle the many problems that we have,” Canaan adds.
“The other alternative was to not challenge yourself, I guess, to just give up and just be like, ‘well, I'll just work in a shop or something.”
Clearly not shy of a challenge, the family branched out into winemaking, with a range named after Nadim himself.
The label pays homage to the family patriarch, with his name carved out in bold letters below a golden tree serving as its unshakeable roots, whose branches represent each member of the family.
“In Arabic, Nadim means drinking companion,” Nadim explains.
So was Nadim born to brew beer and his destiny foretold when his parents named him?
As ever, Nadim brings it back to his grand purpose: “More importantly we have shown the world that Palestinians can live freely.”
Shannon Power is a freelance journalist. Their work can be found in The Guardian, The Independent, Metro, SBS Life, The Sun, Monocle & more.
Follow them on Twitter: @shannonjpower