Bubbling Up Across Holy Land

How a Palestinian Brewer Transformed Israel's Beer Culture

Cold One: Nadim Khoury, a Palestinian brewer who learned the trade in the United States, helped shape the microbrew industry and flavor in Israel.
Courtesy of Taybeh Brewing Company
Cold One: Nadim Khoury, a Palestinian brewer who learned the trade in the United States, helped shape the microbrew industry and flavor in Israel.

By Jamie Levin and Sarah Treleaven

Published September 05, 2012.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

Beer is almost as old as recorded history. The ancient Egyptians drank it, as did the Mesopotamians. Hammurabi’s code even regulated how it was made and where it was consumed. And though wine was the drink of choice of the ancient Israelites, modern Israelis have increasingly quenched their thirst with beer.

The modern history of beer in the Holy Land has been dominated by two industrial brands: Goldstar and Maccabee, brewed from 1950 and 1968 respectively. Tuborg and Carlsberg, which are brewed domestically, joined the scene in 1992. These are all light, easy-drinking beers — the stuff zayde might drink on a hot day.

But the beer story in Israel is changing.

International brands have proliferated on makolet (corner grocery) shelves and from barroom taps since the mid-1990s. And, more recently, Israeli craft brewers have begun offering a range of small-batch, artisanal beers. Israelis have developed a taste for the seasonal varieties and experimental flavors characteristic of craft beers, which they first encountered abroad. “People are now looking for better bread, better cheese, better chocolate, and the same thing is happening with beer,” said Ori Sagy, the founder of Alexander Brewery in Northern Israel. “We’re part of a small revolution.” Sagy, a retired fighter pilot, is characteristic of Israel’s new breed of craft brewers: He’s passionate about beer and found the offerings in the Israeli market wanting.

The local brewing scene’s trailblazer is considered by most to be Dancing Camel of Tel Aviv, which opened in 2006. While many Israelis love the deep, hoppy taste of their homegrown brews, what they often don’t know is that the origins of these craft beers lie in an American brewing tradition that was first brought to the region by a Palestinian brewer.

More than a decade before Dancing Camel opened, Nadim Khoury, an affable, middle-aged Palestinian Christian, opened Taybeh brewery on the outskirts of Ramallah. Taybeh was certified kosher and marketed to Israelis. But, with the onset of the second intifada, Taybeh lost its kosher certification and is now hard to find in Israel. However, its influence lives on. Israeli microbrews have followed Taybeh’s hoppy taste, which itself is strongly reminiscent of American craft brews such as Sam Adams and Sierra Nevada, the beers favored and emulated by Khoury.

For Khoury, brewing started as a dorm-room hobby at Boston College in the 1980s, and was carried home in a suitcase. “I would bring one or two home-brew kits and make beer for my family,” he said. “They were surprised that I was making good beer.” Khoury’s family encouraged him to study brewing back in the United States.

After Khoury moved back to the Middle East and set up his brewery, Taybeh sold its first batch at the height of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process in 1995. The beer proved extremely popular among Israelis. “When we opened we were selling 70% to Israel,” said Khoury. “There was no checkpoint; there was no wall. It was easy to get in.”

Then came the second intifada, and with it declining sales. Taybeh lost its kashrut certification, and today Khouri says he sells only 30% of his output to the Israeli market. Taybeh is now largely limited to the periphery, bars described by Israeli brewmaster Itzik Shapiro, of Shapiro Beer in Beit Shemesh, as “places where artists, leftists and hipsters hang out.”


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • “I don’t want to say, ‘Oh oh, I’m not Jewish,’ because when you say that, you sound like someone trying to get into a 1950s country club, “and I love the idea of being Jewish." Are you a fan of Seth Meyers?
  • "If you want my advice: more Palestinians, more checkpoints, just more reality." What do you think?
  • Happy birthday Barbra Streisand! Our favorite Funny Girl turns 72 today.
  • Clueless parenting advice from the star of "Clueless."
  • Why won't the city give an answer?
  • BREAKING NEWS: Israel has officially suspended peace talks with the Palestinians.
  • Can you guess what the most boring job in the army is?
  • What the foolish rabbi of Chelm teaches us about Israel and the Palestinian unity deal:
  • Mazel tov to Idina Menzel on making Variety "Power of Women" cover! http://jd.fo/f3Mms
  • "How much should I expect him and/or ask him to participate? Is it enough to have one parent reciting the prayers and observing the holidays?" What do you think?
  • New York and Montreal have been at odds for far too long. Stop the bagel wars, sign our bagel peace treaty!
  • Really, can you blame them?
  • “How I Stopped Hating Women of the Wall and Started Talking to My Mother.” Will you see it?
  • Taglit-Birthright Israel is redefining who they consider "Jewish" after a 17% drop in registration from 2011-2013. Is the "propaganda tag" keeping young people away?
  • Happy birthday William Shakespeare! Turns out, the Bard knew quite a bit about Jews.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.