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
  • Multi 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.”

Shapiro and his many siblings — all involved in the eponymous brewery — are relatively new to the Israeli craft brew scene; they celebrated their first anniversary on August 16. But the path they took is a familiar one: They fell in love with American craft brews and decided to bring them home to Israel.

“Our oldest brother was living in Milwaukee about 15 years ago and used to come back and complain that we don’t have any good beer here,” said Shapiro. “He brought a brew-your-own beer kit and we started just for fun.” Shapiro later spent four months stateside, picking up the trade from local craft brewers: “I went to Colorado to see what things looked like outside my parents’ bathtub.”

Sagy, of Alexander Brewery, was looking to start a business of his own when he retired from the Israeli Air Force and decided to build on his love of beer. “I was making beer at home, and the beer that I wanted to start with were the beers I love myself,” he explained. “I really like the craft brews of America, and I’ve been influenced because I like the taste.”

Much like Taybeh, many Israeli craft beers have flavors that are unmistakably American. The beers are extremely bitter and hoppy, often finishing with an almost skunky flavor. “The Germans make really good lagers but they’re a little bit boring, and same with the British,” said Shapiro. “We are trying to make some different.”

Harley Zipori, who blogs about beer for the website IsraelSeen.com, says that the Israeli craft brewing industry has been influenced by more than just the taste of American beers. “There’s [also] the influence of the industry, which started from nothing in a culture which barely knew anything about beer and got to where they are today,” explained Zipori. “That gave them a model in terms of emulating craft breweries and going out and marketing it.”

While Israeli craft brewers are quick to pay homage to their American roots, not all are so quick to concede that Taybeh was truly the first of this kind in Israel. “We were the first craft beer in the whole Middle East,” said Khoury, “and now there are over 20 microbrews in Israel. They followed in my footsteps.” Zipori acknowledges that Taybeh was indeed the first craft brewery in the area. “But it’s the Middle East,” he said. “It’s not so easy to cross either the borders or the cultural divides.”

Despite these barriers, many of those in the forefront of the Israeli craft-brewing movement have visited Khoury’s brewery to learn from him. Shapiro overcame his reluctance to visit the occupied territories in order to visit Khoury’s brewery. He walked away with both enhanced respect for Khoury’s operations and a plan for a joint Israeli-Palestinian beer. “It would be good for me and good for him,” Shapiro opined.

When asked about Shapiro’s idea, Khoury equivocated. “I don’t know if my people are ready for a joint beer,” he said. But despite the persistent gulfs between Israelis and Palestinians, Khoury is happy to help: “I don’t mind sharing my knowledge because I was helped and supported by many home brewers. I want to give [Israelis] the education and support that I had.”

Nevertheless, Shapiro is optimistic: “Everyone loves beer. I believe beer will bring the peace.”

Jamie Levin is a PhD candidate in Political Science at the University of Toronto. He has contributed to Haaretz, the Jerusalem Post and the National Post.

Sarah Treleaven’s writing has appeared in the National Post, Globe & Mail, Toronto Star and the Montreal Gazette.


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!
  • Is Twitter Israel's new worst enemy?
  • More than 50 former Israeli soldiers have refused to serve in the current ground operation in #Gaza.
  • "My wife and I are both half-Jewish. Both of us very much felt and feel American first and Jewish second. We are currently debating whether we should send our daughter to a Jewish pre-K and kindergarten program or to a public one. Pros? Give her a Jewish community and identity that she could build on throughout her life. Cons? Costs a lot of money; She will enter school with the idea that being Jewish makes her different somehow instead of something that you do after or in addition to regular school. Maybe a Shabbat sing-along would be enough?"
  • Undeterred by the conflict, 24 Jews participated in the first ever Jewish National Fund— JDate singles trip to Israel. Translation: Jews age 30 to 45 travelled to Israel to get it on in the sun, with a side of hummus.
  • "It pains and shocks me to say this, but here goes: My father was right all along. He always told me, as I spouted liberal talking points at the Shabbos table and challenged his hawkish views on Israel and the Palestinians to his unending chagrin, that I would one day change my tune." Have you had a similar experience?
  • "'What’s this, mommy?' she asked, while pulling at the purple sleeve to unwrap this mysterious little gift mom keeps hidden in the inside pocket of her bag. Oh boy, how do I answer?"
  • "I fear that we are witnessing the end of politics in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I see no possibility for resolution right now. I look into the future and see only a void." What do you think?
  • Not a gazillionaire? Take the "poor door."
  • "We will do what we must to protect our people. We have that right. We are not less deserving of life and quiet than anyone else. No more apologies."
  • "Woody Allen should have quit while he was ahead." Ezra Glinter's review of "Magic in the Moonlight": http://jd.fo/f4Q1Q
  • Jon Stewart responds to his critics: “Look, obviously there are many strong opinions on this. But just merely mentioning Israel or questioning in any way the effectiveness or humanity of Israel’s policies is not the same thing as being pro-Hamas.”
  • "My bat mitzvah party took place in our living room. There were only a few Jewish kids there, and only one from my Sunday school class. She sat in the corner, wearing the right clothes, asking her mom when they could go." The latest in our Promised Lands series — what state should we visit next?
  • Former Israeli National Security Advisor Yaakov Amidror: “A cease-fire will mean that anytime Hamas wants to fight it can. Occupation of Gaza will bring longer-term quiet, but the price will be very high.” What do you think?
  • Should couples sign a pre-pregnancy contract, outlining how caring for the infant will be equally divided between the two parties involved? Just think of it as a ketubah for expectant parents:
  • Many #Israelis can't make it to bomb shelters in time. One of them is Amos Oz.
  • 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.