Like many of his classmates, Alaa Sayey went home with a degree and an entrepreneurial spirit in 2013 when he graduated in economics. His dream? Opening of an artisanal brewery.
For Sayed the house is a village in occupied Palestine, a predominantly Muslim country where companies face strict restrictions on construction, import and export and access to vital resources such as water.
Sage, who currently owns and operates the Birzeit brewery, and other breweries in the West Bank, such as the Houry family of the Taipei brewery, say that maintaining a viable business in the region requires innovation and resilience.
By experimenting with local ingredients, we not only show our local taste, but also differentiate, communicate with consumers and support their interest. -Canan Houry, Taibeh brewery. -Can Houry, Taibeh brewery.
The complex business environment inspires intelligent solutions. Sayej has developed an advanced water purification system to reuse water for cleaning and other additional applications in the brewery. Hura fills the first and only Palestinian Halal beer in bottles and sells it. Both breweries organise annual festivals that serve to develop the local beer culture and attract new customers.
However, the latest trend in the Palestinian beer market is the inclusion of local ingredients, hand-selected from local farms, the surroundings or from the grandmother’s farm.
By experimenting with local ingredients, we not only show our local taste, but we differentiate and communicate with consumers and keep them interested, says Kanaän Khuri.
Canaan Houry donates during the Oktoberfest Taibeha festival on the West Bank beer from her eponymous brewery / Photo courtesy of Taybeh Brewing
Dealing with local ingredients in Palestinian breweries also means supporting local workers, protecting the environment and reducing dependence on foreign value chains.
We are quite limited in imports of products and raw materials, so it is advantageous for us to try to include as many local ingredients as possible in order to become more independent, Mr. Canaan said.
At the Birzeit brewery, about 30 minutes north of Ramallah, the sage pours local herbs, fruits and berries into experimental soups.
Our currant wheat beer was excellent, Sajj said. Four types of berries are used for brewing in small batches, which are picked on farms near Birzeit. Although he is popular with visitors to the brewery, Sayei says he has had problems marketing the new beers to a wider local audience. Even the award-winning Shepherd’s Stout Birzeit was slowly accepted on the local market.
Alaa Sayey (center), owner, Brewery Birzeit, with brothers / photo courtesy of Brewery Birzeit
Not far from Birzeit, in a Christian village called Taipei, the Churas run a Taipei brewery. Canaan and Madez Houry, the brother-sister of the duo that ran the company, inherited the brewery from their father, uncle and grandfather who opened it in 1994.
The Churas have made a name for themselves as owners and operators of the oldest artisanal brewery in the Middle East. The next generation is now the forerunner of the trend towards the emergence of indigenous flavors on the Palestinian beer market.
Mades is a brewer in Tabe. It’s fun for them to try new recipes, feed their curiosity and live out their obsessions. While Birzeit tries to get his experimental varieties recognized, Taybeh has managed to sell large quantities of his seasonal winter broth cooked with Palestinian honey. The Belgian-style wheat beer, filled with local coriander and fresh orange peels from nearby Jericho, also found its continuation.
Taibech also experiments with small parties, which are served at the brewery or at special events such as the local Oktoberfest. Local citrus fruits and wild herbs, Arabic coffee, prickly pears and even shutta, a regional red pepper often used to make hot sauce, were used in Khuri.
Madis Huri, considered as the first Palestinian brewery in the Middle East / Photo courtesy of Taibeh Brewery
My brother [Canaan] was so addicted to Arabic coffee, said Madez, who inspired the Arab coffee tribes. Kanaan developed an idea for his Palestinian herbalist camp when it happened on a wild thyme during a trip to the camp. Lemon Sitty Goze’s last batch of lemons was pulled out of her grandmother’s wood.
The next border with local ingredients is the use of Palestinian grains and hops. Citrus fruits and herbs can be used to make new types of beer, but grains and hops are the vitality of beer. If the West Bank brewers start to attract them from local sources, they will be much less dependent on foreign supply chains.
Both Sage and Kanaan have experimented with growing their own hops. Saya has had some success on the hydroponic farm and has also used hops to prepare small quantities of beer for special occasions. He hopes to increase the harvest sufficiently to be able to produce the Palestinian IPA. Canaan has also experimented with isolating local yeast strains for use in fermentation.
Despite the difficult environment in which they operate, the breweries on the West Bank have a promising future. Taibeh already exports to 17 countries in America, Europe, Asia and neighboring Jordan. Birzeit’s Shepherd’s range is available in four countries, says Sayej, who is negotiating with retailers to expand the range.
For foreign consumers, this means more opportunities to taste the best homemade beers the Middle East has to offer. And for the Palestinian diaspora it means a pleasant taste of home.
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