The man who brought beer to Palestine

The man who brought beer to Palestine

Two decades ago Nadim Khoury founded Taybeh Brewery. Today, his beer is served in the West Bank, and around the world

Aside from beer, tiny Taybeh is renowned for hosting Jesus and his disciples. As we hurtle along the winding roads that hug the steep hills of the West Bank towards Palestine's Taybeh Brewery, taxi driver Khaled swerves around children, cattle and trucks with one hand and illustrates a frantic monologue with the other.

"In most countries, there is a pot of honey and the leaders have a little taste and then give the rest to the people, but here in Palestine it is the other way round," he shouts, as the car bounces violently over a pothole. 

"They give us a little taste and then they eat the whole jar."

I nod and smile as he offers me another cigarette and ploughs on towards our destination, the tiny village of Taybeh, still half an hour away.

“Aha! And now here are our Israeli cousins!” he suddenly shouts, laughing as an Israeli military base appears to our left, heavy guns and barbed wire atop the concrete barriers.

The bored soldiers hardly look up as we speed past, Khaled waving and smiling –- ironically, I sense –- with a cigarette lodged between his fingers.

Travel in Palestine is always intense, usually due to highly charged political conversations, ubiquitous military checkpoints or Israeli soldiers waving assault rifles. But the intensity of the hills and mountains that cascade down into the Jordan Valley are another thing entirely.

Here, tiny villages and mosque spires punctuate a rolling, olive-green landscape and in the spring or autumn clear air, cool breezes and blue skies are reminiscent of the best days of an English summer.

Lodged firmly amid this landscape is Taybeh, some 12 kilometers away from Ramallah in the hills north of Jericho, and a village once famous for hosting Jesus and his disciples for a few days before he returned to Jerusalem.

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From Boston to the West Bank 

Since 2005, foreign and Palestinian beer aficionados have been coming to Taybeh for the tiny village's annual Oktoberfest.Nowadays, Taybeh is far better known for Taybeh Brewery and its founder Nadim Khoury, who is credited with bringing beer to Palestine.

Nadim studied beer making in Boston in his teens and, inspired by American beers such as Sam Adams, moved back to Palestine to set up Taybeh after the 1994 Oslo Accords.

Since 2005, Taybeh has welcomed hundreds of foreign and Palestinian beer aficionados to the village for its annual Oktoberfest.

Taybeh beer is served throughout Israel and the Christian cities of the West Bank -– as well as Japan, Sweden, Germany and Belgium.

As the village appears, Khaled gets lost. But luckily the villagers are used to seeing taxi drivers and nervous-looking foreign passengers trawling around looking for the brewery.

A couple of u-turns, a gravel track and a huge steel gate later and we pull up outside the main building, where a vast opening gives way to huge steel drums, a production line and an overwhelming smell of hops.

With his bushy moustache and modest beer belly, Nadim Khoury looks like a brewer.

He rises from a cluttered desk just inside the entrance and shakes my hand with a disarming smile.

As I sit down on a tattered couch opposite a glass cabinet of Taybeh merchandise, workers chat over the hum of the machines, bottles clink in the background and Nadim walks to the fridge and brings back two bottles of cold beer.

"Maybe someday we can toast peace with Taybeh beer," says Nadim Khoury, Taybeh Brewery founder. He opens one and hands it to me as I begin to introduce myself and ask him about Taybeh, but I notice that he isn’t listening. He’s just looking at my open beer, and then at me, expectantly.

I pick it up and take a swig.

"And what do you think?” he says, immediately.

"It’s delicious," I say.

Nadim smiles, his top lip disappearing into his moustache, and relaxes in his chair.

"You know, Taybeh actually means 'delicious,'" he says, pushing a plate of snacks toward me across the coffee table.

"Now try it with the snacks," he says.

I do. It’s still delicious.

'We still don't have a country, but we have a beer'

It sounds too good to be true, but Taybeh –- or its root, Tayeb –- actually can mean delicious in Arabic, but is more commonly understood to mean "good" or "pleasant."

One legend has it that the legendary warrior Saladin, who once controlled much of the region, named it Taybeh because the he thought the people who lived there were so good-looking –- although it's more likely that its location, on the top of a picturesque hill, was a pleasant site for a village.

"This is a peaceful resistance actually," Nadim says, after a momentary silence, and looks at me as I raise my eyebrows.

“No, it is. Making beer and making business and being here. We still don’t have a country, but we have a beer, and I’m proud of that.”

Nadim produces three beers –- a lager, dark ale and an amber –- is building a hotel and looking to move into producing wine in the village.

“There are 17 types of grapes in Palestine and nobody has ever analyzed them, so for the past four or five years I have been experimenting in my basement,” Nadim says.

Taybeh Brewery's guided tours include a briefing on the history of the brand and, most importantly, a free sample. “When tourists come here they will soon be able to enjoy both beer and wine, and they can stay in a nice hotel.”

A tour bus arrives, and Nadim rises to meet a gaggle of American tourists that have been bussed in from Jerusalem, one of some 60 or so trips Taybeh Brewery receives every year.

Often the tour groups are religious pilgrims, stopping off on their way back from visiting religious sites at Hebron or Jericho, but increasingly backpackers and solo travelers make a liquid pilgrimage to Taybeh.

Before we say our goodbyes, I ask Nadim about the stigma attached to Palestine, particularly by tourists who have grown up with news reports of violence and unrest in the West Bank.

"Well, we need to change that," he says. "Some day it will happen. Maybe someday we can toast peace with Taybeh beer."

On the way back to Jerusalem the driver blares Arabic pop as the wind rushes through the open windows.

The sun is going down over the mountains, which will soon give way to the burning skips, congestion and filth of the Qalandia checkpoint; the tension of Jerusalem, its bloody history and disputed sites.

I think of Taybeh and its meaning and I think Saladin, warrior par excellence though he was, undersold it.

Brewery tours 

Taybeh Brewery produces three beers –- a lager, dark ale and an amber. Taybeh Brewery is open Monday to Saturday, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. 

Tours are free and last approximately 30 minutes, which includes a seven-minute video of the brewing process and short history of the company.

Visitors are given a free Taybeh beer sample, then a guided tour inside the brewery. 

After the tour, all visitors will have the chance for a Q&A discussion and can hit the gift desk for souvenirs and beer. 

How to find it: Taybeh Brewing Company, Taybeh Road 1, Taybeh, Ramallah District; +972 (0)2 289 8868; Taybehbeer.com. Taybeh village is just outside Ramallah, 20 kilometers from Jerusalem. 

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