A New Generation of Craft Brewers Rises in the Middle East

After overcoming a slew of obstacles and red tape, brewers in Lebanon, Palestine, and Jordan have crafted a vibrant local beer scene.

A New Generation of Craft Brewers Rises in the Middle East

Experience Jordan’s Dead Sea in a completely different way at Carakale Brewing Company, which makes a beer using local pink grapefruit—and salt from the famous sea.

Photo by Eyad Shamieh

There are plenty of reasons to visit the Levant, the region comprised of Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Palestine, and Jordan: its rich cuisine, pristine beaches, and Phoenician, Greek, and Roman archaeological sites, to name a few. Beer, however, may not be on that list—but it should be.

Several craft breweries have opened in Lebanon, Palestine, and Jordan in the past decade, overcoming bureaucratic challenges—from high taxes on alcohol to restrictions on importing ingredients or equipment—and carving out space in Muslim-majority markets, where many don’t consume alcohol and some even refuse to do business with those who produce it.

Priot to this shift, liquor stores, hotels, and bars in the region stocked Heineken, Corona, and the occasional pilsener from a local brand with a foreign parent company, like Almaza in Lebanon. The new wave of regional craft breweries offers something the big brands never could: high-quality, small-batch brews infused with local flavors and personality.

“It’s like a revolution,” says Rafat Houary, owner-operator of Wise Men Choice Beer, a home-based microbrewery that opened in 2015 in the Palestinian town of Beit Sahour. Houary now delivers his brews to cafés, restaurants, and hotels in neighboring Bethlehem and repeat customers throughout Palestine. “There is a change in the beer culture here,” he says.

Locals and travelers alike can now order a local India Pale Ale alongside Moroccan, Armenian, and Lebanese dishes in Beirut’s Hamra neighborhood or a seasonal pumpkin ale flavored with Palestinian honey at Banksy’s Walled Off Hotel in Bethlehem.

Here’s where to find the best craft brews in the region.

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You don’t have to travel to Palestine to try Taybeh’s craft beer—the small company now exports to 17 countries around the world, including the United States.

Courtesy of Taybeh Brewing Company

Palestine

The oldest and most well-established craft brewery in the Middle East sits within the hills of Taybeh, a Christian village north of Ramallah. Madees and Canaan Khoury, the brother-sister owners of Taybeh Brewing Company, inherited the business from their father, uncle, and grandfather, who opened it in 1994.

“When they started, there was a stigma that Palestinian products were inferior to their Israeli or international counterparts,” explains Madees, brewmaster at Taybeh. “We proved this was not true.” Today, with more than a dozen beers—including brews made with wild thyme, prickly pears, and Arabic coffee—Taybeh has a committed local following and exports to 17 countries, including the United States and many in Europe.

Taybeh Brewing Company also hosts Palestine’s annual Oktoberfest. Each year, the event brings as many as 10,000 people to Taybeh, a village of only 2,000 residents, for a festival and bazaar featuring local food, crafts, music, and, of course, beer.

Not far from Taybeh, Birzeit Brewery opened in 2015.

Owner Alaa Sayej says that operating in the occupied West Bank comes with “a lot of constraints and obstacles,” including strict restrictions on imports and exports and limited access to resources like water.

“With these obstacles, we have to improvise,” he says. Birzeit Brewery collects rainwater and has an elaborate water treatment system to recycle water for cleaning and other auxiliary uses. The brewery also has a hydroponic farm where Sayej grows hops for small batches of special-edition beers.

Birzeit’s typical lineup includes an amber ale that pairs well with traditional foods, like hummus, fuul, and falafel, and a blonde pilsener lager that’s perfect alongside grilled meats and mezze.

Birzeit Brewery also offers brewery tours and sponsors the Shepherd’s Beer Festival every August. “My dream is to spread beer culture in Palestine more and more and evolve it,” Sayej explains.

While in Palestine, travelers can also watch for Houary’s Wise Men Choice brews, which are regularly sold in Bethlehem restaurants and hotels in Bethlehem. The brewery’s Bethlehem Pale Ale, flavored with local sage, is among its most popular.

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Carakale’s tasting room, just 12 miles west of Amman, overlooks the Blue Valley.

Photo by Eyad Shamieh

Jordan

In the small world of Jordanian craft beer, Carakale Brewing Company is king. Founded in 2010, Carakale is headquartered in Fuheis, a small town outside of Amman, and known for rich brews with fun names, like the seasonal N-Oaty Stout, an oatmeal stout with coffee and honey.

Yazan Karadsheh, Carakale’s founder, says he faced significant red tape and religious backlash as he upscaled his business from a backyard operation at his parents’ house to its current form. But he has always been buoyed by his mission: to create a local beer culture. Visitors looking for something unexpected should try Carakale’s Dead Sea-rious, a wheat-based sour and salty brew (known as a gose) made with pink grapefruit from the Jordan Valley and salt from the Dead Sea.

Lebanon

The seaside city of Batroun in northern Lebanon, just an hour outside of Beirut, is home to one of the Levant’s most exciting craft breweries: Colonel’s Brewery. Batroun is famous for fishing, surfing, and resort- and nightlife. Thanks to owner Jamil Haddad, who grew up in the city, Colonel Brewery’s brewpub on the beach echoes the laid-back, fun-loving spirit of its surroundings.

Colonel’s beachside bar, restaurant, and dance floor are open all week late into the night—revelers hold pints of the brewery’s passion fruit beer or gin and tonics made with Colonel’s craft gin, which Haddad started distilling in small batches in 2017.

Lebanon is also home to 961 Beer, headquartered in Mazraat Yachoua. Kamal Fayed, a managing partner at 961 Beer, says the brewery is proud to offer something new to local beer lovers tired of “imported goods and mass production.” For travelers, he suggests 961’s Lebanese Pale Ale, flavored with za’atar, aniseed, sage, and other local herbs. “We want you to come and take something back,” he says, “a memory and the taste of Lebanon.”

>>Next: Trailblazing Distillers: Four Women Taking the Booze World by Storm

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