There were no drunk men singing Bavarian folk songs wearing lederhosen. There was face painting, a climbing wall, and live Arabic music at the Taybeh Brewery in the West Bank. There was also some really good beer.
Oktoberfest (which is usually held on a September weekend before the weather turns cold) attracts thousands of visitors including diplomats, journalists, and even a few Israelis. While Taybeh is in Area A (the part of the West Bank that is under sole Palestinian control, and Israelis are not allowed to visit without special permission from the army), it is just a few minutes off Road 60, the main road that runs through the West Bank, making it easy for Israelis to reach.
Maria Khoury, who is one of the organizers of Oktoberfest, says it began in 2005 as a response to the needs of the community.
“There was 50 percent unemployment and the people were putting pressure on my husband who was the mayor at the time,” Khoury told The Jerusalem Report
in an interview. “We wanted to tell people, “Come, have a glass of beer and while you’re here, buy the local products.”
That first Oktoberfest, she said, many of the local merchants did as much business in the two-day festival as they had in the past year.
“It was successful and we kept repeating it,” she said. “It became the biggest party in Palestine.”
The Taybeh Brewery was opened in 1994 soon after David and Maria Khoury moved back to the West Bank from the US in the wake of the Oslo Accords signed between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. There was a sense that a Palestinian state was about to be created and the Khourys wanted to be part of that.
“Taybeh beer is the sense of normality in Palestine,” David Khoury said in an interview. “We promote democracy in Palestine. We want to show the world that we are not terrorists and we are a peaceful people.”
The master brewer in those days was David’s brother Nadim. Today Nadim’s son and daughter make the beer, as well as a line of wines in Taybeh’s new state of the art winery.
The beer is all made to the highest German standards.
“What’s unique about the beer is the water itself,” Madees Khoury, one of the only female brewers in the Middle East, told The Report
. You can make the same beer anywhere in the world but it will taste different because of the water. We use spring water, which is found three kilometers away from Taybeh.”
She said that women were the original brewers in this area in the ancient world, but as far as she knows, she is the only female brewer in the Middle East.
The brewery bottles five different beers, which are sold all over the world, including in wine shops in Israel.
The bestseller is the golden, which is often available on draft at restaurants in the West Bank and east Jerusalem.
“It’s our flagship beer,” Madees Khoury said. “It’s a German golden lager, crispy, not too malty and not too hoppy. It suits a variety of taste buds.”
There is a dark beer with a slightly higher alcohol content of six percent. This style was reportedly started by monks, and uses more malt than the golden. There is also an amber beer, which is lower alcohol and aged longer, as well as a unique “white beer,” a wheat beer with coriander, orange peel, hops, and yeast.
And for the younger set, there is “Hamas beer,” a non-alcoholic beer with a green label. Nadim Khoury, the founder of the brewery, insists that the media is the one that named it “Hamas beer.” Islam prohibits the use of alcohol, and under Hamas, no alcohol is sold in the Gaza Strip.
For Oktoberfest, Canaan Khoury, Nadim’s son and the current master brewer, tried out several new beers. Canaan, who has a degree in mechanical engineering from Harvard University, changed tracks and later studied beer making. There were five new beers to taste at the festival including an Arabic coffee stout with cardamom, a sour beer, and a beer made with shatta, a local spicy red pepper that had quite a kick.
Canaan lit up when describing one of the new beers.
“We have a Palestinian herbal lager with spices like sage, anis, sumac and wild zaatar from the mountain behind me,” he said. “The aroma is phenomenal and we’re probably going to bottle it.”
He says he’s always been passionate about brewing beer. One of his earliest memories is folding cartons in the brewery.
Taybeh is an all-Christian village near Ramallah. Canaan says there have been no tensions with their Muslim neighbors over their beer.
“Drinking in Islam is like premarital sex in Christianity,” he said. “Even if you’re not supposed to do it, it doesn’t mean that you don’t do it. Most of my friends are Muslim and they all drink.”
Taybeh currently produces 600,000 liters of beer each year. It is exported around the world, including to Europe and the Far East.
The Khourys, who were leading successful lives in the US, came back to their family village in the West Bank to help build a Palestinian economy, and they hoped, a Palestinian state. It has now been 25 years since the Oslo Accords, and most Palestinians say they believe peace is further away than ever.
Yet the Khourys say they remain optimistic about the future.
“I have nothing left except hope for the future,” Nadim Khoury, the founder of the Taybeh brewery says. “Someday we will be free. There are not too many countries in the world still occupied. We started small, now we have a winery, a hotel, and an olive oil company. This is how Palestine should be.
His brother David, the former mayor of the village chimes in.
“Hopefully, some day we will have a two-state solution and we will have peace,” he said. “And I hope we’ll toast that peace with Taybeh beer.”
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