Craft Beer In The Middle East Bringing Beer Back To Its Birthplace

The commonly held belief is that brewing began at the dawn of civilization when migratory man stopped moving and, instead of searching for food sources, domesticated his own, with the Fertile Crescent—today’s Egypt, Jordan, Israel, Syria, and Iraq—being the first settlements. Wild grasses provided the grains that could produce food, drink, and alcohol, whereby mixing varying amounts of water with crushed grain gave the liquid base for three very important products: bread, porridge, and beer. Allow that liquid to ferment and you get a drink that gives you a pleasant feeling of intoxication and also additional nutrition from vitamins, minerals, and fermentation.

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That was 10,000 years ago but, while beer was born in this part of the world, it has effectively been extinct there for millennia, with bread becoming the important staple in an Arab region of alcohol-avoiding Muslims. But, as with everywhere else in the world, craft beer is flowing in the Middle East and it’s taking brewing back to its birthplace.

In Jordan, there’s the Carakale Brewing Company (Fuhays, Amman, 11821 Jordan), the country’s first craft brewery. You can drink Palestinian Shepherds Beer from the Birzeit Brewery (Basateen Street, Old City Birzeit, Ramallah, Palestinian Territories). In Lebanon, there’s Colonel (Bayadir Street, Batroun, Lebanon), the Middle East’s first brewpub, which is by the sea in Batroun. There’s also 961 Beer (Mallah Building, Industrial Zone, Mazraat Yachoua, Lebanon).

Israel is the craft beer hotspot of the region, with around 30 small brewers. The Dancing Camel (HaTa’asiya Street 12, Tel Aviv-Yafo, Israel) was the first to open in 2006—their Tel Aviv brewery and taproom is an essential stop. Tel Aviv, in general, is the place to visit to drink the broadest range of Israeli beer, with the Beer Bazaar being a top spot (they have four bars in Tel Aviv and one in Jerusalem; check out www.beerbazaar.co.il). At these you can get 100-plus Israeli bottles and a selection of draft beers. Other Israeli brewers to look for include Jem’s, Alexander, Negev, Malka, and Herzl.

One thing to note: these breweries use local ingredients to gain local favors. Fruit is common, as are herbs, and spices; 961’s Lebanese Pale Ale includes za’tar, sumac, camomile, sage, anise, and mint; Dancing Camel make beers with pomegranate, date honey, and local herbs;

Negev brews with passion fruit; Lela Brewery has a Jaffa orange Wheat. Most breweries have a range that includes a pale lager, a red ale, and a stout, plus other brews.

When we think about beer destinations, we automatically have images of Bavarian beer halls, old British pubs, quirky Belgian bars, and big American brewpubs. But craft beer is happening everywhere, almost always led by determined individuals who want to change local drinking habits. It’s now happening where beer was born.

Fancy a Beer in Armenia?

Dargett is Armenia’s first craft brewery. It’s in the capital city of Yerevan, one of the world’s oldest inhabited cities, and they brew Central European lagers and Wheat beers, Belgian ales, and fruity brews, plus bigger, bolder American hoppy styles. Their tasting room has 20 beer taps and a menu with dishes from all around the world. You might not go there specifically for beer, but if you’re in Armenia, then you know you can get a decent drink (Dargett Craft Beer, 72 Aram Street, Yerevan 0001, Armenia).

Drinking local beers at the Jerusalem Beer Festival.

The Jerusalem Beer Festival

Put the Jerusalem Beer Festival on your go-to list. It’s been held annually in late August/early September since 2004 and you’ll find over 120 different beers in the open-air festival. Visit www.jerusalembeer.comi for details.

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