Get­ting a head

In a coun­try where many frown on drink­ing al­co­hol, en­trepreneurs show a new spirit

China Daily (USA) - - FRONT PAGE - By AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS in Fuheis, Jor­dan

In a land that frowns on al­co­hol, Jor­dan’s first craft beer, Carakale, is part of a small group of Arab brew­ers tak­ing on the big com­pa­nies that dom­i­nate the re­gion.

It took gump­tion to pour mil­lions of dol­lars into start­ing a brew­ery in an over­whelm­ingly Mus­lim coun­try where many frown on con­sum­ing al­co­hol.

Jor­da­nian beer pi­o­neer Yazan Karad­sheh is now tak­ing his next risky step, send­ing a first ship­ment of his Carakale to the U.S., where it will com­pete with thou­sands of brands in a $22 bil­lion-a-year craft beer mar­ket.

The 32-year-old Karad­sheh is part of a small but grow­ing brother­hood of Arab brew­ers in the Le­vant who want to nur­ture lo­cal beer-drink­ing cul­tures and com­pete against the brews of large com­pa­nies, some of them multi­na­tion­als that dom­i­nate the re­gion’s beer mar­ket.

Carakale is the first craft beer in Jor­dan. The West Bank al­ready has three in­de­pen­dent brew­eries — well-es­tab­lished vet­eran Tay­beh, new­comer Shep­herds and tiny Wise Men’s Choice, made in a base­ment near bi­b­li­cal Beth­le­hem. Le­banese brands in­clude Colonel, made at a large brew pub in the coastal town of Ba­troun, and 961, namedafter the coun­try’s in­ter­na­tional di­al­ing code. Small brew­eries have also sprun­gup in Is­rael over the past decade.

It’s a modest re­vival in a re­gion where beer-brew­ing tra­di­tions go back to an­cient Egypt and Me­sopotamia, but lay dor­mant for cen­turies.

De­mand is also up. Re­gional beer con­sump­tion in­creased by 44 per­cent over the past decade — though the close to 4 mil­lion hec­to­liters (105 mil­lion gal­lons) guz­zled in nine Arab coun­tries and Is­rael last year amount to a drop com­pared to U.S. con­sump­tion of 234 mil­lion hec­to­liters (6.1 bil­lion gal­lons), ac­cord­ing to in­dus­try fig­ures and IWSR, an al­co­holic drinks re­search com­pany.

Karad­sheh be­lieves there’s room for ex­pan­sion.

“Ob­vi­ously, they drink,” Karad­sheh, a mem­ber of Jor­dan’s Chris­tian mi­nor­ity, said of his com­pa­tri­ots. “Al­co­hol might be taboo, but you can find al­co­hol and buy al­co­hol eas­ily in the­mar­ket. Jor­dan is a very lib­eral place, com­pared to sur­round­ing coun­tries.”


Karad­sheh and other up-and­com­ing brew­ers — Shep­herds founder Alaa Sayej in the West Bank and Colonel cre­ator Jamil Had­dad in Le­banon — stum­bled onto their ca­reer-chang­ing pas­sion by chance.

Karad­sheh stud­ied en­gi­neer­ing in Boul­der, Colorado, a decade ago, but then got a sec­ond de­gree in brew­ing. Sayej, 27, earned a mas­ter’s de­gree in finance, but be­gan brew­ing in his UK dorm room. Had­dad, 33, quit a job in ad­ver­tis­ing to turn his long­time beer brew­ing hobby into a busi­ness.

In lib­eral, di­verse Le­banon, get­ting a brew­ing li­cense was a sim­ple pro­ce­dure un­fet­tered by so­cial taboos, said Had­dad. By con­trast, Karad­sheh and Sayej bat­tled red tape and re­li­gious backlash.

Sayej said of­fi­cials in the Pales­tinian self-rule govern­ment ini­tially re­jected his la­bel fea­tur­ing the draw­ing of a shep­herd, in­sist­ing it was a de­pic­tion of Je­sus and thus blas­phe­mous on a beer bot­tle. Sayej, a Chris­tian, said it took him three months to per­suade the au­thor­i­ties oth­er­wise.

There was also trou­ble in his home vil­lage of Bir Zeit, where he set up his brew­ery.

Once pre­dom­i­nantly Chris­tian, the vil­lage has a grow­ing Mus­lim pop­u­la­tion. At a re­cent Bir Zeit her­itage fes­ti­val, Shep­herds de­cided to re­move its booth after a lo­cal Mus­lim preacher railed against the brew­ery at the lo­cal mosque, say­ing it’s “haram,” or re­li­giously for­bid­den. Sayej said he with­drew be­cause he didn’t want to dis­rupt com­mu­nity re­la­tions, but that Shep­herds later staged its own fes­ti­val in Bir Zeit.

Karad­sheh’s ini­tial land deal for his brew­ery fell through be­cause the owner didn’t want to be linked to al­co­hol pro­duc­tion. Karad­sheh found an­other plot near Fuheis, a pre­dom­i­nantly Chris­tian com­mu­nity close to Am­man. Dur­ing con­struc­tion, a tile layer walked off the job, feel­ing it was wrong to work in a brew­ery.

Still, they man­aged to start brew­ing— Karad­sheh in 2013, Had­dad in 2014 and Sayej last year.

All three feel pas­sion­ate about what goes into their dif­fer­ent styles of beers, in­clud­ing sea­sonal brews for the sum­mer and for Christ­mas, as well as sta­ples like blond ale, wheat and stout beer.

Dif­fer­ent fla­vors

Karad­sheh and his on-site brewer, Jor­dan Wombeke, hope to break into the US mar­ket with beers in­fused with dis­tinctly Mid­dle East­ern fla­vors, such as a cof­fee porter with a pinch of car­damom and a hint of date mo­lasses.

“In gen­eral, peo­ple go to im­ports look­ing for some­thing dif­fer­ent, some­thing they ab­so­lutely can’t get lo­cally, and some­thing that is go­ing to last the trip over­seas,” said Wombeke, 28, who is from Cody, Wy­oming, and joined Carakale six months ago.

The first ship­ment of about 7,000 liters is to leave the Fuheis brew­ery in the com­ing weeks for a ware­house in New Jer­sey, for fur­ther dis­tri­bu­tion along the East Coast, said Karad­sheh.

Carakale will be com­pet­ing with prod­ucts from more than 4,500 craft beer brew­eries in the US, where two more mi­cro­brew­eries open each day, said Bart Wat­son, chief econ­o­mist at the Brew­ers As­so­ci­a­tion, which rep­re­sents in­de­pen­dent brew­ers.

Wat­son said it’s a chal­lenge to break into the com­pet­i­tive US beer mar­ket, worth more than $100 bil­lion a year, but that con­sump­tion of craft beers and im­ports is grow­ing. “Any com­pany that can dif­fer­en­ti­ate it­self and of­fer some­thing new has an op­por­tu­nity,” he said.

Sayej, who teamed up with younger broth­ers Khalid and Aziz — the com­pany slo­gan is “broth­ers brew­ing for friends” — also hopes to ex­port. He said he has pre­orders from Italy, the UK, Swe­den, Bel­gium and the US, but is wait­ing to in­stall pas­teur­iza­tion equip­ment this fall. Pas­teur­iza­tion helps beer sur­vive a long jour­ney, he said.

Sayej banks on the beer’s ori­gins for his mar­ket­ing strat­egy.

“We have the best in­gre­di­ent in the world to dis­tin­guish us,” he said jok­ingly. “It’s Holy Land wa­ter.”

Vet­eran brewer Nadim Khoury, who launched Tay­beh beer in the West Bank in 1994 and now makes 600,000 liters a year, takes pride in be­ing the first to put Pales­tine on the global beer map.

“We don’t have a coun­try,” Khoury said of decades of failed ef­forts to set up a Pales­tinian state. “But we have our own beer.”

Karad­sheh wants the same for Jor­dan— to “cre­ate the first in­ter­na­tion­ally rec­og­nized Jor­da­nian beer.”


The maker of Jor­dan’s first craft beer, Carakale, is part of a small but grow­ing group of Arab brew­ers in the Le­vant who want to nur­ture lo­cal beer-drink­ing cul­tures and com­pete against large com­pa­nies that dom­i­nate the re­gion’s grow­ing beer mar­ket.

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