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Palestinian Non-Alcoholic Beer

October 4, 2009

taybehThe fifth annual Palestinian Oktoberfest was held on October 3rd and 4th, at the mainly Christian town of Taybeh, West Bank. Located several kilometers north of Ramallah, Taybeh, is home to the first and only Palestinian beer – Taybeh Beer. Established in 1995, Taybeh Beer can also be found abroad, being sold and distributed in Germany, the United Kingdom and even Japan.

The two-day beer festival celebrates the town’s now famed beverage and markets other local Palestinian products such as olive oil, honey, and embroidery to international visitors, as an effort to boost the Palestinian economy.

This year’s Oktoberfest boasted a diverse program featuring Brazilian and Greek bands and traditional Japanese dancers. Organizers expected more than 10,000 visitors, a new record.

But what truly marks this Oktoberfest is that this year’s is the first to serve Taybeh beer’s new non-alcoholic line: Taybeh Halal, launched this year.

To beer enthusiasts and/or beer purists, serving the non-alcoholic kind at an Oktoberfest may sound sacrilegious. At an Oktoberfest in the West Bank where Muslims form the majority, however, having Taybeh Halal could address a wider clientele for those banned by religion from drinking alcohol.

Nadim Canaan Khoury, the Christian owner of the Taybeh Brewery, began preparing for the alcohol-free beer immediately after Hamas Islamists’ landslide win in the January 2006 parliamentary election. He changed the trademark gold bottle labels to green, the colour of Islam, for the non-alcoholic version. Khoury has not officially been approached by Hamas, but according to a Hamas official Taybeh Halal is just not enough.

In a heated debate on the BBC Arabic TV channel, aired on the opening night of the Taybeh Oktoberfest, a Hamas legislator Mushir al-Masri called Palestinian Authority Economy Minister Bassem Khoury’s government ”alcoholic”. Masri argued that brewing was illegal in the Palestinian territories, though that is not an interpretation widely understood outside of the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip. Minister Khoury retaliated and spoke of economic benefits that Taybeh Beer, as an important export, offers Palestinians.

Nadim Khoury told Reuters he had not seen the debate but said “Hamas can say whatever they want”.

“I make a living brewing beer, I am proud of it, and I will continue doing it,” he added.

Taybeh Halal was originally scheduled to launch in mid-2007 but it did not debut until July of this year. Why the delay? “It’s extremely hard to find a way to make tasty non-alcoholic beer at a microbrewery,” said Khoury.

With his encouragement, I gave Taybeh Halal a try.  But, hm. I think I’ll stick to the original for now.

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