Madees Khoury: Taste the revolution in Taybeh

TAYBEH, Occupied West Bank: Beer brewing is an industry long dominated by men. In the U.S., women began to penetrate the smaller independent breweries in the 1980s, but, as was noted in a recent article on the rise of women brewers in The Atlantic magazine, it’s only in the past few years that “they’ve been building a collective identity as women brewers, and not just ‘one of the boys.’

”Few women brewers could imagine that they have a colleague in the Palestinian West Bank in the form of 25-year-old Boston-born Madees Khoury.

Khoury is the daughter of Nadim Khoury, the brew master of Palestine’s Taybeh Beer. She has been working alongside her father full time since graduating from Bir Zeit University four years ago. One day she’s likely to take his place as master of the brew.

Taybeh microbrewery is located in the mainly Christian village from which it takes its name. Just over 20 kilometers from Jerusalem, it’s mentioned in the Old Testament.

Perched on a Palestine hilltop surrounded by Israeli settlements, the village benefits from pure spring water that Khoury said is the most important ingredient in Taybeh beer.

The water is hard-earned. Israel controls the main valve and “they give us a lot of trouble,” said Khoury. “They often close the valve that brings the water to towns around Ramallah. We can live with regulations and security checks. Of course it’s harassment. When the water is shut off for just one day this changes our production. We need water for everything. We have reserve tanks on roofs but it’s not enough.”

Madees Khoury’s family is an integral part of the community – her uncle David is the mayor – a well-off clan that had emigrated to Brookline, Massachusetts. They returned to the West Bank 25 years later, full of hope after the 1993 Oslo accords.

Khoury’s father Nadim began making beer in his college dorm when home brewing became a trend in the 1980s and went on to the University of California at Davis to study brewing science. The family decided to open a brewery in Taybeh in 1994, mortgaging their houses and putting up $1.2 million of their own savings, as no bank would give them a loan.

“Everyone said opening a brewery in the Middle East was crazy,” Khoury recalled.

Seventeen years later, Taybeh is still up and running, although some years are better than others. “As long as the situation is calm,” Khoury said, “then we do well.”

She was 10 when she moved from Boston to Taybeh, although every summer had been spent in the family village.

The eldest in a family of three, Khoury said her interest in brewing grew as she watched her family build a business and saw “how dedicated they all are” in the face of obstacles. “That’s what encouraged me to follow in my father’s footsteps,” she said.

She likes brewing, she said, because she feels it “combines science and art.” While she doesn’t have her father’s scientific background, she has learned from him, and has visited many breweries and taken courses in brewing and packaging.

Khoury recently won a scholarship for a German-run brewing program in China. “It was such an experience,” she said. “Everything was completely different from what I know. Even the way they brew their beer is totally different.”

Taybeh imports French and Belgian malt, and hops from the Czech Republic and Bavaria to make their entirely natural dark, amber and golden beer. The Khourys recently added a non-alcoholic beer to their line that people jokingly refer to as Hamas’ beer.

The brewery used to export most of its production to Israel but, since the second intifada, road closures and harassment at checkpoints have made deliveries and exports to other countries extremely difficult.

Khoury said non-alcoholic beer was necessary for the company to increase its market share in Palestinian cities where alcohol is forbidden – such as Hebron, Tulkarem, Jenin and Nablus. The 10 percent that Taybeh exports internationally goes to Japan, Sweden and Chile. Taybeh beer is franchised in Germany and then sold to Belgium and the U.K.

On brewing days Khoury is up at 4 a.m. and begins brewing an hour later. Taybeh’s output is currently 600,000 liters a year and Khoury is working on expanding the brand internationally.

“We’re doing that slowly because at the same time we like to stay small, to have more control over quality,” she said. “We’re trying to franchise in the U.S. … that would contribute so much to the company. A lot of Americans are very supportive and write to wish us good luck, and that motivates you.”

Khoury doesn’t seem to face undue discrimination in a traditionally male-dominated industry.

“My village is very supportive and proud,” she said. “They all say good things about me. I have some difficulty with narrow-minded people, like traditional old men who have been in business for 30 years and would rather deal with my father.

“There’s a little store in Taybeh that sells beer and when we had a small increase in price, the guy didn’t want to talk to me. This is insulting but I just look away.”

This attitude doesn’t differ much from what U.S. brew master Laura Ulrich is quoted as saying in The Atlantic. “When I’m with a group of brewers, people will walk up straight to the men and not even acknowledge me being a part of it,” she’s quoted as saying, “unless I introduce myself, it’s almost like I’m not there.”

Still, the industry is changing everywhere and Khoury sees an evolution in her transactions with new restaurants run by a younger generation, including women.

Khoury and her family will soon begin preparations for their annual Oktoberfest. “We have people emailing us from all over the world. Last year was our sixth annual festival and we hosted 12,000 people” she said proudly. She will be manning the Taybeh taps wearing a T-shirt with Taybeh’s logo: Taste the Revolution.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on June 22, 2011, on page 12.




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