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Monday, May 17, 2010

Beeronomics in the West Bank

Roger Cohen has a fascinating piece in today's New York Times about a microbrewery in Palestine. Formed in 1995 by a one-time New Englander, Taybeh ("delicious" in Arabic) formerly found sales mostly in Israel. Then things got tough:
The second intifada of 2000 cut Taybeh staff from 15 to zero by 2002. Hops, yeast and barley no longer reached them from the port of Ashdod. Sales in Israel collapsed. Jordan, to the east, became inaccessible. Soon the Israeli wall-fence started going up, cutting off Jerusalem to the west. Hamas in Gaza meant an end to sales of alcohol there.
The brewery has managed to turn things around, and is now selling most of their beer right in the West Bank. Cohen offers this analysis:
The company is not a bad barometer of the fast-growing West Bank economy and how, quietly, Prime Minister Salam Fayyad is building the elements and institutions of statehood. [Owner David] Khoury knows that, as he put it, “We could wake up one day and all this will be under siege again,” but he’s placing his faith in Fayyad’s “wise leadership.”
As businesses go, breweries are a good barometer. They require a balancing act that brings together imported ingredients (in the case of Middle Eastern breweries), distribution lines, and customers. Cohen makes a good case that the survival of Taybeh is a useful canary for the Palestinian coal mine.

To riff on this for a moment, Taybeh's example could be a metaphor for the history of brewing. One of the most important factors in shaping the development of styles is international politics. Trade relations can facilitate growth and bring in ingredients from around the world. The prevalence of orange peels in Belgian brewing attests to this. But bad trade relations can also cripple local breweries. Wars, too, exert their influence. Until the First World War, British beers were quite strong. Two World Wars and many grain rations later, they were far weaker--never to return to former levels.

Taybeh is one brewery, and isn't the strongest indicator. Still, if it can find a healthy local market and thrive, it says something about the country that's supporting it.

1 comment:

  1. Has Taybeh ever been victim to violence? I would imagine it would be dangerous to be involved in the alcohol business when there are those quite against alcohol consumption in that area!