Like the wheel, and the first cities in the world, beer is a key element of human civilization and is one such element in the Arab world. Here is a list of some of the region’s most popular brews.
Almaza – Lebanon
Lebanon’s number one beer since 1933, Almaza is a 4% alcohol, German-style pilsner lager. Brasserie Almaza, part of Heineken International since 2002, produces an estimated 24,000 bottles per hour. With the added competition in recent years from newcomers such as 961, Almaza has had to up its game. The company has launched its stronger and darker 6% alcohol Almaza Pure Malt, billed as a “beer for connoisseurs”, as well as the low calorie Almaza Light.
Barada – Syria
Syria once boasted two home grown beers – Al-Sharq from Aleppo, and Barada from Damascus. Barada, a 3.4% pale lager, was the larger producer, despite its somewhat unpredictable taste. With the onset of the country’s uprising in 2011, the Syrian government apparently decided to showcase its reformist zeal by giving Barada the exciting new name Turbo. What exactly was supposed to be achieved is anyone’s guess, but it clearly didn’t work. After years of putting up with substandard beer, Syrians leveled the Barada factory with continuous shelling in summer 2012.
Stella – Egypt
Egypt is home to many local brews, from Luxor Nubia, to the Weissbier or white beer of Luxor Weizen, and the amber lager of Sakara Red. The most famous, however, is Stella. With no relation to its more famous Belgian namesake, Egyptian Stella nevertheless has a long heritage, and has been brewed in the same factory for 115 years. The 4.5% pale lager suddenly became an election issue in 2012, when presidential hopeful Abdel Moneim Abul Fotouh promised to close breweries if voted into office. His pledge prompted the so-called "Stella March," when hundreds of young people marched on parliament in a bid to save their beer.
Petra – Jordan
The Middle East’s strongest beer, if not perhaps its most flavorsome, Petra boasts an impressive 8% alcohol. It is a malt liquor beer brewed in Amman and not, as its name would suggest, near Petra’s famous "Rose City." It is certainly an acquired taste, and for those who can’t cope with its potent kick, luck is at hand – Amman is also home to an Amstel brewery.
Taybeh – Palestine
Palestine’s only brewery was founded in the early 1990s, when Nadim Khoury returned from America to the small West Bank town of Taybeh. Marketed as “the finest beer in the Middle East,” Taybeh comes in three forms – Golden, Dark, and Amber, varying between 5 and 6% alcohol. Today, the village of Taybeh hosts its own annual Oktoberfest, and its beer is making inroads abroad, brewed under license in Germany for the European market.
Casablanca – Morocco
Although it is marketed as “the legendary beer from the legendary city,” in truth Casablanca has only been produced since 1996. This 5% pale lager, created by Brasseries du Maroc, is the country’s best selling beer, and also enjoys considerable success abroad – 37% of production is exported, primarily to the US market.
Farida – Iraq
Iraq’s number one beer, Farida, certainly has a long history by regional standards, and was first brewed back in 1956. Eastern Brewery, the company behind the 5% lager, enjoyed its best fortunes under Saddam Hussein and the Baath Party. It reportedly produced around 30 million bottles of Farida annually during the 1980s. In recent years, however, Farida has fallen on hard times, and as of 2004, the Iraqi authorities began clamping down on the country’s domestic breweries.