Bethlehem brewery thriving in the West Bank

BETHLEHEM, West Bank — Like another carpenter from Bethlehem, Rafat Houary is hoping his second job makes a more positive, lasting impression on the world.

He is the sole brewer, owner and proprietor of the only microbrewery in this West Bank town most famously known as the birthplace of Jesus. A Palestinian Christian himself, Houary founded Wise Men Choice Beer in 2015, despite the fact the majority of people in Bethlehem abstain from alcohol due to their Islamic faith and everyone else pretty much drinks watery macrobrews.

“They started laughing, (asking) what are you doing,” Houary recalled. “They usually drink lager, the chap lager beer that we have.”

This didn’t deter Houary from getting creative – creating beers with ingredients like chocolate, coriander and aromatic malts. Wise Men Choice Beer currently has six craft beers in roation, and due to his small space and the fact he works solo, he only makes about 1,000 bottles a month. All of the ingredients are imported, except one, which he grows in his garden.

“One of the key ingredients for that local, Bethlehem taste is sage, which gives it a signature aroma and taste,” he said of his amber-colored Bethlehem IPA.

His motto for making beer is simple: brew what you like to drink and you will find customers.

“So use whatever you like, but let the customer like your beer,” he said.