“It’s pretty unique.”
Ayham, a onetime client turned bartender at Carakale Brewing Company in Jordan, gives a little smile while handing over a glass of their Coffee Porter. Chocolate and caramel wafting from the roasted malts melds with a little local twist. “The cardamom reflects the Middle East, this area, this region.” Freshly roasted Arabic coffee in the mix further cements the local feel of the beer. In this the Coffee Porter is not alone. The Imperial Red Ale likewise offers a tasty use of local date molasses. Here at Carakale the idea is not simply brewing local but to make beers that reflect the country, and the Middle East as a whole, in which they are crafted. Carakale is set to be an ambassador of the Middle East to the world through the common love of craft beer.
Jordan is not ‘dry’ when it comes to alcohol, unlike a number of countries in the Middle East, although it is not quite publically supported (Islam bans alcohol). When it comes to beer, the market has long been one of lager and its pilsner variant imports, especially Amstel out of the Netherlands, the defacto national beer of Jordan. One finds a similar situation around the globe as hot climates nurture consumer markets for lighter beers. Tonia in Nicaragua. Cristal in Peru. Victoria in Mexico. And, for the most part, the beers are brewed under license by one of the big multinational conglomerates with either a national label or simply as an import that has become so ingrained it feels national.
Yazan Karadsheh, a Jordanian who developed his taste for beer in the United States, is changing the situation. Carakale is Karadsheh’s entrepreneurial statement of national beer independence. Having gone to college at the University of Colorado at Boulder, Karadsheh found himself surrounded by a vast selection of beers beyond the Jordanian staple of commercially friendly lagers. American craft beers tend towards hoppier variants, backed by a selection of darker ales, something missing from the offerings in Jordan. Karadsheh passionately took to the American beer scene and went from home brewing to graduating from the Masters Brewing Program at University of California Davis and on to working at a the microbrewery Upslope Brewing Company in Colorado. While at the latter, his recipe for a Dunkelweizen won bronze at the 2009 Great American Beer Festival.
Bringing his passion for craft beer home to Jordan, and the desire to launch a brewery of his own, became a passionate uphill battle many years in the making. Karadsheh sustained himself through a home brewery built at his parents’ home while he dealt with the bureaucracy required to get a large scale business up and running in a country that had no past experience with licensing a brewery. After years of setbacks, the situation changed almost overnight thanks to the efforts of one well-placed government connection, and Carakale was up and running — at least on paper. Karadsheh chose a location in a beautiful valley near the town of Fuheis, just a short drive from Amman and a largely Christian area, and went on to assemble the necessary infrastructure while dealing with reluctant anti-alcohol contractors and the looming security concerns that come with building a brewery in a largely Muslim country.
Establishing Carakale was one thing; changing the tastes of local consumers is a battle unto itself. “We are trying to create a beer culture in this country,” Ayham explained. “Imagine you have been drinking lagers for the past 60 years of their life, you give them a red ale, and they’re like ‘what’s this, it’s juice’…. we are trying to change their minds.” Bringing drinkers into the world of craft beers, particularly when hops and roasted malts are involved, has meant a strategy of guiding them through lighter ales — Carakale’s signature Blonde Ale being a prime choice — into those with more body. “Step by step they get to know each and every one.” For those who are interested in going even more experimental, the brewery is in he midst of creating what may be the first barrel-aged beer in the Middle East, placing their Red Ale and Coffee Porter into red wine barrels for seven months, thereby infusing the beers with a hint of the wine’s smooth fruitiness.
Whereas many people come for the beer, Carakale is as much a gathering spot as it is a brewery. Adorned with a lovely modern tap room, large selection of onsite beers, and balcony overlooking the majestic valley, the draw is undeniable. “People love it here…. they get here, see some nice space, nice view, fresh air, some people bring their children, their pets, chill out here, they socialize out there (on the balcony)… we have a grill people can use for free.” By going beyond beer and into providing valuable amenities, Carakale has undertaken a business model set on entrenching themselves in the community.
Success has not only been local. Carakale can now be found in New York as well as via collaborations with American breweries. In 2017 they teamed up with Arizona Wilderness Brewing Company to create Dead Sea-rious, a gose style sour making use of Dead Sea salt, coriander, and grapefruit from the Jordan Valley. Early 2018 had the brewery getting together with Against The Grain in Kentucky to produce Snap, Carakle, & Hop!, a Middle Eastern twist on an IPA that makes use of dates and goat lactose. In May 2018 Carakale was chosen as the beer of the month for the United Nations delegates lounge, furthering international awareness of its presence. A success story for both Jordan and the world of craft beer, Carakale is a brewery to watch. And, if you’re lucky enough, a beer you will get to try sooner than later.