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Jordan’s First Craft Brewery Is Making Beer with Dead Sea Salt and Dried Pomegranate

December 06, 2019

By Diana Hubbell, December 06, 2019

When Yazan Karadsheh opened Carakale in Jordan 2010, there were more than a few moments when he questioned his own sanity. More than 90 percent of the country’s population is Muslim and obtaining the necessary paperwork to sell alcohol there is a bureaucratic nightmare. To make matters worse, for decades, the country had precisely one brewery, General Investment Company (GIC), which focused exclusively on mass-producing cheap adjunct lagers. 

“There was no craft beer culture in Jordan because we’d had a single brewery operating alone for almost 40 years,” Karadsheh says. “It’s not the easiest industry to get into in Jordan. You must be a Jordanian, you must be Christian, you must be somewhat well-off because it’s very expensive.”

Despite the formidable odds, Karadsheh was determined. He’d developed a passion for craft beer at college in Boulder, Colorado, which only deepened during a stint living in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. After two years of legal hurdles, he managed to secure a license. In 2013, his hard-won first beer, a blonde ale, finally made it to market.

“In the beginning, it was just me, my dad, an accountant, and a guard. I was at the brewery pretty much 24/7,” Karadsheh says. “It was a huge learning curve and there were days when if felt like the whole world was against me. The good thing was that brewing was like a meditation for me. I would just forget everything else and I would remember that I was living my dream. That saved me.”

Today, Carakale has 24 employees and a growing international footprint. Its first big breakthrough came not from Jordan, but from a trip to Phoenix, Arizona. While there, Karadsheh met with the crew at Arizona Wilderness Brewing Co., who invited him to pour his beers for the first time in the US at a festival. More importantly, the owners suggested an unorthodox beer that would put Carakale on global craft beer map.

“One of the founders asked what I thought about brewing a gose with Dead Sea salts. I was kind of shocked at first, but now that I’m more familiar with goses, it’s opened up my whole world,” Karadsheh says. “Working with so many awesome breweries pushes you out of your comfort zone and expands the spectrum of the kind of beers you can create.”

Working with so many awesome breweries pushes you out of your comfort zone and expands the spectrum of the kind of beers you can create.”

Dead Sea-rious, the resulting collaboration, enjoyed a moment of viral fame for its saline component, but its other key Jordanian ingredient is every bit as interesting. The pink grapefruit that gives the gose its acidic punch comes from a farm in the Jordan Valley. There, 400 meters below sea level, the heat of the desert sun collides with cold air fronts from the Mediterranean, creating a subtropical climate with ample rainfall. Reaching the farm where Karadsheh sources his produce is challenging, but he says the results are more than worth it. 

“You have to pass through a military post, because even though the farm is on Jordanian soil, it’s very close to the Israeli border. Once you get there, though, it’s the most beautiful, lush place,” Karadsheh says. “The grapefruits, the blood oranges—we get everything from Omar’s farm.”

Other Jordanian ingredients make regular appearances on Carakale’s draft list. While the brewery’s flagship stalwarts consist of a fairly straightforward lager, blonde ale, and pale ale, his collaborations and seasonal releases over the years have included an imperial red ale with date molasses, a porter with roasted espresso beans and cardamon inspired by Bedouin coffee, and a pilsner with chamomile and dried figs. The brewery team makes regular trips to a souk in downtown Amman to sample different spices and brainstorm beer ideas. 

“One time, we tried a tea with dried pomegranate and it was puckery, aromatic, and slightly fruity and we thought it would add an interesting element to a Berliner weisse,” Karadsheh says. “We’ve done a bunch of mixes with Bedouin tea. Right now we’re thinking about using wild Jordanian sage. It smells absolutely phenomenal.”

Even after a decade in the business, Karadsheh and his fellow brewers feel compelled to keep innovating. After discovering that Jordanian red wine barrels imparted a rich, charred vanilla flavor to an imperial porter, he’s on the hunt for more barrels from local wineries. Right now, his passion lies in scouring the land for wild bacteria by placing hundreds of hopped and unhopped wort samples around the country. Since no one else is making spontaneously fermented wild ales in Jordan, he hopes to be the first to showcase this particular expression of his homeland’s terroir.

We have access to all these amazing places, which introduce people to different cultures. Beer is a part of that.”

“For me, the most important thing is not to become static. You have to keep evolving,” he says. “You do a lot of educated guesses on what time of year and where to put them, but it’s ultimately a game of luck. The one yeast that we found that we really enjoyed gave off an aroma of hazelnuts. It was incredibly aromatic—you literally smelled hazelnuts on the nose.” 

All this may be a far cry from Carakale’s humble beginnings, but they’re in keeping with both Karadsheh’s personal ambitions and Jordan’s nascent craft scene. Now, with Carakale’s first-ever canning line set to ship around Christmas, Kardsheh is gearing up to start sending cans to the States by March of next year. He’s also excited about the arrival of a two-barrel pilot system.

“It’s a cute, little system that will allow us to brew small batches. I think that will reignite a lot of love,” Karadsheh says. “It will let us just play around with different experimental beers without as much pressure to sell them.”

When it comes time to test those beers out, he’ll have a far more receptive local audience than he once did. Thanks to the arrival of dirt-cheap flight routes to the European Union and an increasingly globally minded young population, Jordanians are more interested than even in these unconventional beers.

“This year, we had a new brewpub open up, which is awesome for us. We’re excited to see signs of growth and life in the culture,” Karadsheh says. “I do believe traveling plays a big role in changing people’s perspectives. I just bought a ticket to Cyprus for $7—Ryanair is amazing. We have access to all these amazing places, which introduce people to different cultures. Beer is a part of that.”

ZX Ventures, a division within AB InBev, is an investor in October
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