What’s brewing in Iraq? Well, it’s not baby formula

If the United States goes ahead with threats to bomb Saddam Hussein’s suspected nerve-gas factories, it could mean the end of Iraq’s beer industry, such as it is.

Security experts say Iraqi breweries are among the Pentagon’s proposed bombing targets. It turns out that brew kettles and fermenters are perfect for producing anthrax.

So I guess we’ll take out the breweries with Suds missiles.

Frankly, Joe Sixpack was astounded to hear the Islamic nation even permits beer production. Though the region likely was the birthplace of beer 4,000 years ago, today’s strict Muslim law forbids alcohol consumption.

Iraq’s small Christian population, however, is not bound by Islamic code in the this secular, socialist state. As for the Muslims, a former Iraqi brewer told me this week, “Those guys don’t follow the Koran word for word.”

The brewer, whom I’ll call Eric because he requested anonymity, is a German native who landed his first job at one of Iraq’s state-owned breweries in the early ’80s. He now works for a western U.S. brewery, and – since he hasn’t returned to Baghdad in 16 years – some of his insights may be dated.

Most of Iraq’s beer (it’s all lager, no ale, Eric recalled) comes from five facilities that

produce about as much beer as Philadelphia-area breweries combined. Three are state-owned facilities in Baghdad, Amarra and Mosul, which produce Lulua (“The Pearl”). A private/government facility brews Sharacad, while the privately owned Eastern brewery produces Ferrida.

Don’t look for any of these labels at your favorite deli – they’re not (officially) exported. Even Shangy’s Beverages

in Emmaus, Pa., which boasts nearly 2,000 brands, doesn’t stock them.

“Try the black market in New York’s Iraqi community,” said Shangy’s beer dude Nima Hadian, a native of Iran. “One time, some guy tried to sell my dad a bottle of Lulua for fifty bucks.”

According to Eric, that steep price is not so far out of line for a smuggled bottle of Iraqi brew. The stuff costs the equivalent of $50 a case inside Iraq, thanks to high taxes.

As for reports that the breweries were capable of turning out nerve gas and other biological weapons, Eric had heard or seen nothing so diabolical. Iraqi brew, apparently, tastes bad enough without the addition of lethal toxins.

“I tried my best,” he said, “but we were under orders to use Iraqi-grown barley instead of the superior malt from Turkey. The Iraqi stuff was just chicken feed – really hard to malt.”

“The beers are pretty horrible.”

Speaking of Islamic drinking rules, Hadian notes Iran’s strict anti-alcohol policy has resulted in a burgeoning-but-secretive home-brew industry in his homeland.

“Iranians are some of the most immaginative brewers in the world,” Hadian said. “They’re using Belgian yeasts and all kinds of great ingredients. They can’t openly buy beer, but they’re drinking some great home brew.”

Beer Radar

Brew Moon in the King of Prussia Plaza is the latest brewpub to offer take-out growlers filled with craft brew. The two-liter jug, called the Moonwalker, appears to be a suitable bracer for your holiday season descent into suburban mall hell . . . It’s not too late to get a taste of the first local craft brew to use Pennsylvania-grown hops. Dock Street Brasserie (18th and Cherry, Logan Circle), is pouring Hop Harvest Ale, made with Cascade and Willamette hops, grown at Chadds Ford Winery . . .

If they ever get the NBA season started, you won’t be able to blame beer for the high cost of attending a game at the FU Center. At $304.90 for a family of four, 76ers games are the fourth costliest in the league, according to Team Marketing Report’s Fan Cost Index. But Sixers suds – at four bucks for a 16-ounce cup – are far from the league’s steepest. That honor goes to the 12-ounce cup the L.A. Lakers sell for a wallet-busting $5.50 . . . Look for Yards Old Bart after Thanksgiving. The sample Joe Sixpack tasted at the Manayunk brewery yesterday was still uncarbonated, but it came off as a malty-but-smooth 8 1/2 percent barleywine . . .

Men’s Health magazine has chimed in with a lame-o taste-test of macrobrews. Schlitz (described as “slightly sour, lemony”) got a top-rated four pretzels; Busch dragged the bottom . . . Here’s something that’ll get the rank taste of those brews outta yer mouth: Dogfish Head Chicory Stout. The Lewes, Del., brewery won Best of Fest recognition last month for its coffee-ish brew at the Real Ale Festival in Chicago . . . Meanwhile, another Delaware brewer – Iron Hill – opened a second brewpub this week, in West Chester. It’s at High and Gay streets, in the former Woolworth’s.

Beer 2000

Looks like the Big Three are putting as much imagination into their advertising slogans as their beer recipes. Scripps Howard reports the macros are gearing up with corny millennium slogans:

Budweiser: The official beer of the 21st century.

Miller: The official sponsor of the millennium.

Coors: The official beer of Y2K.

Yawn. Carolina beer has been brewing Millennium Pale Ale for months, and we’re still 407 days away from 2000.

Joe Sixpack (written this week with a 3-year-old bottle of La Trappe Quadruppel) appears every other Friday.

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