Home is where the hops are. At least for emerging brewer Zahra Tabatabai, that was her pandemic WFH setup. At the top of her to-do list? Bringing a greater appreciation of Middle Eastern-style beers to audiences in the United States.
Tabatabai’s vision for her Brooklyn-based brewery, Back Home Beer, was first sparked by a family love of beer. In the city of Shiraz, Iran, Tabatabai’s grandfather made wine and beer throughout the mid-20th century before the Iranian revolution. His signature recipes and most-loved ingredients were the first step in her own beer-making journey. When Tabatabai dove into homebrewing as a fun side project a few years ago, she shared her creations with friends and family to taste. But as her brand continued to develop, she began to pursue a deeper motivation.
“The reason I started Back Home Beer, obviously it’s important to continue on the brewing that my grandfather did, but another important aspect is changing the narrative of what people think regarding beer in the Middle East,” she says. “That was an important part for me, to say there’s a lot of people from the Middle East in the United States that drink beer.”
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It’s difficult to expand such an intricate homebrewing hobby with a few hundred square feet of rental space, especially in notoriously cramped New York apartments. But Tabatabai didn’t let limited space stop her from pursuing the perfect brew. Instead, she enrolled in homebrewing classes at neighborhood brewing workshop Bitter & Esters.
“Even though I didn’t know what I was doing, they made no kind of judgment,” she says. “They helped with recipes, ingredients, and the process, and were really helpful throughout the whole thing.”
As she grew more comfortable with her foothold in her family’s brewing tradition, Tabatabai launched Back Home Beer. It’s a reference to Iran’s rich history with malted brews, and her own family’s hand in creating them. While alcohol isn’t legal in modern-day Iran, Tabatabai honors the country’s legacy in popularizing beer itself. What most drinkers don’t realize, she says, is that the first evidence of barley brewing comes from the mountains of Iran.
“They really were the originators of beer,” she says.
In the same way that stories of her grandfather’s beer brewing in southern Iran were told throughout her childhood, Tabatabai mixes ingredients that feel especially important to her and her heritage into her beer. Tart sour cherry, rich Persian blue salt, sumac, and barberries have all featured in her unique Iranian-style brews, each a careful balance of flavors.
“I made a specialty beer for the Persian New Year that included apples. A lot of people told me not to do that and that it’s tricky to brew with apples. We went ahead and did it, and it turned out really nice,” she says. “I like to bring in a new flavor and new inspiration to beer, and I think I’m doing that through the ingredients I’m using, ingredients used widely in the food [in Iran] and within our culture there.”
While the Back Home Beer has only been officially running for a little less than a year, drinkers can find it on restaurant menus and in specialty shops across NYC, including ABC Kitchen, Contento, Shukette, and more. Tabatabai distributes to over 200 locations, hand-delivering all of her beers out of the back of her Toyota Prius.
As Back Home Beer grows closer to its first anniversary, Tabatabai says she’s excited to work toward a taproom space of her own. It’s the next goal for the brewer, along with expanding her current philanthropic efforts. (Tabatabai donates a portion of every bottle or keg sold to Evlovesnyc, the kitchen in Manhattan’s Lower East Side providing meals to food-insecure communities and, more recently, refugees arriving to the city.) In the future, she’d love to grow her charitable donations as her product line grows larger.
With every brew and bottle, Tabatabai is bringing a bit of back home, here.