Omar Al-Nidawi is a member of the DC Homebrewers Club. Known for his traditional British and Belgian style beers, the District resident has impressed many club colleagues, including the club’s first-ever female president, Sara Bondioli. “I’ve tasted many excellent beers from Omar,” Bondioli says. “You don’t see a lot of English mild beers in the wild, so it’s always a treat when Omar makes one.”
To try his award-winning beers you’ll need to attend a DC Homebrewers Meeting. The next one is at Iron Horse Taproom on Oct. 24 at 7 p.m. There, you can ask Al-Nidawi how a dentist’s degree prepared him for his hobby.
Born in Baghdad in 1980, months after the Iranian revolution and a few months before the Iran-Iraq War, Al-Nidawi was brought into a world of conflict. Al-Nidawi’s father was in the military and he remembers a summer visit with him, close to the border in southern Iraq, when sudden flashes of artillery lit up the night.
While the majority of the fighting in the Iran-Iraq War occurred outside urban areas, in 1987 the two counties traded missile attacks in what became known as the War of the Cities. Al-Nidawi says that some of his neighbors were killed.
Remembering grade school days, Al-Nidawi says while the war did not disrupt daily lessons, he and his classmates felt deeply the overall tone of militarization. “We had a flag salute ceremony every Thursday and one of the teachers would fire a gun in the air,” he recalls. “You don’t normally have that in an elementary school in front of 6- and 7-year-olds.”
After the war, after Desert Storm in the 90s, and before he left his home country in 2007, Al-Nidawi remembers four breweries with beer for sale in Baghdad. “Some of them had a robust flavor profile,” he says. “I think one of them was kind of on the paler and sweeter side, but another one of them called Ferida had quite a hop kick to it and very noticeable bitterness.”
Graduating from the School of Dentistry at Baghdad University in 2002, Al-Nidawi spent the next several years practicing but felt hopeless at the same time. “You’re trapped politically, you’re trapped socially, you can’t leave the country, you’re an international pariah, the regime doesn’t let you speak,” he says.
Certified as a dentist, he says he practiced for about four years in public clinics in and around Baghdad and then about a year in southern Iraq in the marshlands near Basra. He recalls a “really miserable quarantine facility where they housed all the tuberculosis patients so they needed a special dentist unit because it’s a highly contagious disease.” But without electricity to run the dentist’s chair, it was pointless.
He obtained a passport in 2004, and enrolled at Columbia University in 2007. Attending the School of International and Public Affairs he gained his master’s degree and today works as a Middle East analyst, doing business advising and consulting.
In his home brewing, Al-Nidawi draws inspiration from Iraqi and Middle Eastern ingredients. “Iraqis have a very special relationship with date palms” he says, noting that the trees provided Mesopotamians with everything from food to shelter.
“I think dates were often in one form or another part of Sumerian beer recipes, as the hymn to Ninkasi suggests,” Al-Nidawi says. Ninkasi was the Sumerian goddess of beer. “I like to keep that tradition alive.”
While he’s been brewing since 2011, Al-Nidawi started entering competitions only in the last three years, during which he’s won more than a dozen awards and accolades. His English porters and English dark milds have placed, earning him medals and ribbons in competitions in New York City, Philadelphia, Virginia, and Maryland.
In addition to finding Al-Nidawi at DC Homebrewers meetings, you can also occasionally find him talking recipes and ingredients at the 3 Stars Brewing Company homebrew shop on weekends, open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturdays and 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Sundays.