Spirits & Wine

961 Beer: Craft Beer from Lebanon

Sydney-siders are well versed with the craft beer revolution but half way around the world, from a country that is merely 10,450 km2 comes 961 Beer, the only microbrewery in the Arab world.

Brewed in Lebanon, in Mazraat Yachouh just north-east of Beirut, 961 Beer has its origins during a dark period.

The year was 2006. Lebanon was still at war and under attack by Israel when Mazen Hajjar, frustrated with the choice of available beer had the idea of brewing his own. He started in his kitchen making beer with friends and after a few trials, people flocked to his door eager to buy his brew. His hobby turned into a business and later moved into international distribution.

961 Beer
Mazen Hajjar, Brewer & CEO of 961 Beer at the Oak Barrel in Sydney

“961 Beer is available in sixteen countries and it is now the third most popular beer in Lebanon,” Mazen says during his recent visit to Sydney.

Gregarious, charming with an entertaining sense of humour, he dispels common misconceptions about Lebanon and its culture to a captive audience at the Oak Barrel in Sydney.

“Lebanon is half Christian, half Moslem. I’m a Moslem making beer. My wife is Christian.“ He pauses for effect. “And we don’t have any camels.”

The name 961 Beer is derived from Lebanon’s area code, an idea came to him in his bathtub dreaming up of a creative name that has cross-cultural appeal while representing Lebanon.

“The cedar trees have been flogged to death, he explains. “I wanted to avoid something that was a cliché, and I thought, how can I translate something into multiple languages? The telephone code!”

Three styles of 961 beer are now available in Australia.

961 Beer
L-R: 961 Lager, 961 Red Ale, 961 Lebanese Pale Ale

961 Lager (5% ABV) is made from North American Cascade hops. The beer has a dark golden hue and a clean, crisp flavour making it easy to drink at any time of the day. Bottom fermenting yeast at lower temperatures gives the beer a slight bitterness and a mild floral aroma.

961 Red Ale (5.5% ABV) is made from Amarillo hops which give the beer a spicy note and a creamy finish. Reddish in colour with a pronounced malty flavour, this is a smooth and full bodied beer, fruity on the nose with a slightly bitter finish.

“This is a life changing beer”, Mazen says as he pours the 961 Lebanese Pale Ale (LPA).

Aromatic, spicy on the nose, the first sip evokes the taste of Manakish, the baked round bread topped with za’atar and olive oil. And that is precisely the inspiration for this brew. The beer (6.3% ABV) celebrates the flavours of Lebanon with herbs such as za’atar (wild thyme), sumac, chamomile, sage, anise and mint in a versatile style of beer that goes down well on its own or with food, mezze and BBQs.

His approach to making beer is simple. He finds an interesting flavour, and thinks how it would taste in beer.

“I think less is more, and it’s more difficult to make a balanced, layered, drinkable and more complex beer than just putting hops into a kettle.”

Speaking about distribution, Joseph Abboud, Australian importer of 961 says the brewery has the capacity to fill the orders. “The labels are made in the factory with all the Australian details, not some sticker that falls off and causes issues with customs. We’re ready, and we’re here for the long haul.”

961 Beer puts Lebanon back on the map. And this time, it’s for the right reasons.

961 Beer
www.961australia.com (importers)

961 Beer officially launched in Sydney on Friday 1st March, 2013 at La Lupita in Canterbury with a Mexican-Lebanese feast.

961 Beer is available in Sydney from the Oak Barrel and Camperdown Cellars.


This article is posted on Gourmantic.com - All rights reserved - Copyright © 2018.

About the author

Corinne Mossati

Corinne Mossati is the Founder/Editor of popular online magazine Gourmantic and Cocktails & Bars, a website dedicated to cocktail culture and the discerning drinker. She is named in Australian Bartender Magazine’s Top 100 Most Influential List since 2013, is a member of The Academy responsible for judging the World’s 50 Best Bars. She has also judged the inaugural Australasian Whisky Awards and various national cocktail competitions.