Business and Management
Submitted By tarekb
The Hipster Brewmeister of ... Beirut
By NATHAN DEUELAUG. 3, 2013
Mazen Hajjar, chief executive of 961 Beer, a microbrewery outside Beirut, Lebanon.CreditKate Brooks for The New York Times
LAST spring, at a public square in downtown Beirut, Lebanon, about 1,000 revelers attended a rock festival sponsored by 961 Beer, a very rare Middle East microbrewery. Acts included the Wanton Bishops, a band that would have been at home in Austin, Tex. In the front row were stylish women in sundresses beside men who showed a strong preference for black T-shirts and trendy eyewear.
Forget the idea that religion or the effects of war might preclude the success of a Lebanese brewery. It’s true that many Muslims abstain from alcohol. But plenty of people in the Middle East love to drink, and this is especially true in Lebanon, where the religious plurality includes a thriving Christian population — and besides, people seek alcohol during hard times, said Mazen Hajjar, a former investment banker and airline executive who started 961 Beer.
But there has been a problem. For 80 years, Lebanon “has been drinking fizzy, light beers,” he said. “I wanted to brew real beer.”
His company makes a beer that was named best lager at the Hong Kong International Beer Awards last year. Other regular offerings from 961 include a red ale, a pale ale, a stout, a porter, a witbier and, starting this summer, a black IPA, or India pale ale.
A 961 Beer display at a Beirut supermarket. CreditKate Brooks for The New York Times
Last year, the company sold the equivalent of 200,000 cases of beer in bottles and kegs. With sales in Lebanon and abroad, the company expects to break even for the first time this year. That is no small feat, considering that 961 began after war broke out between Lebanon and Israel in 2006, that the economy still hasn’t fully recovered…...