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A Beer to Imbibe: 961 Beer

A home-brewing experiment in Lebanon led Mazen Hajjar to create his 961 Beer which is growing an international reputation. (Bill Hogan/Chicago Tribune/MCT)

A home-brewing experiment in Lebanon led Mazen Hajjar to create his 961 Beer which is growing an international reputation. (Bill Hogan/Chicago Tribune/MCT) Purchase photo reprints »

A BEER TO IMBIBE

As awash as the Western world is in craft beer, much of the globe has no such bounty. It can be a struggle to find anything beyond similar-tasting light lagers.

Mazen Hajjar felt that was the case six years ago, which led him to learn to home-brew in Beirut. That hobby has blossomed into his brewery, 961 Beer— named for Lebanon’s country dialing code — with growing international distribution that includes Chicago and much of the East Coast.

“It drove me crazy,” Hajjar said. “Lebanese food is famous worldwide. Lebanese wine is famous worldwide. You don’t hear about beer, in general, in Lebanon.”

So he did what any frustrated, thirsty person would do: He bought and read “every book I could find on Amazon” about beer-making and had brewing equipment shipped from the U.S.

The result is a roster of mostly approachable beers: the 961 lager, red ale, wit beer and porter are all relatively easy and balanced drinking. Even the porter — a crisp blend of chocolate, smoke and coffee — is light for its style.

More rewarding to seasoned beer drinkers will be the ambitious brews that reflect Hajjar’s Lebanese heritage. His Lebanese Pale Ale, for instance, is brewed with thyme, sumac, chamomile, sage, anise and mint. It bears little resemblance to American pale ales; the 961 version is more of an herbed or spice beer that pairs easily with food.

— Josh Noel, Chicago Tribune

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