The Hipster Brewmeister of … Beirut

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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.

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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.

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But there has been a problem. For 80 years, Lebanon “has been drinking fizzy, light beers,” he said. “I wanted to brew real beer.”

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