There are a few oases in that bleak beerscape. Israel has sprouted between 20 and 30 microbreweries and brewpubs, beginning with the Dancing Camel in Tel Aviv in 2006. Taybeh Brewing in Palestinian territory predates the Dancing Camel by a decade, brewing golden, amber and dark lagers, plus a non-alcoholic brew for observant Muslims.
961 Beer, however, might be the only Middle Eastern microbrewery that exports worldwide, from Spain to Hong Kong to Australia. Hajjar’s output is modest: 200,000 cases last year, or about 14,500 barrels. But Hajjar ships to 14 countries and 12 American states; you can find it in the District, Maryland and Virginia. His business strategy might reflect his cosmopolitan outlook: “My uncle lived in Chicago for 40 years. My wife grew up in New York. I proposed in Sweden and we got married in Seattle.”
His visit to Washington is part of a brand-promotion tour that includes stops in New York and Philadelphia. “I love coming here. I feel like it’s my second home,” he says. “I feel like a rock star, but without the groupies and drugs.”
Hajjar buys malt from Germany and hops from Europe and the United States. It might not be the most efficient or environmentally friendly way to make beer, importing almost all of his brewing materials and sending his beer abroad in throwaway bottles and one-way disposable barrels called KeyKegs. But Hajjar says he has a goal “one day to be a zero-emission, carbon-neutral brewery.”
He admits that goal is a long way off. In the meantime, he contributes a slice of his profits to the reforestation of Lebanon. (A small drawing of a cedar graces his labels.) He uses local ingredients when possible. He planted an experimental hop plot and used the crop to make a Harvest Lager for the German Embassy in Beirut to celebrate German Reunification Day last Oct. 4. Upcoming releases include a barley wine refermented in cedar with raisins, and a Lebanese-style stout flavored with coffee and cardamom.
Can he keep the pipeline filled? At the time of our meeting, Hajjar seemed concerned about meeting demand, citing that 961 Beer is growing at a clip of 300 percent to 400 percent annually.
Kitsock is the editor of the Mid-Atlantic Brewing News.