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There are some interesting back stories in the Australian craft beer world. We’ve got a classical pianist, former winemakers, a history professor, a stack of corporates that saw the light and even one brewer with a family connection to the top of the Australian spy profession. Combine a little of each and you’d have something approximating the life of Mazen Hajjar, the founder and CEO of Lebanon’s only craft brewery.
Prior to deciding beer was the way forward, he had been at various times an award-winning war photographer, chief financial officer at a large bank, and founder of not one but two international airlines. Today, he’s not yet 40 years old but has overseen massive growth in 961 Beer, his home country’s only craft brewery, since launching it late in 2007.
“We produced our first beer in September 2007 and sent our first kegs out in March 2008,” he says. “By December 2009 we had maxed out the brewery [a 12 hectolitre DME system with 24 hectolitre fermenters]. We then designed and built our own 35 hec brewhouse in Lebanon and went from 6,000 cases a year to 12,000 cases a year to 60,000 cases a year to 250,000 cases last year. We began exporting last year and are already in 16 different countries.”
The chances are that by the time you’ve read these first three paragraphs he’ll have cancelled Third World Debt and suggested a new cure for HIV.
Mazen (above with mic in hand) is in Australia at the minute, touring the country with his wife after Joseph Abboud (above right), the owner of Melbourne’s Rumi restaurant in East Brunswick, began importing his beers a few months ago. Joseph had travelled to his home country last year to try and source as much cool produce to bring into Australia, feeling that the existing importers were doing a pretty poor job.
Since then, the beer has been receiving the warmest of welcomes, so it wasn’t long before Mazen was invited to come along too, where he has been giving talks at Sydney bottleshops, presenting Melbourne Food & Wine Festival dinners and will soon hotfoot it to Adelaide.
“Lebanon is the country that invented beer,” says Mazen. “The problem with that is that 100 years ago we forgot all this. We started brewing mass produced yellow fizzy lagers. We forgot that the culture of beer originated there in 9000 BC.”
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