With a vigorous grape vine on every roof terrace and a pristine Roman temple of Bacchus in nearby Baalbek, Beirut has been at the cutting-edge of viniculture, café culture and pub-crawl culture since Phoenician times. But it has taken a while to get on top of the idea of beer. Al Maza, the (only) local brew, is light and usually bottled, and inevitably comes with a jar of carrot sticks standing in sweetened lemon juice. 961 Beer has found a very thirsty gap in the market.
In the up-and-coming nightspot of Gemmayzeh, this dinky bar and microbrewery is dedicated to the cult of beer. A red ale, a lager and a stout (with muscovado and espresso), each come in their own tailor-made goblet. The new 9 per cent Belgian beer is best drunk in smaller glasses. And they'd better get some thimbles in when they launch a 22 per cent beer next year. They do things properly here, shipping in hops from England, Ireland or Belgium.
Cosmetic surgery is worn with pride in Beirut and the skimpily clad, Victoria Beckham-lookalike clientele are so skinny they can barely lift a pint. There's a wall of whisky at the back, but everybody is here for the beer. Particularly the ebullient owner, Mazen Hajjar, whose T-shirt reads: "I brew the beer I drink". Clearly he doesn't drink all the beer he brews, or he'd be under the bar instead of behind it, as he is most nights.
961 Beer, next to the Electricité du Liban building, Gemmayzeh, BeirutReuse content