961 Beer - 961 Porter
Serving Temperature:48-53° F
Suggested Glassware:Pint Glass or Mug
This English-style porter, as expected, presents a very dark brown on the pour. When 961 founder Mazen Hajjar poured it for one neophyte Lebanese drinker used to Heineken-style lagers, the response was, “Did something go wrong?” Nope, that’s how it’s supposed to be! On the nose, expect the malts to take center stage with plenty of scorched caramel and some toasty bread crust leading into a bit of a smoky char character. We got some lightly grassy and woody hop overtones along with a hint of incense-like spice. ‘Well-balanced’ comes to mind as this porter slips across the palate. There’s a mild residual sweetness that finds itself countered by hop bitterness, black malt notes, and a touch of minerality. Look for a dark chocolate-covered caramel character as very dark chocolate notes meld with caramel malts, along with French roast coffee and a mild undercurrent of dark fruit. Lightly carbonated and on the shy end of medium-bodied, we found this porter quite drinkable and food-friendly. 961 recommends pairing with sausages, grilled meats, or spicy kebabs, so fire up the grill. Cheers!
The story of 961 Beer begins in an unlikely place, at a most unlikely time. In the midst of the July War of 2006 in Lebanon, Mazen Hajjar, a young former investment banker and founder of two airlines, was looking out from his balcony as bombs were falling and the building was shaking. Just three days prior he had picked up a book called Beer School, a retrospective written by the founders of Brooklyn Brewery, Steve Hindy and Tom Potter. Hindy, who was an AP journalist in Lebanon during the civil war in the ‘80s, began the first sentence of the book by recounting the experience of being awoken by the sounds of explosions outside his hotel. Struck by the coincidence and excited by inspiration, Hajjar called his friends over to begin—what else?—brewing beer, and the first step was taken towards the founding of the Middle East’s first microbrewery.
At first the scale of production was miniscule for the 961 brand (which takes its name from Lebanon’s telephone country code), with batches brewed on home stoves and weighing in at just 20 liters. But word got out about the friends’ hand crafted beers, and demand began to rise. No more than a half dozen (mostly insipid) beers were available in Lebanon in 2006, so 961’s assortment of styles, including porter, witbier, red ale, and helles lager, were an eye opener to the local Lebanese. Ingredients like rich British caramel malts and fruity, citric Amarillo hops made for quite the welcome burst of flavor compared to the myriad light lagers that pervade the Mediterranean region.
These days, 961 Beer produces just a few hundred thousand cases per year, which is still a fairly small amount even when compared to many other craft breweries, but represents a huge success for a company that has unquestionably created a new market for craft beer among a population that had never before been exposed to it. Three cheers to Hajjar and his fearless (some might say crazy) friends who started a microbrewery during a war and blockade and have nevertheless succeeded in pushing out the boundaries of the craft beer universe a little bit further. With a commitment to regional development, the next steps for the brewery include growing or sourcing hops and barley locally and expanding into new markets. 961 began exporting to the US in limited amounts just a few years ago, and we’re very excited to have the opportunity to bring our members beer from this groundbreaking microbrewery. To learn more, visit them at www.961beer.com.
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