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Craft brewers edge their way into Lebanon beer market

(China Daily) Updated: 2017-11-13 07:19

BATROUN, Lebanon - For decades, beer in Lebanon has meant just one thing: the ubiquitous local pilsner, Almaza. But now a crop of local microbrews is making headway in the home market.

On the shore of the seaside town of Batroun, 34-year-old Jamil Haddad presides over the Colonel brewery, now just over three years old and, he says, expanding fast.

"Every year I'm growing like crazy," he said, as workers put the finishing touches to a stage in the brewery's garden for its annual festival.

This year alone, thanks in part to his new beach bar a few hundred meters from the brewery, business is up 45 percent, he said.

"When I opened in 2014, I was afraid. Are people going to be OK with this concept? It's new, it's not traditional, it's different," Haddad said.

Initially he set his sights low, producing just a single lager, aiming for a product that would be accessible for beer drinkers used to the crisp but one-note taste of Almaza (diamond in Arabic).

"Then I was surprised ... I found that many people who came, they know what (it) means, different kind of beers," he said.

"The other people who don't know, they were very open to understanding it."

Microbreweries, small and often experimental producers focusing on flavor and quality, have been booming across the world, with the sector particularly frothy in the United States and Britain.

With four million citizens overall, beer consumption was at 29 million liters a year in 2016, according to Lebanon's Blom Bank, with Almaza accounting for three-quarters of the market.

But if the drinkers are there, local producers face a raft of challenges, most of them born of the fact that ingredients including hops are not available domestically and must be imported.

Even bottles are brought in from abroad because Lebanon has no local glass industry, putting producers at the mercy of lengthy shipping times and high import fees.

It was a challenging start for the 961 Beer company, which is named for the Lebanese dialing country code, but despite some rocky years, it now produces for the international market as well as local customers.

In 2016, 961 accounted for 5 percent of Lebanon's beer market, according to Blom Bank, but the company now focuses predominantly on exports, which make up 85 percent of its sales, Rasbey said.

"We're working on that, we want to expand locally as well," he said.

"We believe the local market is picking up and expanding in terms of craft beer. Locally, people have started understanding the meaning of craft beer."

Agence France - presse

Craft brewers edge their way into Lebanon beer market

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