961 Beer

961 beer

When one finds themselves running for safety from incoming rocket explosions and mortar attacks, your first thought is not usually “I should start a brewery.”  Yet this seems to be precisely the experience of Mazen Hajjar, founder of Lebanon’s 961 Brewery, during the July 2006 Lebanon War.

Hajjar, who was recently interviewed by the Washington Post’s Greg Kitsock, describes the scene: “The electricity was off; I was sitting on my balcony reading the first chapter of Beer School by Steve Hindy and Tom Potter.  That’s when I thought, ‘Eureka!'”  Now several years later, this eureka moment has been transformed into a fledgling brewery that has exported its beer to 14 countries, including 12 U.S. states.

I was curious about Hajjar’s brews as my own experience with Middle-Eastern beer – Almaza (Lebanese pilsner) and Efes (Turkish pilsner) – was not impressive.*  Yet 961’s five brews (Lebanese pale ale, golden lager, red ale, witbier, and porter) appeared to be a departure from the standard Mid-East pilsners which had so disappointed.

So off I went to track the five down, which was much easier than expected; a quick stop at Total Wine and I was set.  I enjoyed all five over the course of this past weekend, jotting down a few notes after my first or second sip.  Here, in the order I drank them, are my thoughts on each:

– Lebanese Pale Ale: earthy and bitter, slightly hoppy, with a dry and malty finish; 961’s flagship beer and the most interesting of their varieties.

– Red Ale: medium bodied, lightly sweet and mellow; an excellent ale.

– Lager: dry and light-medium bodied; crisp, but not overly so.

– Witbier: light and sweet, champagne colored; lighter than other wits, but lacking complexity as well.

– Porter: evenly bitter and medium bodied and goes down easily; a good representation of the porter style of beer.  If you’ve never had a porter, this would be a great introduction.

In terms of variety alone, 961 is ahead of other regional brewers by leaps and bounds.  In terms of quality too, they have several wonderful brews that should find success in the crowded international market of beer.  Their Red Ale and Lager are both fine tasting beers and their Lebanese Pale Ale, while an acquired taste, will likely begin appearing on the menus of kabob houses and Mid-East cuisine restaurants alike.

I was surprised by the quality, but also somewhat disappointed. The witbier lacked body and complexity as compared to others I’ve tried.  Yet here I’ll give 961 a pass on this point, as I was most excited about the wit as that style is one of my favorites and likely set my expectations too high.

961 is a welcome addition to the otherwise ordinary choices from that region. One can hope they are the first of many to come.


* Admittedly, I do have fond memories of drinking Efes while smoking hookah during my time in Iraq, however strictly speaking, it is fairly unremarkable brew.  That said, it was perfectly fine at the time – pickings were slim and any beer was better than none.

Published in: on March 20, 2013 at 12:50 pm  Comments Off on 961 Beer  
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The Politics of Beer

Although I’m a DC-based blogger (well, technically DC metro-based as of recently – a fact I’m still getting used to), I’ve worked to steer clear of politics since The Hip Flask’s beginning.  Some visitors are surprised to learn that much of life here doesn’t revolve around politics or politicking.

Unfortunately, DC’s unique status as our national capital sometimes results in politics being injected into the most random places. In this case, it’s beer.  So while this post does discuss politics, it’s more about beer – or more specifically, the politicization of beer.

An article in Tuesday’s Washington Post led me to this conclusion, one titled “Obama plays up love of beer to ferment coalition of the swilling.”  Now, I am admittedly not a fan of The Post on most days, which likely explains why (a) I only learned of this article this morning, and (b) I thought this article’s title was a particular groaner.*

The article explains the President’s use of beer (drinking and home brewing) to “connect with voters… the very voters that Obama and Romney are fighting over: middle-America independents.”  So that humble beverage, the lowly pint of beer, has now become a tool with which to appear down to earth.

The Post’s story continues along this thread: “Political strategists have long applied a ‘Who would you rather have a beer with?’ test to contests as a shorthand for which candidate is more approachable… [However] discerning Obama’s true level of passion for beer is difficult, given that all his recent comments and purchases occurred at orchestrated campaign events.”

But it’s wrong to single out The Post regarding this beer-centric line of reporting; the President’s recent stop at the Iowa State Fair was covered by many news outlets.  So I did a quick Google News search to see how popular this story was.  As of about 9:30 am this morning (Thursday, August 16), an obama + beer search (no quotation marks) produced approximately 83,200 articles.

My point isn’t to criticize the media, or even the politicians themselves.  No, it’s simply to lament the fact that another simple part of life, that common glass of beer enjoyed by so many folks – blue-collar, white-collar, whomever – is exploited as just another prop in the race for power.  Sad really, but not that unexpected.  Not in this town.

Is nothing sacred?


* Linked from the article was a series of photographs of the candidates stumping called “Hoppy Days are Here Again.”  Yuk, yuk, yuk, Washington Post.

Published in: on August 16, 2012 at 11:05 pm  Comments (2)  
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New Rules for Modern Drinking

You're doing it wrong...

A few weeks ago, Washington Post movie critic Ann Hornaday wrote an article titled, Of manners, movies, and the sorry state of spectatorship.

In it, Hornaday argued that “the cinema today is in a crisis… the worst isn’t necessarily always on or behind the screen. In fact, a distressing proportion of it is coming from an audience in apparent need of tutoring, not only in how to behave in a movie theater, but in managing its own aesthetic expectations.”

To support this statement, she identified five “new rules for the modern moviegoer:”

1. Turn off your phone.  That means texting too.  Seriously.
2. Open your mind. You’re a connoisseur, not just a consumer.
3. A ticket buys the right to watch a movie, not to like it.  No refunds if you don’t.
4. There may be nudity. A man may be sawing his arm off. You were warned.
5. Trash or masterpiece? It’s subjective. Shrug and move on.

While several of the aforementioned are in fact directly applicable to the world of bars and boozing, the article made me think – certainly each of us has experienced or witnessed bar behavior that could be construed as annoying, entitled, or simply downright rude.

So I’ve devised five New Rules for the Modern Drinker, rules that, like Hornaday’s, will provide a little tutoring in managing unreasonable expectations, a sense of entitlement, and ultimately minimizing the potential frustration you might wreak on your fellow patrons and barmates.

1. Have a little patience.  The bartender exists to serves all, not just you.
2. Put away your pretention. Knowledge is grand, but humility is better.
3. Courtesy wins you friends and maybe a buyback.  Ladies, please don’t take advantage.
4. Sip, savor, repeat.  It’s a marathon, not a sprint – no one likes hanging out with That Guy.
5. There may be nudity.  Leave your judgment and cameraphone at home.

That’s my list.  Now I ask you, readers – what other rules might you add?  What are your greatest frustrations from your fellow drinkers?

Published in: on February 29, 2012 at 7:15 pm  Comments (1)  
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A Return to Old Times?

Earlier this year, I wrote a sprawling three-part essay on my disdain of modern bar culture.  I argued most bars today are focused more on mass producing neon colored drinks to be tossed back beneath a bank of TVs, rather than properly preparing classic cocktails to be savored alongside casual conversation.

Perhaps I spoke too soon; bar culture might not be as lost as I originally thought.  My evidence for this reconsideration: The Washington Post’s Editors’ Picks for the Best bars without televisions.

Aside from its focus on national news and political coverage, the Post’s website includes their Going Out Guide, an extensive listing of restaurant reviews, bar and club recommendations, museum guides, as well as the schedules of performing arts venues and Washington’s numerous sports teams.  Post editors then recommend their favorites based on neighborhood, activity, or other categorization.  It is here, in the Bars and Clubs activity category, that we find the “best bars without televisions” subcategory.

Post writer Fritz Hahn introduces his top picks with the following:  “You want to go out and have a drink and gossip with your friends or meet a date for a cocktail, but most of the places you’re thinking of will be packed with people watching sports or, worse, political coverage. Here’s where to go instead.”

The actual locations enumerated as top picks aren’t important really, not to the point I want to make.  No, what’s important here is simply the existence of the bars without televisions subcategory itself.  For the Post to supply their favorites there must first be the demand for that kind of venue.  Because the list exists, we can positively conclude that some folks (who read the Post online, at least) want bars without televisions.

Granted, Post editors also list favorites in several other niche categories: best fizzy cocktails; best happy hours for impressing a date; best people watching; and best bars for flying solo.  So maybe the mere existence of the bars without TVs category isn’t so special.  But I’m choosing to see the list as a step, however small, in the right direction.  More drinkers are seeking quiet locations away from the noise of perpetual ESPN programming.  The tide just might be turning.

Published in: on December 6, 2011 at 12:48 am  Comments (1)  
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Washington Booze News

Washington, DC is a great city in which to live, with its daily mix of news, culture, and politics, much of which involves drinking.  And this week’s news has been chock full of drinking culture, from a local mixologist interview to Congressional lobbying on adult beverage legislation.

Let’s start this rundown from a favorite bar in my own backyard, DC’s Mount Vernon Triangle neighborhood.  The Atlantic’s Daniel Fromson interviewed DC’s own Derek Brown, co-owner of The Passenger, one of my favorite bars.  Brown is widely regarded as “a leading voice in the new cocktail renaissance.”

Read Fromkin’s interview, 9 ½ Questions: A Conversation with Derek Brown, Bartender and ‘Booze Nerd’

Just down the street from The Passenger on Capitol Hill, the National Beer Wholesalers Association (NBWA) is in town this week to lobby Congress in support of the Community Alcohol Regulatory Effectiveness (CARE) Act of 2011 (H.R. 1161).  If passed, the bill would greatly impede direct alcohol sales between producer and consumer.  The NBWA, representing various wholesaler (i.e., distributor) organizations, wants the bill passed to maintain their profitable position in the alcohol distribution process.  What do you think of the proposed law?

Read the NBWA’s Press Release, Effective System of State-Based Alcohol Regulation Highlighted at 2011 NBWA Legislative Conference

Finally – and in no way related to DC other than being reported in The Washington Post – AMC announced a mix of good and bad news about its “how to drink at work” instructional series, Mad Men – the show will indeed return for a fifth season, but not until sometime next year.  For those of us who look forward to enjoying the show with a glass of whisky each Sunday, I suppose we’ll just have to wait a bit longer.  So drink to celebrate the show’s eventual return, or drink to lament the new season’s delay – it’s your choice!

Read the Washington Post’s story, Mad Men will be back in 2012 for a fifth season

Published in: on March 30, 2011 at 10:16 pm  Comments Off on Washington Booze News  
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