The Rise of Five New Beer and Liquor Brands in Lebanon
We are currently witnessing a golden age of Lebanese-made alcohol. Sure, Almaza has been the national beer of Lebanon since 1933, with its three varieties—pilsner, malt, and more recently, light—and witty advertising to boot. But this year, there are some novel options on store shelves, including a few newbies by the Lebanese beer giant; another by the Buzz and FREEZ specialist; a Batroun-based brewery that started in the founder’s home; and Lebanon’s very first vodka brand.
Here’s the scoop on all your new homebred booze buddies. Sip on the goodness our country has to offer, but please drink responsibly!
A few months ahead of summer, Almaza released the Radler, a sweet blend of beer, sparkling water, and lemon juice. Known as a Radlermass in Germany, this is a light summer drink that’s more “alcopop” than it is alcohol, consisting of a mixture of blonde beer and lemonade. Beer enthusiasts probably won’t embrace it (openly, at least), but it will appeal to the casual beer drinker whose attachment to spirits doesn’t run deep.
Perhaps as a consolation to those disgruntled with the faux beer Radler, Almaza just released a new beer called Al Rayiss, whose name is scrawled in Arabic beneath a rotund, tarbouch-decked, gilded troll gracing the bottle label. A pilsner whose alcohol content is 5%, this brew is even stronger than Almaza’s regular pilsner, which dials in at 4.0%, and it is conspicuously more bitter. I can imagine it being the choice drink for seasoned men hunched over their tawlet zaher (backgammon board): “Dawrak, ya Rayiss!”
Kassatly has long been heralded for its jams, juices, and more recently its FREEZ and Buzz drinks. They even have a vineyard called Chateau Ka that cultivates one fine vin rouge—try it and thank me later. I suppose their entry into the beer beverage industry was the next natural step, and this July, they introduced Beirut Beer. The 4.6%-alc. Pilsner is brewed on Kassatly turf, in the heart of the Bekaa region in a city called Chtaura. Free of maize and more bitter than its Almaza counterpart, Beirut Beer sits noticeably lighter on the stomach.
4. Colonel Beer
Meet Jamil Haddad, the 30-year-old entrepreneur behind Lebanon’s third locally brewed beer—after Almaza and 961, of course. Colonel Beer is his brainchild and may very well transform Batroun, the city from whence it was born, into a destination for booze lovers. Haddad belabored thousands of hours perfecting his brew at home, and once he’d nailed it, he decided to open a microbrewery, restaurant, bar, and bed-and-breakfast all under one ecofriendly roof. Give it a go along with a side of the house akhtabout—who knew beer could complement seafood so nicely?
Enough of beer—let’s take a gulp out of Lebanon’s first-ever vodka, J2, so named for the genetic marker that identifies modern-day descendants of the ancient Phoenicians. J2 uses a combination of Lebanese ingredients, including our distinctive snowmelt water, alongside Poland’s golden wheat-distilled ethanol, which is arguably the best in the world (who else can hold a candle to Poland’s centuries-old history of making vodka?). The spirit will be widely available this month, but you can get a preview of it at Aziz Gourmet Market and a few bars around town (Cle, Stereo Kitchen, and Myu)