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Craft Beer Delivered: Craft brewing success mixes beer and business
To simply call Mazen Hajjar a high achiever would be to sell short his remarkable drive, business acumen and willingness to take a risk.
This is a man who by the age of 29 had already worked as a war photographer and investment banker, and had raised US$50 million to start the Middle East’s first low-fare airline, MenaJet.
In 2006, with the business world at his feet, Hajjar’s life took an incredible twist with the outbreak of the Israeli-Hezbollah war. Huddled inside his home as missiles rained down on Beirut for 34 straight days, Hajjar decided to indulge his passion for brewing beer.
Using materials delivered to him by friends, Hajjar started producing an imperial stout, which would become the flagship of Lebanon’s first craft brewery, 961 Beer, named after the country’s international dialling code.
By 2013, 961 Beer was available in 16 countries, including the US and Australia. Among those importing large quantities Down Under was chef and Lebanese expat Joseph Abboud, who ran renowned Melbourne-based restaurants Rumi and Moor’s Head.
As the brews grew in popularity, Hajjar decided to fly to Australia to help Abboud distribute the beer, the pair hitting the road in Sydney as “hawkers”.
Wary of the likelihood of more armed conflict in Lebanon, and keen to explore the potential of the Australian market, Hajjar mortgaged his house, sold his stake in 961 Beer and relocated his young family to Melbourne.
“We were having a son and we wanted to be away from the stresses of the Middle East for a while, so we thought we’d come to Australia and see how it went,” Hajjar says.
“I sold 961 to shareholders and staff in Lebanon for much less than I could have got from a beverage company that wanted to buy me out.
“I wanted to look after the people who had looked after me – the people who sweat and bleed and stay up all night to make the product as good as it can be. If you look after your staff, then everything else takes care of itself.”
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