Beertopia

961 Beer is fresh out of Lebanon

961 Beer was born under the most dire conditions.

For Mazen Hajjar, whose eminently drinkable beers are now available in New York for the first time, the spark to begin brewing was lit as bombs shattered around his apartment in Lebanon during the 2006 Israeli-Hezbollah war.

As his building shook, Hajjar read a copy of Beer School: Bottling Success at the Brooklyn Brewery.

In the book, Steve Hindy recounts his work as a war correspondent in Beirut with bombs going off around him, and subsequently returning to America and starting Brooklyn Brewery (you can't make this kind of stuff up).

Since his first batch of homebrewed wartime kitchen beer, Hajjar has built the Middle East's only craft brewery, named for Lebanon's international dialing code.

There's a malt-forward lager, which just won Best Lager at the 2012 Hong Kong International Beer Awards; an aromatic red ale; a dark and malty porter; an unfiltered witbier; and the Lebanese Pale Ale ($14 for a six-pack).

The latter, our favorite, is brewed with za'atar, thyme, sage and mint, evoking the spice markets of Lebanon with each sip.

961 Beer is available at Top Hops, Balade, Byblos, Eagle Provisions and Knickerbocker Deli & Grocery.