Local Beer Quenches Lebanese Market Thirst
By: Hassan Chakrani
Published Thursday, July 12, 2012
“I love you Lebanon, I love your beer,” shouted Willie Scott, the lead singer of The Doors Alive [a Doors tribute band] to his audience during their recent concert in Beirut.
Bottles of local beer were scattered around his feet and about the band’s equipment on stage. He downed them one by one to douse the heat of the closed space in a spirit redolent of the Sixties.
In fact, the Lebanese and their visitors - expats and Arab and foreign tourists - love their beer, local and imported. It is a persistent love.
Speaking of the 1960s, beer consumption in Lebanon grew generally more than 165 percent between 1965 and 2005 and also increased per capita. But compared to international figures, this is still very low.
Yearly per capita consumption of beer in Lebanon reached 5.5 liters in 2012, according to Mazen al-Hajjar, founding director of Gravity Brewing, owner of the 961 and Lebanese Brew beer brands. This is up from 3.5 liters per person per year in the middle of last century.
Compared to 123 countries, from the United States to Saudi Arabia, Lebanon is ranked 89 in consumption internationally.
This means that the thirst still prevails but there is a huge gap waiting to be closed and it will not be that easy.
There are some religious/social factors that not only restrict alcohol consumption in some situations, but also absolutely prohibit it. Also, the general trend in the country prefers other types of alcohol [over beer].
According to The Determinants of Global Beer Consumption (American Association of Wine Economists, 2011), several factors influence beer consumption in general. They are: the weather (a noticeable rise in consumption is seen in the summer) and religion, in addition to prices. In all cases, the current period is witnessing the beginnings of a significant change compared to international trends.
Until 2008, only one beer was produced locally, Almaza, of course. It was established in 1933 when it produced 1,000 bottles an hour. Today, this number is 24,000 beer bottles.
Local beer drinkers now have more variety of beers to choose from with the launch of the 961 and Lebanese Brew brands. Recently, Almaza added two new products to its traditional pilsner beer: Almaza Light and Pure Malt.
According to the Association of Alcohol Wines and Spirits in Lebanon, local production of beer reached 1.45 million boxes (24 bottles per box) in 2011. Around 950 thousand boxes were also imported.
Experts indicate that the beer production in Lebanon fulfills the demands for the beverage. Nevertheless, raising the consumption rates would increase the prosperity of local producers and develop the Lebanese market, in quality and variety.
Consumption of this refreshing beverage reaches a peak in the summer, but decreases sharply in winter due to the lack of beer culture - this is a market that could still be developed.
In Lebanon, “drinking beer is still limited to quenching thirst,” remarks Hajjar. “But complex and luxury beers which provide a variety of flavors, like wine, are now prominent in European and US markets.”
“Consumers are steering away from popular products and moving to luxury beer, as an accompaniment to food. We have noticed an international trend to raise the status of the beer culture and we want to establish it Lebanon,” he argues.
In addition to the cultural factor in consumption of alcoholic beverages, there is also the financial factor. The average price of a bottle of beer in a supermarket is around 1,700 Lebanese Lira (LL) (US$1.13), based on five popular products. It increases fivefold in bars and restaurants.
However, beer consumption in Lebanon is still low compared to other alcohols. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), spirits take 46 percent of alcoholic beverage pie, wine 33 percent, and beer a mere 21 percent.
These figures are from the end of 2006. But Hajjar believes that the share of beer has increased significantly since then.
There is a general belief that beer consumption rises with the increase in income. But in fact, when income reaches the higher levels, consumption begins to decrease. This could be due to the fact that when people’s incomes increase, they move to luxury alcoholic beverages.
But Hajjar disagrees, saying that some high-end beers are almost as expensive as refined wines.
In 1965, 7.6 million liters of beer were consumed in Lebanon. International Wine and Spirit Research (IWSR) estimates that it could have exceeded 23.7 million liters by the end of 2011.
9,000 Years is the period since beer was first brewed in Mesopotamia. “Since then, it accompanied humans throughout their history,” says Hajjar.
This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.