My wife and I took a mini-vacation to the Monterey Bay area for Valentine's Day. When we were in the Cannary Row area, I found a little Mediterranean market that had all sorts of funky Greek, Russian, and North African/Mediterranean foods and drinks. I was fascinated by their beer fridge; in addition to beers from the Baltic region and Greece, I found a beer from Lebanon, so naturally I had to buy it. That beer: Almaza, a pilsner.
The Brasserie Almaza S.A.L. was founded in the Baouchriye sector of Beirut in 1933 by Lebanese shareholders as the Brasserie Franco-Libano-Syrienne; the name stems from the fact that France administered Lebanon (then the Lebanese Republic) at that time, but still administered under the French Mandate of Syria. Lebanon saw many conflicts throughout its existence, and throughout the bombardments, Almaza still kept brewing its beer, changing its name to the Brasserie Almaza S.A.L. in the 1990's. (Almaza profile)
In 1995, Almaza beer became the only beer brewed in Lebanon (no longer true, ever since the 961 Brewery opened in Beirut in 2006). In 2002, the Heineken group purchased a significant portion of the brewery, which means I'm not sure if the beer I purchased was actually brewed in Lebanon. In addition to the Almaza pilsner, their flagship, they began brewing Rex strong ale (8% ABV) in 2004 and Almaza Pure Malt (6% ABV) in 2007; they originally began experimenting with additional styles in the 1990's. Since Lebanon has a large Muslim population, it also brews Laziza (a non-alcoholic malt beverage it acquired in 2003) and Almaza 0% Alcohol. The only thing I wasn't able to find was when their pilsner was first brewed (I assume 1933, when the brewery opened) and what "Almaza" means; "al-maza" is a type of Mediterranean tapas called mezze, and "almaza" means "why," so I'm not sure. (Almaza profile)
BREWERY: Brasserie Almaza S.A.L., Beirut, Lebanon
U.S. IMPORTER: Lebanese Arak Corporation, Glendale, CA
FIRST BREWED: 1933 (as far as I can tell)
FOODS TO PAIR WITH: Lebanese food, I imagine
The year comes from the Almaza website, and the (limited) rest comes from the bottle and the importer's website. I think some e-mails are in order.
When I poured the beer, a smell I can only describe as "pilsner" emitted from the brew. It was that hoppy metallic aroma that I've smelled in beers from Poland to Honduras. Full disclosure: I'm not a fan of that smell, but I fully support anyone who does. Also for full disclosure: I'm fairly certain the beer smelled funky; I'm not sure how long my bottle had been in the case, and the green bottle doesn't exactly help with UV radiation and hop oil spoilage. The beer had a light golden color with a white head that dissipated moderately quickly. Taste-wise, this beer tasted like a diluted version of Okocim, which was nice; no penny in the taste and a light carbonation. There also was a little skunk in the taste, which I chalk up to the bottle and its unknown age. The finish was a little bit of a sticky hoppy taste, with a slight touch of skunk.
I probably would've liked this beer more if it were fresher or newer. I'm sure those people who like pilsners will enjoy this one. Order one from your local Lebanese restaurant in the U.S., Canada, the U.K., France, Australia, or the Persian Gulf.