Lebanon's first-ever vodka brand J2 set to debut in August; brand features combination of Lebanese ingredients such as snowmelt water

BEIRUT , July 7, 2014 () – The world of spirits will get its first-ever Lebanese vodka, J2, in August. Lebanon's debut version of the liquor made from fermented potatoes or wheat, is named after a genetic marker "J2" that identifies modern-day descendants of the ancient Phoenicians. The vodka will add to Lebanon's fast-growing alcoholic beverage industry, which experimental wine- and beer-makers as well as savvy entrepreneurs like J2's founder R. Adam Aboulhosn are helping push forward.

The spirit will be widely available in August, but the J2 team celebrated its creation with a pre-launch party at the end of June on the rooftop of the Lancaster Plaza Hotel. J2's creators said the drink reflected what they see as Lebanon's inherent "party gene."

"It all started four years ago, when I was sitting on the balcony with my brother-in-law," Aboulhosn, also J2's CEO, told The Daily Star. "He works in the wine industry, and suggested that I try something new here in Lebanon."

After doing some of his own research, Aboulhosn realized that there was a clear gap in the market, and the sheer size of the numbers prompted him to create a local brand of vodka. "I discovered that in 2010, Lebanon imported more than 1.2 million liters of vodka," he said.

This was too much of an opportunity to leave in the hands of foreign producers, and Aboulhosn decided the time had come for vodka production to meet with Lebanese ingenuity.

"We decided to produce J2 in a country with a centuries-old history of making vodka: Poland. We used a combination of Lebanese ingredients, such as our distinctive snowmelt water, alongside Poland's golden wheat-distilled ethanol, which is arguably the finest in the world," he said.

Despite the ease of production in Poland, Aboulhosn hopes that J2 production can eventually be entirely Lebanon-based. The key members of the J2 team, including the heads of marketing, operations, communications and finance, are based here, while the company has contracted an experienced mixologist to work at the factory in Poland.

The new team at J2 is relatively small, though Aboulhosn has expansion plans.

"Initially, we are focusing on the Greater Beirut area, including Jounieh, Jbeil and Batroun," he said. "Our main goal, however, is to distribute through the Middle East and Africa."

There are a few places where the eager can get a preview of J2 Vodka before August. It is already available in the Aziz Gourmet Market, and several bars around Beirut, including Stereo Kitchen, Cle and Myu.

Aboulhosn, a graduate of the American University of Beirut, said he understands the risks of opening a business in Lebanon. The instability and inefficiency that often plague the country have not put Aboulhosn off, and he said hopes it won't discourage other entrepreneurs.

"You need to have patience in order to succeed in Lebanon," he said. "There will always be obstacles in any endeavor, but you can't let that discourage you; if you have to wait for something, don't beat yourself up about it."

Despite facing such barriers in his career and having lived in the United States for many years -- partly due to civil unrest -- Aboulhosn said he's grateful for his roots, and feels strongly that his experiences in Lebanon have positively shaped his professional development.

"The Lebanese in my generation have lived through some turbulent times. I was fortunate enough to have been able to travel, but I think it builds character regardless. ... No matter what, the Lebanese will always find a way to love life.

"Our brand captures that Lebanese spirit." he said. "No matter what the situation, whatever the barriers are, we can always find a way to make things happen."


(c)2014 The Daily Star (Beirut, Lebanon)

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