Although access to unorthodox fruits and spices are an attractive draw for brewmasters, the country’s weather pattern is an unexpected challenge when brewing in a tropical climate. Coming up with craft beer recipes that compliment the weather, rather than work against it, can be one difference between success and failure.
Staying on top of Vietnam’s evolving craft beer trends require us to keep our hands wrapped tightly around the pint glasses. In search of a [literal] top up, we reached out to one of Ho Chi Minh’s most creative breweries, BiaCraft Artisan Ales to talk craft with Tim Scott, a guy who knows what he’s talking about when it comes to food and beer.
The aim was to get his take on which Vietnamese ingredients are trending in the brewing industry, and to gain a deeper understanding about how his brewmaster—also the man behind Rooster Beers—is customizing craft beer recipes to better fit Vietnam’s drinking culture.
How does Ho Chi Minh City’s tropical climate affect which styles of craft beer the local community is attracted to?
The reason people in Ho Chi Minh City drink so much beer is because it’s always hot. The drinking culture here usually calls for a few rounds of slamming beers…really quickly…and with a large group. It’s actually a great way to forget about the heat. My job is to observe the manner and environment in which they drink. When you understand this, it becomes easy to see that drinkability and low alcohol content are important factors.
What are some of the most popular brews from BiaCraft Artisan Ales right now? Can you breakdown a few of your best-sellers?
The Đừng Chọc Tao Pale Ale accounts for a large portion of our beer sales during the dry season. The sweet notes are a result of the light malt, which balances out the bitterness from the hops. For this particular beer, we throw in a single cascade hop at the end. This provides a mild citrus finish, rather than lingering bitterness. BiaCraft Artisan Ales’ Đừng Chọc Tao Pale Ale has 5.4% ABV and 40 IBUs.
Fruity ciders are also doing well. The Fifty-two Triple Z, or Bơm Vú Đủ Xài Hard Cider, is a good example. It’s a combination of apple, papaya, breast milk fruit, mango, and star apples. This hard cider is fueled by fruit, making it a hit with female consumers. Our careful combination of fruit produces a slightly sour brew without the bitterness. Regarding specs, the Bơm Vú Đủ Xài Hảd Cider has 6.5% ABV and only 8 IBUs.
The Xạo Bà Cố Summer Ale is a crisp, fruity summer ale infused with Indian spices and zest from the buddha hand citron fruit. Together this blend of ingredients creates a beer with a firm citrus profile alongside a light body. It weighs in low with 4.2% ABV and 19 IBUs making way for a highly-sessionable ale.
Despite being hop-heavy the Xấu Mà Chảnh IPA and the Biết Chết Liền Double IPA are well-recieved. It’s normal to kick off the night with one or two before shiting to lighter styles. You don’t see many people sit down and knock back ten IPAs. Especially double IPAs.
What are some unique ingredients Vietnam-based brewers are using today?
Vietnam is home to an incredible plethora of tropical fruits, spices, and food items. Almost every brewery has released at least one small batch that leverages local food items like dragon fruit, durian, Marou chocolate, and Phu Quoc black pepper.
Weaving hints of Vietnamese flavors into the beer not only helps to define what Vietnamese craft beer is, but also helps localize craft beer by a wider margin. If you have any Vietnamese friends uninitiated to the world of craft beer, ask them if they want to try a dragon fruit sour or a milk coffee stout. Odds are they will leave happy, and a bit tipsy.
Can you recommend four beers from other craft beer brands in Vietnam that have successfully incorporated local ingredients?
Pasteur Street Brewing Company’s Cyclo Stout was the first craft beer in Vietnam to take home a gold medal at the World Beer Cup back in 2016. They also integrated Marou Chocolate into their Cyclo Stout—a move that helped shape the recipe into an award-winning beer.
Furbrew is a Hanoi-based brewery known for pushing the boundaries of craft beer in Vietnam. Phở, Vietnam’s most iconic dish, is no longer limited to a food item. Furbrew has successfully steeped properties of the dish into an alternative liquid form known as Bia Phở. It’s umami taste is an imitation of Phở broth brought on by lightly roasted malts, an added touch of sweetness, and a dab of hot chili pepper. Furbrew’s spiced Bia Phở has 4.4% ABV and 18 IBUs.
I also encourage people to try the Mango IPA from LAC Brewing Co. It is a hazy beer with a texture that’s almost creamy. The Mango flavor remains subtle and the hops are present, yet dialed back compared to many other IPAs. It finishes with a crisp citrus finish at 5.5% ABV and 41 IBUs.
The last beverage I would suggest on behalf of BiaCraft Artisan Ales is a Hanoi Cider brew. Their Pomegranate Cider is medium sweet and if you have a smart palate you should pick up subtle hints of berry and rose. Expect a pleasant, earthy sour touch on the finish. It has 6.5% ABV and 0 IBUs.
What is the craziest ingredient you tried to blend into a craft beer recipe? Was it successful?
We once made a kimchi sour ale. Lactobacillus is a type of “friendly” bacteria that ferments sour beers, and happens to be the same bacteria used to ferment Korean kimchi. We thought the active roll lactobacillus plays in fermenting both sour beers and kimchi might result in something interesting. We went ahead with it and threw a heap of kimchi and chili peppers into the mash.
Although we found it tasty, it’s profile was extremely unusual. Was it successful? It’s not on our menu at the moment but several people have recently asked about it. I’d say it’s a special kind of brew reserved for those with a robust sense of taste. It certainly isn’t for everyone but it is a really interesting beer.
Which brew from BiaCraft Artisan Ales do you think is most representative of a “Vietnamese craft beer”?
Our Trăm Phần Trăm Crush Ale was designed to be the perfect fit for our Vietnamese customers. In any bar or restaurant in the city, it’s not surprising to see large groups of people slamming glasses together chanting “mot, hai, ba, yo” before chugging a can or bottle. At BiaCraft, the crush ale is the most “smashable” beer on the menu. It’s great if you simply want to get drunk, and that’s why many people order it. Perhaps when the Vietnamese market is ready to chose a few favorite styles, the Trăm Phần Trăm Crush Ale will be a go-to.
What is the next big trend for craft beer in Vietnam?
I will go out on a limb and say that homebrewing will be the next trend. It’s just a matter of time before the scales tip and craft beer fans start trying to make beer for themselves.
Who should we speak with next?
Guy Dickson and Hao Dinh. Together they own, operate, and brew for their brand, Hanoi Cider. Due to an impressive variety of creative cider concoctions, their cider quickly gained traction. Try the Lemongrass and Ginger Cider for a zesty session or their original Hopped Apple Cider brewed with American hops.