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Craft Beer in Vietnam marks the fourth wave of beer drinking culture in the country. This began with the first arrival of draft beer in the late 1800s by the introduction of the French. This marked the first time the Vietnamese began brewing their own beer, which evolved around the turn of the 21st century when German and Czech style beer halls like Gammer and Hoa Vien Brauhaus sprouted up in Vietnam’s major cities.
Now, Vietnam’s beer consumptions numbers are astounding. Since 2010, Vietnam has upped its beer consumption by 40%, drinking 4 billion litres per year, and is now the second greatest consumer of beer in Asia, right behind South Korea.
Craft Beer in Vietnam is flourishing amidst this upward curve in beer drinking. The country is home to roughly 30 craft breweries as of 2018, a number which is rapidly growing. The craft beer scene has now become a hallmark of the modern food and beverage industry in Vietnam. As the demand for craft continues to soar, the country is emerging onto the international craft beer spotlight.
In 2017, both CNN Travel and Vice’s food journal Munchies used the word ‘booming’ to describe the movement of craft beer in Vietnam, and Travel + Leisure Asia listed Pasteur Street Brewing Company’’s award-winning Imperial Chocolate Cyclo Stout as a “need-to-know” Asian craft beer after it took home international medals.
Vietnam Craft Bia explains how craft beer in Vietnam has become an international hub for artisanal brewing
Vietnam Craft Bia, a craft beer education project led by eight locals breweries, explains how Vietnam became an international craft beer destination, and helps to define what makes Vietnamese craft beer unique.
What is a craft beer destination exactly?
A craft beer destination is simply a place that attracts lovers of craft beer from around the world in search of new flavors, styles, and recipes. From LAC Brewing company’s Mango IPA, to the Vietnamese cacao nib porter from Heart of Darkness, unique and locally-sourced ingredients are at the core of Vietnam’s craft beer appeal.
There’s more to becoming a craft beer destination than pubs and restaurants stocking craft brews en masse. Chad Mitchell, from regional beer importers Beervana hails from Santa Rosa, California—a city may consider one of the world’s microbrewing capitals.
In his mind, there are a handful of criteria that need to be met. “Any ‘destination’ has to showcase the best-in-class of whatever that product is, and it has to be something that is unique to that location. Great ‘destinations’ are built on love, passion, and hard work.”
In craft beer hotspots like Portland, Oregon and Chad’s hometown of Santa Rosa, “Brewers have utilized local ingredients and crafted something new. And this movement has upset one of the most established industries in the world…big beer companies” Chad explains.
So how does Vietnam compare to the rest of the world’s craft beer industries and how is it different? Vietnam Craft Bia, sets the record straight.
What is Vietnamese craft beer?
In Hanoi, Thơm Brewery co-founder Tuan Nguyen maintains that craft beer in Vietnam has a unique selling point for its brews. He explains that Vietnamese craft takes its cue from Western culture, but puts a local stamp on it by adding quintessential Vietnamese flavours and ingredients. “We have experimented with local ingredients like buckwheat from Ha Giang, cacao from Southern Areas like Ben Tre, Tien Giang, and Ba Ria – Vung Tau.”
In an earlier interview with Vietcetera, Nguyen said that his brewery tries to, “infuse as many Vietnamese ingredients into our craft beer as possible…The only exception is that we have to source hops elsewhere. It’s our way of tweaking western craft beer culture in order to better suit Vietnamese taste profiles.”
Thơm Brewery isn’t the only Vietnam-based craft beer company taking inspiration from local and regional ingredients. Papaya, passion fruit, breast milk fruit and even durian have found been used in local craft beers, while Furbrew in Hanoi have gone the whole nine yards and even concocted a “Bia Pho”.
Vietnam as a craft beer destination
Thien Bao is the co-owner of Vespa Adventures, a company that began running vintage Vespa motorbike tours in Ho Chi Minh City in 2007. They have since expanded throughout the country as well as Cambodia and Thailand.
As of 2018, their fastest growing tour is a 4-stop craft beer tour, where punters spend the evening roaming around the city, stopping to sample a range of Vietnam-made craft beer options. “It’s taking off very quickly compared to our other tours in their early days. I think that in the near future it will be as popular as our current best selling tour: ‘Saigon After Dark’”, Bao tells us.
Vespa Adventures’ motivation to curate a tour specific to craft beer in Vietnam is clear. “Craft is trending all around the world now and Vietnam is emerging as a craft beer destination. We want to introduce some of the best craft breweries in town that are taking flavour to the next level and exploring international styles with a Vietnamese twist,” says Bao.
Craft beer took off in Hanoi after it did in Ho Chi Minh City, and in the capital, Brian McDonald, the man behind, “A Taste of Hanoi”, has also adopted a tour specifically highlighting craft beer in Vietnam. “The craft beer tour is particularly popular with travelers from Australia and the USA,” he mentions. He had the idea immediately after the success one of Hanoi’s inaugural craft beer festivals, but had to be patient in the beginning. “We had to wait, as most craft beer bars in Hanoi were still being built and there weren’t enough places to bring people to,” McDonald elaborates.
Since 2016, craft beer in Hanoi has been on the rise. “We started to get a few craft beers from HCMC such as Platinum and Pasteur Street Brewing Company. After that we started to get our own craft beer here in Hanoi. Now we have some of the most interesting breweries here. Hanoi breweries continue to successfully market their own version of craft by fully embracing Vietnamese culture and taste preferences.”
Beervana’s Chad Mitchell believes that the odds of becoming a globally-recognized craft beer destination are in Vietnam’s favour. “I think Vietnam is in a really fortunate position. Compared to some of its neighbors the country enjoys more rational laws regarding alcohol and brewing. This allows Vietnam to set the bar for what local Asian craft beer can become.”
Like Tuan Nguyen and Thien Bao, he stresses that Vietnam’s one-of-a-kind take on craft is what separates it from the pack. “The industry is pairing local palates with new and exciting beers, and utilizing local ingredients to create new styles of beers that are challenging the status quo,” Mitchell informs us.
“I think the most important thing is to encourage local Vietnamese to begin making their own beer, to introduce them to new styles, ideas and then provide support as they take the craft beer industry to greater heights,” Mitchell concludes.