C-Brewmaster: Making Craft Beer Truly Vietnamese
But these are Western-style lagers made by foreigners. Sometimes the ingredients are even imported. The owners of craft brewery Tê Tê reportedly import 95 percent of their ingredients.
Hanoi-based C-Brewmaster in 2016 was the first entrant with a totally local focus: Vietnamese ownership using Vietnamese ingredients.
At first, “We were just thinking we can brew on a small scale, just for friends,” Le Cong Vinh, National Sales Manager for the expanding Hanoi brewery, said. Le spoke to #iAMHCMC at C-Brewmaster’s newly opened taproom at 52B Nguyen Binh Khiem in D1.
A marketer who worked with Heineken and Anheuser-Busch InBev, Le co-founded the brewery with Nguyen Van Cuong, owner and lead beersmith. Coung is a trained brewer who worked with beer giant Carlsberg Group as a manager of one of its plants. Between them, the two have over 30 years of experience in volume beer.
Travelling throughout the world in their respective careers, they said they bumped into more and more craft breweries. They got the idea to try something new and started brewing during Tet in 2016.
Their first beer was a citrusy, smooth, blonde ale that used Vietnamese mandarins. Soon they began selling it and, with the help of investor backing, got to work building their first brewery. They opened a second in October 2016 and today sell their portfolio of 40 craft beers throughout Vietnam.
A Passing Fancy?
In their Saigon taproom, the beer menu consists of a grid of colour-coded, numbered posters: number 12 is a zesty lemongrass beer; number 7 is the Pharaoh Whiskey Beer that carries a pleasant bite due to ageing in a liquor cask; number 1 is the first beer, the Queen Blonde.
In some respects the impact of craft beer—which has been called a “phenomenon,” a “wave,” a “fad”—is a bit like the foreigners who gravitate towards it. No one is quite sure what to make of them, or how long they’ll be around.
Hanoi-based C-Brewmaster’s strategy bets on the only constant in the consumer equation: the Vietnamese.
There’s a perception that Vietnamese consumers are passing on craft beer, but Le said that’s changing. The high quality ingredients and higher quality product are beginning to gain a foothold amongst the increasingly affluent native population. “They feel the difference,” he said.
He added that the image of a group sitting on low, red stools drinking foamy amber out of a glass tumbler is becoming less and less fashionable.
He cited a growing demand for craft beer in neighbouring China: 10 percent of beer sold there was from a craft brewery. Le said rising incomes and just plain old curiosity are driving the thirsty to wander from the little stools.
It’s an argument that, conveniently, is immediately verifiable. On the afternoon Le talks to us, a pair of Vietnamese men pass a lazy afternoon in the taproom sipping the beer at roughly the same speed that one sips the minutes over the course of a lifetime.
Image source: C-Brewmaster