The first thing you’ll notice entering East West Brewing Co. is the gleaming machinery towering overhead.
As the doors close behind you, shutting off the din of downtown District 1 and Ly Tu Trong street, your ears will be greeted with the cavernous acoustics of something like to a museum. The floor plan is open permitting a clear view of the Ho Chi Minh City brewer’s pièce de résistance: the mammoth gleaming tanks on two floors that make up the beer maker’s in-house brewery.
In response to why the brewhouse was built to be a public-facing operation, East West Brewing Co.’s founders explained that craft beer’s relative newness and novelty in Vietnam created an opportunity for them to present the drink in a more intimate way.
At the time of writing, East West remains the only place in Saigon where the city’s thirsty can drink a craft beer made on site. Brewery spokeswoman Mimi Truong said that explaining the broader motivation of craft beer—the process, the reasons behind making it and drinking it versus a Tiger or Heineken— is a bit like telling a story.
Like all stories, it benefits from a visual aid.
Mimi used an analogy to explain. “Let’s say you’re eating street food outside. There’s some kind of relationship when you visually see them cooking and the hard work that goes into that process.”
“If we didn’t show the general public upfront what craft beer was about, then the understanding wouldn’t be there”, Head Brewer Sean Thommen said. “That’s the biggest challenge that we have as a country that doesn’t really have a craft beer culture behind it.”
“We could just be brewing the beer elsewhere and using the location as a taproom”, Mimi said. But “to actually have it laid down in front of you ... it introduces the concept of real brewers brewing real quality beer. It creates this relationship that’s more personal.”
“It’s one thing to tell you, it’s another to show you”, Mimi said.
The untrained eye might get lost in the chromy gleam of the open brewery. The four tanks at the top are seated on another five polished 1,500 litre tanks at the ground floor.
It’s like looking at the engine of a car: the industrial beauty is enhanced by the mystery of how the Rube Goldberg machine-like invention works.
East West Brewing Co. offers tours of its brewery to learn more about how they make the beers.
During the tour, you might learn that the brewery is not just a two-storey machine, but also contains a third at the very top. It’s here that the recipe begins, crushing the grain in preparation for the mash.
From there, the malt moves to the second “hot” floor where the ingredients are combined with boiling water and cooked to specification. Then the liquid is moved to the kettle and boiled. This is where one of the most important steps for perfecting flavour happens: adding the hops.
Unfinished beers leaving the second floor are sent to the bottom to cool and condition in the 1,500 litre tanks standing at attention adjacent to the dining room floor. Depending on the style of beer, the unfinished brew could be in fermentation for a long time—the malty, pronounced Independence Stout calls for a resting period of a month and a half—or a short one, like the Summer Hefeweizen, which is ready for kegging and bottling in just over two weeks.
The brewery is built in levels like this to have gravity do the work of moving the tremendous liquid volumes from the top to the ground floor where the beers enter the fermentation stage, the last step in becoming drinkable, finished brews.
As Saigon’s beer lovers are getting to know East West Brewing Co., the brewer is also getting to know it’s audience and it’s shifting preferences better.
For example, when the microbrewery opened a year ago, the top seller was the Saigon Rosé. The light, fruity raspberry wheat beer was a popular first foray into craft beer for the local drinkers, a crowd typically doused with light lagers like Tiger and 333 at other places.
Then, “in just six months the palette changed so quickly”, Mimi said.
Nowadays, the brewery is now equally known and renowned for the Summer Hefeweizen, a citrusy, zesty take on the classic German wheat ale recipe, as well as their Far East IPA, and its flagship East West Pale Ale, a polished, hoppy beer that acts as ”a nice bridge” out of the land of industrial scale lagers, Mimi said.
The beer that carries the brewery’s name is an abridged reimagining of the company’s story. The East West Pale Ale combines hops from the US with hops in New Zealand. Similarly, East West Brewing Co. is the lovechild of a marriage between craft beer—a western convention—to a vision formulated by a US-raised Vietnamese entrepreneur Loc Truong and Sean Thommen, a US native leading the brewing operation.
“If they can come in and see it, smell it … they can understand why it’s not just a product”, Thommen said. “We have to show them that it’s … an experience, there’s a science behind it.”
Most importantly, he added “it’s fun.”
Your meal prep routine will forgive you if you head to East West Brewing Co. for lunch. With a wide selection of Saigon & San Diego based dishes ranging from VND50,000 to VND175,000+, your wallet won’t likely mind either. Choose from a menu that includes appetizers like the Lotus Root Palm Heart Salad or Steak Watercress Salad and a main course, like the Spicy Garlic Tiger Prawn Tacos, California Burrito, or Teriyaki Salmon.
Come back on Saturday and Sunday morning for brunch. For VND750,000+, you can indulge in the brewery’s Kegs N’ Eggs Weekend Brunch package, which includes free flow craft beer as well as creme brulee french toast, california eggs benedict, and carne asada steak tacos.