Craft Breweries in Saigon: A Complete Guide
Craft brewing is well and truly established in Saigon. To the delight of travellers and expatriates, what once was the preserve of the German and Czech beer houses has now spread into a genuine craft beer culture within the city. Companies like Vespa Adventures even provide regular craft beer tours.
Beer drinking is not one of those things where everyone finds one they like and sticks to it. Of course, some have their favourites to which they will continually return. But for the vast majority it’s a case of sampling all the different brews and comparing flavours. The time of day, your mood, what you are eating and even the weather all come into play. This is a great time to be in Vietnam and a terrific time to check out all the different breweries.
Before we get to the actual brewers, a special mention must go to Gert Keersmaekers. Gert’s name came up time and again when I was interviewing the brewers. He has a background in IT and started off in the IT industry here in Saigon. Bored with the lager scene, he decided to home brew. Then started to import beer ingredients, coincidentally at the same time as the other guys started brewing. He began manufacturing beer brewing systems here. From 35-litre home brew kits, that have a footprint of only one square metre, to 8,000 litre systems.
So with impeccable timing just as craft brewing in Saigon took off, so did Gert. He now has 12 employees and a new 600 square metre factory. The order books are completely full. Gert seems to be the common denominator among all the brewers in Saigon. His company Craft Brewer Vietnam makes kegerators and glycol systems, which are starting to show up all over the city.
So who are the people behind the Craft brewing in Saigon?
Michael Comerton hails from Belfast and came to Saigon in 2008 to set up a brewery. He was looking for investors at a time when he only had Heineken as the main foreign competitor. Initial concerns were allayed by the lack of craft brewing in Saigon. Michael went to Australia and spent ten years brewing and setting up a few brewpubs for James Squire. From 2004 to 2007, he ran Matilda Bay Brewing company, Australia’s original craft brewer. Michael then started brewing for other companies under licence and also started selling to supermarkets. He then decided to launch Platinum in 2014.
Platinum was the first producer of craft beer in Ho Chi Minh City after the German and Czech instigators. Their Platinum Pale Ale has been a constant good seller and is available in more than 50 outlets throughout the city now, and as of June, they are selling in Hanoi as well. In August 2014 Michael’s brother decided to join him from Brazil where he was working, and is now Head of Hoperations at Platinum. Later, the pale ale was introduced to its new stable mate, Platinum Golden Ale, which is also selling consistently well.
The brothers’ future aim is to develop a range of beers for the market, to bring more flavours and choices to their customers. Platinum Beers are made using 100% natural ingredients. The brew length is now 10,000 litres and they are keeping busy at their Cu Chi brewery, as well as their cool District 1 headquarters. This includes a great venue for training and events.
Platinum classics are:
Platinum Pale Ale 4.5% ABV
This is where it all began for the brewery and this light-tasting hoppy beer has become well established in Saigon. It has a rich sparkling golden colour and a clean fresh taste.
Platinum Golden Ale 4.6% ABV
This has a distinctive golden-red colour, and maintains a refreshing flavour. The bitterness is balanced by the fullness of the malt. A great beer to enjoy with your pizza.
Pasteur Street Brewing Company
The guys at Pasteur Street Brewery have established themselves very quickly, in many people’s eyes, as the leader of the pack when it comes to craft brewing in Saigon.
Universally acclaimed, they go from strength to strength. It was started by two Americans: John Reid who has a background in hospitality, and who had worked in restaurants, a German beer-house and a deli in America, and Alex Violette, who was the brewer at Upslope Brewing Company, in Boulder, Colorado. In the early days they got, and they acknowledge this, a lot of help from friends, and now produce over 70 different beers, rotating them whilst they keep their top sellers as permanent fixtures at their tasting room on Pasteur.
This business really has grown organically, though at such a rate it has taken many by surprise.
Their top selling beers are:
Jasmine IPA, 6.5% ABV
This is a medium bodied IPA with a nice hint of jasmine, which is added after fermentation. Using Citra hops, adds a lovely finish to a beer that has a good floral aroma. It has a bitter but well balanced flavour.
Passion Fruit Wheat Ale 5.5% ABV
This fresh tasting gem is bursting with flavour, Strong on the tangy sweet taste of passionfruit, this is a light-bodied, rather mild beer that is very easy to drink.
Toasted Coconut Porter 6.5% ABV
For those who like the darker side of beerdom, this is an absolute cracker. Rich and dark in both colour and taste, it is packed with caramel, coffee and chocolate flavours. The toasted coconut is a master stroke adding the finish.
Spice Island Saison 7% ABV
Pasteur Street uses fresh lemongrass and world class Phu Quoc pepper to arrive at this amazing, fresh tasting beer. This Belgian farmhouse style beer has the typical cloudy golden colour, and bursts onto the tongue.
Mark Gustafson had been brewing for 15 years and looked into brewing here a long time ago, originally planning to open a barbecue restaurant with craft beers. He joined forces with Tim Scott and Alvin Deforges. They quickly discovered the negatives of trying to brew in the city; i.e. you are not allowed to. By June 2014 they were selling Platinum on draft at Quan Ut Ut. After much jumping over hurdles, they brewed 300 bottles of beers. After the soft opening Mark was selling 30 bottles per night. He realised he had to limit the beer.
By January 2015 Mark was craft brewing in Saigon on a larger scale. But they couldn’t keep up. At this time Pasteur Street had opened. Now there were Platinum, Pasteur Street, and Fuzzy Logic all selling craft beer in Saigon. By August 2015 they opened the Biacraft bar in District 2. Fuzzy Logic brewed for them under licence. Biacraft opened with six beers: two Platinums, two from Pasteur Street, one from Fuzzy Logic and one from their own stock.
It all took off from here. BiaCraft now has Lucas from Lac brewing a double IPA under licence, and Phat Rooster brews four for them: a pale ale, a blonde, an amber and an IPA. More is to come. The Biacraft venue opened at 1 Le Ngo Cat in District 3, it is even bigger. This bar has 30 taps!
Their top selling beers are:
BiaCraft Blonde 5.2%
A light spicy blonde with good floral aromas. This is very easy to drink and the taste is well balanced with a hint of maltiness.
BiaCraft Pale Ale 5.4%
The Cascade hops provide the citrus finish to this excellent hoppy and sweet pale ale. They achieve a great balance between the hops and the malt.
Biacraft IPA 7.0%
Strong hoppy aromas with citrus and tropical fruit tones backing it up. Elements of other fruits in this quite complex IPA, including grapefruit and passionfruit.
Max Crawford and Colin O’Keefe are former teachers turned brewers. Max had moved to the States and started brewing as a hobby. A friend’s parents owned a brew pub in New Mexico, so he took a job as an assistant brewer. He also worked as a beer and wine consultant at a store, making beer as a hobby in his garage. He then returned to Vietnam, intending to open a pub.
Sadly, his funding fell through and a conversation with Colin turned into a business plan to start craft brewing in Saigon. This was about three years ago.
Back then just to build one brewing kit involved travelling all over the city, desperately searching for parts. Fuzzy Logic’s main brewery is in Hoc Mon to the north of the airport. This is a large brewing facility and they contract and monitor their brews from here. Most brews in Vietnam are lagers, whereas West Coast American Pale Ales are more hoppy and therefore the systems need to be different.
At the start they brewed five kegs and took them to a rock gig and sold out in no time. They had a little system brewing 50 litres at a time to try out different styles, which have been sold through Biacraft and at festivals. The brewery’s rise to stardom was meteoric, with an article appearing in the Wall Street Journal. Now they brew 4,000 litres in each batch, with the potential to increase significantly. They are now selling from 15 locations in HCMC and have got into their first venue in Hanoi. They are currently selling 750 litres per week.
Fuzzy Logic Pale Ale is their flagship beer:
Fuzzy Logic Pale Ale 5.4% ABV
Instantly recognisable by its deep amber colour, it has an aroma of citrus and grapefruit and is delightfully hoppy due to the Simcoe and Cascade hops, both classic American hops.
Lạc Brewing Company
The name means lost in Vietnamese, and was inspired by the lost civilisation of Vietnam. Lucas Jans hails from Portland, Oregon, and was inspired by the huge rise in craft beers there. He moved to Saigon working in the IT industry and as with all the other brewers here, simply wanted to be able to get the good stuff in Saigon.
He discovered Quan Ut Ut and was happily drinking them out of product. One day in August 2014, boss Mark Gustavson was injured in a motorbike accident. Lucas began helping out with all the heavy lifting, got more interested in brewing and learnt how to brew there. He started his own craft brewing in Saigon in January 2016. Loving the American IPAs, it was no surprise what his first beer was. Starting off with his Session IPA he added the Devil’s Lake IPA in July 2015. LAC has opened their great looking tasting room on Nguyen Duc Canh in Phu My Hung.
Their two beers are:
Summer IPA 4.9% ABV
A crisp, refreshing beer that, as its name suggests, can be enjoyed in volume. It does though remain an IPA at heart. A light brown, it’s balance between malts and hops, and brings out a citrus aroma with raisin and pine notes.
Devil’s Lake IPA 6.5%
Devil's Lake is an Oregon style IPA. Big on hops it has a pleasing light gold colour and a blueberry, grapefruit and crisp citrus finish.
Tê Tê consists of four founders. Michael Rowland hails from The United States. Spaniard Ruben Martinez and Tobias Briffa from Malta ran Astro Pig, a creative agency, before getting involved with the brewery. Ruben’s brother Luis had experience at a craft brewery in Spain. Luis eventually settled in HCMC, originally hoping to brew for one of the already established breweries, but when he realised that the other three made their own beer, and that it was actually pretty damn good, he got on board. This was in March 2015. The whole year was spent building the brewery and the brand. They started craft brewing in Saigon with 15 litre brews and now make 450 litre brews, making 1,800 litres per month.
The brewery is in Binh Duong, which is out through D9 by Thu Duc. They started off with equipment built by the guys themselves. Now they have a new custom built brewery. Their beer is currently being sold from 17 venues in HCMC, one in Mui Ne and one in Hanoi.
They currently offer just one beer. The four guys are driven and incredibly keen to perfect the product, the company, the distribution, etc. before moving forward.
Tê Tê White Craft Beer 5.6% ABV
This is a fine Belgian style white beer of a cloudy pale yellow appearance that has a real tangy flavour propped up with delicious citrus and fruit notes. It’s a really good session beer and ideally suited to Saigon’s climate.
This company began craft brewing in Saigon at the start of 2015. Mike Sakkers, who hails from California, graduated in nutritional biochemistry and also worked as an underwater welder. He found himself in Vietnam and, missing great beer, strolled into Quan Ut Ut and was thrilled to find a proper IPA. He met Jeremy Willies, who had just opened Chipotle (now Sanchos) on Bui Vien. He came on board as a partner and handled the marketing. The third partner Joshua Puckett started as an enthusiastic customer he later met Mike and Jeremy and is now the main brewer. Josh is in charge of developing new styles of craft beer.
The first system was making 150 litres at a time, selling originally from Chipotle on Bui Vien. Now they have moved to brewing every other day using a much larger system and selling through Biacraft who having tried the beer, liked it, and started selling it from their D2 outlet. The relationship between the two companies continued to grow. Phat Rooster now brews many BiaCraft’s Beers using their recipes under licence. Meanwhile their own recipes are selling extremely well from about 10 outlets around the city.
The company later set up a 400-square-metre factory in Can Gio directly south of Ho Chi Minh City.
The Phat Rooster official tasting room is Sancho’s Mexican bar and restaurant 207 Bui Vien.
Top sellers are:
Phat Rooster Saigon Blonde 5.5%
This one’s aimed specifically at the palate of session drinking expats and the Vietnamese. This is a an excellent sessions beer, full of light flavours and flowery aromas.
Phat Rooster IPA 6.7%
A truly great American style IPA, bursting with hoppy flavours and holding up against any that I have tasted. Rated on other sites as being only 5.6%, but this is incorrect.
Three on a Bike
The brewery is very much the new kid on the block, having launched in July 2016. It is the brainchild of Kiwi Lauren Schumacher, and Andy Pazmany and Martin Brinkac from Slovakia. Lauren used to run a craft beer bar in New Zealand and moved to Saigon, met Andy, who has studied molecular biology, and Martin, who was in the F&B industry. When they first arrived, they were all disappointed at the lack of great craft brewing in Saigon.
They decided to start brewing as a hobby, then began to take it more seriously. The three friends were in a taxi on their way to Pasteur Street’s first birthday party when the conversation turned to opening a brewery. It was in the cab that Three on a Bike was born! They launched with two beers, both IPAs, brewing from very small premises. They brew in 50 litre batches and have achieved excellent results very quickly. They have kicked off with these two IPAs and both are very good indeed.
Bohemian Bastard 5.5%
Full of hoppy goodness, the flavour provides an instant hit. American hops provide the bitterness and let’s face it, this beer has one of the best names ever.
Slightly sweeter than its brother, due to temperature differences in the brewing process. If anything this is even easier to drink. A really good IPA.
East West Brewing Company
This brewery has a big venue in the heart of D1. I met up with Steve Gutierrez and Shawn Scott, two of the men behind this exciting venture. They have brought over Sean Thommen as head brewer. He’s been brewing in the city of Portland, Oregon, for the 10 years. Portland is, of course, regarded as one of the top cities in the U.S. for craft beer. Their outlet on Ly Tu Trong has 1,300 square metres, and offers a 180-square-metre restaurant, as well as a beautifully designed 60-square-metre tasting room that has a custom designed multi-level brewing system. The rest of the space houses their state of the art brewing system, kitchen and back of house.
Winking Seal Beer Company
Mark Nerney and Brian Kekitch met through work in Singapore, when Brian worked in a TV company, Fremantle Media. They visited Saigon in June 2015 and saw the rising tide of craft beer first hand. The third partner is Ben Fazioli who knew Mark back in Denver, previously. Brian had been a homebrewer since 2008. They decided to move here and develop their business plan. Brian arrived here in April 2016, Ben came in July, Mark is still in Singapore but visits every weekend. They have a factory in Kizuna, to the south of the city.
They opened a taproom on Dang Thi Nhu in District 1 in late 2016. The company name comes from Mark’s childhood toy, which is an old stuffed seal, called Sealy, who lost his eye after many years of love. They opened with six of their own beers in the taproom: an IPA, a light session beer, a seasonal beer, a dark beer, a wheat beer and a Belgian style beer.
The Belgian Beer Brewery
Gauthier Lagasse and his partner Francois Schwennicke are two Belgians that have a real love for their national beers. They have been busy working towards their new idea of bringing authentic Belgian beers to Saigon. Indeed, their brewing equipment, brew masters (Pascal and Peter), recipes and most of the ingredients are coming straight from Belgium, in order to brew in the pure Belgian tradition. This enables them to offer true Belgian style beers to the local beer lovers.
The brewing is being done in Long An, but they have also opened a pub and restaurant in D1. While their own Belgian style beers is served on tap, a large choice of Belgian imported beers is available in bottles. The Belgian Beer Brewery has a base of standard beers as they rotate new regular creations. The beer is paired with typical Belgian food; their menu finds the right balance between Vietnamese dishes and Belgian specialities like: mussels and fries; stews; and waffles. The main goal of this truly unique pub is to provide a friendly place to enjoy beers of great quality with a “Belgian Twist”. The pub’s decor is described by Gauthier as “a mix of the absurd and the humorous; Belgium being the home of Surrealism and comic books.”
Heart of Darkness
Australian-born Brit owner John Pemberton moved to New York in his 20s, where his passion for craft beer was born. Duane Morton (head brewer) is a Kiwi, who lived in the UK for a long time, and has always been interested in beer, home brewing as a student. He moved back to New Zealand in 2010 and decided to train as a brewer. He worked in four breweries in New Zealand and came out here after successfully applying for the job at the Heart of Darkness brewery. John has two other silent but extremely active and supportive partners who have been working hard behind the scenes.
Missing U.S. craft beer, John taught himself to home brew on a homemade 60-litre kit during his eight years in China. John then moved to Vietnam as IKEA’s country manager, and got a custom electric brew system here in Saigon. Now they are the proud owners of a 1,000-square-metre brewery in the Vietnam-Singapore Industrial Park in Binh Duong.
They have a magnificent 300-square-metre taproom on Ly Tu Trong close to the junction with Hai Ba Trung. They have partnered with one of the premier restaurants in town: Pizza 4P’s. So you can enjoy their craft beer selection paired with some of the best pizzas to be had in town.
The bar is designed to pay tribute to U.S. craft breweries, as well as Saigon at the turn of the 20th century, while still retaining an essence of the book by Joseph Conrad, from which they take their name. Their beer range is extensive and frequently rotated. Their philosophy is about the journey of exploration into the world of craft beer. As both John and Duane are vegetarian, so are the beers; they use extracts from seaweed and not isinglass to clarify the beer.
The future of craft brewing in Saigon looks to be in good hands.