Best Craft Beers in Vietnam

By: Keely Burkey

You’re thirsty and you want to go out with your friends tonight. Do you want to drink a beer? Or do you want to drink a craft beer?

Some might consider craft beers to be slightly pretentious, the high-nosed brother of its Saigon Red and 333 counterparts but twice as expensive for a lot more head and not much else. However, nothing could be further from the truth.

The modern craft beer movement, hailing from Western countries and, in particular, the United States in cities like Denver, Colorado and Portland, Oregon, emphasizes a few things above all: beer brewed in small batches, with quality ingredients and just done well.

After spending nine years in Portland, I couldn’t help but get drawn into the scene, where some pretty incredible things were being done to the wholesome hoppy brew. When I moved to Vietnam, I thought one of the many life changes would be to get used to a watery Tiger at the end of the workday.

craft beerImage source: thoibao.today

Imagine my delighted surprise when I found out that craft beer is on the up-and-up in Saigon. What do I value in a good craft beer?

1) It’s suitable for the weather of HCMC. It’s hot outside. Who wants to drink a thick, creamy stout better suited for a cold winter’s night elsewhere? I like a beer that knows where it’s being served.

2) It’s unique. For me, the fun of craft beers is that they’re doing something different. We’re in Vietnam, so why not make use of the abundance of ingredients this fine country has to offer?

3) It delivers on what if offers. If a beer is labeled as a “cream ale” and it tastes more of old tires, that beer has definitely not done its job.

After a thorough search across Saigon’s thriving craft breweries, here are my personal favourites.

Cheers!

Pasteur Street Brewery’s Passion Fruit Wheat Ale (4.8% ABV)

I’ll just get this one out of the way because (spoiler alert) it’s my favourite craft beer in the city. Pasteur Street Brewery is probably the most well-respected beer establishment in HCMC at the moment, and with good reason. The epitome of their process can be found in the Passion Fruit Wheat Ale.

craft beerImage source: munchies.vice.com

They use real passion fruit in this nectar of the gods to make it tart, but not too tart. Here you’ll find a glass filled with beer the colour of wheat, with a smooth texture and just the right carbonation to complement the passion fruit… This is a beer one would be lucky to imbue in any country in the world.

Where you can get it: Besides Pasteur Street’s tap room (144 Pasteur, D1), you’ll be happy to know that these beers can be found on tap in over 80 outlets in Vietnam, Hong Kong and Malaysia. Here’s a tip: go to their website; they have a very handy “beer finder” map that lets you know exactly where you can wet your whistle.

FURBREW’s Bia Phở (4.6% ABV)

Notice this article isn’t named, “The Best Craft Beers in HCMC”. It had to be expanded to accommodate this magical beer, made by the fine people at FURBREW in Hanoi. Apparently, this beer was made as a challenge: make a beer that tastes like phở. They accepted that challenge and I, for one, am certainly glad they did.

craft beer
Image source: facebook.com/furbrew

They describe this treat as having an umami taste, but I didn’t get much of that when I tried it. There’s a good amount of sweetness provided by the cinnamon, star anise, cardamon and coriander seeds imbued. Apparently there’s also a note of chilli, though I didn’t get much of this, either. Instead, I was treated to a spice-heavy, intoxicating drink with enough hoppy kick to remind me it’s a beer. I couldn’t drink this all night, but one glass was terrific.

Where you can get it: If you don’t happen to be in Hanoi (and if you are, their tap room is on 8b/52 To Ngoc Van in Tay Ho), this can be tricky. I spoke to one of the brewers at a recent festival, and he seemed a little evasive about telling me where it can be found in HCMC, simply because the locations keep changing. You might get lucky and get a pint at Bia Craft, but other than that, keep these guys in mind the next time you’re up north.

Winking Seal Beer Co.’s Nâm Nâm Nâm Cream Ale (4.5% ABV)

Although this beer doesn’t have any specialised Vietnamese ingredients involved, I’m making an exception for this guy. Why? Because it’s the perfect beer for this balmy Saigon weather. Its description indicates that it has fruity notes, but these didn’t come through for me. It isn’t particularly ‘creamy’, either. Just obscenely light and refreshing.

craft beerImage source: vesperandlaura

When I professed my love for this beer to the bartender at Winking Seal, he said, “It’s not the best we have, actually.” So, I’ll definitely be back to find this out for myself.

Where you can get it: Two places in Saigon have got you covered. First of all, the Winking Seal taproom (50 Dang Thi Nhu, D1), unsurprisingly. Plus, Bia Craft usually has Winking Seal on tap, and if they’re smart they’ll keep the cream ale around for a long time.

Saigon Cider’s Hot Chili Cider (6.5% ABV)

Yep, I know this article is all about craft beers, but leaving this gem off a list celebrating craft beverages in Saigon would just be a crime. The main reason I love this chili cider so much is because it’s so controversial — some people (like myself) adore it, and some people can’t stand drinking a spicy cider.

The main thing to realise is that when they put “chili” in the title here, they mean it. It’s not an undertone flavour — it is the main flavour. The beautiful thing about drinking a glass of this fine brew, however, is that the flavour actually changes as you sip it. It’s a refreshing cider at first, and then it hits you at the back of your throat. The heat of the chili comes through, and it’s not subtle. Hannah Jefferys, the owner of Saigon Cider (and the only female founder of a craft beverage company in the country!) said that while it’s not the most popular cider on the roster, it’s definitely the most talked-about. I can see why.

craft beerImage source: Francis Xavier

Where you can find it: I usually get my fix of this unique creation at Rogue (13 Pasteur, D1). They don’t have a tap room yet — I hope this will change — but they also do home deliveries and distribute to bars, restaurants and cafes all over the city. Just keep an eye out for the chili variety.

C-Brewmaster’s Lemongrass Ale (4.5% ABV)

This playful little number joined the list because, as you sip it, you can tell it’s special. As much as I love American-style craft brews, you can always tell them distinctly from other brew styles. C-Brewmaster’s Lemongrass Ale is all Vietnamese.

craft beer
Image source: facebook.com/CBrewmaster

Although this brewery made their name in Hanoi, they just stepped into HCMC about a month ago, and they seem to be doing well here so far. Nguyen Van Cuong, the brewmaster, holds the honourable title as the first Vietnamese craft beer brewmaster, and he practices this title well.

Another notable brew on tap is the Ginger Ale, but do not be fooled — this one is much better. Light and refreshing and very lemongrass-forward, it’s a good beer to start off your night.

Where you can get it: It seems like C-Brewmaster is still finding their footing in the HCMC beer scene, so be sure to go to their taproom (52B Nguyen Binh Khiem, D1) to get the good stuff. Alternatively, Cuong says you might also find some bottles at Rogue and Rehab Station (27/6 Nguyen Binh Khiem, D1).

LAC Brewing Co.’s Mango IPA (5.5% ABV)

No craft beer list would be complete without a beautiful IPA to round it off. To be perfectly honest, I’ve never been a big fan of IPAs. They’ve always seemed to place hops before flavour. However, LAC’s masterful addition has (somewhat) changed my mind.

Dark orange and with a foamy head, you can clearly taste the mango, but it’s not overpowering. It’s floral and surprisingly delicate for an IPA, and it just so happens LAC uses mangoes grown in Phan Thiet. You can tell.

craft beerImage source: facebook.com/lacbrewing

Where you can get it: You’ll always be able to find one or two offerings at Bia Craft, although it you want to play it safe, definitely head to their brick and mortar venue. Take a trip to 169/7 Nguyen Duc Canh in D7 for a very positive beer experience.

Banner image source: munchies.vice.com


Pasteur Street Expands to Five Locations in Vietnam

By: Molly Headley

Topping Up the Taps

Off of Pasteur Street in District 1 you’ll find an alley with a secret.

What is it? Hint: it has to do with the street name.

First, you’ll notice that the alley itself—white painted walls brightened with cool street art and strings of faerie-lights—has become a top selfie destination for hipster Vietnamese youth. Head a little further down this hem to discover the real draw of this side street.

At this point, any beer aficionado will be able to describe the well-travelled stairs that lead up to the home of one of the pioneers of craft brewing in Vietnam: Pasteur Street Brewing Co.

Pasteur Street Brewing Co. was established in 2015 and this taproom, dubbed “The Original”, has been brimming with beer lovers ever since. This observation drove the team at Pasteur Street Brewing Co. to expand their operations in order to welcome more of their fanbase on a nightly basis. The first taproom to be added to the brand is in the same eye-catching alley as the Original and is known as the “Hem”. The expansive new space boasts two floors, one of which is a rooftop, making it the perfect location for events, private parties, and tastings.

pasteur street

Head to the Original taproom if you want to see where it all started! Everyone is made to feel welcome at this cosy bar where it’s just as easy to have a solo after-work drink as it is to kick back and enjoy a few pints with a group of friends. The ‘Hem’ taproom is the perfect place to go for a party or larger groups, or just to enjoy the warm rooftop breeze while you sample Pasteur Street Brewing Co.’s excellent selection.

pasteur street

The expansion has been so successful that as of October 2017, the brand has grown even further to include a third taproom in Phu Nhuan District, known as Phan Xich Long “PXL” taproom. This district is more local and the area includes a large selection of cafés and restaurants. However, craft brewing is still a new concept here. The “PXL” location, which is the largest to date, will host beer tasting events and meet and greets with Pasteur Street’s all important brewers.

pasteur street

In addition, fans of the company should be aware of the “Ha Noi” taproom, which opened directly behind the historic St. Joseph’s Cathedral in the Old Quarter in Hanoi in July of 2017. The location spans two levels and includes an outdoor seating area. The brand also has a presence in Thao Dien—a tiny 15-seater taproom named the “Filling Station”.

Winter Heavies and Summer Sours

Each taproom features a selection of different beers on tap, so people can also get a taste of new flavours. There is always a balanced selection of light, heavy, dark, sour, and hoppy brews to ensure that there is a beer for every palate.

pasteur street

According to Anniek Voesenek, Pasteur Street Brewing Co.’s countrywide F & B Manager, in the South people are more used to experimenting with the different types of craft beer because Saigon is where the movement began in Vietnam. In the North, people still have to get used to some of the more funky flavours, like the sours, but now there are more and more places starting to serve craft beer.

pasteur street

Weather also plays a part. In Hanoi, Pasteur Street Brewing Co. tends to focus on the beers that are stronger in alcohol during the winter months whereas in Saigon they aim to have a good balance between the fruity beers, the heavier beers, sour beers and IPAs. All locations have their bestselling Jasmine IPA and Passionfruit Wheat Ale available, as well as the Imperial Chocolate Stout, the 2016 World Beer Cup winner.

Pasteur Street Brewing Co. fans should head to Hem on May 2nd, Ha Noi on May 15th or the PXL taproom on May 25th for a pint of your favourite brew and some live music. Keep your eye on the company’s Facebook page to learn more about these dates, as well as other special events and meetups with the brewers at all the locations.

Image source: Pasteur Street Brewing Co.


Can Vietnam Learn to Love Wine?

By: Jesus Lopez Gomez

The colonial French left in Vietnam their architecture and a handful of words: phô mai for “fromage,” the French word for cheese, or phốt for fault or the French “faute.”

Less visible is the French legacy of wine in Vietnam. Nevertheless, Vietnam’s wine drinkers today are showing more sophistication and acumen than ever before. Wine pairings may still be a challenge with the Vietnamese diet, but as we show below, it can be done.

A More Mature Affair

Beer may have more presence—it’s literally out on the streets—but for Finewines Deputy Wine Director Linh Bui, the Vietnamese love is wine is a quieter, more mature affair, a relationship with a more subtle kind of strength.

Wine’s abiding place in the Vietnamese lifestyle is due in part to its status as a much sought-after gift. Ms Linh said wine sales tend to spike around the end of the Western calendar year leading up to the Lunar New Year in late January or February. As much as 60 percent of Finewines sales are made during that time.

Ms Linh said Vietnamese consumers are becoming more familiar with viniculture through stores like her own that offer both the drink and the product knowledge to start building a wine culture bottle by bottle.

In Ms Linh’s case, a love of wine was part of her family heritage. She remembers her grandparents were wine drinkers. She was hired five years ago at Finewines and travelled to the United States to gain a WSET (Wine & Spirit Education Trust) certification.

wineImage source: wsetglobal.com

Ms Linh said one of the biggest insights for her was having an American diet complete with a daily glass of wine.

“I learned that wine could be like, a daily thing, you know? I saw that every day when we cooked, we had a glass of wine at dinner,” she said. “It’s something new.”

Teaching the Basics

Wine knowledge certification was a basically unknown accreditation at the time when Ms Linh was seeking it. Back then, the only groups that offered certification in Southeast Asia were in Hong Kong.

Today, wine schools have sprung up in Singapore and even Vietnam too. Finewines intends to become a wine accreditation centre as well.

In the five years she’s been with the company, Ms Linh said the sales volume of wine has changed little. What has changed is the familiarity with the product and growing range of wines sought.

When she started, red wine was 70 percent of sales. Today, Finewines sells an even number of reds and whites.

“They’re getting more and more mature. They start to know what type of wine they want,” Ms Linh said. The average consumer is starting to figure out basic wine pairings too.

Francois Carteau, owner of the Wine Embassy Boutique in Thao Dien, said he’s seeing more wine lovers finding each other on social media. People are involving wine as part of their travels and even as a part of their corporate training, he said.

“There’s a sense of wine as a social network,” Carteau said.

wineImage source: oivietnam.com

Ms Linh said wine is starting to integrate itself as part of the daily diet as it would be in the west.

“The food culture, the wine culture is starting to become like something daily, not something too luxury,” she said.

“It’s a lifestyle, right?”

Wine began to flourish during the trade normalisation between the US and Vietnam in the ’90s. Other countries took the thawing as their cue to look at Vietnam too, and foreign goods began to flood the local market, including wine.

Finewines was founded in 1996, two years after the US formally lifted its trade embargo on Vietnam.

Ms Linh said back then the Vietnamese were calling all reds “Bordeaux”, so Ms Linh said there’s still plenty of work to be done building wine knowledge.

wineImage source: visual.ly

Ms Linh said the go-to wine for a Vietnamese consumer tends to be a dark, deep red. The sense that alcohol ought to have a pronounced, strong taste frame the red wine as the “normal” drink.

Carteau said it makes sense that new wine drinkers would go for a strong, pronounced taste.

At that point, “they’re not connoisseurs, so they’re going to go for something stronger,” he said.

Ten years ago when Carteau first arrived in Vietnam, Vietnamese drank almost exclusively strong, red Chilean wines with high alcohol content.

The palette has broadened since then to include more Spanish and French wines.

Ms Linh concurred saying French wine continues to be king, but it’s making space for wines from Australia and South America coming into vogue.

Does it Pair?

There’s a little bit of a mismatch with the Vietnamese diet, Ms Linh said. She predicts a better matched group of white wines and light-bodied reds are going to be the drink of choice for the next generation of wine drinkers in this country.

Some of the challenge in bringing wine into concert with Vietnamese cuisine is the difficulty of pairing the drink with the staple dishes.

“Phở?” Ms Linh asked laughing slightly when asked to offer a pair for the noodle soup. She hemmed and hawed for a second before suggesting the stew might go well with a sparkling, fruity wine.

As a professional, she said that wouldn’t be her first choice of food and wine pairings. But it can be done with the right drink.

That’s not to say there are no matches between fine wine and Vietnamese food.

wineImage source: i1.wp.com

A gỏi gà salad would go great with a well-chosen white—the fresh cabbage salad would complement sparkling white wine or a light-bodied chardonnay.

Barbecues are increasingly becoming a staple of Vietnamese cuisine. A US-made red like the Beringer cabernet sauvignon—Ms Linh said the hint of fruitiness is the drink’s special power—is a great choice to bring along the next time you’re invited. Ms Linh recommends something red and dry for occasions like these.

If you’re ever in doubt, look for something in a serious-looking shade of red.

“People in this culture love the red wine,” she said. “You will please every taste. No one says no to red wine. I myself never say no to red wine,” Ms Linh said gamely.

Banner image source: wishbonedev.com


Folliet Introduces New Biodegradable Coffee Capsule

By: Mervin Lee

Coffee capsules are surging in popularity. They are a fast, mess-free and tasty alternative to professionally extracted espresso without the responsibilities and price-tags associated with cafe-hopping and owning a dedicated Italian machine. However, modern conveniences are not spared from the related waste. Worldwide, 13,500 coffee capsules are consumed every minute and used capsules made from plastic or aluminium pose a serious threat to our planet.

Coffee

“People love the convenience… and they’re going to go for convenience over waste.” Said Jean-luc Voisin, French coffee roaster and managing director of Les Vergers Du Mekong, renowned for it’s high-quality line of products ranging from tropical juice, jams and Vietnamese teas. Folliet® is the major shareholder in Les Vergers Du Mekong.

Folliet Coffee

Hope is in the air and Folliet® has successfully developed a 100% biodegradable and compostable coffee capsule which is fully-compatible with the popular Nespresso line of pod-based espresso machines. Made of natural paper pulp, the resultant compostable fibres are stable and protect the flavours of the coffee to ensure maximum extraction without affecting the subtle nuances of well-roasted coffee.

Folliet Coffee

Folliet® combines 140 years of experience in small-batch craft-roasting and a family passion for sustainable coffee to bring you a quality cup of java in the comfort of your home. Coffee beans are sourced from Vietnam and Laos and roasted to perfection in Can Tho city. The roasted beans are then blended by experts at Folliet® to create two flavours, Prestigio and Ta Lai. Prestigio appeals to caffeine-lovers who are seeking a true, intense Italian espresso experience while Ta Lai is enjoyably subtle and created from a blend of arabica & responsibly grown robusta coffee from a region of minority tribes in Dong Nai province, which borders the beautiful Cat Tien National Park. The natural shade provided by the dense rainforest canopies of Dong Nai province provides an excellent condition for cultivation, creating flavour & fragrance unseen in other coffees.

Image source: Mervin Lee

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