Vietnam Microbreweries, Episode 1: Discovery of Vissai brewery
By Jonathan Gharbi
The first microbrewery in Ninh Binh
Visitors come here to see the "Halong Bay on land" and the ancient capital of Hoa Lu. We went here to visit the local microbrewery, Vissai. After 2 hours driving from Hanoi, we entered the small, sleepy city of Ninh Binh surrounded by the beautiful limestone karsts for which the area is known.
Two German beers on tap
The brewery is a part of the four–star Vissai hotel on 848 Tran Hung Dao Street. The lovely smell of malt boiled together with hops gives a perfect atmosphere to this microbrewery. It was impressive that the brewer was already capable of making such well-balanced and strong beer after just a few months in operation.
Our favourite beer today was Vissai’s German style black beer on offer. Made from pilsner, caramel, munchner and chocolate malts, it had deep coffee flavours and a strong body. After drinking dunkel beer all over Berlin, this German-styled, black beer in Ninh Binh is one of the best I have ever tried. We paired it with a rich homemade chocolate cake and it did not disappoint. I only wish I had brought some whipped cream from home. We also tried their blond beer - a tasty lager made from pilsner malt and saaz hops.
This is just one of 48 breweries in Vietnam, but it is well worth the effort to drive here to have just a few glasses their delicious brews. Customer service here is good, and a few of the staff can speak English. Play it safe and hire a driver, and make your own tour to Ninh Binh. If you’re on an organised tour, make sure to ask your tour guide to make a stop here first before going sightseeing elsewhere.
Who is the beer man?
Jonathan Gharbi, the creator of beervn.com, is a Swedish expat who came to Hanoi, with his wife, in 2012. Previously having an above-average interest in beer, he now would be in need of professional help if he had to stop his search for new beers.
Riding around on his motorbike with a note in his hand reading: Bia tuoi Tiep, or “Czech beer on tap,” Gharbi asks xe om drivers and store owners in remote districts if they know any brewery with special beer. Despite friends begging him to accept meetings at normal places in the city rather than 8km away in a small brewery with no English-speaking staff, he can’t seem to get enough exploring for new brew to be satisfied.
“It’s a great way to see more of Vietnam,” Gharbi says. “Most breweries are not in city centres, but in regular Vietnamese areas and small towns.” So, when you think you’re only options are a watery bia hoi or an industrial beer on bottle, think twice. It may take some effort, but there are options for those who prefer to have a hand-crafted, fresh beer on tap.
Jonathan Gharbi organises tours a few times a month, and has also recently began a home-brewing club in Hanoi. To connect with fellow like-minded beer people in Vietnam, check out the forums at beervn.freeforums.net.