Microbreweries in Vietnam
Since I came to Vietnam 1.5 years ago, a never ending search for good beer and breweries has been going on. After almost a year I realized that there is no imported ale, IPAs, stouts etc. to be found in Vietnam despite 95 million beer-interested inhabitants. Beer consumption here is high; everywhere you find people drinking beer. In northern Vietnam and Hanoi, the streets are filled with small plastic chairs and tables where people drink bia hoi from lunchtime until late evening. Bia hoi is a light beer only with the most basic ingredients, quick and easy to produce which has around 3-4% alcohol and can also be produced easily at restaurants.
Then some friends who used to meet for beer every Wednesday in Hanoi introduced me to the breweries. I was shocked the first time I went to Hoa Vien brewery in Hanoi, one of the oldest breweries here. They brew and sell three kinds of beer, full of malt and hops in a real brewery.
Pictures of Hoa Vien Brewery and their three beers, Hanoi
I don’t think people understand how it is here in Vietnam: the economy is struggling and many businesses are going bankrupt. The normal price for a glass of tasty beer at one of the microbreweries here is about 35 000 – 40 000 VND (about $2 USD) it’s not reasonable for the regular worker with a monthly income of $150 USD to consume beer with these prices. Some breweries are really struggling to maintain their production while some already have downscaled. There are thousands of expats living in Vietnam but their consumption of beer is too low to justify importing them unless it’s consumed by locals also. Many expats do not know about these breweries, they are often unseen in media, on the web. Also, the lack of English-speaking staff makes it difficult for foreign customers.
Legend brewery at nr 4 Vu Ngoc Phan, Hanoi, one of the few breweries that is generally known by expats in Hanoi because of the previous German brewmaster.
About 20 microbreweries in Vietnam
There are about 20 microbreweries in Vietnam of which about 15 are in Hanoi. All are either brewing Czech or German-style beer. Vietnam had strong relations with the former DDR and Czechoslovakia, and today the largest groups of the Vietnamese diaspora is to be found in Germany and Czech Republic.
The breweries are unknown for most locals and in particular for foreigners, partly because of their low profile, but also because the breweries don’t know what good products they have. All the beers are brewed and sold in the same place. Only three breweries sell their beer in another pub/restaurant, so unless you visit them there is no chance to taste the beer. You must go to the source.
Searching for new breweries
A couple of days ago I was driving around in Hanoi on my motorbike and saw a small sign which said something in Vietnamese with the word PLZEN in it. It looked like any regular restaurant here but I went in to see if they had any beer. Two minutes later I was standing by the taps and was trying three different kinds of Czech beer. Brewed and served at same place. There are only 20 breweries I know off so far but guess after this experience that there are plenty more to be found. Two of the three beers served at Nha hang plzen at 167 pho Hoang Ngan, Hanoi
Is it a seafood restaurant or a microbrewery?
Some breweries have 1-3 percent foreign customers but many breweries see fewer than 1 %. I hope this will change. Some breweries produce amazing beers, black beer, almost like a full bodied stout, and lager with plenty of malt and character. But without a homepage, no advertisements or a Facebook page as a regular Vietnamese restaurants, there is no chance for a foreigner to find them, and in many cases, not even the locals can stumble upon them. In Europe or North America they would be defined as microbreweries or brewpubs, nothing else. Several times I have asked for the name of the brewmaster at the breweries and I found out it is a very odd question here. The regular answer from the staff is “you mean the guy that makes the beer? I have no idea”.
That’s why I started my beer blog and the brewery tours, to enlighten all beer enthusiasts of all the microbreweries in Vietnam and to encourage the breweries to continue their fantastic work so we can continue to enjoy wonderful beer. If you travel to Vietnam, there is plenty to see. But it’s a reason enough to come here only for the beer.
Jonathan Gharbi is a writer and beer drinker based in Hanoi, Vietnam. Check out his Vietnam beer blog