Someone once asked my dad if he drank beer. His reply? “There was a point when we thought we were gonna drink it all.” For many years I shared his sentiment, however, when I moved to Vietnam, I became quickly bored with the lack of choice. Narrow mass-market flavour profile, heavy import duties, small consumer budgets, lack of competition, strict supplier contracts, and other imponderables all made for not a lot of option. Of course, there was some selection out there, but it was usually limited to upscale establishments like big hotels, the beer-hall-a-la-Czech-oasis Hoa Vien and fancy-schmancy import markets. However, a bigger, richer market and a gradual increase in competition has found a much wider variety of brands, flavours, strategies, styles and countries represented. It’s a great time to be thirsty!
There are a load of new imports, and even some one-off tasting parties. Our friends at Quan Ut Ut have become handy at bringing in American microbrews and often hold tastings there, paired with their BBQ. In recent years consolidation within the world beer market has seemingly diminished competition, with a few big boy brewers duking it out with each other. In Vietnam, however, these mega brewers have set up offices, and brought in (and brew here) more selections than were previously available from the locally based importers. This has forced some importers to seek out new brands. Most recently, Estrella, a lovely lager, and Inedit Damm, a uniquely styled food focused lager style wheat beer, have found their way here from Spain and onto menus all over town.
Brewin’ in the Fairly Free World
The most exciting development is the advent of local brewing that takes local beer beyond rice malt and missing hops. There’s Platinum, a light pale ale with a nicely balanced hop profile, which focuses on the local market and is available in an ever-increasing number of establishments. Brewing up a different strategy, the folks behind Pasteur Street Brewing have gone grassroots, offering their craft brews in their pub, takeaway in big glass jugs, or growlers, and in a few select local restaurants. Pasteur Street likes to localize their concoctions and are currently running beers that successfully integrate typically Southeast Asian ingredients like passion fruit, jasmine flowers, lemongrass, and Phu Quoc black pepper, thankfully, not all in the same brew. Yes, I think we’re gonna drink it all.
Michael Kloster grew up in the vineyard countryside west of Fresno, California. He organises the Lucky Wine Buyers’ Collective for spirits and wine lovers in Saigon. If you want something to drink, please contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.