As a craft beer destination, Ho Chi Minh City (or Saigon as it’s still often called) has gone from non-existent to one of the most exciting new beer cities in the world in under three years. We can set day zero in 2014, with early 2017 as a sudden boom for Saigon brewing.
The ignition for this great beer explosion was the opening in 2014 of Quan Ut Ut (168 Vo Van Kiet, Cau Ong Lanh, Quan 1, Ho Chi Minh), an American BBQ and beer joint that was started by Tim Scott and Mark Gustafson. They put in a few beer lines for Mark’s home-brew and the extra taps gave other brewers somewhere to sell their beer—before them there was nowhere to sell draft craft beer in the city.
Craft Bia In Ho Chi Minh City Saigon Beer City Photo Gallery
The Ut Ut guys (Ut Ut, by the way, is the Vietnamese version of “oink oink”) also opened a beer bar called BiaCraft in District 2 that gave more tap space to the first wave of local brewers. A second larger wave of brewers came a few months after a second BiaCraft opened in District 3 at the end of 2016 (1 Le Ngo Cat, phU&ng 7, Quan 3, Ho Chi Minh). This place is special, a world-class beer bar with 50 taps of just Vietnamese craft beer and cider, including the BiaCraft house brews, which are all good and mostly brewed by Phat Rooster Ales. The space is an open, breezy corner bar and, once you’ve looked at the striking beer board, you’ll notice it’s mostly young Vietnamese drinking there. Craft beer isn’t just for wealthy Westerners in Saigon and is already impressing the locals.
Around the city you can visit many taprooms for these new breweries (most brew their beer in the suburbs). Pasteur Street Brewing Co. (144 Pasteur Street, Ben Nghe, Quan 1, Ho Chi Minh) has two taprooms side by side. The beers are American-inspired, but almost everything they brew uses Vietnamese ingredients. Their flagship beer is Jasmine IPA, which is bright and refreshingly light for 6.5% ABV, with pithy citrus joined by the fragrant, calming elegance of jasmine. In their Passion Fruit Wheat Beer the juiciness of the fruit gives the brew a similar tantalizing tartness and it’s the most thirst-quenching drink you might find in the whole of Vietnam. For something special, have Cyclo, their truffle-rich Imperial Stout, which uses Vietnamese cocoa beans, cinnamon, and vanilla—it’s incredible (though it is expensive at around 182,000VND/ US$8 a glass). For prices in general, 95,000VND (US$4) is where most bars try to top out for 13^-oz (400-ml) glasses of IPA, not wanting to break the psychological barrier of 100,000VND— US$1 is around 23,000VND.
Heart of Darkness (31D Ly TU Trong, Ben Nghe, Quan 1, Ho Chi Minh) make the best IPAs I’ve tasted in the whole of Southeast Asia—try Kurtz’s Insane IPA—and their whole beer range is broad enough to supply the 20 taps in their tasting room near the Opera House. They have the excellent Pizza 4P’s in the kitchen (if you want pizza, then this is the best in Vietnam and they also have a few restaurants: www.pizza4ps.com).
East West Brewing Company (181-185 Ly TU Trong, Ben Thanh, Quan 1, H o Chi Minh) is the most impressive of the new brewers. Their brewpub is an extraordinary space, a beer destination that’s a huge beer hall with the tanks at the back (it’s the only actual craft brewhouse in the city center and is close to Ben Thanh Market) and a rooftop beer garden. There are 10 taps, with all the beers being very good, and the San Diego-style Pale Ale is a great place to start.
Go to Winking Seal (50 Dang Thj Nhu, Nguyen Thai Binh, Quan 1, Ho Chi Minh) before or after visiting Marou, a chocolate-maker that uses beans from all over the country (amazing place). The Winking Seal beers are as bright and vibrant as their tasting room. Nam Nam Nam (“555”) Cream Ale is good and a refreshing lager-like brew that’s a playful riff on the mainstream Ba Ba Ba (“333”) lager.
I liked Chicken Coop in the backpacker district. This is the tasting room for Phat Rooster Ales (28/2 Do Quang Dau, Ho Chi Minh), who brew on their own farm outside the city and serve the best Vietnamese food of any of the beer bars, plus some of the best and biggest chicken wings I’ve ever tasted—try the Saigon Blonde or the American Pale Ale to drink. Around the corner is Ong Cau (240 Bui Vien, Quan 1, Ho Chi Minh), a smart beer bar with 20-odd taps pouring all the local brewers, such as Lac—who also have a tasting room in District 7—and Platinum, who were one of the founding craft brewers in the city, along with Fuzzy Logic and Te Te. And there are a dozen more bars serving great beer around the city.
Vietnam is the most vibrant, enthralling, delicious of countries, with some of the world’s best food, yet until very recently the only beer options were light lagers. Today you could visit Ho Chi Minh City for a week and still not get to every brewery or main beer bar. The quality is also very high in general and the beer ranges are very broad; it might be a new beer market, but it’s progressing very quickly, often— although not always—in the image of American craft beer. Vietnam has become a craft beer destination and Saigon is where you can find the most of these beers, bars, and breweries.
The taplist at BiaCraft. With 50 taps pouring the best of Vietnamese craft beers, it’s the best place to drink in Saigon.
Hanoi also has a growing number of breweries and bars. FurBrew (8b/52 To Ngoc Van, Ha Noi) is the best brewer. Their 100 Garden is a large outdoor space, behind which the beer is brewed (they also have another tasting room nearby). There are 20 beers on tap and the kitchen cooks excellent bia hoi-style Vietnamese food. Try their Pho Bia, which is inspired by Vietnam’s famous noodle soup, or have a Lime Leaf Wheat for a fragrant, refreshingly citrusy wheat ale. Standing Bar (170 Tran Vu, Truc Bach, Ba Dlnh, Ha Noi), on Truc Bach Island, is the bar to go to for the best range, with 16 taps of Vietnamese beers and ciders (try Hanoi Cider’s dry-hopped cider which is excellent) and a view over the lake. It’s a calm little oasis away from the Old Quarter’s hectic madness. If you’re in the middle of that madness, then just back from Bia Hoi Corner is the Craft Beer Pub (26 Hang Buom, Hoan Kiem,
Ha No), which has a few local craft beers on tap, and The Hill Station (2T Ta Hien, Hang Buom,
Hoan Kiem, Ha Noi), a smarter bar with good food and a couple of taps. Also check out A Taste of Hanoi, which runs craft beer tours in the city (No. 34 Gia Ngu, Hoan Kiem District, Ha Noi 10000).
Cracking beers and excellent food at FurBrew in Hanoi make this a worthwhile diversion from bia hoi.
The Best Czech Lagers outside the Czech Republic? Vietnam has its bottles of Ba Ba Ba, its cheap glasses of bia hoi, its great craft beers, but did you know that it also has dozens of Czech and Germanstyle brewpubs and microbreweries? The Czech places are distinctly Czech and the German ones very German; the Czech pale lagers are legit Svetly Lezak copies, being caramel-y and bitter, while the German lagers are drier and cleaner. If you visit Vietnam, then just look up microbreweries nearby and you’ll find them, with Hoa Vien (1A Tang Bat Ho7, Quan Hai Ba Trung, Ha Noi, Ha Tay) in Hanoi being one of the best and just like walking into a Pilsner Urquell pub (and there are a few big bia hois on the left as you leave).
A perfectly formed Czech pilsner served at Hoa Vien in Hanoi.