Vietnam ranks among the top beer-consuming countries in Asia but, until recently, there’s not been much to choose from other than generic lagers. In the past year, however, craft brewing has exploded in popularity. In Ho Chi Minh City, several new breweries and tasting rooms have opened in the past three months alone.
Founded in 2015, Pasteur Street Brewing Co. is among the pioneers in Saigon’s craft-beer scene. Its brew masters have developed more than 70 varieties, some drawing from local ingredients such as tropical fruit and spices. A few of its beers, such as Jasmine IPA and Passionfruit Wheat, are available throughout Vietnam, but visit its taproom for a rotating selection of varieties you won’t find anywhere else.
Heart of Darkness Brewery’s tasting room has a cosy, brick interior and an airy, outdoor garden. Five of its beers are available at the pub and around the city. Fifteen rotating, small-batch brews are available only at its bar. “We’ve something for beer aficionados and something for newbies,” says founder John Pemberton. Sacred Fire Golden is an easy-to-drink ale that introduces newcomers to the craft-beer scene, Kurtz Insane is a hyper-hoppy IPA with a long, crisp finish, while Chocolate Chili Stout offers a rich and spicy zing.
“Every beer should be a 15-minute vacation that brings you to a different place,” says Brian Kekich, co-founder and brew master at the newly opened Winking Seal Beer Co. It offers eight of its own tasty brews, plus a menu of beer-infused dishes. Try the pork sliders braised in stout and finish with dessert such as peaches and cream ale pie, or Beeramisu – a stout-soaked tiramisu. Its interior is designed with a modern twist on the Art Deco-Indochine style. It also has a breezy rooftop deck.
While most of Saigon’s craft-beer pubs are small and intimate, East West Brewing Company boasts a large beer hall. It brews its beer on-site, so the first thing you notice when you enter is two rows of huge brewing tanks behind and above the bar. Its menu features eight beers including a fruity hefeweizen, coffee-vanilla porter and Saigon Rose – a lower-alcohol beer flavoured with raspberry, honey and citrus.
While the above brew pubs tap only their own beers, BiaCraft (“bia” is Vietnamese for beer) is great for a one-stop sampling of local brews and ciders. Its District Three pub, the larger and more central of its two locations, features 30 taps, including six or seven of its own concoctions, plus a range from other local brewers. It also offers locally produced Saigon Ciders. Among its own beers, it covers the basic styles, but also experiments with creative, rotating varieties, such as a spicy kimchi beer and a summer ale infused with coriander, cardamon and zest from the Buddha’s Hand fruit.
Located in the expat enclave of Phu My Hung in District Seven, Lac Brewing Co. is a 25-minute drive (in good traffic) from downtown – worthwhile if you’re seeking an escape from the frenetic city centre and wanting to check out a different side of Saigon. Its selection is heavy on IPAs and light ales. It also offers a few small-batch guest beers from other local brewers, as well as its own line of delicious, non-alcoholic, hop-infused sodas.
7. Beer tours
If you’re short of time, looking to make new friends or want to learn more about the diverse world of craft brewing, two beer tours are just getting started in Ho Chi Minh City. Vespa Adventures is about to launch a microbrew excursion on vintage Vespa scooters. A professional driver will take you from pub to pub through the dizzying streets. If you prefer exploring on foot, Canadian expat Jason Kucherawy is planning a craft-beer walking tour. Details for the trip will be available soon from Heart of Darkness Brewing. Both tours will visit several of the spots mentioned above. You’ll sample the brews and snack on food that complements them, as guides teach you about the history of beer and how it’s made.
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– TEXT BY DAVE FOX
PHOTOS: SUPPLIED, INSTAGRAM, LAC BREWING CO. FACEBOOK
This article was originally published by Singapore Press Holdings.