Brilliant brews

Craft beer has taken hold of Vietnam and slow starter Hanoi is finally catching up.

By Ciaran O’Connell on June 08,2018 02:21 PM

Brilliant brews

Photos: Turte Lake Brewing & Standing Bar

A noisy experience, unique to the capital, not to be missed by visitors, the norm for locals, and a greatly embraced feature of expat life.

Hanoi is a beer drinker’s heaven - home to the world’s cheapest beer, ‘bia hoi’, clocking in at a measly VND7,000 ($0.30) for a glass of crisp light lager, the consumption of which is more a daily evening ritual than simply a beverage. Seeing the ubiquitous establishments that hawk the beer dotted all over the city packed with people is a nightly occurrence. Raucously racing the beer down your gullet is a fun way to unwind with your mates, without even the slightest worry of breaking the bank.

A noisy experience, unique to the capital, not to be missed by visitors, the norm for locals, and a greatly embraced feature of expat life.

Vietnam is actually ranked one of the world’s Top 10 beer drinking countries by total volume consumed, coming in at No 9 with over 4.1 billion litres guzzled each year, and is set to overtake the UK for the No 8 spot if current data trends persist. Craft beer, however, took it’s time getting here but is now unmistakably booming.

The leaders in this ever-expanding industry come from HCMC, the fastest-expanding and most notable surely being the multi international award-winning Pasteur Street Brewing Company. Since its inception in 2014, Pasteur Street has dominated and driven the market for craft beer all over Vietnam and many more have followed suit and are still being created.

The craze quickly took hold in HCMC, being embraced immediately, but took a while to penetrate into the north.

Brilliant brews

Paradoxically, bia hoi could arguably qualify as a microbrew. Long before plaid shirt-clad bearded hipster millennials in Colorado ever discussed hoppy flavours, bia hoi was being brewed, purchased, and delivered daily in batches predicting each coming day’s demand. And yet the north, despite long being the spiritual home of ‘craft beer’ in Vietnam, took its sweet time to jump on the bandwagon.

It’s now making massive headway, however, and is here to stay. So, with that, I decided to compile a short list of what the burgeoning scene in Hanoi has to offer; a quick look at some of the best local options and some great places to enjoy them. Admittedly, I’m no connoisseur of such things. I don’t know my ABV (alcohol by volume) from my IBU (international bitterness units), but I do enjoy a drink. So, I set out to learn more - a beer expedition as it were.

A complete list would be difficult, as there are more beers and places to get them and new ones hit the market all the time, but this taster should give you a nice start and a sense of the wide range of choice on offer.

Barett Craft Beer

Brilliant brews

I have to start with the first Hanoi-based craft beer.

Barett set up shop in Hanoi in 2015 and has kept it simple, with three varieties currently available. The Lemongrass Weizen (or wheat beer), the Smoky Red, a smooth creamy lager, and the Pacific Pilsner. Barett is possibly the most commonly available Hanoi-based craft beer you can find. Having a head start in being the first to break into the market has surely helped, along with having a very appealing marketing style. Draught on tap is available in some places but it’s mostly found bottled in restaurants and bars throughout the city. I must admit, I hold no affinity to the Lemongrass Weizen, but it is apparently a best seller according to local retailers, so I seem to be in the minority there. But I could easily stick with the Pilsner or especially the Smoky Red all night.

Brilliant brews

Furbrew

Furbrew’s beers are widely available throughout Hanoi but there are two outstanding locales to best experience their vast menu. Their flagship taproom, Furbrew Beer Bar, is located in Tay Ho, as is their other self-owned outlet, The 100 Perfect Beer Garden, an indoor and an outdoor option depending on the weather or time of day.

The first thing you notice is the extensive range, with over 20 beers currently on the menu, including experimental additions from time to time - test brews that urge you to sample something never tasted before and which may likely cease to exist forever by next week.

Creamy Stouts, wheat beers, golden ales, pale ales, honey ales, and brown ales - all are displayed on the blackboard behind the bar. The range is quite daunting, reminiscent of standing in a sweet shop with a wall of candy jars behind the shopkeeper. Which to choose?! Some have strange and sometimes comical names; a common trait of craft beer worldwide. Names include Tet Hound, Buddha’s Hand, fruit-flavoured wheat beers such as star fruit, pomegranate, and kumquat, and the delightfully interesting Bia Phở, which is honestly a personal favourite. It’s a confusing experience, drinking a beer that truly has the brothy essence of Hanoi’s staple noodle dish with a spicy sting.

The overwhelming task of choosing is abated by the sampler menu. Novice and expert alike can simply select six different beers to try. A great experience to have with one or two friends, comparing notes as you go.

Long Bien Brew

A family-run business, founded by a compatriot of this writer, brewer Andrew Kirwan from Ireland and his wife Nguyen Bich Nga. Andrew holds the privilege of introducing the first locally-brewed Irish Stout to Vietnam, and the first nitrogen pushed draught stout at that, which many will know gives stout the unique creamy head. Naturally jumping to comparisons with our shared homeland’s most famous beer export, Guinness, is understandably forgivable, but this ‘black stuff’ has a much darker bite. A richer, deeper coffee taste is found, perhaps not for the casual stout drinker, but a few of these and you’ll be hooked. The company, named after the iconic bridge, also offers a Red River IPA and my personal favourite, the Irish Red Ale, or IRA. If the Stout is a coffee, then this is akin to a refreshing sweet ice tea. This hoppy amber goes great with the balmy summer heat of Hanoi.

Turtle Lake Brewing Company

TLBC is a relative newcomer, having just recently opened a lakeside brewpub at a peaceful spot right on West Lake. The bar itself is an invitingly picturesque villa/ garden bar, with indoor, outdoor and upstairs veranda seating. It’s a summertime must, both day and night. In store for beer seekers are the brand’s own brews, as well as other producers’ fare, such as the ever-present Pasteur Street, Platinum, and Hanoi’s own and possibly only craft cider, Hanoi Cider Co.

From Turtle Lake’s own selection of six on-site brewed products are ales, wheat beers, and even a stout. I highly recommend the Primeval Forest Pilsner - a fruity, lip-smackingly tangy offering.

Standing Bar

Brilliant brews

Finally, an honourable mention not to a beer but possibly the best place to find the most extensive selection of Vietnam-brewed craft beer in Hanoi. Standing Bar is a tasting room that houses a massive range of beer from all over the country. There are 19 taps with beer on rotation, meaning a different selection is likely on each visit; a beer geek’s paradise. No need to traipse all over the city to find the best beers, as a carefully-curated selection from the length and breadth of the country is all under the one roof. Located on the edge of Truc Bach Lake, and venue to live international acts and the home of Hanoi’s stand-up comedy scene, Standing Bar could leave you legless.

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