Bia Hoi: All About Vietnam Beer Culture
3 August 2020
Vietnam is a popular destination for many adventurous tourists to enjoy street food, pagodas and beautiful landscapes. One other distinct experience is the Bia Hoi beer which predominantly can be found along the narrow streets of Hanoi. Bia Hoi is a fast produced and light beer made of rice, malt and sugar, often served more or less directly at the street. Bia Hoi is not just the beer itself, it’s also a social concept and experience which includes beer and food, consumed by all social groups under simple circumstances. It’s a tradition that many deals and contracts are sealed during long dinners with food and plenty of beer.
Booming Microbrewery and Bia Hoi Culture
Beer is not only a symbol here, it is also a bearer of culture and a symbol for the new Vietnam, a country that takes in new influences but values local culture. There are about 45 microbreweries in Vietnam, whereof 35 are making Czech inspired beer and the other 10 are influenced by German beer culture. Compared with Bia Hoi and international bottled beers, these beers contain much more malt and hops and are therefore much more full bodied and tasty. Vietnam has a long history with the former allies Czechoslovakia and East Germany and the biggest diasporas are in today’s Czech Republic and Germany. Most of today’s brewers have lived in Czech Republic and brought beer traditions and knowledge with them back to Vietnam.
They brought the ingredients and knowledge of how to make the beer, but even if recipes and ingredients are the same, local water and weather are important to the taste. After a few years many brewers realized that taste references depend on where in the world you are and in particular the local food. So some small changes have been made to adopt the beer after local culture and demand. The result? Amazing beers, well balanced and tasty. Every brewery is making their own beer and variations are not only between breweries but also differing throughout the year depending on yeasting and storage temperatures. The beers are unique and alive, a result of experience and local conditions.
Following the Beer Trail in Vietnam
There is a brewery in every holiday location, but they are easy to miss because of all the other beer establishments in the country. Worldwide Vietnam is known for its beer consumption which is estimated at about 42 litres of beer a year per person. With almost 90 million people you realize that the microbreweries represent less than 1 % of beer consumption. As known today, there are 26 microbreweries in Hanoi, 12 in Ho Chi Minh City and then 7 more throughout Vietnam. You can find a microbrewery in almost every popular travel destination, like in Phu Quoc, Mui Ne, Nha Trang, Da Nang, Da Lat and also the coastal city of Hai Phong which can be visited on the way back from your holiday at the astonishing Halong Bay. On the way back from Halong Bay to Hanoi, make a short stop in the city of Hai Duong, famous for its diamond polishers, and visit the local microbrewery to enjoy two tasty beers before you tackle the culinary challenges in the city.
The few foreign visitors in search of Bia Hoi that have found their way to one of the microbreweries are taken by surprise when they realize that the beers here in Vietnam are much better than many beers at home. The amount of malt is higher than in normal lagers and the hops is carefully added at different times of the beer making process. The breweries are quite small and only a few of them have a web presence and try to reach out to a big crowd. In a city like Hanoi, with 26 microbreweries, each one of them gathers only local attention with occasionally a few expats and tourists.
The interest for beer in Vietnam is huge but also more modest than in Europe and North America where the hype for special beers is strong and microbreweries are popping up everywhere. It has almost gone too far to the point where, in some pubs, it’s impossible to order a regular beer.
Focus on Making Good Beer before Making Money
The brewers in Vietnam invest a lot of time and effort in making good beer. Importing both hops and malt from Czech Republic and Germany requires planning but most importantly; a strong dedication and passion for beer. The microbreweries are there, but not easy to find, so it’s up to the customers to find their way to them. The price of a glass of beer at the breweries is about 35,000 VND, less than 2 USD, despite all the hours creating it and knowledge that is behind the wonderful beer you hold in your hand.
The future is… not so bright, its yellow, semi-bright and with a thick foam on it, full flavors from hops and malt and locally produced. Keep an eye on this beer culture happening in Vietnam and put some effort into finding these dedicated beer makers. Don’t miss this culinary experience!
Do you want some Bia Hoi? If you are a beer aficionado, and traveller contact Smiling Albino, we can expertly plan your touring around Bia Hoi highlights and even Microbrewery visits throughout Vietnam.
Written by: Jonathan Gharbi | Jonathan Gharbi is a Swedish beer blogger who lives in Hanoi and travels Vietnam in his search for microbreweries. Read his blog here: www.beervn.com