Vietnam’s booming craft beer scene

(CNN)A night out drinking in Vietnam used to mean one thing: sipping Bia Hoi, a local draft beer with 3% alcohol content, from a tiny stool on the sidewalk.

But feather-light lagers aren’t the only game in town anymore.
The country’s craft beer scene is booming, having welcomed more than a dozen micro-breweries in the past two years.
    “The beer culture in Vietnam starts with Bia Hoi,” Hao Tran, managing editor of lifestyle website Vietcetera, tells CNN. The craft beer scene that has evolved has done so from people drinking beer in the Old Quarter in Hanoi or Bui Vien Street in Saigon, he says.
    “But there’s so much more to beer culture in Vietnam now than just that particular image.”

    Tapping new tastes

    Vietnam is one of the biggest beer consumers in Asia drinking 3.8 billion liters a year in 2016, according to Ministry of Industry and Trade.
    While stalwart brands such as Tiger, Saigon Beer,and Bia Hoi still account for the lion’s share of that consumption, in Ho Chi Minh City alone artisan brewers such as Platinum, Pasteur Street Brewing Co, Winking Seal, Heart of Darkness, and Fuzzy Logic are providing a real alternative, says Tran.
    The brands have, for example, introduced potent Indian pale ales (IPAs) andsour gose — a tart and salty style of German beer — to the market.
    “As Vietnam has continued to experience income growth and taste for global concepts and standards, that’s where craft beer has really come in,” says Tran.
    “The tastes and preferences of Vietnamese consumers are changing and evolving.”

    What’s brewing

    One of Vietnam’s craft pioneers, Pasteur Street Brewing Co opened its doors in 2015 and now distributes not only all over Vietnam, but also to Malaysia, Australia, Hong Kong, and the United States — with Japan and Europe to come later this year.
    For the past two years, Pasteur Street has been leading the revolt against boring lagers and predictable pale ales — an effort that was rewarded with three gold medals at the 2016 Asian Beer Medal competition.
    Helmed by Americans John Reid and Alex Violette — the latter isalso behind Upslope Brewing Company, in Colorado — the brewery imports its hops from the US and malts from Europe, but adds a local touch to every recipe.
    In the land of 30-cent drafts of Bia Hoi, charging consumers $5 for craft draft remains a challenge.
    An on-site brewery was a crucial part of the persuasion strategy for East West Brewing Company, which opened in January.
    “It’s all about really educating our (Vietnamese) consumers,” Loc Truong, founder of East West Brewing Company, tells CNN.
    “You cannot show them what craft beer is if you don’t have a craft brewery to really guide them through.”
    It helps that breweries and bars serving craft beers tend to be clustered in Ho Chi Minh City around central areas of Districts 1 and 2, where there’s lots of foot traffic.
    As a result, new beer-oriented tours have added to the buzz, such as the bar and brewery motorbike excursion operated by Vespa Adventures.
    Truong and his team are based in the heart of District 1.
    Inside the massive glass building, guests can mingle at the industrial-chic bar and restaurant downstairs, soak up the sun on the rooftop, or take a tour of the steel fermenting tanks and barrel-aging room.
    Before opening, Truong expected expats and travelers to drive sales, but he was pleasantly surprised that 85% of his patrons were Vietnamese in the first six months of business.
    Truong says that is partly due to a growing middle class in Vietnam.
    With a 6% annual increase in GDP per capita, the Boston Consulting Group predicts Vietnam’s middle class will account for 23% of the population of 95 million by 2020, up from 16% in 2015.
    “Vietnam moves very, very fast,” says Truong. “One thing catches on and the next hing you know, the whole market is shifting.”

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