Tapping in to Vietnam’s craft beer scene

When I first visited Vietnam 13 years ago the beer options were spectacularly limited. Bia Hanoi and Bia Saigon were the main players and, while they were different, held tremendous similarities. They were relatively light beers, unassuming and not particularly bold in flavor. They’re well suited to the hot weather but very lacking in character that would make them a memorable pour. My, how times have changed.

Picking up a pair of blondes in Vietnam
Picking up a pair of blondes in Vietnam

Stepping up to the bar at Imperial Craft Bia in Hue, the new craft beer scene is on full display. A couple dozen empty bottles sit on the bar for customers to peruse. Four taps hold a range of additional brews or, on the weekend I visited, a “tap takeover” from one of the breweries, showcasing the range of options. And whoa is there a range.

Looking for an English porter or a Belgian amber? No problem at all. IPAs, hefeweizens, and pilsners are readily available, too. Brewers are also experimenting with more unique local flavors, like a dragonfruit Goss or passion fruit wheat.  There’s even an Pho-inspired beer (and it was surprisingly inoffensive. The options are impressive.

And not just from one or two breweries. There are plenty to choose from. Heart of Darkness, Pasteur Street, Furbrew, Seven Bridges and Fuzzy Logic Brewing are just a few of them. Fortunately Shaun behind the bar knows all of them well and is happy to talk beer with guests.

With more than a decade in Vietnam now, by way of California and Lithuania, he spent time guiding tourists in Da Nang and then selling for one of the breweries before taking over an old restaurant in a residential area and converting it to sell the beer he loves.

Yes, this is a Pho-inspired beer. And it was pretty good, though I don’t know if I’d have a second one..

He’s also not alone, even in the small town of Hue. The Chàm Craft Beer and Coffee is closer to the tourist district and has a similar selection of beer, though all nothing on tap. It carries an upscale feel, including air conditioning, though also not nearly as engaged a staff. And they take credit cards, which is helpful when the beer prices start to creep up.

In a country where cheap beer is part of the tourist fabric these beers are in a different category. Prices for the craft beers run near 100,000 VND (~$4 USD). A more typical brew will run closer to 25k VND and imports seem to top out around 80k. But selling single beers for the same price as a bucket of cold cans is not an easy task.

Fortunately it appears that the breweries and bars are making progress. Turns out delivering a quality product can attract customers.

(And, yes, the craft beer scene is not spectacularly new. But it is relatively young and this was my first change to explore it more closely.)

More from my Vietnam Adventures

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  1. I was in VietNam for the first time in 2007 and actually enjoyed craft beers in Nha Trang at Louisiane Brewhouse in NhaTrang. The beer there is somewhat more mass market–what I would liken to Sam Adams, but good. I was back in VietNam this past January. Went back to Louisiane. We also had good beer at BiaCraft and Pasteur Street in SaiGon. In Hanoi, is Hoa Vien–which is modeled after a Czech Beer Garden and brews Czech Pilsner. In Cambodia, we had good German-style beer (and food!) at Hops Beer Garden in Phnom Penh. (Don’t judge on the German food–it was at the end of 6 weeks in SE Asia…) Having said all that, with the weather, the local Vietnamese beer tasted really good most of the time!

  2. Hey! Shaun here from Imperial Craft Bia in Hue. Thanks for the great write-up! We’ll be proud to share it around.

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