Leading the Craft Beer Revolution
Vietnam is in the midst of a beer revolution! One of the world’s largest consumers per capita, the market is seeing steady growth year on year, and estimated production is at an incredible 4.8 billion liters per annum. Many of the world’s largest producers are now firmly focused on gaining a foothold in the national market due to increasing consumption (around 5% per year and growing).
Traditionally, beer was drunk in the countless street-side bars known as Bia Hoi. Consumed in frightening quantities by everyone from Vietnam’s ‘nouveau riche’ to its hard-working street vendors, bia hoi literally means ‘gas beer’. It is an unpasteurized, unpreserved brew that is made before the sun rises, and often imbibed before the sun sets. Much of it comes from 3 huge national breweries, but countless smaller sole trader operations flourish as well.
However, a young population that is moving away from the traditional setting has seen beer culture change rapidly, and a slew of modern beer gardens, chic bars and beer clubs are popping up in every major town and city to cater for the changing demographics of locals whose tastes are becoming more discerning and complex. Although holding a tiny market share in the overall scheme of things, the craft beer explosion that has become so ubiquitous in the West has now begun to form roots in Vietnam. This move away from mass produced brands is being led by an innovative company which has firmly cemented itself as the authority on craft beer production here.
Founder, John Reid, had been working for many years in the hospitality industry in Vietnam, and wanted to create a craft beer bar similar to those he had frequented at home in the US. With very little knowledge about the processes involved, he quickly realized that he would need some expert help if his idea was to become a reality. Returning home on a research trip, he met brewmaster, Alex Violette, who was making Asian style craft beers in Boulder, California. He managed to convince Alex and his partner Bethany (a branding expert) to up sticks and relocate to Vietnam, and they soon set up operations to begin creating US-style craft beer using Vietnamese ingredients.
Pasteur Street Brewing Company has been an undoubted success, achieving exceptional popularity since opening in January 2015. Starting with just a tiny taproom, the ever-increasing range of special brews is now available in nearly 100 locations across Vietnam, and export orders are in high demand from international markets such as The USA, Australia, Singapore and The UK.
Company Sales Manager, Mischa Smith, has been pleasantly surprised by the growing interest from local clientele. “Traditionally, expats would have made up the bulk of craft beer consumption, but Vietnamese people are becoming curious about it, and the reaction has been very encouraging. We’re getting more and more Vietnamese customers at our place and seeing tremendous growth recently into more Vietnamese frequented establishments”, he noted. “Once you’ve spoiled yourself with flavorful, interesting beers, it’s really hard to go back to plain, tired, commercial lagers”. It is not without its difficulties, however, as importing quality hops and malts is expensive, as is setting up the taps and equipment for new clients. As a small company, keeping up with demand is a constant challenge, and preserving the quality of the beer in each location requires significant time and effort.
While Vietnam is relatively unheralded as a place to brew international quality brews, it does have a key advantage that the team was keen to capitalize on. “One of the great things about brewing here is access to fresh produce with which to create our beers”, said Mr. Reid. “Many big craft beer producers use concentrates for base flavors, whereas here, we have such a variety of fresh ingredients to work with, and it really brings out the flavor of the beer. Examples include our Passion Fruit Wheat Ale or the Spice Island Saison (made with lemongrass and black pepper), all of which are made from US hops combined with locally sourced produce. It allows us to experiment with ingredients such as jasmine, coconut, chocolate and honey, and this is what craft brewing is all about”, he added.
Not just popular in Vietnam, the company’s beers have now achieved worldwide recognition. At the Asian Beer Festival 2016, the company returned with 3 Gold medals and 1 Silver medal: more than any other brewer in attendance. Similarly, at the US hosted, World Beer Cup, its Cyclo Imperial Chocolate Stout took 1st prize in the Chocolate Beer category, thus putting Pasteur Street Brewing Company and Vietnam on the map as a world-class producer. “We’ve had success because our beer is really good, and that is thanks to the guys who make it. Their creativity and passion has been instrumental in incorporating unfamiliar Vietnamese flavors into traditional beer styles, to make something new and exciting” remarked Mischa.
While continuing to experiment with new flavors, the company’s immediate plans are continue spreading the love of craft beer in Vietnam, and eventually duplicate its Saigon based tap room in cities such as Danang and Nha Trang. Its success has resulted in the creation of many other craft producers, and a budding craft industry is now flourishing across the country. While they represent a tiny portion of a market that is still dominated by the big brands, companies like Pasteur Street Brewing Company are happy to convert people to the joys of craft ales, one beer at a time!
Pasteur Street Brewing Company: 144 Pasteur Street, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City
Available in Nha Trang at: LIVINcollective, Rooftop Lounge, Skylight Nha Trang, Runam Bistro, Sheraton Nha Trang Hotel & Spa.