In recent months the growth of real ale in Saigon has been something to behold. When I first arrived here there were only mainly German and Czech brewers offering good quality draft beer anywhere in the city. Even these had to be tracked down. Now thanks to the work of a handful of dedicated enthusiasts, we have a much greater choice when it comes to enjoying beer. One of the few things that I have missed since leaving the UK and coming to Asia has been good beer. It is not easy to get excited by any of the bland lagers when you have been used to the fantastic variety in Europe in general and Belgium and England in particular. On a recent trip home to the UK and Belgium I tried over 300 real beers during a 10-week visit. It was a stark reminder of how far behind Asia really is.
The micro brewing business and what is now generally referred to as craft beers is exploding all over the planet. The United States has the fastest expanding craft beer market. The first time I went to the States it was impossible to get anything that resembled a good pint. Now some of my favourites are the American IPAs and blonde beers. Finally Saigon is catching on and brewers are starting to get their products into different venues. A great place to start would be Bia Craft in District 2. Not much more than a hole in the wall, it has some 8 real beers on draft and about a dozen more bottled varieties. They are soon to add two more drafts.
I couldn’t draw up any list of these breweries though without a nod in the direction of the original German and Czech brewers that have been in the city for a long time. My favourite Czech Brewery would be Hoa Vien, Their authentic style Brauhaus is housed in the old Honorary Consulate of the Czech Republic, in a small side street off Nguyen Thi Minh Khai. This huge beer house serves fantastic food and two incredible beers. They have been brewing here for 20 years and present a pale pilsner lager style beer and a darker richer one. They are truly magnificent.
My favourite amongst the German representatives would be Nguyen Du Brauhof, which is to be found at 98 Nguyen Du in District 1. This is a Vietnamese owned establishment, but the owner learned his craft in Germany. The beers here are excellent and it is so obvious that this is a man with a passion for what he does. He brews a pilsner, a darker beer similar to a dunkel and a weisse beer which are all on tap. Traditional style German black beer is also occasionally sold.
Starting the craze off, amongst the expats, Platinum Brewery, were the first to start getting their products into bars around the city. 44-year-old Irishman Michael Comerton started the brewery. Trained in Ireland he worked for Guinness before spending a decade in Australia working for Brewing giants Fosters and Lion. Platinum’s pale ale is a beauty. I hate the constant reference to clean, bright and purity to which the lager giants are slaves. Beer isn’t like that; if you can’t taste the hops, then it simply doesn’t cut it for me, Platinum has hops a plenty. As far as I am concerned, beer can look like pond water and still taste terrific, whereas many are crystal clear and taste of nothing at all really.
Pasteur Street Brewing Company in the heart of the city is an American owned micro brewery. Their Jasmine IPA is a highly flavoured “West Coast” version of the famous pale ale. The way that these guys have mixed American style hops with Vietnamese jasmine is highly impressive.
Fuzzy Logic was started in District 3 by two teachers Max Crawford and Colin O’Keefe. Their Pale Ale is a cracker. Bright, flowery, full of flavour and an absolute delight to drink. They have since quit their teaching jobs and now operate the business from a small brewery on the outskirts of the city. My favourite of theirs is their Dirty Blonde, as one would expect, it goes down a treat.
Another personal favourite is the Amber Ale from the Phat Rooster Brewery, owned and run by Mike Sakkers, who used to own a bar in Pham Ngu Lao. It’s made with German hops and holds its flavour superbly for a light amber ale.
Mark Gustafson, the man behind the meat at Quan Ut Ụt is also the man behind Bia Craft in District 2. They don’t just sell other people’s highly tasty beers they also brew and sell their own and again it’s a corker. The humour and light hearted approach is evident here. Biacraft Artisan Breweries proudly sell their Xau Ma Chanh pale ale. The name translates as “Ugly But Vain” this is a beauty. Hoppy, fruity and bursting with flavour. I loved it.
One thing is for sure, these good people have definitely turned a corner in providing real ale in Saigon, there can be no going back, thankfully. As more and more people try these fabulous, flavour some offerings their popularity will grow and grow. I have not covered them all here and maybe it will be a good idea to feature a listing for all the bars selling real ale in the city, that’s for later. In the meantime, get yourself out there are get sampling.
I apologize if any errors occurred in this article, but the research was as tough as it gets.