First things first – I love all types of beer. I worked in marketing for a large Canadian beer company for nearly six years. Friends know it’s not uncommon for me to actually bring my favorite beers around the world with me when I travel, going as far as tipping service staff in foreign brews. I believe there is no greater sin than dirty draught lines. You get it. Imagine my surprise, or rather sheer delight, when within 24 hours of landing in Saigon (or known by its newer name Ho Chi Minh City), I discovered an incredible growing craft beer scene. As the number of beer festivals, tap rooms and craft brewery launches literally increase weekly, I feel more and more at home. Watch out ma, I may never come home!

For those new to Saigon, or planning to travel here soon, here’s the basic run down of what’s in store for you when it comes to the city’s craft beer culture. Prost!

Saigon's Craft Beer Players

Saigon’s complete explosion of quality craft beer offerings began a mere two years ago with the launch of Platinum Premium Ales in summer of 2014, and by early 2015 Pasteur Street Brewing Company or PSBC, now the dominant #1 craft player, joined the fold.

Pasteur Street Brewing Company

For Pasteur Street Brewing Company, the American trio of John Reid, Bethany Lovato, and brewmaster Alex Violette have been able to build not only the most well-known but truly legitimate operation in the city. They have grown to brew at three locations and have received several international awards for their beers, the latest of which was top marks for the Imperial Chocolate Cyclo Stout at the World Beer Cup. Their Jasmine IPA is perhaps the best seller, however I’ve got a personal affinity for the 4% ABV Passionfruit Wheat Ale – I see it as one of the truest expressions of their commitment to using quality European roasted malt, North American hops and unique Vietnamese ingredients for a local connection.

A long narrow taproom, aptly located at 144 Pasteur Street in District 1, serves up a small menu of tasty dishes to go alongside beer flights. Better yet, growlers are sold at this location, and returning your empty bottle garners you a free pint. The taproom is nearly always packed, but fear not if you can’t squeeze in for a visit – they have impressive distribution to over 80 retail and on premise outlets across Hanoi and Saigon, Hong Kong and now Malaysia.

Bia Craft Artisan Ales

Soon to follow was Bia Craft Artisan Ales, which despite launching only in August 2015, has developed quite the reputation. With an impressive tap room (30 taps!) in District 3 and a smaller outpost in District 2, the team serves up both their own brews and a host of other craft brands. Anyone from Ontario, Canada with a hankering for the tastes of home may be pleased to learn that this fall they just started to carry several Flying Monkeys variants, including Hoptical Illusion Almost Pale Ale and Netherworld Cascadian Dark Ale.

Bia Craft also has a place in my heart as they are one of the few bars to carry Stone Hill Cider, which is right up my alley: my first job out of university was marketing for Ferrero Canada, the makers of Ferrero Rocher, my next job was Molson Coors where I eventually worked on brands such as Strongbow, so for me, a cocoa cider is like hitting the mother load. An impressive 15kg of cocoa fruit goes into every 250ml bottle of this 11% ABV cider, which is aged for 12 months and if I’m honest, drinks more like a punchy desert wine than a cider. The Spring 2015 harvest is currently on sale, but as it only yielded 900 bottles, I suggest you get it fast.

Saigon Cider

Speaking of craft cider, while the segment is still in its infancy relative to craft beer (which itself is still incredibly new and limited) the team at Saigon Cider has done a notable job bringing drinkers new seasonal options like their delicious Fresh Ginger Apple Cider. The brand is quirky and colourful, with listed ingredients including “peace, love and apples” in addition to organic Vietnamese fruit.

Other Breweries

The list goes on, and is ever growing, with several smaller craft beer brands and breweries of note in Saigon including Phat Rooster, Fuzzy Logic, Tê Tê and Lac just to name a few. Fuzzy Logic’s Pale Ale and the 100% organic, unfiltered Belgian style Wit from the Spanish brewing brothers behind Tê Tê seem to be the largest crowd pleasers. Each craft brewery in Saigon has fairly active event calendars as well as impressive seasonal brew collaborations, just follow them on social media for the latest.

What’s incredible to see is that all of these brewers are truly passionate about their work and have formed an incredibly supportive community. It’s a small but growing scene, so the “all boats rise” philosophy appears to still be in full effect – for now at least. It’s common to see a brewer from one company attend the launch event of another’s tap room, or hear them positively mention one another in interviews. In addition to the warm fuzzies that come with such camaraderie, it makes good business sense to consolidate efforts in influencing the Vietnamese government’s evolving beer regulations.

Craft Beer Saigon- Saigon Beer School

Saigon Craft Beer Experiences

This month I had the pleasure of meeting Angela Payne, Dean of the Saigon Beer School, as she hosted a tutored beer and food pairing at Rogue Saigon. Both Angela and Rogue merit the full attention of beer enthusiasts.

Saigon Beer School

Originally hailing from Milwaukee with a colourful career in beer and alcohol across Europe, Angela arrived in Saigon just last year. In September 2015 she recalls meeting several aspiring craft brewers at a local beer festival and pitching her idea to do beer tastings to “very receptive ears”. By summer 2016, Saigon Beer School was up and running out of Sancho’s Craft Beer and Mexican Kitchen. The ‘school’ now operates pop up tasting events at multiple tap rooms and trendy restaurants across the city. It blends beer history, homemade food and, of course, a healthy amount of actual beer drinking into lively two to three hour sessions.

Payne explains that soon to be added to the roster will be a “multi-brewery tour, hitting both the modern craft breweries in Saigon and also the central European ones that arrived with the end of the Cold War in the 1990s”. When asked, why Saigon, why now? She enthusiastically shared, “Saigon’s craft beer scene is a result of this city’s entrepreneurial spirit. You feel like there is always an opportunity, with enough work and desire, to take whatever inchoate ideas you have and turn them into real, solid enterprises. I have no doubt that HCMC will be the Craft Beer capital of Southeast Asia in the next few years. Being here and seeing this community begin to coalesce has been incredibly inspiring and, as Dean of Saigon Beer School, I get to show off my chosen city and it’s beer and cider while bringing people together who share my passion. I can’t wait to see what the new year will bring for the beer scene in this city”. For the latest schedule or to book a private event, Saigon Beer School can be reached on Facebook.

Rogue Saigon

Rogue Saigon’s own website perhaps captures itself best: “hidden on the upper floors of a crumbly old building in the heart of the city, Rogue is Saigon’s rawest, bare-brick hideout for craft beer lovers”. What they fail to mention is that their German sausages are out of this world good, and if that’s not enough to draw you in, they give away free food on Wednesday nights. Open 4pm to 1am and located on the second floor of 13 Pasteur St. in District 1, any day of the week that you visit is sure to a rewarding one.

Both Rogue Saigon, and its District 2 sister outlet Saigon Outcast, have successfully hosted craft beer festivals, which now seem to be on a consistent quarterly basis. Though you certainly don’t have to wait for a festival to check out Saigon Outcast, an impressive alternative event space built around three stacked and refurbished shipping containers. Weekly programming targeting the city’s creative community and perhaps the more intrepid traveler includes outdoor cinema, fine art classes, and skateboarding. The monthly Free Range Market and Bohemian Market also get top marks. Don’t worry – craft beer is always on offer every day they are open, which happens to be Tuesday through Sunday.

Indika Saigon

Indika Saigon is a magical place. Tucked away through a series of restaurants and alleyways, this ‘house of oddities’ hosts a free flow craft beer night every Friday from 8-11pm. Imagine all the Fuzzy Logic, Platinum (Pale Ale and Golden Ale) and Tiger draught you could possibly desire. On my latest visit, the power was out for the first 45 or so minutes, elevating the already spectacular ‘secret garden’ charm of the venue to out of this world levels thanks to a blanket of tea light candles. On the odd Fridays in which crowds are smaller than usual, staff have the time to come around to the tables, continually refilling your cup. Swoon!

Malt

Last but certainly not least, Malt. Centrally located in D1, this bar features several craft brands as well as the big domestic and import players, not to mention an always busy shuffle board and truffle fries that will change your life. I’m a fan because it’s a smoke free bar, a rarity in the city. Their strong events calendar often has a charitable spin – hosting Movember launch and wrap parties, as well as flood relief fundraisers just to name a few. Whether you’re there for a special event or just popping by for a quick pint, you’re always in for a good time, with a usual crowd of expat teachers and rec league baseball teams.

The Future of Saigon Craft Beer

Heart of Darkness is perhaps the latest official entrant, with an incredible pilsner, pale ale, golden ale, red ale, and multiple true IPAs on offer (can you tell I like to drink?). Currently in only a handful of outlets across the city, they have opened a tap room in Saigon’s downtown core and have partnered with Pizza 4 P’s, a very well-known gourmet food brand, to manage the food side of their operation at the venue.

East West Brewing Co. is set to open its doors in January 2017. It will be the first in the city to actually have a full high end restaurant, tap room and brewery ‘all under one roof’, allowing thirsty travelers to literally watch beer being made while they enjoy a brew or two. If reality matches the design sketch above, folks will be in for a treat. Steve Gutierrez, one of the four managing partners of East West Brewing Co. shared why he’s so optimistic about not only Saigon, but the entire country’s craft beer scene, “besides having such a big expat community, beer in general is such a big part of the Vietnamese drinking culture. Over 90% of alcohol consumption in Vietnam is beer. Along with this, a fast emerging middle class, and a growing palette for more western tastes, we feel that the local people are ready & deserve more quality local products”. Latest developments on East West can be found on their Facebook page.

The future of craft beer in the city is certainly a bright one. New seasonal brews and brewery launches are happening monthly. More importantly, the primarily expat teams behind the craft revolution are investing in training Vietnamese brewers and really starting to engage local drinkers. This will be the true test of the quality and longevity of the craft beer scene in Saigon; can it catch on with enough drinkers to give the passionate brewers a well-deserved profit? Only time will tell. I’ll gladly update you on developments over a pint or two within a few months.

Saigon craft beer photos courtesy of:
Madeline Burch
Instagram / @pasteurstreetbrewing
Instagram / @saigoncider
Instagram / @roguesaigon
YouTube / East West Brewing Co.

Madeline Burch

Madeline Burch

Madeline was born and raised in Toronto Canada, educated in marketing, and has worked in brand management and the alcohol industry for nearly a decade. In search of great drinks, stories and photos, she has travelled to South East Asia multiple times and is currently based in Vietnam. From luxe travel to volunteer missions, she’s interested in it all.

Sign-up for our Monthly Newsletter


Send this to friend