When somebody mentions Vietnam, the first thing you may think of probably isn’t going to be beer. However, if you’ve ever visited Vietnam, you will know it’s a paradise for beer lovers!
From crisp rice lagers to craft-brewed pale ales using local ingredients, such as lychees and durian fruit, the Vietnamese like their beer and a lot of it, too. Beer is definitely a favorite drink of Vietnam and constantly makes the list of the top 10 beer-consuming countries in the world
Beer is a social thing in Vietnam, and is just as important as their incredible food culture. With a balance of many strong international brands and their home-grown inspiration, the wide range of beers offered by Vietnam make a colorful and fascinating experience for any visiting beer-lover.
Plus, Vietnam offers what is known by many to be the cheapest beer in the world!
Vietnam’s Beer History
Beer was introduced to Vietnam in the late 19th century, brought in by the French under their colonial rule. Initially, brewing was a slow manual process but it produced some great results. Two major breweries evolved at this time – the Habeco beer company (Hanoi beer) and Sabeco (Saigon Beer).
There weren’t too many changes in the beer culture until after Vietnam gained its independence. After the Vietnam war, there was a shift in Government policy, which led to an increase in tourism.
As the drive for tourism led to many foreign tourists, so came along the major foreign beer brands and, in turn, the production of more kinds of beer in Vietnam.
The development of the Vietnamese beer brewing process also created jobs in other sectors such as engineering, agriculture, and packaging. Beer brewing methods were soon upgraded with new tools and equipment.
For example, Heineken – one of the major players in the Vietnamese beer industry – employs over 3,500 people in Vietnam and contributes to 0.9% of the country’s GDP.
Beer in Vietnam Today
Beer drinking is very much a way of life for the average person living in Vietnam. On hot summer days, you’ll find the pavements of major cities, like Hanoi in the North or Saigon (Ho Chi Min City) in the South, littered with avid beer drinkers sitting on plastic stools and tables around make-shift sidewalk cafes and bars.
Due to the tropical weather, the Vietnamese prefer to drink their beer in mugs with ice cubes. Draft beer, known as Bia Hoi, is a popular beer at a very cheap price, often under 1 USD a mug. Bia Hoi is commonly found on many street corners in Hanoi, but it now has a growing foothold in Saigon, too.
If you don’t like the idea of ice in your beer, refrigerated beers are also available, more commonly in a can than a beer bottle. Many international beers are available, some imported and some brewed under license.
You’ll also find a selection of beers brewed especially for the Vietnamese market and a healthy craft beer scene too, especially in the big city of Saigon.
Of course, this being South East Asia, drinking beer is nearly always an accompaniment to food.
Delicious food served at street vendor stalls, such as snails (grilled, steamed, or stir-fried), the infamous fertilized duck embryos known as balut, salted fish, fried rice, and fermented raw sausage are often found next to the Bia Hoi stalls.
The food and snacks vary in different regions of Vietnam. Snacks like peanuts, beef jerky, and grilled dried squid are more popular accompaniments to beer in the North, while summer spring rolls (in rice paper), Vietnamese rice crackers, French fries, and cheese sticks are more popular in the South.
What Is Bia Hoi?
Bia Hoi is a lighter beer, a freshly made and frothy lager. Beer connoisseurs often complain it’s too light with not enough body, but that’s part of the charm. Bia Hoi is a great accompaniment to food, and with its light alcohol content, a couple of glasses isn’t going to ruin your day.
At about 3% ABV, it’s low in price, as the most you are likely to ever pay is about 20,000 VND (Vietnamese dong) per glass or roughly 1 US dollar, but it can be found in Hanoi for less than 5,000 VND per glass.
Literally translated as fresh beer, Bia Hoi doesn’t use any preservatives in the brewing process and is often unpasteurized. It’s basically good for serving only the day it is tapped by the vendor, and you will often see kegs being delivered every morning to the street corner vendors on the back of a moped.
Although it won’t win any awards for the best beer in the world, it’s the most consumed beer in Vietnam and if you should ever visit, it would be a shame to miss out on this age-old tradition
That said, it’s similar in color and taste to many of the lighter beers brewed by the major beer companies in the U.S. However, it’s a little less carbonated due to the street vendor just tapping the keg with a reusable tap and no external CO2 supply.
The Top Beer Brands in Vietnam
If sitting on a street corner on a small plastic stool, drinking ultra-fresh, un-aged beer out of a cup made from recycled glass doesn’t excite you, there are many other options for beer in Vietnam.
Hey, we’re not all backpackers anymore and international brands are available at relatively inexpensive prices throughout Vietnam.
Canned beers tend to be cheaper at about 20,000 VND (approximately 80 c) for your average beer, but bottled beers will still only set you back about 30,000 VND. The growing craft beer scene in Saigon tends to have the most expensive beers, but you will be enjoying a premium beer.
Heineken in Vietnam
It may seem strange to start a list of top Vietnamese beers with one of the most famous beer brands in the world, but Heineken has done increasingly well since it started brewing in Vietnam in 1991.
Although traditional Heineken is well known for its crisp taste and as a quality beer worldwide, Heineken actually brews some lagers especially for the Vietnamese market, in particular Bia Viêt.
Advertised as “Born in Vietnam for Vietnam,” Bia Viêt is a cold brew lager with an alcohol content of 4.3% ABV. The cold fermentation process preserves the hop essence for a longer-lasting, more hoppier flavor than traditional Heineken.
Where Heineken excels and has made its way into the hearts of consumers is with its marketing and the many events it sponsors. One of the most iconic buildings in Ho Chi Minh City is home to The World of Heineken venue and since 2003, Heineken has brought the innovative New Year Party countdown concept to Vietnam.
Heineken also sponsors many festive music events and domestic sporting events to build its brand in the region.
The second most popular international lager across Vietnam again isn’t a homegrown lager, but the iconic Tiger Beer, which hails from Singapore. Although known throughout most of Asia as the Premium beer, in Vietnam it is one of the most inexpensive beers you can buy.
Popular with foreigners and Vietnamese consumers, it now falls under the Heineken Vietnam umbrella.
Still brewed in Singapore, every Tiger beer goes through a strict brewing process that uses only the finest ingredients, such as barley grown in Australia and Europe and hops from Germany.
About 15 years ago, Heineken Vietnam introduced Tiger Crystal in a transparent glass bottle to the market, which uses a “cold suspension” brewing technique that helps filter the beer at a -1ºc temperature to create a more refreshing and easy-to-drink light beer.
In 2021 Tiger Platinum Wheat Lager was introduced as a co-brewed venture, voted for by the younger generation of Vietnam. A wheat beer with a golden color, Tiger Platinum has a fresh flavor with hints of orange peel.
Tiger Beer, similar to its parent brand, also sponsors many epic music events in Vietnam.
Named after Victor Larue, the founder of Brasseries et Placieres de L’Indochine Brewery, this beer features an eye-catching design of a tiger on all its packaging and was even referred to as “Tiger beer” by US soldiers in the Vietnam War era.
But don’t get it confused with the classy Tiger Beer from Singapore, Asia’s International Premium Beer. Although the brand is now also distributed by Heineken (confusing!), Biere Larue sits in the mid-range segment of the market with a reasonable price and has a more traditional characteristic taste of French beer.
Using quality natural ingredients from European suppliers, the beer has a dark yellow color and a gentle taste, which makes it an unforgettable beer for many people.
With over 140 years of developing Saigon Beer, Sabeco is one of the leading Vietnamese beer producers and brands.
Saigon Beer is a pilsner-type lager brewed in Saigon and comes with either a red label or a green label. Saigon Green is the slightly lighter of the two beers, with an ABV of 4.3% compared to the 4.9% of Saigon Red.
Unlike many of the other bottled and draft beers of Vietnam, Saigon beers are more in keeping with international standards. More hops and malts and are involved in the brewing process to produce a more complex flavor, similar to German beers with a refreshing aroma.
Beer brands in Vietnam can be localized with Huda Beer, more likely to be found in Central Vietnam, and Bia Hanoi in the North. Saigon, however, is found all over Vietnam and is even exported worldwide now.
Originally produced in 1893, this beer was first known as Beer 33 before another 3 was added to the labeling in the seventies. Produced by the Sabeco Brewing Company, makers of the famous Saigon Beers, Beer 333 is a classic rice beer similar to many found throughout Asia.
Most commonly available in the Southern regions of Vietnam, Beer 333 is a popular choice for both locals and visitors. With an ABV of 5.3, it’s similar to many American beers, but many Asian brewers often add rice for that harsh bitterness.
Bottles of Beer 333 are quite commonly spotted in other Asian markets like Thailand, Korea, and even the Philippines, and are also exported around the world.
The name Huda derives from Hue City (Hu) in Central Vietnam, where this beer is produced, and Denmark (Da) from the Carlsberg brewery, which is the parent company of the brewery.
Combining European imported ingredients with modern Danish brewing techniques has created a beer with a characteristic flavor that has picked up many awards over the last 30 years.
The people of Hue City take great pride in their Huda Beer, as it was the first Vietnamese brand to receive a World Beer Award. It’s rarely found outside the central plains of Vietnam, so if you should travel to Hue City don’t forget to taste this outstanding beer.
One of the most famous beers in North Vietnam, Halida Beer is a joint venture between Habeco and Carlsberg of Denmark. Manufactured using Danish technology, all the ingredients are carefully selected, including sprouted beer barley imported from Europe.
Thanks to the excellent care taken by the brewers and the 170-year-old traditional brewing know-how of Carlsberg, Halida keeps stable over a longer period of time. It has a gentle taste to drink, a characteristic refreshing aroma, and a sweet aftertaste.
Another reason for the excellent quality of Halida is a special yeast, which is used and researched by the Carlsberg laboratories in Denmark called Saccharomyces Carlsbergenis. This helps with the creation of beer that is a balanced and rich, but not too bitter, drink.
Also known as Habeco, after the brewery which produces them, Hanoi Beer brands dominate North Vietnam. Their main products include Hanoi Draft Beer, Hanoi Red or Blue label beer bottle 450ml, Hanoi Beer Premium, and Truc Bach Beer.
Although Hanoi Beer is typical of an American adjunct lager style beer, the other beer they produce, Tru Bach, is of particular interest and worth seeking out. Named after Truc Bach lake, this premium beer is produced from the very best imported ingredients, including Saaz hops from the Czech Republic and spring season barley from France and the Czech Republic.
With a naturally long fermentation between 2-3 times longer than conventional beers, the beer has only a slightly bitter taste, which gives way to the sweet taste of the premium malts.
Some of the main import markets for Hanoi Beers today are the USA, UK, Australia, France, and Germany.
In a very crowded beer market, two other beers which stand out in Vietnam are:
- Sapporo Premium from the Sapporo brewery in Japan.
- Zorok Lager Beer – brewed in the Bin Duong Province, each bottle has 16 percent fewer calories than your average beer and is designed as a beer for females.
Craft Beer in Vietnam
Vietnam, in particular Saigon, has seen a vast expansion in the craft beer culture, with new craft beer bars springing up every week.
Many ex-pats from all over the globe have relocated to the busy metropolis that is Saigon and started to experiment with local flavors like lemongrass, passionfruit, dragon fruit, and even the dreaded durian fruit.
While some of the new microbreweries brew beers similar to those you find at home, others are like nothing you will have ever tasted before.
And the good news is that some of these breweries are now exporting their craft beer brands and you may even track a few down at your local beer import specialists!
Let’s take a quick tour of five of the best craft beer-drinking spots in Saigon.
Pasteur Street Brewing – Saigon
One of my favorite spots, whenever I’m in Saigon, is the Pasteur Street Brewing Company tap room, which is located interestingly enough on a street named after the famous Luis Pasteur, who is responsible for much of the development of brewing yeasts.
Using a combination of more interesting local ingredients like jasmine, pomelo, or dragon fruit and various types of brews from IPAs to Porters, at Pasteur Street you will experience some unique Asian flavors you are unlikely to find back home in craft beers.
A taster tray enables you to try out six of their more interesting brews, although be warned these quality craft ales are not cheap. My favorite is the Passionfruit Wheat Ale, which fortunately is now one of the beers they export and is available in my local 7-Eleven store.
There is also a Hanoi Pasteur Street Brewing Company if you should stray to North Vietnam.
Winking Seal Beer Co.
The Winking Seal Beer Co. is a relative newcomer to the craft beer scene of Saigon but already produces several top-quality craft ales.
Of particular note is the Mekong Mashup Summer Ale, which has a nice smooth flavor infused with flavors of the Mekong Delta.
A Dragon Fruit Pale Ale is also worth trying and the Bohemian Bastard IPA never fails to please lovers of those big hoppy ales often found back home.
Belgo The Belgian Brewer
Fans of Belgian beers won’t be disappointed by this large industrial-style brewhouse with plenty of seating areas both indoors and outdoors to accommodate the crowds.
All Belgo’s Craft beers are brewed in a classic Belgian style, with beers including an Amber Ale, a Dark Ale, a Saison, a Witbier, and a few other specialties, all with an Asian twist.
Small samples can be given out by the obliging bar staff or you can even buy a sample tray of 4 different ales. And of course, there’s a fusion-style menu with Belgian classic beer accompaniments given that Vietnamese flavor, too.
More than a microbrewery, this large lively outlet also stocks many of the local craft beers from other breweries such as Pasteur Street, Phat Rooster, and East West Brewing Co.
There are ales here to satisfy even the most discerning of beer connoisseurs, but make sure you try some of their wide selection of IPAs – every single one of them was hoppy and delicious!
Lion Brewery Saigon
The most central of all the microbreweries in Saigon and definitely the easiest to find, this large German hall-style restaurant and brewery is located just off Lam Son Square in the heart of the city.
As well as an outstanding buffet served during the weekends and evenings, you can enjoy a couple of German-style beers in those large stein glasses, either blonde or dark beer.
Lighter in the body than the other major German beers in Vietnam, such as Hot Vien or Goldmalt, both beers are more dry with a fruity aftertaste and a reasonable alcoholic strength expected of German beers.
Honorable mentions also go out to the craft beer breweries of Heart of Darkness (an excellent Mexican lager), East West Brewing Company (Saigon Rose – an easy-to-drink low ABV of 3% beer), Tê Tê Taphouse (Tê Tê White Ale Belgian style beer) and Rooster Beers (IPAs widely available all over the city).
New breweries seem to appear all the time, but the local crafty beer-loving enthusiasts are always eager to share any news of innovative brews with you.
Beer in Vietnam – What a Surprise!
If you should be lucky enough to be heading to Vietnam, whether you’re a lager lover or an IPA fan, you are in for a treat – it’s a beer lover’s paradise!
Lager lovers, especially those who like them a little more bitter, will appreciate many of the local brews, but international brands are also available for the less adventurous. The great thing about lagers in Vietnam is they rate as some of the most affordable beers in the world, especially Bia Hoi.
If you have never experienced beer so fresh it may have just been brewed that day, you don’t know what you’re missing. Bia Hoi may never win any awards for the best-tasting beer, but it is a great introduction to the beer culture of Vietnam.
Craft beer lovers can experience the flavor combinations of local Asian produce in classic ale styles, which you may have never even considered possible before. In most cases, they work, but I would stay clear of the durian fruit. There’s a reason durian fruit is banned in most hotels – they stink!
Now that most of these exotic ingredients are available in the US, why not try adding them to your next home-brew project? I was inspired to recently make a Lemongrass Kolsch.
And if not, then keep your eyes open for some of the Vietnamese craft beers and lagers which are now imported into the US for a taste of Vietnam’s exciting beer scene.