The first two weeks of March involved a trip to Vietnam for a honeymoon with my wife – never one to miss out on beer related tourism I got stuck in at the first chance.
Marquette Bar – Dublin airport – T1
As is customary for Irish people going on holidays the airport bar is always a welcome sight before a long haul flight. Its been a while since I’ve departed from Terminal 1 in Dublin but I had heard that Marquette had upped their beer game from the usual macro offerings to now include local Dublin heroes Hope in bottles as well as the Galway Bay core range and the ever reliable Galway Hooker pale ale.
Wolf Brewery Witbier 5.9%
This was my first and so far only experience of Russian craft beer but it wasn’t an enjoyable one.
Im a fan of the witbier as a style, its usually a pleasant light bodied, citrus forward beer that can be slightly sweet but more commonly has a dry finish. This was an over the top fake orange infused mess. It reminded me of another disastrous pseudo witbier style ale I remember from my time in Canada – Shocktop. Anyone who’s ever had the misfortune of experiencing a Shocktop will know what I am talking about here. The likes of St Bernardus witbier is the gold standard for me, I’d even consider Hoegaarden to be VASTLY superior to this one.
Wolf Brewery IPA v.3 5.9%
The options on the plane in terms of beer available to buy were Wolf Brewerys Witbier, an IPA and their Mead, I was more interested in what the IPA was like so I went for that instead of the Mead. This wasn’t a whole lot better than the Witbier in terms of how it was brewed. It was cloyingly over bitter and completely unbalanced making for an overall very unpleasant experience.
(On the return journey through Moscow airport I did see two other options from Wolf for sale – a lager and a Blonde ale, because the Wit and IPA were so bad I gladly gave the other two options a wide berth)
I would definitely be interested in trying more Russian micro brewed beers, this is surely not as good as it gets.
Moscow airport for the most part is an ABinBev stronghold from what I could see.
Taps are Leffe, Hoegaarden, Budweiser and two Spaten offerings in most bars with Lowenbrau and Stella Artois the bottled options.
As far as macro owned beer goes its hard to pass over a fresh Spaten when its on offer.
First up I went with a regular indulgence of mine – Spatens Munich Helles.
The usual bright, light bodied, mildly hopped and very easily drank helles is one of the simpler styles out there. Its what beer should taste like.
After the Helles I moved onto the Dunkel. This is something that I would absolutely love to see in Ireland as commonly as the Helles but theres probably not the same demand for this style.
Typical dunkel traits here, bready, nutty toasty aroma, dark red to dark brown in colour from the roasted Munich malt used. Hops aren’t a dominant feature. Really enjoyed this one. Im not sure how beer is usually priced in Russia or was this an extra airport tax but the Spaten wasn’t cheap, they were in the region of €7 each, Dublin-esque pricing I suppose.
Guinness Nitro IPA 5.8%
Ive seen this online lots of times before but this was the first time I had ever seen it infront of me available to buy. This is another Guinness product that will never make it in Ireland because of the dominance of the stout and because well, this is terrible. It might be just me but there is no way a nitro poured IPA should ever be a thing. I couldn’t detect any hop aroma or flavour in this, the nitro just mutes and kills all of it, malt included.
Was it creamy? Yes it was but thats not what anyone in their right mind wants from an IPA. A truly bizarre and odd creation.
Greene King Abbot ale 5%
This was a surprising option to see alongside the Guinness Nitro IPA and another that I had never had a draught pour of. A classically English malt driven Extra special/Strong bitter is not something you see much of outside of the UK in my experience. Full flavoured, balanced and satisfying. This was a treat. A very minor gripe was serving it in a Kilkenny glass but we will forgive that.
Just like Moscow airport was an ABinBev territory, South East Asia is all about Heineken and its many, many brands (I have since learned that Vietnam is Tiger and SE Asia Heinekens largest market in the world, ok then)
With the odd exception the overwhelming style is the pale adjunct lager.
Cheap (anywhere from €0.50c – €1.50) sweet, pale, light, cold, wet and alcoholic applies to every single of the regional beers in Vietnam. With the exception of packaging there is very little, if anything to distinguish them from each other.
Our first stop in Vietnam was the capital city of Hanoi, there was a very small amount of craft beers available here, one of them is pictured below, a pale ale from East West Brewing. East West was one of three, maybe four breweries brewing more western/ American style ales. This particular pale ale was a very welcome change from the light lagers, it had a beautiful combination of American and New Zealand hops. It had notes of zesty lemon and limes – what was most pleasantly surprising was its date system, it had a shelf life of 90 days which is the amount of shelf life any hop forward beer should get.
Craft beers were a lot more expensive than the local lagers ranging from about €3.50 – €5.00 in a bar, in Irish terms, still cheap.
A one hour flight from Hanoi was Da Nang city and from there were travelled to the smaller town of Hoi An. Dramatically warmer temperature meant refreshment and hydration was going to be a priority here too… so again the vast majority of beers here were the same ice-cold pale adjunct lagers with a smattering of Tiger, a Corona style Tiger beer called Tiger Crystal and a few more craft options. We discovered a bar in the town called the Tap House which seemed to be the first dedicated beer bar we found in Vietnam. The menu consisted of some appealing options from of a Belgian Dark, coffee porter, an English style pale ale by Heart of Darkness and by far the best beer I tried while in Vietnam, a passionfruit Wheat ale from Pasteur Street Brewing from Saigon. It was super refreshing in 30 degree heat, tart but satisfying and super enjoyable. This was what I really needed at this point.
Another interesting beer discovery in Vietnam is essentially home-brewed beer available by the glass on the street from street traders, food stalls and some smaller restaurants. Typically this beer is in the 3% abv region. One of these beers that we had cost a whopping 5,000 Vietnamese Dong – a whole €0.07c for a 500ml glass. It was ok, Ive had worse but the novelty of it was the best part of it.
Saigon/Ho Chi Minh
We thought Hoi An was hot…Saigon was worse, not much hotter temperature wise but the humidity was incredible – so the sensible thing to do in those energy sapping conditions is replace those lost fluids, obviously.
On arriving in HCM we found a bar close to our accommodation that carried more than pale lagers. We ordered some beers and got a pizza. I opted for a witbier from a Vietnamese brewery called Te Te and it was not good at all. It tasted of nothing, zero aroma, really thin and watery and was a big disappointment. There didn’t seem to be even a hint of orange or coriander in the brewing of this.
Thankfully Pasteur Street Brewing is located in HCM so we got there at the earliest opportunity. On arrival the taproom is down an alleyway and up a stairs overlooking one of Vietnams busiest streets. The taproom has lots of tasty bites to eat on the menu along with a tap list covering all bases. I had a nitro dry Irish stout, a dragon fruit gose and topped it off with a New England Pale ale – most remarkable by the fact that the NEPA wasn’t all juice but still retained some bitterness on the finish, much welcome, much surprising.
Another beer bar worth noting in HCM/Saigon is Ong Cao – fine draught selection of micro brewed beers from all over Vietnam.
The final destination we visited in Vietnam was the island of Phu Quoc.
There seemed to be two beer options local to the Phu Quoc – Phu Quoc beer in a plastic bottle (with a guy who looked like a Captain Birdseye/Pat Mustard hybrid on the label) and Bivana – both equally as watery and unsatisfying and both ridiculously cheap.
Bivina was a marginally better choice out of the two if Im honest. Aside from these two beers there was a few occasions where there was better options available. Again we saw Pasteur Street beers showing up in cans and on draught in restaurants alongside another brewery that caught our attention while there – Heart of Darkness. When the option presented itself I had a hopped pilsner and surprise, surprise another very enjoyable New England IPA called Loose Rivet, 7.5% and it felt and tasted like an actual beer – fully satisfying, the hops were pungent, the aroma was apparent from about 2 feet away – it was far from an all juice affair.
14 nights, 15 days in Vietnam, 3 cities and 8 plane journeys, some layovers with one or two beers along the way.