Simon Stanley discovers how Ho Chi Minh City became the rising star of Southeast Asia’s craft beer scene.
As a country famous for its dirt cheap bottles of lager commonly drunk over ice as a remedy to the heat and humidity, you wouldn’t expect to find a world-class chocolate stout being brewed in Vietnam, not to mention the squid ink ale that also appeared recently. But in less than three years, Saigon, the country’s southern metropolis officially known as Ho Chi Minh City, has emerged as a major player on the regional (and global) craft beer scene.
At last year’s inaugural Asian Beer Medals competition in Singapore, it was a Vietnamese brewery that took more gold awards than any other competitor. So strong and numerous were the country’s entrants that the event is set to relocate to Saigon this summer.
Born from a thirst for good beer rather than serious financial gain, it was a movement that began in the kitchens and bedrooms of a small but dedicated bunch of expat beer geeks. Faced with the usual line up of homogenous Asian and European lager brands, they yearned for quality, variety and, most importantly, flavour.
“That’s how it started here,” says Chicago-born Mark Gustafson who, by many accounts, got the ball (or the keg) rolling for Saigon’s craft beer crusade. “You either carried something in in your suitcase, or you made it yourself.”
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