Discovering Craft Beer in Saigon
Before I left Canada for Vietnam I was worried. Worried I'd get homesick, worried I'd miss my family and friends, but worried most of all that I'd not be able to find good beer. If I could find good craft beer, the homesickness wouldn't be so bad, and there wasn't really anything I could do to not miss those I love.
Craft beer is something I really enjoy, both as a product (burp) and for the types of people drawn to craft beer and tend to build a community. If craft beer is anything, it's about sharing. And sharing is caring. As a tour guide in Canada, I often led craft beer tours, attended craft beer events, and got to know brewers, bar owners, bartenders, marketers, beer judges - all kinds of people who have some role to play in making quality craft beer or getting it into my mouth. I like those people. I like sharing what they make and sharing what they teach me. I knew moving to another country might separate me from that sharing, caring, crafty community. I was worried.
So, when I departed for Ho Chi Minh City in the summer of 2016, I made damn well sure to check if there was any sort of craft beer scene there. To my delight there was! It wasn't big at all, but I was looking for any signs of life. That initial Google search led me straight to Pasteur Street Brewing Company.
We have a pulse!
Things were looking up. When my friend Dave in China told me he had a good friend in Ho Chi Minh City opening a brewery and a craft beer bar, I was jolted with excitement. I worried no more.
Within the first week of arrival I was happily sitting in Malt, waiting to meet John Pemberton, the previously mentioned friend of Dave's, while enjoying my first craft beer in Vietnam: the ubiquitous Pasteur Street Jasmine IPA. I documented the moment and the photo below is that very beer. Minutes later John arrived and shared with me his plan to open Heart of Darkness Craft Brewery by the end of the year. He became my new best friend.
Since arriving, I've become well acquainted with the other breweries, their beers, and the people behind them. I've seen several new breweries and tap rooms open, and got to know them just as well. Many of the brewers I consider friends, or at the very least, friendly acquaintances. I think beer (and any food or drink for that matter) tastes better when you know the person who makes it, and the accessibility of craft brewers is one of the things that's quite unique to the industry. There aren't many food or drink festivals where the person serving you is the person who made the product, but that's very common with craft beer events. I think it's pretty cool being able to shake the hand of the person who made the beer right before they hand me one.
My first year in Ho Chi Minh City went by in a flash of craft beer festivals at Saigon Outcast, visiting all the tap rooms and new craft beer bars in the city, chatting with brewers and bar owners over countless glasses of beer, and really getting to know the people and companies that make the craft beer scene in Vietnam - and particularly Ho Chi Minh City - a vibrant, friendly, creative, cooperative, and beautiful thing. In August 2017 I attended SEA Brew, the annual brewing conference for the South East Asia region, and that made me even more excited about what's happening with beer, not only in Vietnam, but in the neighbouring countries too.
It wasn't long before started taking friends (even new Vietnamese friends) around to all the craft beer places I love, and not being one to remain idle for long, I set out to make that a business venture of some sort. Through a mutual friend, Brian who runs A Taste of Hanoi Food Tours, I met Giang Vu. He owns Maika Tours and I introduced him to the wonderful world of craft beer. We became fast friends and decided to team up to create Saigon Craft Beer Tours, with the intent to put Ho Chi Minh City (and Vietnam) on the map for craft beer enthusiasts and draw visitors to Saigon to taste the quality beers. What the future holds for craft beer in Vietnam isn't certain, but I think it will be great.
There's something happening here, what it is ain't exactly clear. There's a man with a beer over there and that's me inviting you to join Saigon Craft Beer Tours on an unforgettable experience. - JK