For many years, the quintessential drinking experience in Vietnam has been the street side bia hoi bars. The light, low alcohol, unpasteurised beer served in informal settings, often involving low plastic seats out on the streets, is both a great way to cool down and also to experience a bit of Vietnamese everyday life.
In the last coupld of years, however, Vietnam, like many other countries, has been experiencing something of a craft beer boom, with microbreweries and hip new bars springing up in the major cities. On a recent visit to Ho Chi Minh City (or Saigon if you prefer) I checked out a couple of the more centrally located craft beer pubs.
1. Heart of Darkness
A relatively new bar, opening late 2016, Heart of Darkness has been gaining rave reviews across the board for its mood and impressive line up of beers. Located in the heart of District 1 on Ly Tu Trong the menu features a selection of pilsners, pale ales, IPAs and stouts, including half a dozen flagship beers which are available all year round. There are also roughly a dozen seasonal brews on sale at any one time giving customers a good choice. The beers all have very imaginative names, many inspired by the Conrad novel that gives the bar its name (Kurtz’s Insane, Primeval Forest and Pitiless Folly are just a couple of examples).
There’s also a food menu offering some decent pub fare. Add to this some nice design to the labels and a friendly ambience and it’s easy to see why this bar has been such a success. Definitely worth a return visit.
2. Pasteur Street Brewing Company
Another popular bar is Pasteur Street Brewing Company (no prizes for guessing which street it’s on). Now in its fourth year of business, the team have created some unique beers that use some exotic local ingredients. The original upstairs bar is cosy, stylish and intimate, though its success has led to a second space being opened downstairs.
I tried the Passion Fruit Wheat Ale and also Spice Island Saison (pictured above, both of which had distinctly unique flavours.
3. Urban Basement
Located in District 1 going towards Ben Thanh Ward, Urban Basement is a craft beer pub restaurant that serves beers brewed by various companies in Vietnam (including the two mentioned above) as well as further afield rather than its own brews.
The menu is fairly extensive, and its worth a visit.
4. Gammer Beer
The relative outlier in the places I visited was a place called Gammer Beer. It’s a Czech-style beer hall that’s been around since the recent craft beer boom and has quite a different ambience and client base. Although it’s quite large, reservations are recommended at peak times as it seems to fill up and get quite noisy fairly quickly. There are two beers on the menu, Gold and Black, and these are sold in four different sizes, from 0.3L up to 50L (no, that’s not a typo!)
I was only in town for a few days and had an otherwise full schedule, but I’m reliably informed that there are plenty of other good craft beer bars in Ho Chi Minh City that are worth checking out. Please feel free to share other suggestions or recommendations.