June – July 2019 Vietnam Heritage
In the heart of the darkness of Saigon’s backpacker land, ambling along down raucous Bui Vien Street and wishing I had not come out without my ear plugs, I am looking for C. Brewery. “Ah, there it is”, I utter to myself as I spot a bright sign with that name on it down a much more tranquil side alley.
I open the door and there at the bar behind a row of shiny taps sits a gentleman who looks as though he might own the place. “Mr Cuong, I presume”,I say. “Are you Philip?”, he replies. Soon, I am introduced to his Sales and Marketing manageress and I am led upstairs to the dining area to discuss craft beer,a business which he is the first Vietnamese to boldly venture into.
Once sat down, I learn that brewing has been Cuong’s lifelong passion. Decades ago, he learned the ancient craft in Copenhagen,Denmark which is a country with a renowned history of beer culture. Upon his return to Vietnam, he worked for the Danish brewing giant ‘Carlsberg’ in various positions of their Vietnamese operations. “You know”, he said,” Beer production by the international giants is all computerised”. Cuong wanted to get back to the art of beer brewing with personal care that has been around for milennia. When foreigners brought their so called “craft beer” to the country just a few years ago,Cuong immediately saw it as a future niche industry for Vienam and readily jumped on the bandwagon, being the first and as yet only local person to do so. From a consumer point of view, I believe that truly great and original beer with the maximum of health benefits can only be produced locally and on a relatively small scale. The American word for this kind of beer-‘craft beer’- tells half the story while the British English ‘real ale’ tells the other half.
It is well into the evening and all three of us are hungry, so food is prioritised. “It’s confusion food” the waiter says, at which I can not help but let out a chuckle. Yet to be fair, this waiter spoke good English with a clear accent and had full knowledge of the beers and food and was very helpful in explaining them. Intrigued by the name, I ordered the ‘Loco Moco’, which is Hawaiian fusion food and which translated would not appeal to a Spanish speaker, and I am one, as it means Crazy Mucus! It came as a creamy rice dish topped with a hamburger minced beef patty topped by a fried egg simple but great! Fried chicken wings and a cheese and tomato salad also in timely fashion appeared at the table. In addition, there are quite a lot of other East-West dishes to choose from.
Cuong wants to bring in a new beer drinking culture to the Vietnamese toper-one in which beer is savoured slowly appreciated for its taste and not simply to get drunk on. Here, his wife gives a nod of agreement. There is no doubt however that the ‘mot hai ba dzo!'(1 2 3 Go) chanting and the infamous tram phan tram(knock it all back in one go)is not going to disappear any time soon.
The company has already on offer an impressive list of real ales to select from around forty beers about fifty draught and bottled. He flavours his brews with local tropical fruits, chocolate, coffee and other homegrown ingredients. I chose to sample two of the more exotic ones. First was the Pho beer. What you say. But the essence of Pho, Vietnam’s most popular noodle soup is the broth and the herbs it uses. Whilst this tastes definitely like beer, the notes of a mixture of yellow onions, ginger, star anise, cilantro, thai basil, cloves bone marrrow and fish sauce all add to the flavour and the enjoyment. Then I tried the ginger beer. Not the ginger beer of my childhood which is a fizzy soft drink of zero alcoholic content, but real beer with the strong taste of real ginger.
The reader might be interested in a tour of C.Brewmaster’s Hanoi factory with tasting and lunch provided. If so, please visit the website for booking information. Also on the wesite you can view and order the full range of bottled beeers. The styles include, stout, pale ale, amber ale, wheat beer and pilsner. Apart from the two already mentioned, there are among others mulberrry, mint, lemongrass, longan honey and sticky rice flavourings. Outside the Hanoi and HCMC tap rooms which act as showrooms, C.Brewmaster is available in over 60 outlets. Finally, Cuong has ambitions to export so do watch his space.
Rising incomes in Vietnam means an increase in the number of people being able to afford these premium beers and a steady flow of tourists intrigued by exotic flavours unavailable back home, and all of this augurs well for the future of C Brewery. It has come a long way in a few short years, but bear in mind it could never have done so without Cuong’s solid decades-long background in the general business. I hope I have whetted your thirst to visit one of the established tap rooms or try out some of the drinks of the range in one of its many upmarket restaurant outlets. Remember the old Roman saying-Carpe Cervisiam (enjoy the beer) and remember also you read it all first here!
Pip De Rouvray