Totally tropical tasting tipple : Bia crafted in Vietnam

(No.2, Vol.9,Apr-May 2019 Vietnam Heritage Magazine)

Over the more than twenty years since I came to Vietnam, beer has developed along with the economy in general. Personally, I am nostalgic for the days of bia hoi, when you sat down on a plastic chair on the pavement and basic freshly-brewed beer came in a large bucket and cost as little as chips. Then came the beer halls and courtyards based on Bavarian and Bohemian beers brewed often on site in beaming copper ware vats, a quantitative leap in quality and price. Finally, with Pasteur Street leading the revolution in 2014, we have what the Americans neatly call craft beer and the English term real ale. These serve up beers of Irish, British, Belgian and German origins at a further notch up in price.
Down an alley way adjacent to the Rex Hotel Saigon through a long archway upon which are murals of the company logo and of its beer products and then up some steep steps, you will find the original tap room of the Pasteur Street Brewing Company. Since opening, it has expanded, now having several more tap rooms in this city and one in Hanoi. In addition, it supplies many other bars as well as now having two canned beers at 59,000 VND a can (the Passion Fruit Wheat beer and the Jasmine IPA) available at 7 Eleven branches. You can also buy to take away in the tap rooms in a large bottle called a growler with an old fashioned stopper. Return the bottle and you will be rewarded with a free sampler beer. Finally, the award-winning Chocolate Stout with the bottle in a wooden presentation casing can be purchased at 725,000 VND.
Whilst the barley and wheat ingredients and the hops are obviously imported, the other flavourings are home-grown; either completely native or long since introduced by the Portuguese and French.They constantly introduce new tastes and phase out others but at any one time, there will be around twelve on tap. The jasmine and passion fruit Indian pale ales are popular and permanent. Some of the beers are given quite awe-inspiring names. There is the 'Burning Down the House' which refers to the strength of their Imperial Pale Ale (double IPA). I do not know the meaning behind 'The Inevitable Backlash' but I can tell you it is a New England IPA. One of my favourites is the bright red Salty Dragon; their Dragon Fruit IPA which contains salt and the style is originally from Goslar in Germany. I also love the Coffee Porter. There are in addition currently two Belgian wheat beers to be savoured. First, they have Spice Island Saison which is flavoured with ginger,lemongrass and Phu Quoc black pepper. Finally, the Viet Wit has notes of sweet orange peel and coriander. Watch out for Chocolate Mango beer slated to hit Pasteur tap rooms soon.
The bar meals and snacks served at Pasteur tap rooms to accompany its beers make for above average pub grub. The usual lager type beers in Vietnam generally do require something to nibble along with, but many of the beers here brewed with all the ingredients are filling enough in themselves. Nevertheless, there are suggestions for beer food pairings and beer goes into some of the sauces developed. Currently, the menu is reduced to six snacks. Freshly chopped local herbs and spices are used. Furthermore, the Chicken Bites contain hot chilies. the Stuffed Meatballs are topped with Da lat tomato sauce, and the Cyclo Killer Brownies are served with holy basil and Saigon cinnamon chantilly cream. 
As of late last year, Pasteur now sells a line of perfumed soaps products made by a company called 'Saigon Suds', and you guessed it, made with the scents derived from the use of its beers in the making. There are four kinds, each with as intriguingly and creatively names as the beers. Jasmine IPA is used in the "Last Call" soap, Dragon Fruit in the "Pretty in Pink", Coffee Porter in the "Lumberjack Ale" variety, and Irish Stout in the "Shampoo"soap. Each soap is deemed to be suited for different kinds of skin. If like me, you get the prickly heat in this tropical climate, then the "Last Call" for inflamed and irritating skin is for you. All this is guaranteed to liven up your bath time but at 150,000 dongs per bar, it comes at a premium price.
Refreshing it is to meet a foreign invested and managed company that brings very traditional Northern European brewing to Vietnam while paying homage to its hosts by using quintessential Vietnamese fruits, herbs and spices in most creative and original ways. See you at a Pasteur tap room or beer outlet. We can raise and clink our glasses to a mot hai ba dzo Vietnamese toast but please no cries of cham phan cham (The Vietnamese “100 per cent” battle cry that precedes knocking back a drink in one go), These are beers to be relished and slowly sipped.

Text by Pip De Rourvray Photos by James Gordon
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