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Beer in Vietnam really took off during the French colonial period. Here, western methods of brewing were introduced and the taste quickly took off amongst the locals. Until the late 19th century, homemade rice wine was the drink of choice. A liquor rather than a wine, rice wine gets you drunk, fast! So a readily-available and cheap alcoholic alternative quickly won popularity.
Travel around any region in Vietnam and you’ll see groups of people socializing with cheap draft or bottled beer. However, beer culture in Vietnam’s biggest city has diversified in recent times. The traditional Vietnam beer market is very much alive in Saigon. But the influx of craft breweries — close to 100 in 2021 — has seen a completely different style of beer quench the national thirst.
Read on to find out everything you need to know about the beer scene in Saigon, and make sure to try them all during your stay! Oh, and whilst you’re there, check out our article on all the weird and wonderful foods you can eat in Saigon too!
Vietnamese beer: Bottled & draft beers
The most popular beer in Vietnam is Saigon Beer. It’s a pilsner-type lager that’s brewed in Saigon and comes in green and red varieties. The red label is stronger — 4.9% compared to 4.3%. It’s also cheap to buy — prices will start around 15,000 VND per bottle and go up to 50,000 VND in high-end establishments.
Compared to other bottled and draft Vietnamese beer, Saigon Beer wins hands down. There’s more malt and hops involved in the brewing process, which results in a more complex flavor. Beer brands in Vietnam are often localized. You’re more likely to find Bia Hanoi in the north, and Huda in the central regions. But Saigon Beer is found everywhere, sitting amongst popular international brands such as Tiger and Heineken.
Also brewed in Saigon, Larue is another popular beer with local people. It doesn’t have as rich a flavor as Saigon Beer, but it’s usually cheaper to buy.
You’ll also see different European and American brands for sale at different premises. In Saigon, the big supermarkets stock a wider selection of imported beers than you can find anywhere else in the country.
Some beer connoisseurs might complain it’s too light, with not enough body, but that’s the beauty of bia hoi. It’s a great accompaniment to food at any time of day, and even a few glasses won’t interfere with the rest of your day. Given the heat and humidity of Saigon, some might say it’s a perfect beer for the climate.
What exactly is bia hoi?
It’s a freshly-made, light, and frothy lager that’s unpasteurized and, so, has to be drunk the day it was made. Bia hoi can be found across Vietnam, and you’ll see it more frequently in Hanoi and the north.
However, for obvious reasons, it still has a small foothold in Saigon. It’s low in alcohol at around 3%, and low in price too — prices start at 4,000 VND per glass, and the most you’re likely to pay is 20,000 VND.
Bia hoi is made by some of the large corporations and shipped out to sellers first thing in the morning. You’ll see big metal kegs being dropped off at drinking spots if you’re up early enough! It’s also made in small batches by smaller proprietors.
Although some of the younger Vietnamese beer drinkers are turning away from their parents’ favorite beverage, there’s still a passionate following. Bia hoi and a few rice crackers after work is a sociable way to unwind at the end of the day to avoid a hangover and not break the bank.
Where can I find bia hoi in Saigon?
Given that it’s less popular in Saigon than in Hanoi, you might need to do a little searching. Here are two places that are easy to find and will deliver the perfect bia hoi experience.
Bia Saigon 73
Address: 73 Bui Vien, District 1
Bia Saigon 73 is in the heart of Saigon’s backpacker street, but frequented by just as many locals. Grab a little red chair, buy some peanuts off a street seller, and get involved!
Bia Tuoi 437
Address: 437 Hoang Van Thu, Ward 4, Tam Binh
Bia Tuoi 437 is located close to Tan Son Nhat Airport. This spot is a more relaxed choice for a bia hoi or two and a great first stop upon arriving in Saigon.
Craft beer in Saigon
Many visitors to Saigon are surprised when they first learn that craft beer is thriving in the city. Craft beer is made in small batches and is closer to styles found in Europe and America. You can find stouts, bitters, and lagers in craft beer bars. The philosophy is always to make a unique, great-tasting beer. As a result, you’ll find the most complex and interesting flavors on Saigon’s craft beer scene.
Craft beers are more popular with younger and more-affluent locals. Small batches come with a price tag that’s closer to those found in the west, but if you’re a true beer aficionado, there’s nothing else to compare!
Where can I find craft beer in Saigon?
Craft beer is often found in bars attached to the breweries themselves. You can find some in higher-end restaurants, but for the best experience, take your beer at its source. Look forward to some interesting conversations too — the owners of these bars have a real passion for their beer and will happily tell you all about it.
Always check the alcohol content before you order. Craft beers may start at around 4%, but go beyond 10% in places. And there’ll be nothing in the (delicious) taste to give it away.
Vietnam’s best craft beer is currently brewed in Saigon, and many of the following breweries export small batches to the rest of the country.
Pasteur Street Tap Room
Address: 144 Pasteur, District 1
Pasteur Street Brewing Company is the biggest and most famous craft beer brewer in Vietnam. You’ll find a wide selection here, largely inspired by American traditions.
Heart of Darkness
Address: 31 Ly Tu Trong, District 1
With over 400 different beers created so far, Heart of Darkness is another major player on the Saigon craft beer scene. You’ll also find their bottled beers in many Saigon supermarkets. Heart of Darkness have a fabulous range of IPAs, amongst many other styles.
Belgo take their inspiration from Belgian beer. The brewery was formed by Belgians and they bought their equipment from there too! If you’re into fabulous European-style brews then don’t miss Belgo during your time in Saigon.
Vietnamese beer-drinking culture
Traditionally, beer-drinking in Vietnam is a sociable thing. It’s rare to see someone in a bar alone, sipping a beer whilst reading a newspaper. Amongst the older generation, it’s still a man’s sport, but you’ll see mixed crowds of younger people drinking beer together nowadays.
If you’d like to experience beer-drinking Vietnam-style whilst you’re in Saigon, it’s important to be aware of a few cultural quirks!
Note: This applies to bottled and draft beer, plus bia hoi –—the following elements of Vietnam’s beer culture haven’t translated into serious craft beer drinking, and they’re unlikely to do so.
- 1,2,3… cheers!
Beer drinking here is often done in bursts, celebratory style. Every few minutes someone may call a toast of mot, hai, ba… yo! After which, everyone drains their glass. It’s not always done this way, but it’s an interesting alternative to the usual sipping and chatting. Oh, and things can get very loud, very quickly when everyone joins in!
Yes, you’ll often be offered ice in your beer. Bigger bars will have large fridges and ice-cold beer, but smaller premises will offer ice instead. This may sound awful at first, but given the heat, you’ll quickly become glad of it. Warm, fizzy beer is much worse!
- Saying no
There’s a certain amount of bravado in traditional Vietnamese beer-drinking, but it’s worth noting that relatively small amounts of beer are being consumed with every toast. We’re not talking European-style liter glasses here!
You can of course politely say no once you’ve had your fill as well. Stay long enough in a crowd and you’ll see the locals do the same. Expect to be pointed and laughed at by everyone before it’s quickly forgotten.
We hope you’ve enjoyed our guide to Saigon’s beer scene! But don’t forget to explore the Mekong Delta and its top 10 must-see places if you’re visiting Vietnam’s biggest city. From day trips to week-long explorations, it’s a destination in which to experience a completely different side of the country.