Bia Hoi (draught beer)
In Hanoi, it is very easy for you to find the simplest corner bar on Earth with small tables on the ground, tiny plastic stools on the sidewalk, laden with glasses of beer. You should come to Vietnam to try Vietnamese beer and see how Vietnamese men drink beer with favorite refrain such as “drain your glass of every drop”, “tram phan tram” (100 percent) and so on.
Bia Hoi (draught beer) is one of the things that you shouldn’t be missed when you come to Hanoi. There are plenty of local as well as imported beer brands in Hanoi such as Carlsberg, 333, Tiger, Hanoi, LaRue, Saigon, Heineken and San Miguel. Nevertheless, Bia Hoi is the most popular beverage throughout the country and the cheapest beer in the world (only 2,000 VND for each glass). It accounts for more than 30 percent of total beer consumption in the country. It may be an unpasteurized beer with low alcohol content (approximately 3%) and is sold in mugs in simple street restaurants of Vietnam. Bia Hoi is an integral part of the North Vietnamese beer culture. Most men drink it at least 4 or 5 times a week during peak season.
Being a developing nation, Vietnam’s per capital beer consumption remains relatively low at roughly 12 liters a year, particularly compared with such giants of the suds-swilling world as Germany, which consumes more than 120 liters each person per year. However, Vietnamese people tend to drink beer in large quantities. That is true! It isn’t uncommon to see a group of 4 or 5 men with 24 empty bottles on their table at lunchtime. Humorously speaking, as their drinking capacity increase, their business prospects seem to be bright.
That is the reasons why bottled beer market of Vietnam has been enjoying double-digit growth for many years. Upscale brew pubs are starting to crop up with more than a dozen openings in Hanoi in the last year. “It is an attractive industry – a quickly growing industry,” said Van Dinh who opened a brew pub in a Hanoi discotheque.
When opening Red Beer brand in Hanoi a year ago, Truong Viet Binh expected to sell about 200 litres a day. Nowadays, he is selling 300 to 400 daily and planning to open a new branch in Ho Chi Minh City where at least 4 brew pubs have already been opened.
Despite all the changes in beer industry of Vietnam, the most popular drinking establishment of Vietnam remains the traditional Bia Hoi. Those ubiquitous establishments are regularly on the sidewalk where clients will raise their voices over the clouds of diesel belch over the plastic tables from a passing bus or the din of motorbike traffic. The clients have no need for the sleek furniture and fancy entertainment that they could find in a brew pub.
No one minds whether the sidewalk is littered with paper napkins or the tables are dirty or not. It is simply the place where everybody comes to unwind: truck drivers returning from a stressful shift or college professors who use Bia Hoi as a sort of street-side salon. “We usually come here twice a day,” said a 67-year-old man, sitting at a Bia Hoi in the shadow of the central Hanoi train station. He is a retired doctor whose drinking pals include a filmmaker, a retired soccer star, a newspaper photographer and finally an engineer. They gather for 1-2 hours at lunch, and of course, convene again at the end of the day. They said that they shared their ups and downs.
At Bia Hoi Viet Ha which is a humble stall just down the Lang Ha Street, 5 friends are gathering after a hard-working day at a Hanoi print shop. They have been coming to this place 4 times a week for 6 years. They suck down 8 glasses as soon as sitting but claim they are sober. “Our wives will be furious if we come home drunk” one of them explained. “If we drink less than 8 glasses, we are fine,” said Tien Anh, while picking at a plate of fried tofu with his chopsticks. “Chuc suc khoe!” (Here is for your health), they cheered and then ordered another toast.
Vietnam is a country which has a unique beer culture, said Nguyen Hong Linh, the director of planning for Hanoi Beer, which has recently doubled production capacity. “When customers go to a Bia Hoi, it will promise a unique atmosphere”, “Everybody is very pleased. That is all”, Linh said.
Nowadays, when wondering on a particular street in Hanoi, you can easily accidentally hear the sentence “Bottoms up!” and question yourself “what is the only thing that makes those men forget their homes and wives?” The answer is “beer only”.