Bia hoi (draught beer) is one of things you should not be missed when you come to Hanoi. There are plenty of local as well as imported beer brands in Hanoi such as 333, Carlsberg, Hanoi, Tiger, Saigon, LaRue, San Miguel and Heineken. However, bia hoi is the most popular beverage throughout the country and the cheapest beer in the world (2,000 VND for a glass only). It accounts for more than 30% of total beer consumption in the country. Of course, it is an unpasteurized beer with low alcohol content (approx. 3%) that is sold in mugs in simple street restaurants. Bia hoi is an integral part of the North Vietnamese beer culture. Typically, most male beer consumers drink it at least 4-5 times a week during peak season.
As a developing nation, Vietnam's per capita beer consumption remains relatively low at roughly 12 liters a year, especially compared with such giants of the suds-swilling world as Germany, which consumes more than 120 liters per person per year. Nevertheless, Vietnamese tend to drink beer in large quantities. Yes, that is true! It is not uncommon to see a group of four or five men with 24 empty bottles on their table at lunchtime. Humorously speaking, as well as their drinking capacity increase, their business prospects seem to be bright.
That the reason why Vietnam’s bottled-beer market has been enjoying double-digit growth for several years. Upscale brew pubs are also starting to crop up with more than a dozen opening in Hanoi in the last year. “This is a very interesting industry - a rapidly growing industry” said Van Dinh who opened a brew pub in a Hanoi discotheque last year.
When opening Red Beer brand (or Bia Do) in Hanoi a year ago, Truong Viet Binh expected to sell about 200 liters a day. Now, he's selling 300 to 400 daily and planning to open a new Bia Do in Ho Chi Minh City where at least four brew pubs already have been opened
Despite all the changes in Vietnam's beer industry, the most popular drinking establishment remains the traditional bia hoi. These ubiquitous establishments are always on the sidewalk where customers sometimes will raise their voices over the din of motorbike traffic or the clouds of diesel belch over the plastic tables from a passing bus. The customers have no need for the sleek furniture and fancy entertainment that they might find in a brew pub.
Nobody minds if the tables are dirty and the sidewalk is littered with paper napkins. This is simply the place where everyone comes to unwind - from truck drivers returning from a stressful shift to college professors who use bia hoi as a sort of street-side salon. “We come here twice a day” said Le Vinh, 67 years old, sitting at a bia hoi in the shadow of the central Hanoi train station. As a retired doctor, Vinh's drinking pals include a retired soccer star, a film maker, an engineer and finally, a newspaper photographer. They gather for an hour or two at lunch and, of course, reconvene at the end of the day. “We share our ups and downs” said Nguyen Trinh Thai, a painter.
At Bia hoi Viet Ha - a humble stall just down the Lang Ha Street, five friends are gathering after a hard day at a Hanoi print shop. They have come to this place four times a week for six years now. They suck down eight glasses right after sitting, but claim they are sober. “If we come home drunk, our wives will be furious” as one of them explained. “If we have less than eight glasses, we are fine,” said Pham Tien Anh, 55 year olds, while picking at a plate of fried tofu with his chopsticks. “Chuc suc khoe!” they cheered and ordered another toast “Here's to your health!”
Vietnam has a unique beer culture, said Nguyen Hong Linh director of planning for Hanoi Beer, which has recently doubled its production capacity. “When people go to a bia hoi, it will promise a special atmosphere,” Linh said. “Everybody is very happy. That’s all!
Now, wondering on a certain street in Ha Noi, you can accidentally hear the sentence “Bottoms up!” and question yourself “what is the only thing that will make these men forget their wives and their homes?” The answer is “beer only”!
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