Learn the interesting history of the Asian beer Bia Hoi

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Vietnamese people frequently drink draught beer known as bia hoi or bia tươi, which means “fresh beer” in English.

The majority of Bia hoi is sold in northern Vietnam. On-street corners and tiny pubs are where you will primarily find it. Each pub receives a daily delivery of freshly made beer in steel barrels once the beer has been brewed, briefly aged, and then ready for consumption. It is a relatively mild (3% alcohol) and cooling lager that costs a tiny fraction of what draft or bottled beer does in Western-style establishments. Production of bia hoi is unregulated and unregulated by any health organization.

A small cup normally costs between 5,000 (US$0.22) and 11,000 (US$0.47) as of September 2020.

photograph of men drinking beer together

Where it all began

Similar to the well-known Banh Mi or delicious pho, beer was initially brought to Vietnam by French colonialists towards the end of the 19th century.

The first of its sort to be established in Vietnam was Hommel Brewery. It was built at some point in the 1890s and was situated on Hoang Hoa Tham in Hanoi. Similar to other European goods, beer used to be a luxury item only available to the affluent.

Materials such as metal and glass were in limited supply statewide during the first Indochinese War in 1945. As a result, beer could no longer be kept in bottles or cans, and reusable kegs were proposed as a fix. 

When Vietnam became independent from France in 1954, they took over the brewery’s beer production and changed the name to “Hanoi Brewery.” Bia Hoi, who translates to “fresh beer,” was created when the brewers set out to make beer accessible to everyone by using kegs as storage.

Along Ta Hien Street, a new beer shop opened, selling alcoholic beverages by the glass for a very reasonable price. The beverage was made using local ingredients and had a low alcohol concentration (between 3-4%), allowing the industrious locals to drink a few glasses to unwind in the evening without experiencing any negative consequences. Note to travelers: If you drink enough, you will still get a hangover. 

The Vietnamese people used to drink traditional home-brewed rice wine before beer was introduced. Even though it has a kick, this stuff is not really tasty, which is presumably why the villagers were happy when beer appeared on the scene.

Bia Hoi’s Cultural Importance

Nowadays, spring rolls and conical hats are as much a part of Vietnamese culture as the country’s love of cheap beer. Locals and visitors alike go to plastic benches to assemble in one of Hanoi’s several Bia Hoi crossroads every day starting at about 4 o’clock. Here, people catch up on rumors and make the world right while sipping delicious, cool beer.

Bia Hoi is extremely inexpensive by Western standards, and the people who sell it do not make a lot of money off of it. Many people who run Bia Hoi corners have started selling traditional Vietnamese street food in addition to the drinks, and some even offer imported beer brands to appeal to Westerners, to maintain their businesses. But do not worry, the Bia Hoi culture will not disappear anytime soon! And let us face it, any justification for devouring street food is acceptable.

Every morning, kegs of Bia Hoi are delivered to nearby companies, but since the beer does not include any preservatives, it degrades rapidly, thus the sooner you purchase, the fresher the beer will be. Though this beer is far too popular to remain on the shelves for very long, do not let the timeline deter you!

two persons holding drinking glasses filled with beer

Is Bia Hoi safe to drink? 

Some tourists worry about the safety of these kinds of drinks, as they do with many locally brewed alcoholic beverages in Southeast Asia. We do not know of any risks associated with drinking Bia Hoi (apart from an incredible hangover if you get too much), based on our own experience and conversations with other travelers. It is important to keep in mind, nevertheless, that this brew is not governed.

Since the beer is delivered daily and is so well-liked, Bia Hoi hardly ever sits around for an extended period, hence the name “fresh beer.” You cannot expect too much when you are getting a beer for less than you would typically pay for a bag of chips, even if some travelers will claim that they pour the dregs from empty glasses back into the kegs (an urban myth we could find no proof for).

Is Bia Hoi the best travel beer you have ever had?

Naturally, it would be impossible to discuss Bia Hoi without bringing up how affordable it is for travelers. You may get a glass of Bia Hoi for less than 50 cents (11,000 VND), and in some areas, you can even get it for 20 cents (5,000 VND)! Vietnam presently has the title of having the cheapest beer in the world. When can we leave already?

Even if the price will make you gasp, you just cannot miss the nightlife scene that swirls around the Bia Hoi crossroads. Every evening, this cool beer draws people to Hanoi’s street corners to enjoy a beer together—it is a must-have experience for travelers!

woman with champagne glass celebrating New Year’s Eve

Glasses from Bia Hoi: The Cauldron Glass

It is hardly surprising that Bia Hoi comes in its unique glass as whisky and champagne both come in tumblers. These environmentally friendly, recycled glasses may not be very attractive, but they do have an intriguing past.

Vietnam had a period of state-supplied everything from 1975 until 1986. They had trouble keeping up with demand after beer became widely used since it had been the drink of the affluent for such a long time. Drinking Bia Hoi out of water glasses and teacups was not going to cut it, so the government tasked a painter by the name of Le Huy Van with creating something more suitable.

The glass, which is constructed of recycled glass and has a thick bottom and broad mouth, can accommodate precisely half a liter of beer. Despite its simple form, the Vietnamese loved the glass for its delightful clink while toasting. After all, the opportunity to toast with your friends is the whole point of Bia Hoi.

With this in mind

To sum up, Bia Hoi is a variety of fresh beer that is well-liked by Vietnamese people, particularly in northern Vietnam. Its origins may be traced to the 19th-century French colonial era when beer was a luxury good. Bia Hoi is an inexpensive alternative for everyone because it is created using local ingredients and kept in kegs. The beverage is loved by both residents and visitors alike and has become a significant element of Vietnamese culture. Although unregulated, Bia Hoi is generally regarded as safe to consume; the only potential risk is a severe hangover if consumed in large amounts. For tourists visiting Vietnam, Bia Hoi is a must-try because of its affordable pricing and distinctive cultural experience.

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