Vietnamese craft beers make splash in Japan, Singapore

Breweries like Pasteur Street take fresh approach with local fruits and spices

TOKYO — Fruity, spicy Vietnamese craft beers are making fans in other countries including Japan, bringing different tastes from a nation known for lagers.

Colorful cans from Vietnam’s Pasteur Street Brewing stand out among the extensive offerings at Tasting Bar Shibataya in Tokyo.

“These are crisp and perfect for the hot and humid weather in Japan right now,” said Daigo Honbu, a manager at the bar’s operating company.

Pasteur Street Brewing, founded in Ho Chi Minh City in 2014 by a team including American brewers, is credited with igniting the craft beer boom in Vietnam. Its beers draw their rich flavors from local fruits, spices and coffee beans.

“They are not as bitter as typical craft beers, making them more drinkable,” Honbu said. The bar sells over 30 cans of the beers on a good day, mostly to craft enthusiasts and to those who tried them during past trips to Vietnam, he said.

Parent Shibata-ya Holdings started importing Pasteur beers in May, and sells them to both retail customers and businesses.

“We are doing this on a trial basis and haven’t decided on what to do in the future,” a representative from the company said, but Shibata-ya will consider continuing imports depending on demand.

Other Vietnamese craft beer makers are pursuing new fans abroad as well. Heart of Darkness Brewery, based in the outskirts of Ho Chi Minh City, has opened a second taproom in Singapore. Its beers, known for notes of chocolate and fruit, are exported to eight countries and regions including Thailand, Malaysia and Finland.

Vietnam ranked ninth worldwide in beer consumption in 2021, higher than any other Southeast Asian nation, according to Japanese beverage group Kirin Holdings. Vietnam’s biggest brands include Saigon Beer Alcohol Beverage’s 333 and Hanoi Beer Alcohol and Beverage’s Bia Hanoi.

Traditionally, beer drinkers in Vietnam have favored lagers on ice. But tastes have broadened with the country’s economic growth, and big-city stores now also carry many beers featuring fruit and other flavors.

But Vietnam’s beer market faces headwinds. The country in January 2020 toughened penalties for drunk driving. The maximum fine for driving a motorcycle under the influence is double what it was before, and licenses can be suspended for up to two years.

Kirin reported a 5.5% drop in beer consumption there in 2021. With consumers also growing more health conscious, breweries in Vietnam are expanding their lineup of low- and nonalcoholic beers.

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