If you’re passionate about beer and are planning to visit Vietnam you won’t want to miss Beer United. It’s the biggest festival of its kind in Central Vietnam and the only one in the country that combines tasty craft brews with humanitarian work.
A brainchild of Da Nang brewery, 7 Bridges Brewing Co., Beer United seeks to bring together craft-beer lovers, breweries and some key Da Nang-based NGOs, to unite in raising awareness about the social and environmental issues that Vietnamese people are facing.
7 Bridges held their third ever festival last month at Da Nang’s Verona Cafe & Restaurant, hosting 17 craft breweries from all over Vietnam and stalls from three non-profit organisations.
The Bureau was a proud media partner for the event so we joined the fray to find out more about what the festival meant to those involved.
As you entered the festival, you felt like you’d stepped into a particularly beery flea market. Stall after stall awaited selling freshly kegged craft beer, cider and even an alcohol-infused-slushy station by Hanoi Cider.
Three NGO stands were lined up near the entry gate, ready to chat as people came in – environmental collective Vietnam Zero Waste Alliance, the Da Nang Association of Victims of Agent Orange (DAVA) and Giving It Back to Kids.
Each NGO focuses on different issues in the central Vietnam community.
Vietnam Zero Waste Alliance aims to share, inspire, support and spread a waste-free lifestyle across Vietnam, a country that has been officially listed as the world’s 4th largest contributor to plastic pollution.
DAVA works with victims of agent orange in and around Danang.
Meanwhile, Giving it Back to Kids helps provide shelter for single and teenage mothers and street kids, in addition to helping with schooling and providing medical care, education, nutrition and love.
At the beginning, most of the non-profit organisations that 7 Bridges approached about Beer United were suspicious of the event. None of them had ever had interest from a business before, only from government, donors or volunteers.
“We were very surprised… [but] we thought that we should try,” says a rep from Giving It Back to Kids. “We wanted to see if we can do something for our organisation and let more people know about Giving it Back to Kids.”
At the first Beer United in July last year, there were just three brands selling beer and only about twenty people bought tickets.
“We asked homebrewers to join because there are not so many places for them to be exposed,” says 7 Bridges co-owner Saori Ushimi. “We had one Hoi An home brewer and us and… [and] we brewed ginger beer but we put it as a separate name.”
No-one earned anything from the festival and the NGO partners went home with little more exposure than they’d had before coming.
“But those organisation people were really active participants. They came by bus from Da Nang to Hoi An, they stayed until 10pm, tried to talk to the people who visited,” says Saori. “They were very positive. They said we should continue.”
Later in the year in September, the second Beer United festival was held, attracting almost 250 people and nine participating breweries. It also managed to generate VND12 million in profit, with each organisation receiving VND4 million as a result.
Since then, the 7 Bridges team have been working hard to promote Beer United and just one year later, the festival is already having an impact in Da Nang and the surrounding area, not to mention attracting drinkers and brewers from all over Vietnam.
Last month, close to 400 people turned up to drink and chat the afternoon and most of the night away.
Breweries included: 7 Bridges Brewing Company, Furbrew, Heart of Darkness Craft Brewery, Saigon Cider, Golden Perch Brewing, Pasteur Street Brewing Company, Platinum, Beervana, East West Brewing Co, Belgo, Fuzzy Logic, Minh Quang, Winking Seal Beer Co., Hoi An Brewing Company, Hanoi Cider, FUJIZAKURA, Thơm Brewery.
For many of the brewers, it was the perfect opportunity to enter the Da Nang market.
“We have a couple of customers [here] but not that many – so it was an opportunity for us to see how the market is here,” says Lee Lam, the head of sales and marketing at Saigon Cider. “Also, we wanted to chill at the beach you know, not going to lie, so it’s a good excuse.”
Brewers were also intrigued by the concept of the festival, something that hasn’t yet been done elsewhere in Vietnam.
Having the opportunity to sit down and talk to people at an event like this gave the partner NGOs access to a whole new group of people who they had never really interacted with before.
Each NGO had a stall at the event displaying information about what they do and the proceeds from ticket sales were split between them. Saori also encouraged the organisations to bring products to sell.
DAVA sold handmade jewellery, made at their daycare centre.
“[It’s] a way for [the centre] to get extra money to support themselves,” says long-time DAVA volunteer, Matt Keenan. “So it’s a really wonderful day for the daycare centre and the people in the community.”
Vietnam Zero Waste Alliance brought a selection of eco-friendly lifestyle products from biodegradable washing powder to bamboo straws. 7 Bridges also provided a free beer glass to everyone who bought a ticket and encouraged brewers to try not to use plastic cups.
In the wake of what turned out to be a brilliant day of socially-conscious drinking, which also netted VND24 million in profit redirected to the NGOs who received VND8 million each, Stanley and Saori are already thinking ahead to the fourth Beer United in 2020.
The idea of uniting over a good drink for the sake of the community is both new and exciting in Vietnam and Beer United promises to be a game changer in the country’s craft beer festival scene.
Next year’s event is set to be louder and beerier than ever and we can’t wait to get involved.
Photos provided by 7 Bridges Brewing Co.
Words by Zoe Osborne. Zoe is an award-winning freelance journalist and photographer whose work has appeared on the ABC (Australia’s national broadcaster), VICE Australia and The Guardian among many other publications. She splits her time between Australia, Vietnam and the rest of Asia. Follow Zoe on Instagram at @zoe.m.osborne