Beer drinkers in Southeast Asia have been getting frothy over the region’s craft beer scene for some time now.
In countries like Vietnam and the Philippines, we’ve seen the number of craft breweries grow substantially over the past five years as these markets develop a more discerning taste for quality beer.
By 2020, Vietnamese are expected to drink 5.1 billion litres of beer each year
Driving this growth in Vietnam, for example, are young adults who love a beer and have more disposable income than ever before.
Other contributing factors are returning Vietnamese or people with Vietnamese heritage wanting better choices and in some cases investing in the hospitality industry as well.
Euromonitor International reported recently that beer registered a total volume growth of 8% to reach 3.9 billion litres consumed in Vietnam in 2017.
By 2022, that figure is forecast to reach 5.1 billion litres.
The taste for beer and the culture surrounding its consumption has long been in place here.
Increasing awareness of craft beer and making it accessible to new customers at the right price remains key to its growth.
For now, however, mass-produced lager remains the overwhelming beer of choice in Vietnam (38% growth 2012-2017) and is attractively priced (from VND16,000 per litre) – but as they say, you only get what you pay for.
By and large, it’s very ordinary beer.
Craft beer consumption doesn’t rate a mention in the Euromonitor report given the tiny slice of the market it enjoys.
But, it’s growing in popularity all the time.
The future looks positive.
More beer in the Philippines
Similar things are happening in the Philippines, too.
They have a healthy and growing craft beer scene with some of the best craft beers I’ve tasted in the region.
The vibe I got on a recent visit there was that they are ahead of Vietnam at the moment in number of breweries, but brewers face logistical problems that hinder their growth and operations, in addition to a public that’s largely uneducated about craft beer.
Nevertheless, all the signs indicate that craft beer isn’t a passing fad in this part of the world as some detractors have suggested.
Now with plenty of evidence to suggest otherwise, it’s expected the volume of craft flowing from taps will only grow.
With that in mind, I’ve put together a list of 10 craft beers in Vietnam and the Philippines you need to try in 2020.
Seasoned drinkers will recognise quite a few of them, but I think there are enough obscure ones in the list to keep them satisfied. While for newcomers to craft, it presents an exciting opportunity for them to plan their year in beer.
Here’s the list.
1. Suspicious IPA 6.5% ABV: Birdy Num Num Tropical Brewery (Dumaguete, Philippines)
Not much has been written about this beer or the brewery that makes Suspicious – I suspect because it’s barely a couple of years old and located on the outskirts of Dumaguete City on the island of Negros (Oriental) an hour’s flight south of Manila. Not an overly accessible location to try their beer.
Still, what I discovered was a beautifully hoppy and fruity IPA with plenty of body that immediately reminded me of one of my all-time favourite beers, Heart of Darkness’ Loose Rivet IPA (7.5% ABV | 59 IBU). That’s good enough for me.
I was fortunate enough to bump into English co-founder and brewer Duncan Roe while I was in Dumaguete and over a couple of quiet brews he shared some interesting insights into the industry in the Philippines which assured me that Birdy Num Num Tropical Brewery will be on the lips of many more people in 2020.
Social Media: https://www.facebook.com/birdienumnumtropicalbrewery/
2. Exit Wounds IPA 6.5% ABV | 65 IBU: Crazy Carabao Brewing Co. (Laguna, Philippines)
This classic American-style IPA is hoppy and full-bodied – exactly what I love in a beer if you hadn’t already noticed.
Exit Wounds is a flagship beer of Crazy Carabao’s (carabao means buffalo in Tagalog) and is brewed in Santa Rosa, Laguna approximately 40km from Metro Manila.
At 6.5% ABV, it’s not over the top in alcohol volume and shouldn’t turn you into a “young buffalo” (a term often used in Vietnam to describe young men who show off) too quickly.
The bitterness at 65 IBU is in the zone that let’s you know you’re really drinking beer, so it’s for seasoned drinkers of craft who love their booze. Along with Birdy Num Num’s Suspicious IPA, I’d love to see this beer enter the Vietnam market.
3. Juice Drops IPA 6.2% ABV: Turning Wheels Craft Brewery (Cebu City, Philippines)
Located somewhere down a residential laneway in Cebu City on a large block of land with parking is Turning Wheels, Cebu’s first ever craft brewery and home to this juicy drop.
As you can see, Juice Drops is a lovely hazy hop-forward IPA brimming with citrusy notes that you can session all day long on. In fact, I kind of did when I visited recently with The Bureau’s Cebu contributor Jigs Arquiza who described the place as having “a sort of old shed in the backyard ambiance.”
Made from converted shipping containers, Turning Wheels is where young American owner and brewer Michael Nikkel brews what is widely regarded as Cebu’s best craft beer. I can understand the hype.
Social Media: https://www.facebook.com/TurningWheelsBrewery/
There are a lot of bright stars shining in the Philippines’ craft beer scene at the moment and here are some more – 3 Stars And The Haze, in fact.
When I happened to run into Elias’ young co-founder and brewer Raoul Masangcay at their BF Paranaque taproom in Manila recently, the name of this beer was about the only thing we didn’t talk about, although I’m aware that three stars are depicted on the Philippines’ flag and represent the three island groups of the country – Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao.
Understandably he’s happy (and so was I) with his hazy and hoppy New England IPA which clocks in at a bitey 7% ABV and a smooth 60 IBUs. Be careful though, it’s one of those brews that will keep you in the taproom all evening long.
But no matter, you can duck out the back into the actual brewery itself for a break and sip among the shiny fermenters and revel in the pungent aroma of hops steaming away around you.
Social Media: https://www.facebook.com/wickedelias/
5. IPA 7% ABV: Engkanto Brewery (Manila, Philippines)
I tried one of these for the first time at the wonderful Ken’s Place on Panglao Island, Bohol. I came to the island for the beaches but left with a love for Philippine craft beer.
Not as hoppy and full-bodied as say Crazy Carabao’s Exit Wounds IPA, but it suits island life to a tee. It’s fresh and fruity with a crispy mouthfeel and at 7% ABV, is plenty boozey enough to have you packing away the snorkel and fins for another day.
Since firing up in 2015, Engkanto can now be found on many of the main islands of the Philippines and is expanding. Great news in a country where San Miguel has a stranglehold on the hearts and minds of Pinoys.
Social Media: https://www.facebook.com/engkantobrewery/
6. The Mistress Double IPA 8.3 ABV | 78 IBU: Heart of Darkness Craft Brewery (HCMC, Vietnam)
I was flung this beer to try back in the middle of 2019 by co-founder and owner of the brilliant Saigon Craft, Matthew Scofield. It immediately reminded me of the beer that started it all, Kurtz’s Insane IPA (7.1% ABV | 102 IBU).
Noticeably much lower in bitterness than Kurtz’s but higher in ABV, The Mistress is all that you expect in a quality craft beer with the added bonus that it’s more appealing to a wider range of drinkers at 78 IBUs.
At the time of writing, I was pleased to discover that The Mistress has now joined the ranks as a core beer at HoD in their recently released new range.
Now it’s safe to say in public you’ve had a Mistress.
Social Media: https://www.facebook.com/heartofdarknessbrewery/
7. Far East IPA 6.7% ABV | 54 IBU: East West Brewing Co. (HCMC, Vietnam)
This is one of East West’s flagship beers that’s been around since they were founded a few years back and remains one of my favourites. If I had one, it would make it into my top three beers of Vietnam list every time.
It’s one of those top-of-mind beers that you suggest when friends are champing at the bit for a craft beer session – and it’s easy to see why.
It’s hoppy enough, got the right amount of alcohol and isn’t overly bitter at 54 IBUs, making it a brew to sip or smash any time of the year.
And whether by chance or by design, it’s loved equally by those from the East and the West. How convenient.
Social Media: https://www.facebook.com/eastwestbrewery/
8. Ba Hoa IPA 6.1% ABV | 76 IBU: Deme Brewing (HCMC, Vietnam)
It’s not every day six bottles of craft beer land on your doorstep begging to be tasted, but one day it did.
Back in the middle of 2019, half a dozen bottles of a brand new IPA on the market accompanied by two glasses turned up at my apartment complex on the back of a motorbike with a note saying, “Matt, try this. Thanks for the support.”
Being the supportive type that I am, I did. And I liked what I tasted.
The beer turned out to be from the first batch brewed by all-Vietnamese brand Deme Brewing based in Saigon.
Since then, their Ba Hoa IPA has gained a strong following among the local and foreign beer drinking communities alike and is now sold in cans at a growing number of places across the country. Their star is on the rise.
Over here guys, remember me?
Social Media: https://www.facebook.com/deme.brewing/
9. Imperial IPA 9% ABV | 76 IBU: 7 Bridges Brewing Co. (Danang, Vietnam)
If you’re looking for a theory behind why fully-grown men rip their kits off in the bar and run around nude in public, the answer is here.
The Imperial IPA clocks in at a whopping 9% ABV and I swear last time I got drunk on it up in 7 Bridges’ taproom in Danang (there’s now a second one in Hanoi) with co-owners Stanley Boots and Saori Ushimi, I fell flat on my face multiple times and didn’t feel a thing.
Despite the inherent dangers in over-indulging in this flavour bomb, it’s one of the best, if not the best, beers in Vietnam.
But if you don’t trust me and think I was too drunk at the time to tell, just check out the haul of awards they’ve taken out in the past year or so as proof: Asia Beer Championship 2019 Gold – Double IPA, Strong Ale, Experimental Beer, New England IPA and Champion Medium-Sized Brewery of Asia.
Social Media: https://www.facebook.com/7bridgesbrewingco/
10. Barrel Aged Beers (release date Jan.20, 2020): East West Brewing Co. (HCMC, Vietnam)
Just when you thought you could give the liver a rest after another drunken festive season, East West has gone and put a spanner in the works of our New Year’s resolutions by announcing that their first batch of barrel aged beers is due for release on Jan.20.
According to Loc Truong, co-founder of EWB, there will be a bunch of different beer styles pouring that will have been conditioning in tequila, rye, whisky, cognac and bourbon barrels over the past six to 12 months.
But like all good things, they will be limited edition release only.
The public will only be able to get their mitts on between 100 – 200 bottles of each, so clear the calendar for Jan.20 and don’t forget to let your personal trainer know you won’t be coming in the next morning.
Social Media: https://www.facebook.com/eastwestbrewery/
Matthew Cowan is The Bureau Chief and can be bought with beer. Follow Matt on Instagram at @mattcowansaigon