On every corner in Vietnam colorful toddler-sized plastic stools cover the sidewalk. Locals sit on the tiny chairs and throw back mugs of bia hoi, one of the least expensive beers on Earth. Bia hoi, or fresh beer, is brewed daily in large batches and cost about a quarter per glass. The ABV of the refreshing, light brew is just 3.5% and it’s made with nothing more than malt, sugar, hops, and rice.
Vietnam is one of the top beer-consuming countries in the world. Around 11 billion gallons of beer are consumed annually with the beer market valued at 6.5 billion U.S. dollars. However, not everyone is quenching their thirst with bia hoi. Premium beer consumption in the country is growing rapidly—it more than doubled between 2011 and 2016 as craft breweries began to pop up around the country and transform Vietnamese beer culture.
Bringing Craft Beer to Vietnam
American expat Stanley Boots began homebrewing in the garage of his law firm in Hanoi—Vietnam’s fastest growing city—because he missed the variety of Midwestern craft beers from home and the unique beer flavors he’d become accustomed to while living in Japan. With the help of a few friends, he launched the first craft brewery in Da Nang—Vietnam’s fastest growing city—two years ago. They started with several beers inspired by Vietnamese bridges and have since expanded into a company with a staff of 50 and distribution across Vietnam. All of the distributed (i.e. bottled) beers remain inspired by bridges around the globe.
The 7 Bridges Brewing Company taproom is located along the bank of the Han River. Each floor of the slender multi-storied building is adorned with quirky decor and vibrant wall murals—there’s even a golden throne toilet in the bathroom. After work, the ground floor taproom is the place to see and be seen while enjoying a refreshing brew. From there, patrons trek up several flights of stairs to the rooftop to take in spectacular views of the brewery’s namesake bridges.
Pair a brew with the coordinating bridge, such as the Vietnam Red Ale which is tied to Thuan Phuc bridge. On Saturday and Sunday, the patio is packed with locals and foreigners who want to catch a glimpse of the Cau Rong golden dragon bridge breathing fire at 9 p.m. The eccentric bridge is the inspiration behind the Dragon Three Coil IPA which has three hops and three malts.
The 7 Bridges brewery is at the base of the mountainous Hải Van pass. Three core beers are growing tremendously as mainstays among vendors across Vietnam including the beloved pizzeria in Saigon and Hanoi, Pizza 4P’s, as well as several beer bars. Heritage is a classic blonde ale inspired by the sunbaked tiles of the Japanese Bridge in nearby Hoi An. Sunset Weizen is a refreshingly fruity wheat beer made with entire mandarins which is less wasteful and requires fewer hops—it’s in honor of the Tran Thi Ly Bridge. The award-winning Imperial IPA is the most popular beer and is tied to the Can Tho Cable Bridge on the Mekong River.
Impact Craft Beer
7 Bridges is serving more than just beer. It’s the first brewery in Vietnam also dedicated to serving the environment. “I wanted to launch a new business model here that makes a social and environmental impact mission core to the business,” Boots said. Boots has reduced plastic consumption at the brewery and taproom by phasing out all plastic bottles and straws.
Vietnam is one of the top five countries in the world that pollutes the ocean with plastic. Regular cleanups are organized by 7 Bridges with local mindful businesses such as Precious Plastic Da Nang, Greenshoots International School, Evergreen Labs, and Pizza 4P’s. 7,000 plastic bottles, 29 pounds of bottle caps, and over 600 pounds of additional mixed waste were cleared from the 2018 Da Nang International Marathon race loop and properly recycled. Cleanup participants are rewarded with 7 Bridges beer from the taproom. ”We use the power of beer to attract volunteers and reward them for their efforts,” Boots said.
7 Bridges also prioritizes social sustainability by supporting the local community. “Our key waste reduction success is the Farm to Foam and Foam to Farm project which converts all organic brewing waste to agricultural products,” Boots said. 7 Bridges raises the livelihood of Vietnamese farmers by employing them to raise livestock for the taproom restaurant which serves pizza and other bar snacks. The collaboration is full circle as over 100 chickens, 70 pigs, and several cows are feeding on the spent grain from the brewery. Waste beer is upcycled as an ingredient in 7 Bridges’ housemade vinegars and hot sauces.
“Being an impact brewing company means we take direct action for our community and environment. I value action over mere donation. Direct action builds community. We can support a cleanup or awareness raising drive that gets the attention and direct participation of people, which we feel has a ripple effect,” Boots said.
With this mission in mind, Boots founded the Beer United Festival in 2018 to “harness the power of beer and deliver dignity.” Local breweries in the burgeoning Vietnamese craft beer scene, such as Hoi An Artisan Brewers, as well as homebrewers were invited to partake in the events which support local charities such as Giving It Back To Kids. Other grassroots organizations were invited to create unique goods to sell at the events including custom reusable canvas tote bags by Vietnam Zero Waste Alliance and Let’s Do It Vietnam. 7 Bridges provided The Da Nang Association of Victims of Agent Orange with high-quality jewelry making materials for their handmade artisan goods. Reusable locally-sourced bamboo straws were gifted to attendees in order to encourage them to be conscious of single-use plastic consumption.
Combined, all of these initiatives allow 7 Bridges to truly live up to the ethos of “it’s not only what we brew—it’s what we do.”