Vietnamese people are very friendly, social and passionate when it comes to family, football, food and, of course, booze! Just a simple walk around the streets will give you the idea of a lively drinking scene in Vietnam. Wherever you are, there is a huge possibility you will hear 'Mot, Hai, Ba, Yo!' shouted from dozens of men in the distance.
That is the Vietnamese way to enjoy their booze and say cheers. The chances are huge that you've heard for Bia Hoi a.k.a. a fresh beer before coming to Vietnam.
The beer culture and history are simply amazing. Bia Hoi is one of the most consumed alcoholic drinks in Vietnam. It’s dirt cheap, claimed to be fresh and made by local people. The beer itself contains around 3% alcohol, but it’s a very inaccurate measurement.
Locals usually produce their beer in a non-regulated environment, so you never know what you get (it's worth the risk!).
We really enjoyed Bia Hoi and experience around it, so we're going to share everything we know about this fantastic drink.
History of Bia Hoi
Last century was tough and dynamic for Vietnam and its people since the country went through one of the longest wars in recent history. Vietnamese people always adapt to the situation, so they 'invented' many goods during the hardships to make their life easier, and more enjoyable. One of the 'inventions' is an iconic Bia Hoi - or fresh beer.
It all started at the end of the 19th century when French colonialists founded the first brewery named Hommel Brewery which was located on Hoang Hoa Tham. In the beginning, the beer was only for the elite since production was quite expensive and locals weren’t keen on drinking an alcoholic drink from colonialists.
At that time, Vietnamese people were mainly producing and enjoying their rice wine! The brewery’s output was very scarce counting just about 150 liters per day since it was serving only elite, mainly French people. In 1954., when the Vietnamese army won the French colonialists, they took over the brewery and renamed it to Hanoi Beverage Company.
That was just a beginning of the shiny beer history in Vietnam! At the end of the 50s, there were a few types of beer brewed by the company. However, the conflicts and complications arose, so the materials like glass and aluminum were expensive and scarce. People needed to figure out a different way of storing beer.
Kegs were ideal as the beer could stay for an extended period without getting corrupted. The moment when the beer started to be stored in the kegs was the birth of Bia Hoi as we know today! Still, at that time, Bia Hoi wasn’t a beloved drink of Vietnamese people since only a small portion of the population enjoyed that beverage, while the majority of the population stayed truthful to their beloved rice wine.
There was a shortage of rice during the 60s, so the leader, Ho Chi Minh, banned the production of alcoholic drinks from the rice. Rice was exclusively a food.
After that moment, Vietnamese people being alcoholic lovers, just gave a try to newly introduced Bia Hoi.
That was the point of no return for the iconic fresh beer!
Today, you can see many people enjoying the sips of this historic beverage around the streets of Hanoi and Saigon while sitting on tiny red chairs and eating fresh peanuts.
Wait! What About the Glasses?
Almost every pint for Bia Hoi is handmade!
Since Bia Hoi is always stored in kegs and sometimes in plastic bottles, there was a massive demand for glasses. During the war, when Bia Hoi started to gain its popularity, materials were scarce, so Vietnamese people needed to be very creative while inventing the glasses! People were drinking beer from glass pints from beginnings. It’s a tradition now, and many people refuse to drink from any other glasses.
There is an interesting story behind the imperfectly shaped glasses. There are a few factories around North Vietnam that produce glasses for Bia Hoi. They collect and recycle the broken glass around the country. After recycling, the glass undergoes a heating process for roughly six hours and then shaped into a glass shape. Afterward, the cups were buried in the ash, so the process of cooling down isn't too rapid.
Almost every glass is hand-made, even today! That’s a crazy fact to know, especially when the consumption is crazy high, and demand for glasses is growing with every day.
Unbelievable Bia Hoi Facts You've Never Heard Of!
The history of Bia Hoi is fascinating, which means there are many unbelievable facts behind this favorite beverage.
- Cheapest beer in the world - after extensive research and walking around the cities around Vietnam to help ourselves with a glass of delicious and cold fresh beer, we believe it’s the world’s cheapest beer. One cup of 0.4l costs from 3,000 - 5,000 VND on the street. Expect a good buzz for a couple of dollars! How crazy it is?
- Handmade cups made from recycled glass - even when the demand and consumption are at its highest point, the cups are handmade from recycled glass. Literally, a few families around North Vietnam run small family factories where the magic happens. They are the leading distributors of the Bia Hoi glasses in Vietnam!
- Birth of Bia Hoi - it’s a very amazing story that goes behind making the first cup of fresh beer. Vietnamese people enjoy their alcohol and spending their time with beloved friends, but during the war, the drink of choice was rice wine. Since the shortage, the rice was banned for alcohol production, but it didn’t stop people from drinking. They just switched to a fresh beer and that’s how this drink becomes very popular today!
- Bottoms up - Vietnamese people don’t mess around when it comes to beer! Their style of drinking hugely differs from drinking styles around the world. They drink their fresh beer usually bottoms up! If you ever drink with Vietnamese people, be prepared to get totally drunk since finishing beers in one sip was never a thing for just a casual meeting with friends!
- Snack goes very well with beer - it’s hard to see anyone drinking beer without snacking! People usually eat fresh peanuts, spring rolls, fried chicken wings, dried chicken, or squid. Food is usually very spicy or goes with the chili which just makes you more thirsty for this magical beverage! Don't forget to try street food in Vietnam as it's the staple of Vietnamese culture.
Where to Drink Bia Hoi?
Finding a fresh beer place shouldn’t be a problem in some places, but still, it’s hardly possible to find it anywhere. Locals mainly consume fresh beer in North Vietnam as it originates from Hanoi.
The good news is that the majority of travelers lands in either Hanoi or Saigon (HCMC) and these two cities are full of Bia Hoi places!
If it's your first time in Vietnam, be sure to prepare yourself for dozens of culture shocks!
Best Places to Drink Bia Hoi in Hanoi
Bia Hoi originates from Hanoi, so it’s literally effortless to find a place to sit and drink. Alright, a place to sit can be tough to find since it’s usually filled with thirsty people. There are many places, but the best experience is around the iconic Old Quarter area.
Note: We didn’t try all of these bars/places, but we found out a few places that people continuously mention by the excellence of the fresh beer, so we shared these places!
That’s the busiest street when it comes to drinking. People started to call this location as a 'Beer street' as once you start walking around you won’t see any other thing than beer, red chairs and a lot of spicy snacks. And yeah, you will hear a lot of cheers on Vietnamese every second! One beer usually costs from 5,000 - 8,000 VND and it can be a tough thing to find a free chair to sit.
Come there around 6 pm while Vietnamese people are enjoying dinner with their families. The only downfall of the place (in our opinion) is that the place is totally spoiled and everyone wants to make money from the fresh beer.
There are too many restaurants filled with drunk backpackers mainly. We usually skip these places that don’t provide with the authenticity of the culture.
Navigate Beer Corner on the map:
Bia Hoi Restaurants
If you’re not looking for a specific place to drink Bia Hoi, then Bia Hoi Ha Noi restaurants are perfect spots. These small, tiny local restaurants are located around the city. You can see the sign from the street and they are serving mainly fresh beer combined with simple local food that can go well with beer. It’s worth the try and the beer is usually a bit cheaper than in the Old Quarter.
Also, the main customers in these bars are locals which gives you a unique vibe while drinking there.
Be prepared to get invited by locals to their table, or they will invite themselves to your table, and get few beers more than expected!
Bia Hoi Joint at 50 Bat Dan
This one is a small street filled with dozen restaurants and bars on the street where mainly locals enjoy their fresh beer and local food.
There are not many foreigners, so you can definitely experience a real and authentic culture of beer drinking in Vietnam. The glass of a fresh beer will cost you from 3,000 - 5,000 VND on this place!
Navigate Bia Hoi Junction on the map:
Best Places to Drink Bia Hoi in Saigon (HCMC)
Although the fresh beer originates from North Vietnam, it’s so popular around the country that can be easily found in Saigon too. The culture of drinking isn’t that huge like in Hanoi, but still, it’s not uncommon to see people crushing the beer until they can’t sit on the chairs anymore. It’s very interesting information that the government occasionally bans Bia Hoi in Saigon since there are many reports of illness after consuming it.
The biggest concern is the cleanness and quality of the beer since it’s easy to get spoiled, some people continue to sell it anyway. That makes a fresh beer kind of scarce in Saigon.
Anyway, there are a few known places where you can enjoy a favorite Vietnamese drink.
Bia Sai Gon 73
This small street bar is located in the middle of Bui Vien street - a backpackers’ street in Saigon. It’s hard to miss this place since it’s overpacked with people and tiny red and blue chairs. The majority of customers there are backpackers, but still, there are some locals too, so it’s a great way to socialize and meet new friends.
This bar offers few food selections which go well with the beer! The price of the beer is a bit higher than in Hanoi and other places, so one glass will cost you 10,000 VND. The place is a bit spoiled with tourists, but still, it’s a lively place that will definitely provide you with an amazing experience. It’s very hot there since they have only a few fans pointing to the people, so be prepared to drink a lot!
Is it a strategy or pure coincidence, let’s leave it to you to judge!
Navigate Bia Sai Gon on the map:
Bia Hoi Ha Noi
This restaurant is a trendy choice for local people who enjoy delicious food combined with a fresh beer. The place isn’t thrown in the middle of hell like the previous place we mentioned, so the atmosphere is a bit more chilled and it provides you with more authentic experience.
The majority of the clientele of this restaurant is the working class who wants to get relaxed after a hard day at work.
They usually start to eat and drink around 6 pm and stay up to 11 pm. If you’re planning to visit or stay a bit longer, be prepared to get many toasts with locals! Just be ready for doing countless bottom ups with beers which will make even the most experienced drinker drunk!
The beer costs from 5,000 - 8,000 VND!
How Safe is Bia Hoi?
There are many discussions when it comes to the safety of fresh beer which is totally logical question since the majority of bia hoi is home-brewed beer.
We tried fresh beer around Vietnam, in Hanoi, Saigon, Da Nang, and even in the countryside and around the Highlands. We didn’t experience any problems while drinking. The only problem was a hangover, but it’s normal since we were usually drinking with locals who were insisting on finishing a beer in one sip. It just adds up after a few bottom ups! After talking with some expats and travelers, we didn’t hear any negative experience about Bia Hoi, so it’s more than enough for us to say it’s totally safe to drink it.
Be responsible drinker and you’ll be fine! Maybe the morning headache will occur, but it’s normal when you’re drinking the low-quality alcohol without a known origin. Just enjoy and dip in the Vietnamese culture!
Once you set your foot in Vietnam and get used to the climate, it’s time for exploration. If you really want to experience and immerse in the culture, then what could be a better way than checking local places and drink Bia Hoi with local people?
Enjoy and don’t do stupid things when you’re drunk!