For those lucky enough to have travelled, there’s a general consensus: That wherever you go there will be new cities, people, customs, languages, and foods to experience, and a new appreciation and interpretation of personal space, patience, and hygiene.
Fantastically, travelling also introduces you to a plethora of local alcoholic beverages.
Side-note: I can happily report that I’ve ‘been there, drunk that’.
For beer drinkers however, nowhere – and I mean nowhere – in the world will you find a more unique drinking experience than in Hanoi, Vietnam.
Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, children of all ages, D-Generation X proudly presents to you: Bia Hoi.
Roughly translating as ‘fresh beer’ it’s a beer brewed daily, ferried around the city to hundreds of vendors each morning, with supplies running dry by close of business each night.
This isn’t so much a sign of rampant alcoholism, but more a necessity of the beverage. The lack of preservatives, additives, and any normal notions of two-to-three week fermenting means that if you leave the beer more than a couple of days it becomes basically undrinkable.
For those wondering, the idea of brewing beer was introduced to the Vietnamese by French overlords colonials and thankfully continued after the Communists said “It’s not me, it’s you”, broke-up guerrilla-warfare style and booted the snail-eaters out of the country.
The main brewery (Hanoi Brewery) started brewing bia hoi in 1961 as an alternative to heavier rice-based spirits and these days it’s considered a rite of passage for all those who visit Hanoi to at least sample a glass of the brew.
It’s a very light brew that pours a straw colour with a fine white head that dissipates almost instantly, is served in a glass filled with ice – it’s seriously hot and humid there remember – and to my mind tastes a bit like liquid popcorn.
Anyone wanting proper information on bia hoi is likely to be disappointed. As far as I can work out, it’s a light lager-style brewed mainly with rice that is best consumed around lunchtime when it’s relatively fresh.
It’s mostly served out of old Mount Franklin water bottles – yes, OH & S isn’t really a thing, and yes, there is a miniscule chance you might go blind after drinking it – but compared to the ‘vodka’ it’s a very safe option. Besides, when you travel you learn to ignore these details.
In terms of alcohol percentage I can only assume it’s quite low. Considering the amount you can drink and still walk/dodge traffic/ride a scooter, it can’t be too much.
What is genuinely staggering is the cost. Imagine you’re in Melbourne. You go to a beer bar. A simple pint? Most likely $10.
Walking down the street in Hanoi? Feeling a bit parched? Bottle of bia hoi? Try 15 cents.
It’s pure insanity. I mean, Americans brag about having $4 pints, but they ain’t got nothing on the Vietnamese. 15 cents? Stick that in your 44-gallon hat and drink it.
It’s also gloriously served in small cafes or by street vendors, where you sit at tiny tables/milk crates in tiny plastic chairs. It’s one of the most hip ideas ever. Open up a place like this in Brunswick and you’ll soon be smothered by fixie-riding, beard-grooming, cold-drip coffee sippers.
But don’t do that. Because you’d ruin it.
Just buck up, go to Hanoi, drink bottle after bottle of this odd brew, enjoy its refreshing qualities, pray you wake up maintaining the ability to see, and rejoice in the spectacularness of it all, and