Odd Spirits: Vietnam’s Bia Hoi

Anyone that has been to Hanoi knows exactly what Bia Hoi is, and why it’s likely the cheapest beer you’ll ever drink.

Bia Hoi is relatively simple. Think of it as a Czech-inspired pilsner, but in Hanoi Bia Hoi is brewed daily and has little to no maturation time, so we’re talking about a beer that is incredibly light in both taste and alcohol content, coming in at essential 2-3% ABV. Bia Hoi has no preservatives and is fairly unregulated, so it’s very easy to get a spoiled batch, something that is quite obvious to the palate.

But here’s the real kicker: it’s typically priced between 3000vnd and 7000vnd which is equivalent to 15 US cents to 35 US cents per 12oz bottle, making it a fraction of the price of any beer you’ve ever had.

The best part about Bia Hoi is the culture surrounding the drink itself. Unlike conventional drinking establishments; Bia Hoi is a casual affair, with cheap plastic stools spilling out onto the streets and each glass typically ending with an friendly Vietnamese man pouring your next round before you’ve even finished the last, cheering “Bia Hoi! Bia Hoi!”

Drinkers will sit for hours and pound back Bia Hoi without a care in the world. It definitely helps the drink has very little alcohol, as by your fifth one, you’ll be more concerned about finding a washroom than about the possibility of a hangover the next day (some even swear Bia Hoi doesn’t lead to hangovers, but that’s likely more due to the massive amounts needed to be consumed to get drunk than anything).

If you’re unfamiliar with Bia Hoi, the concept can seem a little strange, even dirty, at first. Who would want to sit on an uneven plastic stool much too close to oncoming traffic and drink beer from a dirty glass and a keg that looks like it’s seen better days? The reality is, if you don’t partake, you’re missing out on one of Northern Vietnam’s most cherished nightlife traditions, and you may even start to enjoy it. Just remember, it’s not the best beer you’ll ever have, just the cheapest.

 

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