Checking in with Union Craft Brewing!

It's always good to reconnect with old friends. And because the Happy Hour Gal's national tour was playing Baltimore, she and Jimmy were able to stop by Union Craft Brewing in Baltimore's Woodberry neighborhood. They have BIG NEWS! Click through to learn, and Cheers!

Frequent Flyer Guy Reports: Craft Beer in Vietnam!

Our own FREQUENT FLYER GUY, (a.k.a. Steve Smith), returns with another update from Southeast Asia. Great to have you back in the fold, Steve! (and oh, MAN, do we want to join you.) Check it out:

What's Hot in Vietnam: Cold Craft Beer

- How Vietnam is rapidly becoming an unlikely craft beer mecca

What are first things that come to mind when one thinks of Vietnam? Rice paddies? Motorbikes? Phở, Vietnam’s iconic noodle soup? Ha Long Bay? Floating markets on the Mekong Delta? Probably not craft beer.

Just two years ago, this was the extent of my Vietnamese beer experience.

Just two years ago, this was the extent of my Vietnamese beer experience.

Traditionally, beer in Vietnam has meant a macro-brewed lager like 333 or Bia Saigon poured over ice in local watering holes, or an imported Tiger or Heineken in more upscale pubs and clubs. Up until very recently, you could have any style of beer you wanted--as long as it was lager. But as I learned on my recent trip to Vietnam and Ho Chi Minh City’s BiaCraft Artisan Ales, that is changing in a big way.

According to, there were no craft breweries in Vietnam in 2013. And for good reason. Brewing craft beer in Southeast Asia can be extremely challenging. Most equipment needs to be imported or made locally from spec—a daunting proposition. Ingredients can be impossible to find locally, and difficult to import (imagine getting a large batch of green, skunk-smelling hops through customs without being arrested as a drug trafficker). In nearby Thailand, archaic liquor laws that protect large breweries force craft brewers to brew their beer in neighboring countries, and then import their beer (subject to a 60% customs duty and a 48% excise tax). And finally there is the challenge of educating a market whose expectation of beer is a clear, simple-tasting lager. When Vietnamese craft brewer Platinum Beverages first released an unfiltered golden ale, many of the kegs got returned by distributors who thought the cloudy ale was defective. And Pasteur Street Brewing probably should have thought twice about producing a durian-flavored beer. Not only is the pungent fruit a challenging choice as a beer ingredient, it also faced having to overcome the urban legend of durian and alcohol being a lethal combination. (It was not a commercial success.)

Just a few years ago, none of these beers were being made.

Just a few years ago, none of these beers were being made.

But the overwhelming appeal of craft beer is overcoming these obstacles. Today there are several dozen Vietnamese craft brewers from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh, and the number is growing rapidly. And while foreigners are behind the brewing, and much of the consumption of Vietnamese craft beer, Vietnamese locals are also starting to embrace it. Led by the young, well-traveled, middle- and upper-class urban Vietnamese, they are attracted to the quality and variety offered by craft beer, as well as the cachet of consuming a premium Western product. The manager we spoke with at BiaCraft estimated that roughly half of his customers were Vietnamese. And on our visit, the busy Thursday night crowd appeared to be at least half local.

BiaCraft's patrons on a busy Thursday night included many locals.

BiaCraft's patrons on a busy Thursday night included many locals.

I visited BiaCraft’s District 3 location (1 Lê Ngô Cát, phường 7, Quận 3, Hồ Chí Minh, Vietnam) with two friends—an American craft beer lover, and a local Vietnamese to whom we were just introducing craft beer. We sampled several selections from BiaCraft’s menu of 30 drafts (all but one brewed in Vietnam). They included a Belgian-style wit beer, two IPAs, an India summer ale, and one beer inspired by the spicy flavor of phở. Predictably, our Vietnamese craft beer novice was much more receptive to the wit beer (Tê Tê Belgian Wheat) and India Summer Ale (BiaCraft’s top-selling "Xao Ba Co"; Vietnamese slang meaning “f***ing liar”), with the hoppy bitterness of the IPAs being a bit much on the first try.  My American friend and I both enjoyed the IPAs however. And while all three of us love a good bowl of phở, we weren’t 100% sure that making a beer try to taste like phở was such a good idea. It did grow on us as we drank it however, and we're fairly confident it was a better idea than making beer taste like durian.

BiaCraft's extensive menu of draft beers

BiaCraft's extensive menu of draft beers

Our first tasting flight: Tê Tê Belgian Wheat, BiaCraft’s Xao Ba Co India Summer Ale, BiaCraft's Xau Ma Chanh IPA, Lac Brewing Co.'s Devil's Lake IPA

Our first tasting flight: Tê Tê Belgian Wheat, BiaCraft’s Xao Ba Co India Summer Ale, BiaCraft's Xau Ma Chanh IPA, Lac Brewing Co.'s Devil's Lake IPA

Larger cities and tourist destinations like Hanoi, Da Nang, Nha Trang, and Ho Chi Minh City have a rapidly growing number of craft beer bars, and now many smaller cities are seeing their first craft taprooms open. If you enjoy craft beer and plan on visiting Vietnam, you will be pleasantly surprised (as we were) at the availability of good, local craft beer.


The Blonde Guy is drinking in...KOREA!

    안녕, 금발 녀석!

Translation: Hello from The Blonde Guy!  Its been a while since I've seen you all, and my what has happened since!  I can't believe it has been almost two whole months since we landed in this beautiful country and started our journey with the Jekyll and Hyde world tour.  From the moment we got on the plane at JFK it felt like we were in a different world.  Stepford-esque flight attendants, friendly seat-neighbors (shoutout to JT!), good food, and free beer all were an amuse-bouche for the smorgasborg to come.

    While the first brewery post is in the works, I wanted to give a basic overview of what I've observed in the beer scene/culture while in Seoul and Daegu.  


    The first stop on our tour of Korea was rehearsal for a month in the capital city of Seoul.  One of the world's most technologically advanced cities and home to more than 25 million people(half the population of the entire country) it is certainly the cultural hub for the nation's citizens.  Everyone in the Gangnam-gu district, yes that Gangnam from the popular song, is clad in either business attire or fashion way forward.  No matter what you're wearing, where you work, or what time of night it is, one thing brings everyone together when the sun sets: Beer.  Most of the beer here in Korea is contract brewed by much larger beer companies, (think Macro brewers like Anhueser-Busch, SABC, etc...) These beers are the traditional drink-to-get-drunk light lagers and ales with a an ABV that never exceeds 4.5% and you can buy a liter at a convenience store for the equivalent of $1.75.

    Drinking is as deeply rooted and crucial to South Korean culture as kimchi is.  It is tradition and a way of life.  One that shows no signs of fading away, rather, with the help of the recent craft movement, is growing more and more vibrant.

    Now, the craft movement still being fairly young in the country, I had many friends who had visited or are from Korea state that I would have a difficult time finding real, Korean brewed, beer.  "The Booth Brewing Co." was the first craft bar that some comrades and I visited in the bustling hills of Gangnam-gu. 

From the first beer on the tap list to the last, my worries of having a non-palatable experience here dissolved.  From having a few brews from The Booth itself to collaborations with Evil Twin and the delectable Danish brewers, TO ØL, I knew I was in for a bevy of different brews.  Four of the five beers brewed in part by The Booth were pale ale variants, and the other was a moderately hopped Irish Red Ale.  One look at what the tables around us were drinking and the bottle selection for the evening and it became very clear that the lighter ales and lagers had been traded out for a dryer, more hopped up flavor.  IPA's reigned king in this pub.  For good reason too, after being gifted a free tasting by the manager that evening (thank you generous stranger!), my favorite was their in-house brewed, robustly roasted and mildly malted, Brew Bro Black IPA.  It was the only beverage I went back for seconds of that evening.  

A lot of flying went into this flight! (see what I did there?)

A lot of flying went into this flight! (see what I did there?)

    The next stop on our galavanting through Gangnam was a place that, little did I know, would become my go-to stop for post rehearsal winding down, Ark Handcraft Beer.  Much smaller and quaint than the multi-floor, Williamsburg-hipster-loft-esque Booth Brewing space, Ark boasted more of a homey vibe.  The first evening there I was greeted by the manager, Bo, who showed incredible generosity by offering me a flight of the six beers they make as a gift and welcomed me to their bar.  Y'all.  Two free flights of incredible beer in a single night, Korea was quickly becoming my favorite place.  Along with all of their own beer the draft and bottle list offered up Brooklyn Lager (A little taste of home) and other European brews from Germany, Austria, and Denmark.  "Hug Me," their white ale, and "Cosmic Dancer" were my absolute favorites.  Ark Handcraft Beer and the people working at the establishment were incredibly generous and hospitable while we were in Seoul. I can't wait to visit their gorgeous facility and get more into the "hoppy-worty" (nitty-gritty replacement? No? Ok.)

    This is truly just a generic overview of the newly-dense beer scene in Seoul.  When we return to Seoul in the spring I will be reporting more on specific breweries in the surrounding areas so stay tuned!  After our time in Seoul it was time to open the show a couple hundred miles southeast in Daegu.

    Almost everyone involved with our production, backstage and onstage, said that there wasn't anything to do in Daegu.  That there wasn't much to do, see, eat, or drink.  I tried to remain positive but however, it became painfully obvious when we got there that there really was not much by the hotel besides restaurants that didn't open until 6pm, a plethora of convenience stores, and oodles of fried chicken and soju. During the day this area was a strange ghost town of motels, casinos, and a slew of Korean BBQ establishments.

    A week into the trip, on the quest for secret Santa gifts, I was in a grocery-mega-store in the middle of nowhere and found the wailing wall of beers.  Brews from the States, very few from Korea, the usual from Europe, and a surprising debut of beers from New Zealand and Australia gave me a feeling, I like to think, of how Taylor Swift felt when she finally got "Out of the Woods."  That was a very good week for this beer nerd.  Two weeks later Jess and I were exploring their brand new department store, Shinsegae, and stumbled upon a craft beer store inside of the Korean equivalent of Best Buy.  Nerd. Gasm.  Surrounded by life-size comic book characters, computers, and video games I scanned the surprisingly excellent selection for any bottle shop let alone one in the middle of an electronics store!

    The true hidden gem of Daegu though is located on the outskirts of the south-eastern part of town, Daegu Bottle Shop.  One of my colleagues had found their business page on Facebook and when I tried to find it on a map it didn't even exist!  I hopped in a cab and told the driver to drop me in the general area. After aimlessly wandering around another deserted area, a friendly Korean store owner calling the shop for me, and getting lost a second time I finally found it.  Opened just a little under a year ago, the facade of this treasure trove looks like a tiny, mom and pop Korean restaurant because, well... it is.  I hesitantly knocked on the door and gesticulated "Beer???" and was led to a tiny room where only two refrigerators stood.  I was admittedly a little bummed at first that I had made this trek only to find two small fridges but what they held in them was pure magic.  Prairie Brewing, Stone, Rogue, Brooklyn, Delirium, good Lord. I felt like I was going to explode! Even though it was all western brewed it made me giddy to find such a haul in such an unassuming place!  After spending far too much money (but really what is the price of love right?) I thanked the man and went on my now merry way.  Even though there really wasn't much in Daegu in terms of sight seeing, it still proved to be a fruitful visit.  Complete with new friends, new brews, and thousands of Korean Jekyll and Hyde fans.

    Even with it's very young history in the country, craft's popularity is growing thanks to foreigners teaching the locals how to make it and the locals being adventurous and passionate about change.  I can't wait to explore more of the history here as well as the exciting present and future of craft brewing and all of the incredible people involved.  Till next time...




Tim (The Blonde Guy)