As the terror of COVID-19 lifts from Vietnam, I felt it was the right time to publish a piece I’d written the day after a thoroughly enjoyable day at the Brewing Project Vietnam. I’d hoped to wait to publish it as lockdown lifts here in Saigon, which as of today (28 April), seems to be happening swifter than expected.
I sat writing this post in the midst of recovery from my first ever event where I was a literal beer judge.
Yes, it is a real thing. Yes, you do drink (a lot) of beer. To be specific, my esteemed fellow judges & I, had to ‘taste test’ 20 different beers.
From salty goses to red ales, it was quite an experience to try twenty different visions of beer as interpreted by Vietnamese homebrewers!
The experience of being an (absolute) novice beer judge for the first time was unforgettable. It was a welcome distraction from the epidemic boiling away outside.
Introducing The Brewing Project Vietnam
The Brewing Project is an initiative of Beervana, an important regional player in the world of craft beer in Southeast Asia.
Besides being a beer importer and distributor in Thailand, Vietnam and Indonesia, Beervana also provide a platform within the region’s beer community through events, partnerships.
Their work to organise the excellent selection of Thai craft beer at SEA Brew 2019 is an instructive example of the practical work they do in the community.
One of those other activities, which deserves a much wider audience, is the Brewing Project. Beervana run national homebrewing competitions that seeks to popularise local beer styles.
Having been a success in Thailand and Indonesia, now the Project has launched in Vietnam.
Their mission is simple: was to find Vietnam’s first original beer style.
There can only be one victorious homebrewer, and Beervana gives them a chance to brew at a ‘legendary brewery’.
For previous winners, such breweries have been previously been well-regarded forces in craft beer in the United States and Australia.
Even better, Beervana will then import that beer back into Vietnam and act as a distributor too.
This meant that competition was a huge opportunity for the lucky homebrewer!
Why It Matters
Something that has continually frustrated me since getting increasingly interested in craft beer in recent years has been the dominance of American and Western European perspectives.
Despite beer being an ancient innovation and widely distributed in unique forms around the world, the craft beer world feels firmly balanced toward the West.
Not just in terms of outlook and culture but more importantly in terms of beer styles and actual brewing methodology.
Arguably the legacy of the Reinheitsgebot in beer is similar to Greek philosophers in Western thought: a welcome foundation but one that shouldn’t be oppressively imposed, nor act as shackles.
Capturing the explosion of diversity in craft beer from Palestine to the Philippines is what motivated me to found Beer Asia.
The intersection of the Brewing Project Vietnam with my aim wanted to give brewers, bars, and beers from all over Asia a bigger platform made it much more meaningful than a simple reviewing session of a few beers.
Brewing Project Beer Judging
This was literally my first rodeo. I had never participated in a beer judging before. While BJCP Certification is something I’d love to achieve in the not-too-distant future, I acknowledge that it is a much more serious endeavour than many realise.
The session itself followed what is called a ‘closed-door’ beer judging.
We kicked off at the inauspicious hour of 11 AM on a Saturday morning at Rehab Station in downtown Saigon.
The session started with able advice from Beervana’s Co-Founder Brian Bartusch and Global Frontiers Director Chad Mitchell.
They shared how to proceed most effectively with our judging, particularly useful for absolute newbies like myself.
As there was no style guideline for the competition, we ‘blind judged’ the beers using on “best in show” criteria. I frantically tried to remember the BJCP judging rules I’d attempted to memorise days prior.
We were broken into five judging groups and proceeded to have a fufilling day.
Tasting many beers, trying to squeeze in every minute of learning from the judges exceptionally more experienced than I, and writing a lot of words about various factors like body, head, and other aspects of each beer.
And A Winner!
Prior to publishing this article, I discovered Beervana had selected a winner.
Naturally, this wasn’t possible on the day itself with such a large volume of hopefully BJCP-compliant judging papers!.
Thoa Nguyen, who made a beer using local Vietnamese hibiscus for a variation on an Irish Red Ale, is officially the winner.
An exciting achievement for a Vietnamese brewer without a large existing public profile. I can personally attest that I enjoyed the Irish Red Ale on the day, too. Congratulations, Thoa!
The scene and industry around craft beer in Asia is struggling amidst the madness that Covid-19 has unleashed from Saigon to Singapore. Nevertheless, I’m hopeful that we do see a richer and brighter Asian craft beer culture rising from the ruins of the pandemic..
If Vietnam is anything to go by, there’s a bright future ahead. Shoutout to folks like Beervana for keeping it that way!