Bia Hơi – Fresh Beer
Hanoians love to drink beer and bia hoi is the capital city’s choice of drink. It’s called fresh beer because that’s exactly what it is, no preservatives are used in production and kegs are meant to be consumed within a few days of leaving the brewery.
Any bia hoi shop worth its salt has its kegs delivered daily and must calculate the amount required to fulfill its customers each day with weekends and national holidays creating greater demand.
Bia Hoi venues range from plastic chairs on the sidewalk and hole in the wall shops to large beer-gardens and restaurants. Sometimes it’s a few people quietly sipping cold beer at lunch or after work, other times, particularly mid-evening they can get quite raucous with the sounds of beers clinking together and people just enjoying life.
One thing for certain is that they are social meeting places; retirees, .university students, police, army, businessmen, football teams, people from all walks of life come together in a relaxed atmosphere to partake in bia hoi.
Most Bia Hois close at around 10pm although sometimes you will hear cries of “hết bia!” meaning the beer is over and it’s time to go. Usually there will be bottled beer available for the last stragglers who are not ready to let the moment pass too soon.
How it’s drunk
Cold straight from the bom (keg), it’s poured in front of you and enters the glass via a motorized cooling system, gravity fed or even pumped by hand.
Hanoi has its own unique beer tumbler that was designed specifically for bia hoi drinking. The charm of these tumblers is that they are all slightly different; in their thick, clear or light green glass you can see bubbles and other imperfections.
It is at times sipped and at others skulled, often locals will ask you to down half of or an entire glass. Doing so shows respect and people shake hands after the ritual, most drinkers get mildly disappointed if you don’t meet their requests to match them.
Bia Hoi is drunk with food; in Vietnamese culture food and drink go hand in hand so there is always something to munch on at bia hoi venues. Common snacks that are eaten with beer include Lạc (Peanuts, roasted or boiled), Nem Chua (fermented pork sausages), and Bò lá lốt (beef wrapped in betel leaf), fried tofu and Mực Khô (dried squid jerky)
French colonialists founded Hommel (now Habeco) brewery in the 1890s to provide bia for government officials. Local Vietnamese drank rice wine at this time and it wasn’t until the1960s and 70s that beer consumption really took off.
The original bia hoi glass had a capacity of 500ml nowadays it’s around 375ml, in truth each glass has a different volume as the thickness of the glass varies in each vessel. The standard bia hoi glass was designed by Le Huy Van in 1970 and since then they have all been made from recycled glass by glazier families in Xoi Tri village, in neighbouring Nam Định.