Down a small alley in Saigon, Pasteur Street Brewing Company is where American John Reid and his friends stun people with their variety of 'strange' craft beer made from Vietnam’s tropical fruits.
The company has been featured on famous travel websites like Lonely Planet
, as well as in numerous international publications, including The Wall Street Journal
, Travel + Leisure
, New Zeland Herald
, Food and Wine
, and The Huffington Post
With unique flavors, such as their Chocolate Cyclo Stout which took home gold in the Chocolate Beer Category at the World Beer Cup competition in the U.S. in May last year, it is no wonder the fledgling brewery has expanded to distribute its beer to about 90 restaurants across Vietnam since opening in January 2015.
Among 579 reviews on TripAdvisor, 324 rate Pasteur Street ‘excellent,' 143 rate the brewery ‘very good,' and only 24 rate it ‘average.’
On Facebook, 165 of 193 reviewers also awarded the company 5 stars.
So what makes a small alleyway taproom worthy of international acclaim?
Strange but familiar flavors
Beginning with the idea to combine American craft brewing techniques with roasted malt from Belgium and Germany and fresh, exotic Vietnamese ingredients, Pasteur Street has since evolved to create over 80 distinct beers.
Most of its beers are flavored with Vietnamese fruits and herbs, including those hard-to-imagine combinations such as dragon fruit, rambutan, and mulberry.
Minh Quan, a regular Pasteur Street customer, said he fell in love with the beer the first time he gave it a try.
Though working in the neighboring province of Long An, he often visits the taproom every one or two weeks when he returns home in Ho Chi Minh City.
“In Vietnam, people are getting bored of regular beers, so beers with special flavoring are well-received," Quan commented to Tuoi Tre News.
The development of new beer flavors comes from many sources of inspiration, including employees, brewers, and even customers.
“If they suggest that we combine certain ingredients, we will work on it and give it a try," John Reid said. “There have been many ‘crazy’ ideas but we still go for them.”
The brewery has even tried out…durian beer.
“Some people thought the durian beer was a failure, but I thought it was very good,” Reid shared with a laugh. “For me its smell and flavor are great but some other guys from the company were very angry and said ‘don’t ever brew that beer’ again.”
Brewmaster Dave Byrn also agreed that durian beer is one of the 'craziest' beers the company has made, revealing that they are in the process of researching to make a new beer from the Buddha's hand fruit.
“Jackfruit, herbs, and cinnamon are all things I haven’t put in my beer before," Byrn told Tuoi Tre News at the company’s brewhouse in Long An. “The ingredients here are new and special to me. They’re also very fresh.”
Jordan Howard, an American and regular at the brewery, still remembers his surprise when he saw dragon fruit beer.
“Dragon fruit is my favorite but I had never heard about beer made from it, and it’s good," Howard recalled of his experience with Tuoi Tre News through a phone call. “Also with beer made from passion fruit, I’ve tried it before but nowhere gives it a better flavor than Vietnam."
Yosuke Masuko, owner of Pizza 4P's, a restaurant chain that sells Pasteur Street’s beer, called the idea of combining Vietnamese ingredients, like fruits and herbs, with beers 'fantastic.'
“Vietnam has a lot of amazing ingredients so it would be great if foreigners could discover and combine them to create new and valuable things," he said. “The Jasmine IPA is our best seller.”
Despite having many 'beer inventions,' Pasteur Street has only 12 types of beer on tap year round, with many others on the list as seasonal treats only available for two to three weeks at a time, like the popular Halloween pumpkin beer.
Travel through Vietnam
According to Alex Violette, co-founder of Pasteur Street, many brewers in the U.S. use tropical ingredients in their beers, but they are difficult to find and not always fresh.
For these American guys, traveling to local markets to discover the different ingredients to use in their beer is a special experience.
Their hunt is not only limited to local markets. Violette, Reid and their friends also travel across Vietnam to ensure the fruits they use are of the highest quality.
Their trips include heading to the southern province of Ben Tre in search of cocoa and rambutan, traveling to the Central Highlands city of Da Lat in search of the best coffee, and visiting Phu Quoc to bring home “one of the world’s best peppers."
Reid still laughs at how local farmers looked at his crew once they found out the intentions of buying the fruits for brewing.
“They thought we had no idea what we were doing,” he laughably said.
Reid added that the field trips have not only helped the brewers to learn more about the ingredients, but have also enabled them to understand Vietnamese culture and people more.
“I wanted to completely immerse myself in the culture to get a better understanding of Vietnam," Violette said. “We are always looking for new places to explore and find new ingredients. I often drive around, often without a destination, and stop at random markets or restaurants to discover new ingredients.”
Calling their trips 'adventures' where he and his partners experienced Vietnam, Reid hoped his beer could not only bring a taste of Vietnamese flavors to people, but also give them an imagination of Vietnam, its coffee farms, pepper fields, and fruitful passion fruit gardens.
“We want to put Vietnam on the map for craft beer,” Reid revealed his 'ambition' of making the world experience Vietnamese culture and flavors even when people cannot come here.
So far, Pasteur Street’s beers have been exported to Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Hong Kong, and are planned to enter the U.S.
Reid also has dreams of opening his taprooms in other countries and decorating them with Vietnamese objects so that customers can feel part of Vietnam while enjoying their brew.