Bac Ha Markets and the Vietnamese beer story so far

Your correspondent may have mentioned in a previous missive his aversion to markets. There is an exception to this rule.

The absolute highlight of my previous overseas travels has been weekend markets in far flung frontier areas in southern China and eastern Turkey. These are the markets where tribes and villagers from miles around come to trade their goods, purchase livestock, gossip and find a wife/husband. The Bac Ha market in north western Vietnam on the Chinese frontier is just such a place.

People from the Black M’Hong, Flower M’Hong and Red Dao minority groups gather every Saturday at Bac Ha. National borders are a nonsense to these people and both Vietnam and China recognise this and do not bother policing the influx to the village from minority areas nominally in China.

The colour, noise and smells are overwhelming. Men of these minorities have stopped wearing the dress that symbolised their minority group however the women are draped in the colours and style that make their identity clear to all. Tourists have long been coming here so there are stalls with the relevant tatt and souvenirs but the main show is the livestock trading. Water buffalo are a crucial part of any marriage transaction for these people so the activity in this space was hectic. FYI the going price for a healthy adult buffalo is 40 million dong (~$2300 Aussie bananas). This is no small price given the average yearly wage in Vietnam is US$140. The live pig trading was also full on with the animals being poked and prodded and dragged about. A large pig goes for about 2 million dong (~$110 AUD) so a little more affordable.

Now for the beer content.

There is no doubt that the beer produced by the Hanoi and Saigon microbreweries and brauhauses is the stuff you should drink if full bodied, flavoursome beer is your want.
However it would be remiss of me to not review the myriad of macro beers that I have enjoyed to date. While these beers are pedestrian to middling quality, they have their own story to tell and, unless you spend all your time hunting down the quite rare microbreweries, you’ll be enjoying the macros 99% of the time.

In earlier blogs your correspondent has made mention of his quest for a non Bintang t-shirt in Bintang-dominated Indonesia. Unlike the single beeropoly that is Indonesia, Vietnam seems more akin to China where there is a dominant macro punched out by Tsingtao, but there are also many competitors and a good number of these are limited to a region of single city.

Below you’ll find mention of the macros I’ve stumbled across so far together with a simple ranking system.

C grade – water strained thru a beer-soaked facecloth

Viet Ha: had to check can label several times to ensure I’d purchased beer.
Lao Cai: produced in town on border with China in Vietnam’s north west – taste has ensured that push for national distribution has faltered.
Beer Larue: only has a passing resemblance to beer and this is all down to the label that reminds me of the Singapore variant (not surprising as the beer is actually produced by same mob).

B grade – the VBs and Tooheys New of Vietnam

Bia Hoi: gets a B for personality.
Bia Ha Noi: my go-to beer when only macros are available. Palatable in a crisis.
Bia Saigon: quaint local custom of serving on ice does nothing to improve this beer. Gets a B because those already with a C set such a low bar.
Halida: “The Famous Beer of Vietnam” – begs the question “Where?”. Inoffensive.

A grade – would choose if offered any of A, B or C

Truc Bach: likely a controversial rating but I found it full bodied with a nice bite. Better than those already mentioned at a minimum.