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Friday, March 5, 2010

Friday Beer Post: Vietnamese Beer

One of my guilty pleasures is food television. Not necessarily "Food Network" mind you, but anything that can be considered an exploitation of food. My favorite foodie, Anthony Bourdain, calls this "food porn." It's an exploitation and celebration of the pure indulgence of color, quality and taste of food maxed to the extreme and milked for viewership. Bourdain's show "No Reservations" even had an episode devoted entirely to the concept of "food porn." If you seek it out, have something to munch on near by, or else you'll start gnawing on your arm. I love Bourdain's show (and his books), and make every attempt to keep up with his adventures.

(Monday's on the Travel Channel!)

Anyone who follows Bourdain's travels knows of his love for Vietnam. It seems like he does a show a season there. As I am a fan of his work, I tend to lean towards what he's passionate about. I've come to look forward to his missives on his adventures to Vietnam. He's so passionate about the place, that his passion leads to my interest. The exotic world of food, adventure, and culture that he describes intrigues me to no end.

Which is why, when I stumbled upon an article from Russ Juskalian in the New York Times on Vietnamese beer culture, I had to stop everything to read. You can check out the article for yourself here. As Vietnam has had a myriad of foreign cultures attempting to impose their rule, their beer influences can be wide and varied. French, Czech, German, and American influences abound. The most interesting to me is the mix of the traditional Northern European beer-styles and South-Asian Flavors. From the article:
"I first ordered a Crystal Ale draft, a top-fermented beer made with passion fruit and local rambutan, a tropical fruit similar to litchi. It tasted faintly of honey, matched with floral highlights and a mild bitter finish. Next, I had a Passion Fruit Witbier draft, a slight twist on a Belgian classic. The witbier base itself was made with a mixture of local and imported wheat grains, and a gruit, or flavoring base, consisting of local coriander and orange, and imported hops. The resulting beer, served with a slice of lime, reminded me of the Portuguese wine vinho verde with a spicy kick of coriander. An excellent match for freshly caught seafood."
I love local takes like that. Complexity of flavor often comes from a complex cultural background. (This goes into my love of Kona Brewing Company, who sometimes mix old-world style with Polynesian ingredients)

By far the most iconic of the Vietnamese beer styles is the one Bourdain himself has featured on a few of his shows. Bia Hoi...
"...sometimes called fresh beer but literally meaning gas beer, is an unpasteurized, unpreserved brew made before the sun rises, and often imbibed before the sun sets. ... Walking around Hanoi’s narrow, warrenlike streets, one sees bia hoi joints on just about every corner — with locals quaffing the low-alcohol brew (2 to 4 percent) as early as 8 a.m., after which time, some locals say, the peak flavors are already in decline. ... The best bia hoi places in Hanoi serve a crisp, cold beer with a clean taste suggesting rice and an almost subliminal whisper of something like hops."
The article then mentions that bia hoi is essentially cheaper than water! (!!!!!)

(Gallons and gallons of bia hoi. From: NYT)

I definitely suggest you check out the article, as it's a good read. I can't imagine how awesome it would be to wander the streets of Vietnam, sampling the beers brewed by small vendors. Until I get the opportunity, I guess I'll just have to live vicariously through Bourdain and the travel section of the New York Times.

Happy Friday!

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