ALCOHOLIC DRINKS In VIETNAM: STREETSIDE BEER, SNAKE WHISKEY AND DRINKING RICE WINE WITH STRAWS

ALCOHOLIC DRINKS IN VIETNAM

Most local people drink watery beer or strong local alcoholic drinks, similar to Mekong whiskey, made from sugar cane or rice. Popular brands of beer include 333, Saigon Export, Saigon Lager, Castel, Huda and Halida. Local brands tend be flat and more watery than the national brands. Bia hoi is the name for cheap, draft beer mostly associated with Hanoi and northern Vietnam. BGI is a golden lager brewed in My Tho by a joint venture between the French BGI group and the Vietnamese government. Foreign brands brewed under license in Vietnam include Carlsberg, Heineken, Thai-produced Singha beer, Singapore-produced Tiger beer. Chinese brands of beer are sometimes available.

There is no minimum drinking age in Vietnam and no set closing time for pubs. For many years the beer market was controlled by the government and rationed through coupons. As the economy became more liberalized in the late 1980, new breweries opened up. As of the early 2000s there were about 300 breweries throughout the country.

Vietnamese, mostly men, drink about 250 million liters of home-made rice alcohol every year, said website VietnamNet. The figure accounts for 90 percent of the total alcohol consumed across the 86 million population of Vietnam. ^ Vietnamese consumes five times as much beer as milk but consumes only two gallons of beer per capita per year, compared to 31 gallons in the United States. Beer consumption is growing at a rate of about 18 percent per year. It is consumed mostly by urban dwellers.[ ^ Source: AFP, October 25, 2008]

In the late 1990s, when the population of Vietnam was 75 million people, the estimated annual output of alcohol was 264,192,000 litres (figure of 1997). The annual alcohol consumption per capita in Vietnam is 3.52 litres per person per year. The "home-made" alcohol is popular in the countryside, while other local alcohol is widely consumed in the cities / towns. The imported alcohol is only used by a small minority of higher income-people in bigger cities. [Source: Nguyen Nam Vinh, Do Viet Tinh, Vietnam Standardization and Consumers Association (VINASTAS), late 1990s]

Locally-made alcohols include Bia hoi (a Vietnamese specialty draft beer produced locally in small batches) and Ruoue (a distilled liquor made of rice). Big local beers include 333, produced by a Saigon brewery. A dozen foreign breweries are active in Vietnam. They includes Heineken (Netherlands), Carlsberg (Denmark) and Tiger (Singapore). San Miguel involved in breweries in Vietnam.

Liquor with a snake or scorpion or both in the bottle are common sights in souvenir shops in Vietnam. Some places will even let you sample some. Other offbeat drinks include Real Sea Horse Whiskey (37 percent alcohol), a rare whiskey infused with a real farm raised Sea Horse. The whiskey is steeped for several months, which then imparts a unique flavor into the whiskey. It is consumed in Southeast Asia as an aphrodisiac and is said to have medicinal uses, such as for back and muscle pain. Similar whiskeys are available infused with a real farm raised vine snake, ginseng roots and seed pods or a real farm raised toad, ginseng and herbal seed pods. They are also consumed as an aphrodisiac and as a treatment for back and muscle pain. real farm raised vine snake, ginseng roots and seed pods. [Source: Thailand Unique website]

In October 2008, AFP reported: "At least 11 Vietnamese men have died after drinking suspect alcohol in Ho Chi Minh City over the past month, state media said Saturday. The latest death was a 44-year-old man, who had been hospitalized Wednesday and died Friday, the Thanh Nien (Young People) newspaper said. The paper quoted sources from the city's health department as saying the man had drunk locally-produced rice alcohol. Tests showed the quantity of methanol in the man's blood samples was high, the paper said. The Health Ministry has sent teams to check the quality of alcohol in major cities, and much of which was discovered containing high volumes of methanol.

Alcohol Consumption in Vietnam

"Home-made" alcohol is very popular in Vietnam. It is normally made by a great number of households in the countryside and widely consumed by the majority of people, especially those in the countryside or with low income. The total production of this type of alcohol is estimated at 242,412 litres per year (1997). However, the "home-made" alcohol is made in a traditional and primitive way and often contains poisonous substances. [Source: Nguyen Nam Vinh, Do Viet Tinh, Vietnam Standardization and Consumers Association (VINASTAS), late 1990s /|\]

Small manufacturers use sugar to produce wine from fruits. Normally, they use 0.25 kg of fruit to make 1.0 litre of wine. Vodka is normally made from grain, which is very cheap and abundant in Vietnam. There are two major vodka distillers which are state-owned companies located in Hanoi (Hanoi Alcohol Company) and Ho Chi Minh City (Binh Tay Alcohol Company). Their products are not of a very good quality, and prices are not affordable by the majority of Vietnamese people. Rum is made from the side products of sugar manufacturers such as Bien Hoa and Hiep Hoa Sugar Company. Low quality and output. Vietnamese liquor is made of Vodka mixed with fruit juices, such as strawberry, or coffee added with some artificial flavors and chemical colors. Quality is also low. In general, there is no typical Vietnamese alcohol which enjoys a good reputation like that of Chinese Maotai or Japanese Sake. /|\

Vietnam Alcohol Manufacturers: Hanoi Alcohol Company was built with French technology in 1898. It produces 5-6 million litres of alcohol per year. Binh Tay Alcohol Company (in Ho Chi Minh City) was built at almost the same period of the Hanoi Alcohol Company. It also has a capacity of 5-6 million litres of alcohol per year. Several smaller alcohol producers are located in other provinces. They are capable of producing 100,000 to 500,000 litres of alcohol per year. Several foreign companies have set up their factories in Vietnam such as Hiram Walker (UK), Allied Domecq (UK), and other wine manufacturers from Russia, France, China etc. /|\

Prices for alcoholic drinks are relatively high in Vietnam. Drinks by foreign manufacturers are subject to high import tax (150 percent), and special consumption tax (from 15 percent to 70 percent depending on type of alcohol) The advertisement of alcohol (together with tobacco) is prohibited in Vietnam. Therefore, alcohol producers and importers in Vietnam use several other ways to make their products known by the public, especially the young people. They normally send promotional staffs to public places where young people frequent like discotheques, bars and restaurants etc to introduce their products. They also distribute some give-away items like paper saucers etc. /|\

Growth in Alcohol Consumption in Vietnam

According to a Euromonitor report: "In 2011, the Vietnamese economy was suffering from a high inflation rate. However, alcoholic drinks still performed well and saw strong growth in all categories. Double-digit growth was observed in both the on-trade and off-trade channels. Moreover, the environment also became more sophisticated with more product variety. Alcoholic drinks in Vietnam still has lots of potential and has yet to reach maturity. [Source: Euromonitor, February 2012 ^^]

"Marketing activities were heavily employed by major players in order to enhance product awareness and establish brand position. New product launches were heavily promoted through traditional channels such as TV, outdoor billboards, newspapers and magazines, and public relations events. Due to the tightening legislation with regard to above-the-line marketing for alcoholic drinks, public relations events and sponsorship are becoming more popular. ^^

"Local major players continued to dominate the alcoholic drinks market in 2011. Local players invested heavily in production facilities to improve their product quality and expanded into less developed areas to enhance sales. They also strived to meet international standards, while trying to keep their prices at affordable levels in order to compete with international players. International players were involved in marketing and advertising activities to introduce their products to consumers. ^^

"As consumers had more disposable income and busier lifestyles, they developed a habit of more frequent dining out. As consumers increasingly preferred socialising in restaurants, consumption of alcoholic drinks, especially beer, increased significantly. Nightlife activities in Vietnam also saw strong development, with more bars, clubs and nightclubs being opened, which led to increasing demand for wine and spirits in Vietnam. ^^

"It is expected that the alcoholic drinks market in Vietnam will continue to grow strongly over the forecast period. On the supply side, there are constant developments by manufacturers, such as new product development, major marketing activities or event sponsorship. On the demand side, Vietnam, with a young population and an increasing number of working class consumers, is expected to see growing demand for alcoholic drinks over the forecast period. Moreover, there will be a shift towards more premium products over the years. ^^

Drinking Age and Bans on Alcohol Advertising in Vietnam

In December 2007, Sai Gon Giai Phong wrote: "Advertising in any form of alcohol with 4.5 percent and over alcohol content will be banned, including herbal alcoholic beverages, according to a draft regulation by the Health, Industry and Trade ministries. The regulation is part of a national policy on the prevention and control over the negative impact created by the consumption of alcoholic drinks, and aims to raise people's awareness of the harmful effects that alcohol has on health, the economy and society as a whole. [Source: Sai Gon Giai Phong, December 22, 2007 ***]

In addition, people under the age of 18 years are prohibited to buy and consume alcoholic beverages that have an alcohol content higher than 4.5 percent. People aged between 19 to 23 years are legally permitted to buy alcoholic drinks up to an alcoholic content of 13 percent, while only those aged 24 and older are permitted to buy spirits with alcoholic content above 14 percent. ***

The regulation will prohibit hotels, restaurants, food courts and adults from encouraging, suggesting or coercing people under 18 years of age to drink alcohol, beer and other drinks that contain over 4.5 percent alcoholic content. The Health Ministry will collaborate with the Education and Training Ministry to implement a school curriculum which includes components of this policy of prevention and control of alcohol abuse. Businesses are also encouraged to manufacture and trade non-alcoholic drinks which are good for health and loved by children. The national policy is expected to be implemented in 2008. ***

Drinking Customs in Vietnam

The Vietnamese like to play a drinking game in which a lazy Susan with a drink on it is spun on a table surrounded by people. Whoever has a drink sitting in front of him or her when it stops spinning has to drink it.

Adam Bray of CNN wrote: "Mot! Hai! Ba! Do! (One! Two! Three! Drink!), shout my friends and I as we lean forward to sip sweet, golden rice wine in unison through long bamboo straws in Phan Thiet City. Between rounds we tear off bits of salted, dried squid dipped in a blend of sour tamarind and soy sauce; unwrap pickled pork in banana leaf; and slurp the semi-formed fetus from hard boiled quail eggs. These and other essential drinking snacks are appropriately called moi, or "fish bait." When I go out drinking with other men (it’s not yet acceptable for Vietnamese girls to drink alcohol), or di nhau (go on a drinking session), it’s essential that we all drink equal portions. Unlike in the north, we pass around a communal glass here in the south. Despite the potency (40 percent ABV), I can’t stop anxiously recalling the high rates of hepatitis and TB here in Binh thuan Province. [Source: Adam Bray, CNN, March 10, 2010]

Vietnam’s Rice Wine Culture: Homemade Concoctions and Drinking with Straws

Adam Bray of CNN wrote: "There are three major kinds of rice wine in Vietnam: the conventional distilled variety known as ruou gao (literally "rice alcohol"), wine brewed in large ceramic jars called ruou can (party wine), and distilled alcohol infused with plants and animals, known as ruou thuoc (medicine wine). [Source: Adam Bray, CNN 10 March, 2010 :::]

Distilled rice wine is known as ruou gao in the north and ruou de in the south. Most rice wine is made in small home distilleries using either normal or sticky rice. The white rice is first cooked and mashed, then water and yeast is added before the mixture is left to ferment. The resulting broth is eventually distilled to produce alcohol. Consumption of Vietnamese rice wine has serious risks. Toxins leached into the alcohol from the still, or small amounts of rubbing alcohol (added intentionally to improve appearance) often cause blindness or even death. In Lam Dong Province, traditional home distillery owners also raise hogs. The rice mash that is left over after distillation (pictured above) is happily consumed by the animals, which as a result, spend most of their time lying around intoxicated and quickly fatten-up. :::

Ruou can is my personal favorite, and traditionally made by Vietnam’s hilltribe minorities for special occasions like weddings and the New Year festival. Ruou can is very different from ruou gao because it is not distilled. Instead, brown or black sticky rice, herbs, tree bark, and other natural flavorings are packed into a large ceramic jar and allowed to ferment for at least couple of weeks. Just before the party, liquid is added to the moist mixture -- often coconut juice, soda water or beer -- and allowed to sit for an hour or more. For extended drinking sessions, the full volume of liquid may be replenished twice. The resulting beverage, drunk through long bamboo straws, is sweet and potent with a complex flavor. The pallet spectrum includes coffee, honey, chocolate, anise, cloves and cinnamon, all depending upon the unique ingredients added by each hilltribe. :::

Vietnamese Medicinal Wines Made with Snakes and Bear Bile

Adam Bray of CNN wrote: "Ruou thuoc, or medicine wine, is a potent form of distilled rice alcohol infused with herbs, fruits, spices, and wild animals like snakes, geckos and seahorses. Many endangered species are poached for use in ruou thuoc, including bears for their bile, and dear for antlers, hooves and fetuses. Some herbal varieties are indeed tasty and may have health benefits derived from traditional Chinese medicine. I find others taste horrid and most certainly provide only superstition-induced placebo effects… not that I need to boost my own virility, of course. [Source: Adam Bray, CNN 10 March, 2010 :::]

Superstition plays a part in the production of ruou thuoc. "Traditionally, a prized wine should be buried at the northeast corner of a three-way crossroads and left underground for 100 days to obtain optimum balance with nature," says Ha Le Hung, pictured here with snake wine -- a variety of ruou thuoc at the Forest Restaurant in Mui Ne, Binh Thuan Province. "There are more than 100 kinds of ruou thuoc," says Ha Le Hung, a local expert and owner of the Forest Restaurant in Mui Ne. "Each is prescribed for a different ailment -- one for old men with back problems, another for women after childbirth, one to aid digestion or circulation and so on." Enhanced male sexual virility is a dominant, recurring theme. :::

A broad selection of ruou thuoc, with whole geckos, snakes, sea horses, deer legs, deer fetus, birds, and baby monkeys is on display at a Buon Ma Thuat, Dak Lak Province rice wine shop. Single shots can be purchased with the addition of a beating cobra heart, spleen, or topped off with a teaspoon of warm cobra blood. Ruou Thuoc, particularly ruou ran (snake wine), is a popular souvenir item, despite being illegal to import in some countries. These souvenir bottles on display at a Saigon shop should never be consumed, as the rice alcohol is often "enhanced" with rubbing alcohol or formaldehyde. Whether it's drunk plain, combined with herbs, or even with snakes and other small animals, the Vietnamese have turned rice wine into the focal point of every party. :::

Beer Consumption in Vietnam

Ben Stocking wrote in the San Jose Mercury News, "Vietnam's per capita beer consumption remains relatively low at roughly 12 liters a year, especially compared with such giants of the suds-swilling world as Germany, which consumes more than 120 liters per person per year. But many Vietnamese who do drink beer tend to drink it in large quantities. It is not uncommon to see a group of four or five men with 24 empty bottles on their table at lunchtime. Public health officials and women's rights groups view such habits with alarm. "Sometimes they drink to the point where they come home and beat their wives and their children," said Pham Hoai Giang of the Vietnam Women's Union. "The women come to us to seek help and legal assistance." "A little drinking is OK," Giang said. "But too much can lead to crime." [Source: Ben Stocking, San Jose Mercury News, December 9, 2004 *+*]

"Police in Ho Chi Minh City recently started using Breathalyzers for the first time in an effort to crack down on drunk driving. In one neighborhood full of watering holes, 50 percent of the people they pulled over failed the test and were hit with a $6 fine - two-thirds of the average weekly Vietnamese salary. But like purveyors of alcohol everywhere, beer distributors here say they only encourage responsible drinking. And with the nation's thirst growing, their business prospects are bright. *+*

"Vietnam has a unique beer culture, said Nguyen Hong Linh director of planning for Hanoi Beer, which has recently doubled its production capacity. Hanoi Beer plans to introduce a premium beer soon, but most of its product is bia hoi sold by the keg. "When people go to a bia hoi, there's a special atmosphere," Linh said. "Everybody is very happy. It's all, `Bottoms up' They forget their wives and their homes. It's only beer. Beer is everything." *+*

Bia Hoi: Hanoi’s Streetside Beer

Beer halls, known as bia hoi , are full or men smoking, munching on peanuts, dried squid and pork sausages known as nem chua and drinking 13 cent glasses of bia hoi , a kind low carbonated beer that is not chemically treated and has a shelf life of only two or three days. It is served chilled but not cold and is sold in 10 gallon kegs like draft beer that are called bombs. These halls are so popular that they often have to close early because they run out of beer. Naomi Lindt wrote in New York Times, “In a country that's up before dawn and closes down around 9 p.m., it's by necessity that Vietnamese nightlife kicks off early. Bia hoi, a type of local draft beer, is also the name for the outdoor cafes that serve it at rock-bottom prices, forming the center of the city's raucous drinking culture. The intersection of Ta Hien and Luong Ngoc Quyen Streets in the bustling Old Quarter is called “bia hoi corner” for its no-frills beer vendors. Backpackers, students and middle-age men in post-workout mode cram onto sidewalk seating for drafts directly from a keg (3,000 dong, about 17 cents at 18,000 dong to the dollar). [Source: Naomi Lindt, New York Times, March 30, 2009 <>]

Nguyen Ngoc Trung wrote in Ohmy News: "Nguyen Tuan Tu, 27, has just drawn his salary. Now it is his turn to give his friends a big feast. What came quickly to his mind is Bia hoi, fresh beer without any preservatives. Hai Xom, a favorite fresh beer establishment among Hanoians, is where Tu and his buddies go to enjoy a cool drink and social atmosphere. "When we have a special occasion like this, I always invite my fellows to have some Bia hoi and talk about many things in comfort. Bia hoi is cheap too," said Tu. [Source: Nguyen Ngoc Trung, Ohmy News (.kr), May 05, 2005 :\:]

"In the stuffy climate of Hanoi, when the temperature sometimes reaches 31̊C (88̊F), a mug of Bia hoi is the most popular choice for many chain-smoking men. Foreigners also consider it to be a good example of a Vietnamese specialty. People can watch the world pass by since almost all Bia hoi establishments are streetside. In a crowded city like Hanoi, with a lot of motorbikes and bicycles, it is a lively experience to drink a glass of Bia hoi on the sidewalk during rush hour. :\:

"With a small investment in a few low wooden tables, tiny plastic stools, glasses, packs of peanuts, dried squid or fish, and of course a keg of fresh beer, you can become the owner of a Bia hoi establishment. That explains you can find them on every corner of Hanoi. Lots of streets are well known for Bia hoi, including Le Duan, Tang Bat Ho, Nui Truc, Le Hong Phong, Giang Vo or Nguyen Chi Thanh. Whenever somebody wants to have Bia hoi, they often head to those areas of the city. Many Vietnamese say Bia hoi establishments are like a miniature society where you can witness and enjoy the feelings of other people from every walk of life. It is unique to have so many kinds of people all drinking together: workers, businessmen, doctors, teachers and professors, among others. :\:

"What makes Bia hoi so popular in Vietnam is the price. A glass costs about VND 3,000 (18 cents). Moreover, Bia hoi establishments are where people can talk and even argue with each other without fear of interference and nosy attention. And as a result, it is extremely noisy at Bia hoi establishments -- the sound of people shouting "Bottoms up!" is heard all the time. :\:

"Tran Trong Phu, 56-year-old retired gentleman, said that he comes to have Bia hoi twice a week. He always goes with his friends because "when you have Bia hoi alone, you cannot enjoy fully what it brings. It is a feeling of friendship and gathering together." It is quite common to see workers and officials enjoying Bia hoi during working hours. Apart from Bia hoi, Vietnam's elite now has another choice: draught beer establishments modeled on ones in Germany and Czech Republic. But for many, Bia hoi is still the most favorite refreshment in the summer heat. :\:

There are three major breweries in Hanoi that make Bia hoi: Hanoi Brewery, Viet Ha Brewery and South East Asia Brewery. However, with the growing thirst of many, private breweries are starting to spring up. :\:

Bia Hoi Culture in Hanoi

Ben Stocking wrote in the San Jose Mercury News, "Despite all the change in Vietnam's beer industry, by far the most popular drinking establishment remains the traditional bia hoi, where the 15-cents-per-glass tab helps the watery draft go down easily. The beer stalls take their name from the drink bia hoi, "fresh beer." [Source: Ben Stocking, San Jose Mercury News, December 9, 2004 *+*]

"It is the simplest corner bar on earth: tiny plastic stools on the sidewalk; tables just a foot or two above the ground, laden with glasses of beer.Aside from women pouring cheap, watery draft, these establishments are patronized almost entirely by chain-smoking Vietnamese men whose favorite refrain is tram phan tram - "100 percent" - as in, "drain your glass of every drop." Bia hoi, as the beer stalls are known, are a staple of Vietnamese life and the cornerstone of the nation's beer-drinking universe. But more and more, the urban beer market is going upscale to meet the evolving tastes and growing incomes of Vietnamese drinkers. *+*

"These ubiquitous establishments are almost always on the sidewalk, where customers sometimes have to raise their voices over the din of motorbike traffic and passing buses sometimes belch clouds of diesel over the plastic tables. The customers are plain folks with no need for the sleek furniture and fancy entertainment they might find in a brew pub. Nobody minds if the tables are dirty and the sidewalk is littered with paper napkins. This is the place everyone comes to unwind - from truck drivers returning from a grueling haul to college professors who use the bia hoi as a sort of street-side salon. "We come here twice a day," said Le Vinh, 67, sitting at a bia hoi in the shadow of the central Hanoi train station. *+*

"A retired doctor, Vinh's drinking pals include a retired soccer star, a film maker, an engineer and a newspaper photographer. They gather for an hour or two at lunch, and reconvene at the end of the day. "We share our ups and downs," said Nguyen Trinh Thai, a painter "That's what being in a bia hoi is all about." At Bia Hoi Viet Ha, a humble stall just down the street from the U.S. ambassador's stately residence, five friends gather after a hard day's work at a Hanoi print shop. They've been coming four times a week for six years now. *+*

"They suck down eight glasses at a sitting, but claim they are sober. If they come home drunk, they explained, their wives will be furious. "If we have less than eight glasses, we're fine," said Pham Tien Anh, 55, picking at a plate of fried tofu with his chopsticks. "More than eight glasses, and we're drunk." "Chuc suc khoe!" they cheered, raising their mugs for yet another toast. "Here's to your health!" *+*

Vietnam's Brew Pubs and Bottled Beer Industry Booms

Ben Stocking wrote in the San Jose Mercury News, "The bottled-beer market - one rung up from bia hoi - has been enjoying double-digit growth for several years. Upscale brew pubs are also starting to crop up, with more than a dozen opening in Hanoi in the last year to market high-end, homemade suds.With prices up to $2 a mug, they are aiming at a beer-drinking elite in a nation where per capita income remains just $480 a year. "This is a very interesting industry - a rapidly growing industry," said former San Jose, Calif., resident Van Dinh Man, who opened a cavernous brew pub in a former Hanoi discotheque last year. "And it's a long-term business. It's going to take some time to educate the palates of Vietnamese beer drinkers." These days, only the true connoisseurs are heading to Vietnam's brew pubs. But many drinkers already have cultivated a taste for premium bottled beer. [Source: Ben Stocking, San Jose Mercury News, December 9, 2004 *+*]

"Asia Pacific Breweries, which produces Heineken and Tiger beers, is planning a $45 million expansion that will allow it to increase production by 50 percent. South East Asia Brewery, which produces Carlsberg and the local brand Halida, has enjoyed growth rates of more than 20 percent a year for the last four years. Budweiser is also scoping out the market. *+*

"At many of the western-style bars that have opened in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, in recent years, young women in skimpy Tiger and Carlsberg dresses offer everyone a refill the second they drain their mug. It is not uncommon for a customer to be confronted by two such women at once as soon as he or she enters a pub, each assailing him or her with conflicting pitches: "Tiger!" "Carlsberg!" "Tiger!" "Carlsberg!" It is easy to find a cold bottle of Heineken for about 70 cents in Vietnam. A cold one at a Hanoi brew pub can cost almost twice that much. But business is booming. *+*

"Vietnam's brew pubs are similar to their American counterparts - homemade brew is made according to a secret recipe in giant copper tanks, lending an aura of connoisseurship. Beers are served by the half-pint or pint - ales, pilsners, stouts. In some places, even two-liter frosty mugs are available for especially thirsty customers. Legends, the first such establishment in Hanoi, is modeled after a German beer garden and serves up a variety of German sausages with its brew. When he opened Red Beer, or Bia Do, in Hanoi a year ago, Truong Viet Binh expected to sell about 200 liters a day. Now he's selling 300 to 400 daily and planning to open a new Bia Do in Ho Chi Minh City, where at least four brew pubs already have opened. *+*

Tiger Beer and Heineken Producer Expands by 50 Percent in Vietnam

In 2006, AFP reported: "Singapore-based Asia Pacific Breweries (APB) has expanded the capacity of its brewery in Vietnam by 50 percent to quench the country's growing thirst for beer. Vietnam Brewery Limited (VBL) now has an annual capacity of 2.3 million hectolitres from 1.5 million previously after the 63-million Singapore dollar (39 million US) upgrade, producer of the famous Tiger Beer said late Thursday. Apart from Tiger Beer, the brewery which is majority owned by APB also produces Heineken beer, Amber Stout and Coors Light. [Source: Agence France Presse, June 9, 2006 \~\]

"Tiger Beer and Heineken holds a combined 85 percent market share in Vietnam's premium beer segment and APB sees the expanded brewery as key to cementing its position in the fast-growing market. Vietnam's beer market expanded 17 percent in 2005, APB said. "In the past decade, APB has invested strongly in growing the brands to reach the status where they are today," said chief executive officer Koh Poh Tiong. "With the additional capacity now in place at VBL, it will make it technically feasible for us to continue to build on the success of these brands by driving higher volumes and more importantly, upholding their leadership position in the premium beer segment," he said. \~\

"APB is one of Asia's leading brewers with 26 breweries in the region including Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia. The company has been aggressively expanding in the region. Last month, it announced plans to open a brewery in Laos and the acquisition of Indian brewer Aurangabad Breweries for 18 million US dollars. \~\

Vietnam's Top Wine Producer

Even though Vietnam was once a French colony, it doesn't produce any good wines or champagne. Definitely pass on the Mekong champagne. Most wines are produced from rice and made for cooking. Those that are made for drinking often have a snake or lizard in the bottle. Imported wines from California and France as well as whiskey and imported liquor are available but expensive.

In August 2002, AFP reported: "Swelling disposable incomes, a discernible shift in taste and a company shake-up has left Vietnam's leading wine producer licking its lips in anticipation of an expected sales boom. Since it first began specialising in making wine in 1993, the Hanoi-based Thang Long company has seen its profits rise from less than 200,000 dollars to a respectable 1.3 million in 2001 from revenue of 4.25 million dollars. [Source: Agence France Presse, August 4, 2002 >>>]

"Pham Bang Ngan, the company's general director, expects profit margins to rise exponentially after its equitization or semi-privatization which began in 2000 but was only completed mid-way through last year. It is just one of 861 companies from the more than 5,600 state-owned enterprises that have sold off stock in themselves in a bid to raise capital and improve efficiency since the equitization process kicked off in 1995. In Thang Long's case, the government has retained a 40 percent stake, domestic investors have snapped up 20 percent, while its 300 staff and management hold the balance. >>>

"This has had a big effect on the company now that everyone owes some capital because staff are more proactive," Ngan said. "Even I have to work harder and continually strive to improve the company's performance or else someone will replace me. I have to ensure that shareholder value grows." Surprisingly, he says sales growth for the most bourgeois of tipples lies with Vietnam's lower-middle classes, despite GDP per capita in the communist-ruled country hovering at a paltry 430 dollars. >>>

"The upper-middle classes aspire to drink imported wine, but more and more people in the countryside and among the urban lower-middle classes are changing from drinking rice wine at weddings and other celebrations to fruit-based wine." Ngan attributes the phenomenon to the ripple effects of Vietnam's gradual transition to a socialist-leaning market economy, which has boosted personal wealth levels in the major cities. The wine's sweet, but highly palatable taste, and the fact that at less than one dollar a bottle, it costs almost the same as the best quality rice wine, are encouraging people to make the switch, he added. >>>

"However, unlike its French, Australian, Chilean or even Japanese elder cousins, the majority of Vietnamese wine is not made from grapes, though it is not for lack of trying. Strawberries, pineapples, apricots and a local speciality, tao meo or wild apples grown in isolated, mountainous northern areas, are the usual ingredients. "The truth is, we really want to produce grape wine but Vietnam does not have the expertise nor grapes of sufficient quality to make it," Ngan said. >>>

"Drinking Miracles" of Dead Vietnamese Official

In May 2013, the Viet Nam News reported: "A few years ago, the chairman of the office of province was reported dead because of drinking. It is said that this man was appointed to the chairmanship of the provincial government office because besides his good qualification, he could drink well, which is suitable for the position that has to receive a lot of guests. On the day taking office, this official did not disappoint his superiors with his drinking ability. He was still in full possession of his senses after drinking liters of alcohol. [Source: Duy Chien, VietNamNet, May 10, 2013 \+\]

"In over a year in this position, the saddest person in the world was his wife because during this time he rarely had meal at home. He had to receive guests everyday. He was extremely busy with guests during the flood season, when delegations from Hanoi and other provinces came to his province to check or to share anti-flood experience. He was the "chair" of welcome parties in which he had to drink a lot. \+\

"Before the sudden death at a party, the official had symptoms of cirrhosis and myocardial infarction. However, he could not refuse parties and drinking because it was his "mission." During his time in that position, the official’s stomach doubled its size and his face was always blackened. Doctors gave warnings of his oversized waist. Then, the chief of staff died at the age of over 40. \+\

"Mr. LB is considered a "legend" in another province. He was appreciated for the skill in writing speeches and compiling documents. However, he could write after drinking. He was recruited as the assistant to several provincial chairmen, who always took him with them when they received guests. Therefore, he was almost immersed in alcohol. With small and frail stature, LB was famous throughout the province for his drinking "talent." In parties, if anyone could not drink much, they would be advised to go to see LB to learn how to drink. \+\

"Once, on the morning of a Sunday, when LB was about to leave his home to receive guests, his wife, after failing to stop him, cried and said: "I’ve been crying too much because of your drinking. In the future, if you die of alcohol, I will have no more tears for you!" Instead of having sympathy with his wife, LB was very angry that his wife had to run out of the house without wearing her shoes to avoid LB’s angriness. After this, LB was more "famous" in the province. LB often declared "An official must be able to drink. You have to drink to be closer to the people, to share and to understand the people!" Sharing the idea "An official must be able to drink," NH, the vice chairman of a provincial agency, is also a notorious alcoholic. Due to the nature of his work, NH had to visit grassroots organizations very often. Whenever he appeared, parties were held. \+\

"The authorities of a province in the Mekong Delta have realized the consequences of drinking at state agencies so they have issued some regulations on drinking. However, officials can dodge the rules. Many years ago, in a province, when officials were banned from drinking at office, some officials put alcohol into teapots and they drank alcohol like tea. This trick is no longer used but now officials can easily drink during working hours. Just with a phone call, they can argue of going out to handle official missions to enter a restaurant to drink. \+\

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Vietnamtourism. com, Vietnam National Administration of Tourism, CIA World Factbook, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Global Viewpoint (Christian Science Monitor), Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, Fox News and various websites, books and other publications identified in the text.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated May 2014

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