Embargo Craft Beer Bar just got in a limited amount of the beer Cyclo Stout from Pasteur Street Brewing in Vietnam. It is one of the highest rated beers from Southeast Asia on Untappd. It’s probably the first time this craft beer is sold in Cambodia so we decided to dive deeper into the story behind the beer. We contacted Mischa Smith from Pasteur Street Brewing to ask him some questions about the beer and how the craft beer scene in Vietnam is doing.
So, what´s the background story of the Cyclo Stout?
One of the first handful of beers we made back in late 2014, early 2015! We worked with the team at MAROU, Faiseurs de Chocolat (a world class artisan chocolatier here in Saigon) to go visit the cacao farmers that they work with to get the same nibs that they use in their chocolate to put in the beer. It was immediately one of our most popular brews despite (or in some small part, because of?) its hefty ABV. At 13%, this beer is not for the faint of heart! It also boasts some vanilla beans and cinnamon that are both locally sourced.
In 2016 we sent it to The World Beer Cup, the most prestigious beer competition in the world, and it took home a gold medal in the Chocolate Stout category. We were then fond of calling it the best chocolate beer in the world!
And why the name?
Early days we definitely wanted our marketing and branding to match up with the iconography of Vietnam. Whereas most of our beers are simply named after the active ingredient and the beer style (e.g. Pomelo IPA, Passion Fruit Wheat Ale, Jasmine IPA, etc…) we couldn’t really just call this Chocolate Stout as that’s already a category unto itself. With Grab bikes everywhere nowadays you don’t see many cyclos still on the streets of Saigon but as recently as when I arrived 9 years ago, they were still ubiquitous. The only way for tourists to comfortably ride around the city. And we liked the alliteration of Cyclo Stout.
There are not that many barrel-aged stouts in Southeast Asia, what are the complications with brewing a beer like this?
Just getting the right barrels over! They are expensive to buy and to ship but well worth the investment. I can count at least 4 Vietnamese breweries now that either have or are about to release barrel aged beers. They have all been phenomenal – the ageing process does some wonderful things to these beers.
Were you worried about how the market would receive it?
Not really. We actually didn’t expect them to sell as quickly as they did, due to their price point. But all of the barrel aged releases so far have flown off the shelves! There are enough craft beer lovers around who know how valuable these bottles are and enough other people who are just curious to try a barrel aged beer for the first time in their lives. And absolute worst-case-scenario we knew we could store them for a while and do a re-release event after a year, two years, three years. I hope we held a few back to still do this, actually! Would love to see a vertical tasting of some of our barrel aged beers a few years from now.
I don´t have any more questions about the beer so let me ask what else is up with craft beer in Vietnam?
Pumping along! Obviously COVID and the lockdowns were a huge obstacle for all of the craft brewers here but it sounds like we’ve all come out on the other side. A lot of F&B establishments had to close down but I don’t think I’ve heard of any breweries that have had to stop operating. BiaCraft just opened a massive new location in District 7 and now that the F&B scene is returning to a sense of normalcy I expect a lot of new bar & restaurant concepts to be coming soon, both to fill the void of some that had to leave and in anticipation of the eventual return of tourism. And we’ve got beer for all of them.
What has actually been happening the past 2 years? People are still out drinking? Any events? Any breweries that went under? Any new brewers that have entered the market? What have been the biggest challenges?
Sorry, kind of answered this in the last part. People definitely still drinking! There was one Craft Beer Festival held at Saigon Outcast after the 1st lockdown and someone smarter than me made the observation that it was definitely the first post-COVID craft beer festival in the world! Vietnam handled the first wave superbly. Unfortunately, the Delta variant was not something we were prepared for and it kind of kicked our asses. But we’re back and ready to roar. Big public gatherings are still a ways away but smaller events have resumed and it feels like we’re back to normal again, just without any tourists yet. The only new brewery I’ve seen recently is Magic Barrel, which was recently started by two of the guys behind Three On A Bike. They have a Gose and a Lager so far that are both really good.
Any exciting plans for 2022?
We are just about to release our annual Tet Beer – a Kumquat Ale! This will be our 3rd year in a row making it and it always flies out fast in kegs and bottles. We have a few more fruited IPAs in the works as they are still massively popular with both foreign and local craft beer drinkers. Another round of barrel-aged beers coming soon – these ones have been aging for what seems like forever due to lockdowns and I’ve sampled a few of them – they are going to blow everyone’s socks off! And we have a couple of other big projects – both for domestic and export markets – in the works that we are very excited about! Too early to share details but rest assured we are working hard every day to ensure the present and future success of Pasteur Street Brewing Company and the Craft Beer Industry as a whole. Very exciting times to be making craft beers in Vietnam! And obviously looking forward to visiting our friends in other parts of Southeast Asia as soon as possible.
The Cyclo Stout can be found at Embargo for $25 for a bottle of 750 ml.