In childlike anticipation of the arriving summer season, I wanted to find out what brewers and bartenders in Hanoi are doing with beer cocktails, so I made it my mission to find some of the best the city has to offer.
Granted – beer is still a semi explored terrain in the world of cocktails. Even I’ll admit I had never been a particularly big fan of this oxymoron, mostly due to the fact that I’d just never had a good one before. However, with the explosively colourful craft beer scene in Vietnam, the possibilities for combining brew with other ingredients are as seemingly endless.
Turtle Lake Brewing Company (105 Quang Khanh, Tay Ho), is a sterling new addition to Hanoi’s food and beverage scene. Opened only three months ago, Turtle Lake currently offers 12 of their own beers on tap, with a goal to eventually have 15.
Bar manager Darren Farmer has been a mixologist for over ten years, and still owns a bar in the UK. With a preternatural understanding of not only craft brewing but making supernal cocktails, Farmer (as well as their brewers) have helped create a booze hound’s wet dream in Turtle Lake Brewing Company. As they are still quite new, the selection of beer cocktails is still being developed, but I was able to try the two that are currently on the menu.
The Helmet Boy (VND150,000) is made with Turtle Lake’s Helmet Boy Saison Ale, Jim Beam, amaretto, and ginger and cinnamon extracts, served with slices of apple and tangerine. The bourbon combines with the amaretto and cinnamon, moderating the sweetness, topped off with the spice of the ginger in an absolute hymn to the spirits of summer.
I also tried the Dark Lake (VND150,000), made with rum, cacao white, house-made cinnamon extract, amaretto, and topped with Turtle Lake’s 0&2 Stout (and a sprig of toasted marshmallows). Finally, a small amount of Nutella is added to the inside of the rim to sip the drink through. This original creation manages to be nutty and desert-like, yet is thoroughly a cocktail (and having a few wouldn’t feel like an overload of sweetness). There’s a remarkable balanced achieved in the glass.
Another reason to make Turtle Lake a regular haunt of yours is that they have a brilliant menu (bun cha burger or kim-chi Bloody Marys anyone?) but also they do not use plastic straws, no tissues but air dryers in the bathrooms, and they offer water in glasses, instead of plastic bottles. “I can’t stand single use plastic,” Farmer told me. “We ran our bars in the UK with the same policy, even before there were any bans.”
The next destination in my beer cocktail odyssey was Standing Bar (70 Tran Vu, Truc Bach, Hanoi), a sentinel on the horizon for Hanoi’s craft beer scene, and I found a couple summery concoctions perfect for ushering in and celebrating throughout the season.
The Park Street Cup (VND180,000), made with East West Brewing Company’s East West Brewing Company’s Summer Hefeweizen, Pimms, lemon juice, Peychaud’s, Angostura, and orange bitters, simple syrup and egg white, is an explosive paean to the dog days. I next tried the Tartini Sling (VND180,000), a light, velvet-smooth blend of Tanqueray, lime, cherry liqueur, Cynar artichoke liqueur, Benedictine, topped off with Lac Brewing’s Spring Ale.
New Zealander Giles Cooper, co-owner and manager of Standing Bar, showed me the bottle of Cynar. “I am a really big fan of all these Italian amaro liqueurs, and I have to take many of them, as well as other essentials you can’t get here, with me in my suitcase when I make a trip back.”
If you haven’t been to Standing Bar, consider it essential to your exploration of the cornucopia of craft beers coming out of Vietnam, as well as a cracking venue for stand-up comedy and other performances at their cozy stage upstairs. Cooper and company are also opening The Bottle Shop at 12 Dang Thai Mai in the next week or two, which will allow thirsty Hanoians to bring their favourite Vietnamese artisan beers home with them.
There are many more possibilities out there to explore in the coming weeks and months, and besides giving these three stellar establishments a visit or two, go on a little journey of your own, and let us know what other beer cocktails you happen to find.