It’s no secret that the Vietnamese love beer: the cheap, readily available amber fluid is on hand rain or shine, and there is never a celebration too small for it to accompany. Despite the popularity of the widespread bia hoi, a steady demand for locally brewed beer is on the rise, especially in Hanoi, which is home to the likes of Furbrew and iBiero. But the capital’s newly opened Turtle Lake Brewery is garnering widespread acclaim.
With such a burgeoning start to the brewery it only makes sense to have a local working behind the scenes, and brewer Lan Anh is just that. The 23 year old has been with Turtle Lake even before its opening, creating and perfecting recipes and sharing the results at numerous festivals to test the waters (or beer in this case) before finally having a permanent venue.
After studying food technology in Hanoi, Lan Anh almost fell into brewing by chance, where she got a job at 7 Bridges Brewing Company for six months. Under instruction of their master brewer she gained considerable experience and ultimately fell in love with the trade. After 7 Bridges moved to Da Nang, she saw real potential for the craft beer scene in Hanoi, prompting her to stay in the capital and eventually take up her position at Turtle Lake.
Lan Anh talks me through the brewing process which is openly on display for customers through huge glass windows, exposing six fermenting tanks and two bright tanks. The bar makes three batches of beer a week, although the process and time of brewing varies from beer to beer. More artisan style IPA’s take a little longer, up to three weeks, and lighter and more lager-like brews take around two weeks to finish, such as their popular Hoppy Lager. Lan Anh talks about a new Kolsch beer she has been brewing, traditionally a highly filtered light German beer. However, in Turtle Lake the beers aren’t filtered, which means that the Kolsch took nearly a month in order to get a clear final liquid.
The love and care need for each beer can vary considerably, however Lan Anh says that there is a general process that all brews go through. First, the specific malts are ordered, mashed to a specific size and in an optimum temperature. The water is separated from the malts and then boiled in order to attain its distinct aromas and flavours. The beer then goes through the heat exchanger (a contraption that wouldn’t be a miss on a Doctor Who set), from the kettle to the fermenting tank. It leaves the kettle at about 100 °C and the heat exchanger cools it as it passes to about 8 °C. It then stays in the fermenting tanks for about two weeks.
Turtle Lake currently have four of their best-seller beers on tap: Hoppy Lager, 2&0 Stout, Helmet Boy Saison and the VPA (Vietnamese Pale Ale), a slightly sweeter beer with less hops that is specifically targeted towards the locals and designed as an entry level into the craft beer world. With a total of 20 taps in the bar, the rest of the beers are constantly rotating, meaning that there are always fresh new flavours to try. It seems that the brewery is keenly invested in their customers, and Lan Anh and the master brewer are regularly creating new formulas very much based on client feedback.
I ask Lan Anh what it’s like to be a female brewer in Vietnam and what the general reception has been like amongst family and friends. “It seems that in Vietnam is was almost my destiny to be married.” She explains she was excited to work for Turtle Lake as the master brewer was open and willing to having a female brewer on board. Coming from Ha Tinh, a province in the north central coast of Vietnam, her family have been extremely supportive of what she does, especially after seeing her success in her work. She often brings back concoctions for them to try, and laughs that they go down a treat, some of them even joke that that they are more than willing to swap it for their much-loved bia hoi – perhaps a sign of future things to come in the Vietnamese beer scene.