Vietnam has become the biggest beer consumer in Southeast Asia, with consumption increasing to over 3.4 billion litres in 2015.
Hanoi is awash with bia hois. Choosing the best one is like trying to choose your favourite child; you think they’re all equal, until one day, one of them invents time travel.
Most people have a favourite bia hoi, and will swear by it. It has the best bo luc lac, the best goi sua, the best icy cold brews or the best cat. Whatever the reason, people find themselves going back to the same bia hoi again and again.
For this award, we recruited a gaggle of 54 judges, and asked them to tell us what they think about bia hois.
Apart from the one closet alcoholic who wrote they go to a bia hoi four to five times a week, the majority of the judges were much more miserly in their visits. Around 40 percent of them go once a month, and the rest go either once, or a few times, per week.
And the Winner is...
The most interesting aspect of the results is in the variety and breadth of nominations. 32 different bia hois are mentioned by name by our judges, stretching from Tay Ho to Thanh Xuan.
The clear winner is Bia Hoi 68, on Quang An, Tay Ho. Obviously having nothing to do with the high number of judges who live around the corner from it, Bia Hoi 68 takes the Best Bia Hoi crown with more than double the number of votes than the second-placed venue.
Speaking of which, and in slight disbelief, the silver medal goes to anywhere in Ta Hien. If nothing else, the ambiguity of this winner just goes to show that our judges recognise that bia hoi is very much about the atmosphere.
The bia hoi in third place receives its award posthumously. The now-demolished Bia Hoi Hanoi at 5 To Ngoc Van was held in high regard by locals and foreigners alike, who gathered just as much for a glimpse of Soda Kid as they did for the brews.
One detail shining out from our data is that less than half of the judges say they would choose to drink at a bia hoi over other types of bar. This says a lot about the quality of the food on offer at even the average bia hoi.
“The best local food is often served in bia hois,” says one judge.
“The Pork Ribs at Bia Hoi Thu Hang are to die for!” adds another.
There are other benefits to drinking at bia hoi, besides the grub.
“Hot girls and cheap beer,” says one exemplary member of society.
“Cheap, and always a great atmosphere,” says one judge. “The perfect Hanoi experience!”
But not everyone is sold on bia hois. One common complaint from our judges is the lack of proper chairs, as well as a more general need for comfort — this includes less noise, better music and fewer cockroaches.
“Bia hois are not comfortable for women,” is another complaint. Understandable, considering the loutish behaviour on display once a few glasses of brew have been knocked back.
Several of the judges also write of their preference for good wine and a gentler ambience, while others are more direct about the problem of hygiene.
“Bia hois give you the scoots,” says one judge.