Three and a half years in the making and Hanoi Cider Co. has finally opened their new space, and what a space it is: over 300 square meters of fun serving up every (well, almost) flavor of cider imaginable. During Chào’s trip the ciders on offer included rhubarb and custard, blueberry muffin, and passion fruit and kumquat to name just three. While these might not satisfy those bearded cider purists who insist on only drinking cloudy stuff from Somerset, for the adventurous the Hanoi Cider House offers experimental delights destined to make the taste buds tingle, and tingle they did.
Like many a brewer, founder Guy Dickson started making cider as a hobby to try out a few drinks he could not get hold of in Vietnam, and soon found that he was harnessing all manner of local flavors to sell his quirky ciders to bars throughout the country. Up until now he has only been selling his cider to restaurants and bars.
Though passionate about his brews, Dickson is no booze snob and while hipster cider-makers are now calling themselves pommeliers, he playfully refers to himself as an apple juicer. Somewhat against type, when Chào first meets Dickson he is actually drinking, shock horror, beer.
“I test and taste the ciders almost every single day, so a beer is a nice break,” he laughs. “A lot of people say to me why you don’t just do cider. But, well, I do love drinking ciders in the afternoon and stuff, but of course sometimes I want beer and I am sure our customers do too. So why wouldn’t I let them have the option?”
The avuncular Dickson has been in Vietnam for seven years, initially in the sleepy town of Hue which he retains a warm affection for, but he soon found himself in the capital where there were more opportunities. Opportunities that have now seen him open the Hanoi Cider House.
“The beer evokes a slightly muffin-y flavor, and was inspired by a drink in a Stephen King novel.”
Dickson moves around his bar smiling but sleepy eyed, which one assumes is down to running a brand new bar and juggling it with a young family. He has a lively 4-year-old daughter who easily recognizes the brightly colored cans of cider he sells. “We are hoping to keep her off drinking the cider,” he jokes. “But of course she is growing up around it, so we will have to watch her.”
His task, for now, is to get more people in the city to like, understand and drink cider. A job the Englishman relishes, which is clearly evident from his slight cider-belly. “We started very small and it takes time,” he says. “Cider in Hanoi is generally quite difficult to get people to know about. I think when Strongbow entered the market that made a big difference and the people here are getting more into it. We try to make things a bit wacky and crazy, and we are working our way through the more unusual Vietnamese fruits.”
Hanoi Cider Co. is elegant and simple, a couple of notches above your average Tay Ho dive bar. A giant multi-colored graffiti Rooster adorns the main wall as a totem of sorts, and as a nod to the superb charcoal-grilled chicken cooked on premises (think Nandos but made with more love). Ciders here range from 85,000 to 120,000 VND, and you can buy a quarter chargrilled chicken for 150,000 VND a pop or a whole one for 520,000. These come with a range of sides. Pick from sourdough flat bread, grilled corn, vegetable kebab, French fries, red rice or a garden salad, as well as choice of several homemade sauces (harissa, lemon and herb, jalapeno and coriander, piri-piri).
The craft brewing scene in Hanoi, like much of rest of the world, is exploding and one wonders if the brewers in the city form a friendly club or if it is a case of every man for himself. “We are not really in competition with the beer brewers, so we get on with them pretty well,” Dickson says. “Saying that, everyone will help each other. On a day to day basis, people could help each other more to grow the scene, but everyone has a small team and they get a bit caught up in their own stuff, so it is hard to work together sometimes. But we try.”
One of the things that is striking about Hanoi Cider House is its sheer size. For a first-time venue it looks like a big risk, but Dickson is jovial about its prospects: “The original plan was to have a small place but then I saw the current location and thought fuck it, let’s go big or go home. It will be tough at the beginning but am sure we will get to where we want to be. We are lucky we are the only cider brand in Hanoi.”
The advantage of a big venue is the capacity to put on a range of events and Dickson is aiming to put on several nights with djs and bands planned. A recent event saw a collaboration with Son Tinh, an upscale liquor brand. Though a new spot, Hanoi Cider House is steadily becoming a popular hangout, which has been aided by an eye-catching deal that offers free cider and beer between 6 and 7 p.m. “That ends pretty soon,” Dickson says. “It is a great way to bring in new customers but hardly a long term business plan.”
Initially only two core ciders were available but now they are nearly up to eight, and the flavors are becoming increasingly exotic. Dickson says he is even thinking of creating a lemon meringue pie cider. “People like something new,” he says. Something that pushes the boundaries a little bit. Like our blueberry muffin cider, which is actually 15% beer. It is called a graf. The beer evokes a slightly muffin-y flavor, and was inspired by a drink in a Stephen King novel.”
For now at least, Vietnam remains very much a beer-loving country but for those who want a change and to try something a little different, cider is becoming an increasingly popular option, and this new bar easily offers the widest available choice in the capital—a friendly newcomer to the local bar scene and one that is likely to be the source of many a Hanoi hangover for years to come.
278 Nghi Tam, Tay Ho, Hanoi, Vietnam
4 p.m. – midnight
097 954 95 53