Craft beer breweries usually aim to establish their own signature brand – but not Furbrew. Their unorthodox yet creative brewing methods each tell a story that portrays Hanoi’s contrasting flavours and aromas in a unique way. Furbrew is still relatively new as a brand, but it is already dominating the craft beer scene in Hanoi in its own right, thanks largely to their founder and seriously bearded beer-genius – Thomas Bilgram.
Thomas, born in Denmark, has had a long, intimate relationship with Hanoi. It was here he found fulfillment as he has a wild yet contagious passion for interpreting combinations of flavours and aromas. You get the feeling that the way this man remembers tastes has to be the reason all his beers adhere to a world-class quality standard, but also the reason why they don’t really have a definitive style. They love a challenge at Furbrew and the beers prove that with their boldness – each one sending you deep into your memory, making you question exactly that magical taste in the beer is.
Thomas seems to possess this ability to understand, remember and imagine tastes in a way that not many people can. He explained to me how he can picture what a beer should taste like according to what ingredients will be added, and obviously through a lot of research and trial and error he has pretty much mastered the art of brewing in less than half a decade. What struck me was how keen he was on hearing exactly what flavours came through for me in the beers I sampled. He really cares to know what flavours and tastes different people pick up on so that his recipes stay true to what he finds most people will enjoy.
The Furbrew team run a high-maintenance set up and variety is their ultimate goal. There is always a wide selection of beers on tap at their beer bar. Their bottles can also be found at Cousin’s, Steakout Meat House and El Gaucho.
At the moment they have a beer that is inspired by traditional Vietnamese dish, Pho, and it just works. Spurring from a tongue-in-cheek suggestion from a friend and simply called, Bia Pho, it is extremely crispy and the flavours are so diverse, it’s almost impossible to put your finger on which one of the many spices comes through the strongest for you. It has such an aromatic quality that it’s hard not to enjoy this miracle beer for whatever flavour is the most dominant. Just how Thomas got this beer so right is astounding.
“It varies from person to person. We are all experts at what we like”, Thomas said.
I tasted it and told him that I tasted the ginger and the coriander seeds and that they happen to be my favourite spices.
Another one of my favourite beers is their Chinook Smash IPA. Although it’s their most bitter beer, it is unbelievably smooth and silky. It drinks like a dream and it’s no wonder why it’s also their most popular beer. They usually have three beers that are inspired by local flavours and they are seriously worth a try. It’s amazing what brewers can brew these days, using nothing but their knowledge, experience and imagination.
Towards the end of my time with Thomas, I couldn’t help but recite parts of my 5000 word history essay I wrote a few years back while I was a student. It was about the socio-cultural and economic history of beer, which I found quite interesting since I’m an avid beer enjoyer – in case you haven’t guessed already! We spoke briefly about the history of beer while I tried to remember what my actual argument was for that essay as not to look like an idiot.
Then, Thomas said:
“5000 words won’t even be enough to cover the history of beer.
To me it’s as if the production and consumption of beer has gone full circle. From sacred beer in ancient Mesopotamia to the monk brewers in the monasteries of medieval Europe to the mass production and consumption of lager beer and back again to the artistry of it all, small craft brewers.”
One thing that can be said about Thomas is that he clearly believes in sharing his passion and knowledge. He organizes events and meetings with the few other craft beer brewers in Hanoi and he really seems to go out of his way to advocate creativity and quality in beer making in the city.