Hommel Beer Factory
BIA HOI CULTURE'S ORIGIN: FROM A COLONICAL DRINKING TO A CULTURE OF URBAN DWELLERS
Before the French colonization, Vietnam had a long history of rice alcohol production. The beer industry was created in 1892 by Alfred Hommel, founder of Hommel Brewery (Brasserie Hommel) in Hanoi. Along with the Larue Brewery (Brasserie Larue) in Saigon, the Hommel Brewery was one of the two biggest breweries in Indochina.
Beer was the drink that seemed most suitable in the Indochina climate. At first, beer was mainly consumed by the French, then it became more and more popular with local Vietnamese people.
Besides water, the ingredients used by the Hommel Brewery were malted barley and hops imported from Europe and a proportion of rice (preferably denitrogenated). The difficulty was not in the purchase of ingredients of first quality, but in purifying water used, acquiring expensive brewing equipment, and adapting it to the hot and humid climate of Hanoi. Another challenge for the production of bottled beer was transportation. The brewery came up with the idea of producing a draft beer called bia hoi sold in kegs instead of bottles. Over time, bia hoi became a staple of Vietnamese culture and it remains so to this day.
Name: Brasserie Hommel / Société de la Brasserie Hommel / Société des Brasseries et Glacières de l'Indochine / Hanoi Brewery / Hanoi Brewery Company / Hanoi Beer-Alcohol-Beverage Corporation (Habeco)
Location: 183 Hoang Hoa Tham, Ha Noi
Architectural and Urban preliminary assessment
Perspective / Thematic / Narrative point of view
[Hanoi Liquor Factory] A Tale of Two Monopolies
Given the social importance of rice alcohol in Vietnamese culture, from the French perspective in the 1890s, taxes on alcohol along with opium, and salt - were seen as the three ‘‘beasts of burden’’ (Peters, 2004, p 578) supporting Indochina’s general budget. Seizing this opportunity, the Fontaine Distillery, which owned a new fermentation process and some of the most advanced equipment of its time, oﬀered the government new hope in its struggle against evaders of the alcohol tax.
Opened in 1899, The Lo Duc Liquor Factory (then called R.A. Fontaine Distillery), as a part of the Société Française des Distilleries de l’Indochine (SFDI), was an essential cogwheel in the French colonial state’s alcohol monopoly. Under this regime, the colonizer forbade local people to produce and trade their own rice liquor (ruou ta), forcing them to buy the factory liquor (ruou ty) produced by the R.A. Fontaine Distilleries instead. Through its attempt to control an integral component of local people’s meals, rituals, and socialization, the French rule was felt across the entire Vietnamese society and culture. Over time, through the lens of Vietnamese revolutionists, the monopoly over rice liquor, and the factories where it was produced, became symbols of the colonial regime’s brutality.