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  • Voices of Vietnam now: Loc of East West Brewing Co.

    Loc at his brewery in Ho Chi Minh City. All photos by Aaron Joel Santos

A few years back, Loc Truong was the marketing and events manager of Chill Skybar, a high-end nightlife venue that still earns rave reviews from travel media and patrons. After moving on from Chill to business manager for Anheuser-Busch InBev, Loc set his sights even higher. The goal: To create a beer capable of competing on the global stage. Today, Loc is general manager of East West Brewing Co., a micro-brewery in Ho Chi Minh City. Below, Loc tells the story behind his award-winning beers, and shares what’s most rewarding about living in Vietnam now.

Loc Truong

How did you come to start East West Brewing Co.?

Let’s take a little step back, to Chill Skybar days. Chill was very successful very quickly. During that time I was still young. I wanted to learn more about how everything works. I wanted to expand my horizons, to know what big corporations are doing.

I solicited a job at AB InBev, the biggest beer company in the world. They were setting up operations here and I talked them into giving me a job as the first hire for the whole company in Vietnam. I was manager for about six months, and got promoted to national business manager for premium brands such as Corona, Stella or Hoegarden. They were really trying to develop me as a future leader for AB InBev. They whole time though, I was thinking to myself, ‘Vietnam doesn’t really have a good representation. Can Saigon beer go anywhere international?’

And then around 2015 I got married and I decided I didn’t want to work 18-hour days in and out. 

What was the motivation behind starting a micro-brewery?

Being from Vietnam, I got the chance to go overseas, I came back and I wanted to add more to this country. I wanted to show Vietnam can be a global contender in the beer industry in terms of brand and maybe market shares in the future.

With my background in beer and Chill, growing up in San Diego where craft beer was big — it kind of all came together: I’m gonna start my own beer brand. That’s how East West started. 

inside east west brewery

How did you come up with the name East West?

The name was a long process to think about but it was a really quick process to accept it once it was thrown out. It really embodies everything about the culture of this company. There’s a lot of east, there’s a lot of west. We do things a little bit mixed. It’s what I see the future’s gonna be, globally. 

lables at east west brewery

What’s it like running a first-rate brewery in Ho Chi Minh City?

We have to maintain a standard that’s going to be globally accepted. I ensure that. Our brand position and the quality of our beer, the operations of the business, the look and feel, it all has to be tied up to that, you know? For a brewery our size — a 1500-litre brewhouse — I can confidently say this is one of the top ones for this size in the world, the way it’s run and set up. People tell us they’ve been to a lot of breweries around the world, and they’re shocked when they come through here.

What’s the most rewarding part of your work?

The most rewarding part of what we’re doing is that we have a brand. We have a recognizable brand for a lot of Vietnamese here and travellers coming through. We’re always moving forward, and we’re getting international recognition from CNN, from VICE Munchies, from newspapers in Denmark, in New Zealand. That whole dream of putting a Vietnamese beer on a global path, it’s happening.

east west beer

How has being here and being from here influenced what you’re doing?

You know how fast things change, how fast things move in Vietnam. I’m so grateful for that because if you’re slower than someone next to you, in this market, that means that you’re losing. That’s just how developing countries are. All of that kind of shaped me: to think how fast we can connect Vietnam with everything that’s going on in the rest of the world.

So knowing how fast things are moving, you want to also be ahead of that curve. Even now, we’re still the only micro-brewery in town. Everyone else is a tap room. We are manufacturing, crafting, and selling to the market.

How do you feel about all the changes in Ho Chi Minh City?

The best thing about Ho Chi Minh City right now is all the changes that are going on. Every time I’m gone for three weeks, I come back and something’s changed. I would say that’s pretty exciting. The change is very positive for the future outlook. Because we’re finally catching up with the rest of the world. All these changes put pressure on people. They want to do better, and better, and better. There’s a lot of pride, Vietnamese love. 

I’m very passionate about beer, passionate about the beer business, passionate about Vietnam. Passionate about life — how big you can make this thing to be.

How’s your work-life balance now?

It’s not about work-life balance to me anymore. Everything is life all together. When we were first planning and building this, 24 hours a day wasn’t enough time. Now, there’s still not enough time in a day, but I can choose to take a part of the day out for myself.

east west brewing co

What’s the goal at this stage?

The dream was to be the biggest in Vietnam in three years. We’re probably somewhere around there now and it’s not even two years yet. I want to be one of the top three in Southeast Asia in 5 years. We are inspired to do that.

I’m very passionate about beer, passionate about the beer business, passionate about Vietnam. Passionate about life — how big you can make this thing to be.