Interview: beer pro An Bui (Mekong)

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Craft Beer Richmond

An Bui is convinced Mekong is For Beer Lovers, and he’s played a big part in ensuring that’s the case. His family’s Vietnamese restaurant debuted in Richmond in 1995, and rather than stick with the tried and true (wine), An Bui dove directly down the craft beer rabbit hole. His methods have clearly worked. In 2012, named Mekong #1 on their Great American Beer Bars list, and the restaurant’s become a regional beer destination. On May 2, I met Bui on his home turf, and he explained his connection to craft beer after pouring an impressive flight of sours.

Josh Lurie: Was there a turning point for you in terms of your interest in beer?

An Bui: No, you know, I was always interested in beer. It just wasn’t as passionate as I am now. In college, I had friends drinking beer and always drinking light beer, and they would always out-drink me. I always tried to find a unique beer that I could just sip and hang out with the guys. So I always got German, and Belgian beer, and a little bit of American craft beers. I can think of my very first craft beer, which was Pete’s Wicked [Ale], back in the mid ’90s.

JL: Where did you go to college?

AB: Local, a place called J. Sargeant. Just two years in, the family decided to open this place up, and they wanted someone to run the front of the house, and I said, “I don’t know, but I’ll give it a try.” In college, I was thinking about going into hotels and management, but that didn’t work out.

JL: What does a beer have to be to go on your list here?

AB: Every beer that goes into Mekong has to bypass me. I have to taste them, and if it passes me then it will be on the lineup. If it doesn’t pass, then it doesn’t make it.

JL: What does it need to do to pass?

AB: If it’s light beer, it needs to be fresh, lots of flavor. And if it’s a high stout or barley, or Belgian beer, it has to be complex, balanced. So not every beer can make it on this list. Just like food, you know, it’s a very complex balance. If it’s light beer, it needs to be fresh. Especially IPA, it’s got to be fresh, not traveling across the ocean. If it’s IPA and pale and comes from across the ocean, lots of times we don’t carry it here because it’s lost its freshness. If it’s fresh, we tend to carry close by us.

JL: Since you also serve food here, how important is that as a factor in terms of what beer you carry?

AB: Asian food tends to be a little spicy, lots of fresh stuff. So, therefore, beer plays for us. Lots of lighter beers, lager is great with spicy food, IPA goes well with fresher stuff, Belgium is sweeter, malty, it does cut into spiciness too. So we’ve got a whole kind of range of beers that go well with our food.

JL: Is there a style of beer that you always have to have on tap?

AB: We have created a big following here, so we go with what people demand. Lots of times, they go by what I choose. Lots of times, what we have here are sour beers. It’s getting very popular. We’ve gone from zero sour beers on tap, to one on tap, and now we have over 10 on tap at all times.

JL: How many taps do you have?

AB: We have about 50 taps. 10 are always sour beers. Another area that we focus on is IPA. Because it’s fresh, it goes well with the spicy stuff and the fresh stuff that we’re using, we like to have some fresh IPA. Lots of times we always have about 10 IPAs on. Especially if you know, you’re from California: Firestone Walker Double Jack, Union Jack, we always have it here. Ballast Point Sculpin from San Diego. We’re always trying to get the best IPAs.

JL: What are some of your most satisfying moments of working with craft beer?



Joshua Lurie

Joshua Lurie founded FoodGPS in 2005. Read about him here.

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