Beer was the answer for An Bui. In 1997, he decided to ditch the extensive wine list at Mekong, his family’s struggling Vietnamese restaurant in a Richmond, Virginia strip mall, for a small selection of Belgian ales. The brews drew customers to Mekong, so Bui expanded, first adding a single-tap kegerator, and then quickly upgrading to a small system with three drafts.
Three taps became six. Then 12. Then 20. Eventually, Bui had built one of the country’s best beer programs. Today, 56 constantly rotating taps feature acclaimed local breweries like Hardywood and The Veil alongside obscure international outfits such as Switzerland’s BFM.
Mekong is credited with sparking Richmond’s now-thriving beer scene, which features more than 25 breweries. This includes Bui’s brewpub, fittingly called The Answer, which he converted from the nightclub neighboring Mekong in 2015. With his brewer, Brandon Tobert, focusing on small batches of hugely hopped, barely bitter IPAs like Mouth Hug and Hard in the Paint, Bui experiments with smoothie-inspired sours and coffee-charged stouts using The Andall, a system similar to Dogfish Head’s Randall that involves infusing beers with flavor-enhancing ingredients. An artist with adjuncts, Bui employs everything from pink Himalayan salt to peanut butter cups to create imaginative, original, and delicious brews.
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Here, Bui reveals his desert island beer, what he’d really like to do with a pilsner, and why he keeps an old bottle of Zima in his fridge.
1. What’s your desert island beer?
Allagash White. Plus, Rod Tod [founder of Allagash Brewing Company] is an awesome dude and he could join me on this desert island to drink some.
2. What’s the beer that made you fall in love with beer?
Paulaner Salvator was my first love. It was the first beer I had that wasn’t piney, bitter, or skunky. I remember going to a friend’s party back in 1994 and he introduced me to it. I still drink it to this day.
3. F, M, K: IPA, pilsner, sour.
4. You’re on death row. What’s your last beer?
Rochefort 10, but then again I might want something really high in alcohol that could knock me out before the final judgment. So maybe Sam Adams Utopias.
5. You can only drink at one bar for the rest of your life. What is it and why?
Mekong! I’ve gotten drunk there many a night. [Laughs.]
6. What’s the best and worst beer in your fridge right now?
The best beer in my fridge right now is a Reissdorf Kölsch. That’s my beer of choice at home. Working at a brewery and a beer bar, when I get home, all I want is something refreshing.
The worst beer in my fridge is definitely an old bottle of Zima I brought back from Japan. Zima was an ongoing joke I had for 20 years until they brought the brand back this year. The joke is that when people ask me what my favorite beer is, I always told them Zima. But honestly, Zima is a terrible, shitty beer.
7. If you could no longer drink beer, what would be your beverage of choice?
I would say Scotch. I love a good single malt.