Breaking Barriers: Dung Ngô, Vietnam’s Trailblazing Female Brewer
Meet Dung Ngô, one of fewer than 10 female brewers in Vietnam and the 2023 winner of UC Davis’ Tapping Potential Scholarship, which provides tuition to attend the online Master Brewers Certificate Program. “When I entered craft beer, I doubted my career path because I didn’t see females like me in brewing,” she says. “If I share my story, other women will see that they can take this path. I want to inspire them to have courage.”
A professional brewer since 2017, Dung landed her first job as an assistant brewer at Furbrew in Hanoi immediately after earning her degree in food technology from Hanoi University of Science and Technology. “There were people who thought I wouldn’t last three months when I first started brewing, but I ignored them and moved forward,” says Dung, who rose to head brewer in just a few years. Driven by a curiosity and desire to learn, she is looking forward to completing the Master Brewers Program at UC Davis Continuing and Professional Education and gaining more in-depth knowledge. “I have a lot of why questions, and I’m excited to get answers to these.”
Overcoming the Roadblocks to Success
Dung was first drawn to brewing in college, where she learned the steps and ingredients involved. She was fascinated by the creativity of the craft brewing process, particularly the choice of ingredients and ways in which they can be used. “I’m inspired by the way people in Vietnam use spice to make pho and am using those same ingredients to make beer,” said Dung. She brews unique beers made from Vietnamese ingredients such as fruits and roasted spices with wild bacteria found around the area of the brewery.
Because her university didn’t have a brewing facility for students, her understanding of the process was all in theory, which led her to her job with Furbrew. Dung’s path to success was not without roadblocks. Her small frame led people in the industry to question her capabilities, and her gender led them to assume she couldn’t be a brewer. "When I would go with my boss to beer conferences, they would think he was the head brewer and I was the secretary,” she says.
Her career path not only went against the norm of the industry, it also didn’t align with what her parents wanted for her. “My parents are traditional farmers from the countryside, where women going to college isn’t prioritized,” says Dung. "They wanted me to study near my hometown, live with them and get married.” Moving to a big city as a single woman to work in a male-dominated industry was a huge decision for her and not one that she took lightly. But she had faith in herself.
Her knowledge and commitment to being the best brewer she could be made her a top candidate for the job at Furbrew. “They saw my potential and gave me all the chances and encouragement I needed,” says Dung.
Once in the industry, her curiosity about brewing only grew. She embraced every opportunity she had to ask questions and speak with other brewers, and continued reading, researching, and practicing what she learned. Furbrew gave her the experience and connections she needed to expand her role in the brewing industry, which not only helped her rise in the ranks but also contributed to her being able to secure a new job after Furbrew closed. In January, she began at Pilot, a brewery where she has been entrusted to run a 500-liter brewing system.
With a greater presence in the brewing industry, Dung’s optimistic that she can help bring about change. “There is no craft brewery in Vietnam run by women. I can be the first,” she says. Dung wants to share her joy and knowledge of brewing with women across the country and increase diversity in the Vietnamese craft beer community. “The image of female brewers needs to be more popular,” she says. So far, she has collaborated with other female brewers to brew beers including Heart of Darkness—a hazy IPA with dragon fruit and edible pink glitter for International Women’s Day—and ‘Bia Đia’ Session IPA—a collaboration with Overmorrow Brewing Company supporting Hanoi Pride.
Dung also contributes to diversity in the brewing industry by networking with universities to increase the visibility of craft beer as a viable career path for women. “I want to show other women that they have someone who already went down this path and can support them,” she says.
Dung envisions starting a homebrewer class, providing a platform for Vietnamese men and women to share their brewing experiences and exchange knowledge. “In Vietnam, there are quite a lot of professional brewers, but they are foreigners and don’t speak Vietnamese, so communicating about beer isn’t easy,” says Dung, who can bridge the language gap and help increase diversity in the industry.
Bridging the Gap
Dung sees the Master Brewers Certificate Program as her opportunity to increase her own knowledge. “After six years in craft beer, I feel like there’s holes in my knowledge, and now is the time to attend a formal program,” she says, explaining that she’s excited to connect with brewers from around the world and attend the in-person bootcamp where she can work in a modern brewery.
“With the deep understanding that I gain from the program, it will be easier for me to connect with other universities here because they will see that I’m an experienced and educated brewer,” says Dung. “This educational background will show that I’m qualified to talk to their students. I’ll have the knowledge to help people with more complex problems,” she says.
As Dung takes on her new role and prepares to begin the Master Brewers Program, she offers this advice for brewers who may be struggling to fit in: “Have faith in yourselves. Be bold, be patient and know that you are not alone.”
For more information on UC Davis Tapping Potential or how to support the campaign, contact Jonathan Hughes.