Saturday, October 11, 2008

"33" Export

As summer turns to fall (or, in Reno, skipping fall entirely and segueing right into winter), light, summery beers fall by the wayside, giving way to thicker, darker, chewier beers that warm you from the inside out. I have plenty of those beers in my mini-fridge, but I wanted to have one last crack at a summery lager. That, and we were out at Vietnamese food tonight and the urge hit me to pick up the blog again.

The beer I tried is another of your standard Asian beers, "33" Export. Now, this beer is very confusing to me, especially trying to discern the origin. The bottle says it's from Vietnam, but RateBeer's The Beer Guide claims it's brewed by Heineken in Schiltigheim, Alsace, France. I also could find virtually zero information from what I would consider an official site. No brewery page, no importer page, no real whiffs of any kind on the information front. Heineken's French site is down (according to, since February 12th of this year), and for some reason RateBeer is being flagged by Firefox 3 as being a malicious site, so I had to dig elsewhere. I tried going through's caches of the site, except that since it's Flash-based, nothing loads properly, and the older ones I can get to work don't mention "33" at all.

The only thing I know is that the Vietnamese brewery that the bottle claims brewed this beer used be owned by Foster's (yes, that Foster's) but was sold to Singapore's Asia Pacific Breweries in 2006. They still make Foster's and other local beers, but no mention of "33" exists on their web site. The only other information I even have about it is a random Flickr picture of a French bottle of "33" complete with information...where the ABV on the bottle doesn't match the ABV in the photo comments. I think I believe the Flickr guy, though, when he says that Heineken France holds the recipe but VBL Tien Giang Ltd. holds a license, which allows the bottle to say "Product of Vietnam" on it. UPDATED See below (APB in Vietnam, random Flickr image)

(I took a picture on my cell phone at the restaurant, but it's a -3 megapixel camera, so this empty bottle shot is all you get this time around.)

Here come the (limited) stats:

"33" Export
BREWERY: VBL Tien Giang Limited, My Tho Industrial Zone, Binh Duc Commune, Chau Thanh District, Tien Giang Province, Viet Nam (yes, all that was on the bottle)
US IMPORTER: Nicolas Wines, Westport, CT, USA
STYLE: Lager
ABV: 4.5%
MALTS: "Malt"
HOPS: "Hops" (descriptive, no?)
FOODS TO PAIR WITH: Vietnamese food, I imagine

I got this information off the bottle, and also from a nice e-mail from Nicolas Wines (see below).

This beer pretty much looks like your standard Asian lager: bright gold in color, bright white head, hoppy aroma, the whole nine yards. At first, the taste was somewhat under average. Better than most beers I've had from the region (I'm looking at you, Singha and South Korea), but still somewhat pedestrian in taste. Then I tried it after I took a bite from my Srirachi and fish sauce-infused beef ball pho, and the beer took on an enjoyably sweet characteristic, almost champagne-like in transformation. The hoppiness of the beer lingered, but it wasn't distracting, probably because I shoveled another mouthful of hot noodles in my trap less than 10 seconds later.

I guess these Asian lagers are supposed to complement the dishes they are served with (hell, I guess that's every alcoholic beverage). Unlike some beers I thought didn't (once again, Singha...), this one paired very well with my pho. Does this mean that I'm off the micros and hitting the French/Vietnamese suds from now on? Um, no. Not quite. But I will admit it wasn't half least while my tongue was on fire.

Cạn ly!

P.S. I still have no clue what the "33" means. It might be the year of first brew. It might be the recipe number. It might be its Beverage Testing Institute score. It might be absolutely nothing, which is why it's in quotes. One for the ages, I guess. Raise a glass below if you have any ideas.

UPDATE: Imagine my surprise when I received an e-mail from someone at Nicolas Wines, the official importers of 33 Export, without any prompting or nagging. They were able to confirm that the beer I tasted did in fact come from Vietnam's VBL, formerly Foster's Tien Giang. Also, they were able to shed light on the origin of "33"; apparently, it "refers to the size of the original bottles at 11.2 ounces, which is a third of a liter," or 33 centiliters. Makes sense if you ask me, although I'm waiting for one of the big three to call their beer "12." I guess stateside you can only use a number in the name if it refers to that beer's calories.

Thanks again Nicolas Wines for your submission! I raise my glass to you.