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.


Lee said...

Well I'll tell you a crazy thing: they drink it all over Cameroon in West Africa. I have seen the brewery myself in Douala too... I don't know what else Vietnam and Cameroon have in common other than French imperialism.
A la Sante!

Anonymous said...

I was in Azerbaijan and had some 33 (more or less the same label as shown on this page) and it showed as having been brewed in Azerbaijan.

Kevin George said...

I drank a ton of this in Cameroon and toured the brewery in Yaounde as well. '33' stands for the 33rd parallel that borders the top and bottom of Africa. In Cameroon they just refer to it as Export.

Anonymous said...

33 Export was created before WWII in Indochina by BGI which means Brasseries et Glacieres de l'Indochine. The beer was brewed firstly in Indochina then in Africa and France when BGI invested in breweries there. After the Indochina and Vietnam wars, BGI lost its plants in Vietnam and has run its business in Africa. France was sold to Heineken and 33 Export is still available in France.

For information, the nationalized plants of BGI in Vietnam created 333 which is a leading beer in Vietnam now. Same logo, just a 3 is added to 33!!

BGI came back to Vietnam with 2 new breweries in the 90s with apparently the 33 Export brand. The business was not that good and the plants were sold to Foster then Heineken!

Anonymous said...

Where can I find or even purchase some 33 export here in Houston, Texas?

Marijke said...

Hello 33 Export Beer consumer,

This beer is à strange beer. On my walk in Utrecht - Holland I found about twenty 25 cl bottles of 33 Export in à trash by Jaarbeurs Utrecht.

For me à unknown beer. I took them to my home and tonight I shall take a taste of this wonderfull beer!

A beer That travels all over the world!

Witheet greetings,


Anonymous said...

I lived in France, Bordeaux at the time...I was greeted by six cases of this stuff...drank it all...fond memories. Thanks for having the page up!

Anonymous said...

also available in morocco with a label on it that says: brewed in casablanca, morocco under bgi license. tastes quite good.

Hot Pepper Dave said...

I drank "33" Export in Vietnam while I was there at the behest of my "Uncle" Sam in 1966/67.
It was great beer (to my taste) and we wished we could take it with us when we rotated back home.
I have only had one bottle since then. That was in Portland when I was with my Vietnam Buddy after his wife had passed on. (I am from Wisconsin)
We had left the hospital and walked across the street to a Vietnamese Bar/Restaurant for supper. When we both ordered a bottle of "33" the Vietnamese waitress said "Oh GI Beer!".
After asking her about the nick name of "GI Beer" she said she was born in the USA but her folks always called it by that name.
I still have that bottle and will take a shot of it to put on "flickr".

jeremiah shine said...

I can buy this at A1 Liquor here in Indianapolis for $4.60 a 6pack. Gotta love it.

Anonymous said...

Just bought this beer at a local Vietnamese restaurant in Columbia, SC. Went great with my special pho! For 3$ a bottle I can't complain. I bought Corona for much more at any Mexican restaurant! One more for all the GIs that served in Nam thank you for your service!

Anonymous said...

I drank 33 Beer when I was stationed in Vietnam during the war in 1967/1968 and the story was, the 33 was the percentage of formaldhyde in the beer. I also heard that was confirmed by a chemist during that period of time. I really can't prove this but I have gotten "Pickled" on it several times. Number one GI beer..

John D said...

My son is currently in Bamako Mali in Africa. He brought me home recently about 5 cans Of "33" export. The language on the can is French. I also had trouble as to where it is brewed. The can reads as follows: "Ecivez au service Consommateurs "33" EXPORT :BP 43 - 92502 Ruell-Malmaison Cedex" I'm guessing that R-M above is a city somewhere in France.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps the name Export "33" as in 33cl - a standard euro bottle size???

Anonymous said...

Rolling Rock, an American pale lager originally brewed in Latrobe, Pennsylvania also carries the '33' moniker on every bottle. There is an entirely different set of reasons/hypotheses for their use of the number. Who knows? -Rokon

clydo said...

I would like someone in the san diego area to tell me where 33 can be
purchased,especially in Escondido

Anonymous said...

I am Scottish and own a second home in France where 33 Export has been my favorite beer since my first visit in 1991. According to the bottle labels there it is made in Alsace, France where the better (in my opinion) French beers are made - because of the German connection.

Alsace and Lorraine used to be separate German-speaking principalities and were part of an exchange deal between France and (I think) the Holy Roman Emperor.

Unknown said...

For the person who asked about the place to buy this brand of beer in san diego..go down to Thuan Phat supermarket in linda vista to get them

Anonymous said...

I drank 33 export in The Cameroon at Doulla and Yaounde in 1980

Unknown said...

My local beer distributor - BevMax in Stamford, CT - is currently selling this for $8/case. That wasn't a typo. Eight US dollars will buy you 24 bottles of "33" Export. I usually gravitate toward micro-brews and higher-end imports, and if this was priced for twice as much it wouldn't even catch my eye, but for the price I couldn't resist picking up a case of it (along with a "safer" purchase that I knew I would enjoy). At first taste, I was very underwhelmed - it struck me as rather bland and characterless, not much different from most cheap mass-market American lagers. But now that I'm about halfway through the case, my opinion of it has grown. While it is certainly no complex brew to be savored, it has a very clean, refreshing taste. A great beer to wash down some wings and mozzarella sticks while you're watching the game on tv. I've always thought of Yuengling as the best of the cheap American beers, and I'd rate this at a cut above that. I'm certainly picking up some more tomorrow if it's still on sale.

Unknown said...

"33" Export is sold in a store in Rancho Cucamonga.

Anonymous said...

I was in Saigon in 1966. We called it "ba-me-ba", the GI corruption of ba-moui-ba, the number 33. It had a viscosity close to lighter fluid and you have to get used to the "hammer in your head" hangovers but I missed it when I went back to American pilsners. The Budweiser we were getting at the PX was "skunky". I haven't had a Bud in over 50 years.

Unknown said...

Thanks all for the above. I too drank ba muoi ba (3 tens 3 or 33) in Vietnam 65-66 when I was there with the RAAF at Vung Tau. Last week we were dining with friends at a local Vietnamese restaurant in a suburb of Sydney, NSW. We were wondering how the extra 3 got into the brand. All is explained in the blog above. Maybe the extra 3 was to get around already registered trademarks. The 33 beer in the 1960s was as hinted above very variable. Sometimes it blew your head off and other times it was like water. Didn't know about the onetime connection with Fosters. 333 is a very nice beer.

Unknown said...

Good beer. Nothing fancy but drinkable and enjoyable in volume. Unlike American pilsners and lagers and many Euro versions, this one didn't have any hint of skunkiness. Clean refreshing finish. My Cameroonian friend brought it over. He told me it's probably the most popular beer there. They call it something like 'the draw' being as 3 vs 3 score in a football match is a draw.. like let's go have a draw mate