Did Vietnamese Beer Contain Formaldehyde During the War?


Whereas america exported quite a lot of home beers to South Vietnam through the conflict, together with Pabst Blue Ribbon, Schlitz and Budweiser, two native varieties — 33 Beer and Tiger Beer — have been cheaper and at all times out there if American manufacturers couldn’t be discovered.

Many U.S. service members found that the Vietnamese beers diversified in style from batch to batch, generally having notably bitter notes, a vinegar aftertaste or an odor paying homage to formaldehyde, a chemical utilized in constructing supplies, industrial disinfectants and preservatives for funeral properties and medical labs.

The favored 1987 comedy “Good Morning, Vietnam,” starring Robin Williams, contained a reference to using formaldehyde, additional cementing the rumor in well-liked reminiscence. Regardless of widespread hypothesis that 33 Beer and Tiger Beer contained formaldehyde, there is no such thing as a proof to help that perception. Micro quantities of formaldehyde are created within the fermentation course of throughout brewing, which applies to all beers all over the place, however that pure course of is totally different from including formaldehyde as a preserving agent.

The favored 33 Beer (Ba Muoi Ba means “three-10-three” in Vietnamese) originated in France (Bière 33) utilizing a German recipe within the late nineteenth century. The label “33” referred to the unique 33-centiliter (11.2-ounce) bottle that the model used. France established a brewery in Saigon through the early twentieth century, and manufacturing continued when South Vietnam grew to become an unbiased nation.

The opposite staple lager in southern Vietnam was first brewed in Saigon in 1909 by Frenchman Victor Larue. It was formally named Bière Larue however was extra generally referred to as Tiger Beer after the picture on the label.

Each manufacturers retained their unique brewing recipe and manufacturing course of within the Sixties and ’70s. Inconsistent storage situations (together with extreme publicity to mild and warmth), plus occasional issues with uncooked supplies (malts, hops, and many others.) generally led to variations in high quality from batch to batch.

Just a few different bits of wartime beer trivia: American canned beers exported to Vietnam weren’t made with the then-relatively new “pop-top” opener. The troops wanted a “church key” can opener or different sharp implement to puncture the lid. The 2 Vietnamese beers had barely extra alcohol content material than their American counterparts — round 5.5 % versus a spread of three.2 to five %. Like Budweiser however not like most different U.S. manufacturers of the period, Vietnamese beers used fermented rice within the brewing course of.

In 1975, after the conflict, the Vietnamese authorities modified the identify Ba Muoi Ba to Ba Ba Ba (“three-three-three”) to distance the model from associations with French colonial rule. Now produced as 333 Premium Export Beer by Sabeco Brewery in Vietnam, it’s nonetheless certainly one of nation’s hottest beers.

Bière Larue continues to be produced by Vietnam Brewery Ltd. and shouldn’t be confused with the Singapore model Tiger Beer, offered by the identical firm. Each 333 and Bière Larue stay lagers, however their recipes have modified for the reason that Vietnam Conflict to accommodate fashionable and extra worldwide tastes.

Dr. Erik Villard is a Vietnam Conflict specialist on the U.S. Military Heart of Army Historical past at Fort McNair in Washington D.C.

This text appeared within the June 2022 subject of Vietnam journal.

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