Saigon Post, April 5, 1971
A VISIT TO THE BEER
Recently this column received a letter from a spokesman from BRASSERIES ET GLACIERES DE l'INDOCHINE, the French-owned firm that brews Beer "33" and Beer "LaRue." The letter was in response to our feature that dwelled on some of the criticisms of B.G.I's products. It begins (according to our translation of the French.)
"Being attentive readers of the SAIGON POST and, especially, of your column, "SAIGON NOTES," (whose humor and vivacity we appreciate), we did not fail to read in the no, 2287 of Monday, March 8, 1971, your article entitled "Beer and Embalming Fluid."
The letter continues for several pages and includes an invitation to visit the B.G.I. brewery in Cholon.
We considered the letter to be a fine enough example of French esprit, logic and seduction of a journalist's ego to warrant a printing in toto in a coming issue. In fact we even agreed with some of its points, and visited the B.G.I. brewery with two Vietnamese colleagues, Mr NGUYEN DUY LIEU and
Mr. LY HONG LAC.
We were escorted through seven floors of the B.G.I. brewery by MR JEAN PAUL RIVIERE, Engineer-Brewer. In general, we found the plant to be a modern, progressive clean establishment. Mr. RIVIERE, after a briefing, took us to the seventh floor where the beer-making process begins and 80 tons of the pleasant-smelling malt is stored. Some of the malt is local, and some is imported from abroad, mainly Europe. On different floors we observed the malt cleaning, malt grinding (from the original barley) the malt swirling and foaming with water in great vats, the extracts of German hops in cold storage, the fermentation tanks, the filtering processes, and the storage of the finished beer in 30,000 liter tanks in "caves" where the temperature is close to freezing. The lighter more economical LaRue is stored for 6 weeks in the "caves," before being bottled, while the stronger darker '33' is aged for 8 weeks.
Naturally, as amateur "voyeur," we could not evaluate these processes in a professional manner, but things looked proper, modern, hygienic and raissonable. As readers of our "Beer and Embalming Fluid" column might guess, we were especially interested in the bottle washing process. These bottles, which are on deposit and returnable, are sometimes used in Vietnam to store things like kerosene. While guzzling a bottle, one likes a feeling of security etc.
We saw two old bottle-washing machines and two new ones. The old ones are slow and do 3000 bottles an hour. The new ones do 24,000 bottles an hour. A spokesman told us that B.G.I. has been tryng for two years to import spare parts for these machines and also a new machine. In two months they will have an American machine, "the best in the world," which will do 24, 000 bottles an hour.
We were told that the company's quality-control laboratory is more modern than the one in Paris.
The government makes no provisions for regular health inspections, but US military facilities have taken an interest in the matter because G.I.'s are known to drink "33" and even LaRue. MACV, we were told, sends health inspectors on impromptu visits to the brewery and has given it passing grades. The most recent visit was about two months ago.
We were also told that the low quality sometimes found in "33" may be traced to unscrupulous merchants who pour the weaker LaRue into the "33" bottles. A bottle of LaRue holds about twice as much as a "33" bottle. Some merchants also put tea and alcohol in "33" bottles and sell it as beer. In Rach Gia Province last month it was discovered that many cases of "33" were actually mixtures of LaRue and water.
In the laboratory, after working up a sweat, we had several glasses of cold "33." Among the young ladies who work in the laboratory, is MISS NGUYEN THI THANG HOA, Ph.D in Chemistry from the University of Montreal. Mr. LAC was told that if he finds any impurities in his LaRue bottles again, they will be glad to do an analysis for him.