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The Pries History of Beer in Vietnam

Beer before 1975

Before 1975, Southerners rarely used the word “beer”, they used “la-de” instead, but when being written, it was “la-ve”. Let's go for a cup of la-de, enjoy la-de. Cheers! At that time, Pham Ngu Lao - Bui Vien Street, which is a town for backpackers now, was a busy dining area. Early in the evening, tables and chairs were laid out on the sidewalks,… Everything is available for middle-class people dropping by. Popular dishes of Saigonese was la-ve with pickled leeks and dried shrimps. Sadly, la-ve no longer exists now and pickled leeks or dried shrimps gradually disappeare on the table.

“La-de”, where did you come from?

The first assumption is that it came from the word Lager - a German beer, so they mispronounced “lager” to “la-de”.

The second hypothesis related to the foundation of the BGI Brewery which produces the Tigers beer. Date back to 1875, BGI was founded in Saigon by a retired marine officer named Victor Larue. The name BGI stands for Brasseries Glacières d'Indochine (Indochine beer and ice. In 1954, there is no longer Indochina, so the word "In" was changed into Internationales - International). The firm mainly made ice at first and started producing beer and soft drinks several years later. On the Tiger beer bottle’s label, next to the image of a tiger, there were two French words “Biere” and “Larue”. Larue is the company founder’s name which is “la-ruy-ê” in Vietnamese pronounciation. They mispronounced to “la-de”. Then slowly drop the letter “beer”, there was “la-de” only. Since then, “la-de” gradually became a Southern term to talk about beer.

Tiger beer dominated me market

In addition to Bière Royale and Bière Hommel, the BGI produced two more famous types of beer.

The first was for exporting, known as “33 Export”. The name 33 simply because the beer was contained in a bottle of 0.33 liters. This kind of beer had higher alcohol content so you could easily feel the charming taste. Beer’s label was translated into different languages: Bière (French), Beer (English), Bier (German), Bir (Indonesian), Birra (Italian) ...

The second is Tiger Beer. Beer in the bottle is 0.66 liters but somehow on the label, it was written only 0.61 liters in capacity. This is a famous kind of beer which was popular among citizens. From workers to intellectuals or giants, from restaurants to sidewalks, you may have seen pictures of Tiger Beer.

Soldiers and officers of the Republic of Vietnam also liked Tiger beer. But it was too expensive, so the Government signed a contract with BGI with the request of producing beer with private labels and cheaper price for sale to the army, police and officials, called “Quân Tiếp Vụ” (The Army Supply).

About 1965 - 1966, US army came the South and used Long Binh as a huge storage serving the military. At the same time, people living in Tam Hiep, Bien Hoa opened a restaurant for American soldiers, selling Tiger Beer. They discovered that American soldiers had their own canned beer sold by the military, but the US soldiers said they were sour and light so they did not drink. Therefore, this spoke of perfect tastes of Tiger Beer, which is attractive from Vietnam to the West.

Failure of Tiger Beer

After 1975, BGI was nationalized and BGI's company continued to use the label worldwide, while beer in Vietnam was produced by Saigon Brewery (formerly BGI). The beer was no longer branded 33 because this is a registered trademark worldwide. So it was changed to 333. In 1991, BGI returned to Vietnam but did not regain its glory. Finally, BGI sold its trademark to Australia.

The explanation for BGI’s failure was that Tigers Beer had returned with poorer quality than before. There were two unofficial reasons for this:

  • Firstly, BGI had used modern technology, the fermentation process was faster so the flavor was different than the former. Saigon Beer still used old technology of BGI so the products retained the same quality.
  • Secondly, at first, BGI wanted to venture with Saigon Beer to co-produce at the old factory in Saigon but the deal failed, BGI moved to Tien Giang. In Tien Giang, the quality of groundwater source was not as good as in Saigon so the quality is not good. Therefore, the heir of the Tiger Beer defeated the master. The famous Tiger Beer was no longer in existence, but its flavor remained with beer-lovers.

Beer after 1975

In 1977, after the South of Vietnam was completely independent, the old factory of BGI was managed by the Southern Brewery Company and renamed Saigon Brewery. Since then, this factory is known as Saigon Alcohol Beer and Beverage Corporation (SABECO).

During the subsidy period (1976 - 1986), the beer market was not formed in its own right: small scale, heavy subsidy. Under the centralized economic management mechanism, alcohol and beer were considered luxury goods. Only a small part of the population could use beer. The production and trading of beer were under the control of the Government.

Vietnamese beer was only developed after 1986. In the new conditions of the economy after opening, the number of tourists and investors in Vietnam increased rapidly. Within a short time, Vietnamese beer industry made significant progress. At that time, lots of economic components involved in the production of beer so that beer has become a popular beverage. From 1985 to 1996, for more than 10 years, the Vietnamese market emerged an enormous demand for beer. In 1991, many new breweries were founded, increasing the size of the beer market. Breweries in Vietnam actually developed after 1992. Now the beer industry flourished, becoming a big industry that had great prospects for development. In 1994, fresh beer accounted for 23.7% of the total beer sold in the market. The rest are mainly canned beer, bottled beer. In 1996, it was recognized that there were six famous breweries in the world such as France, the Netherlands, Denmark, England, Philippines and Singapore invested in the beer industry of Vietnam.

The development of beer has created opportunities for other industries such as agriculture, transportation, mechanics, packaging (plastic, glass, paper, metal, ...). On average, the production of 1 million liters of beer accumulates about 4-6 billion VND for the Government.

Beer industry also attracts considerable human resources, making use of internal resources available in the country and expanding worldwide. Thus, the products occupy an important position in the national economy.

The industry has invested in relatively large facilities. Many facilities have modern equipment and technology, creating products such as 333 beer, Hanoi beer, Saigon beer… that satisfy consumers.

From the beginning, there were only two factories in Hanoi and Saigon. By 2015, our country has 469 production facilities with the productivity of 1021 million liters per year. Currently, the average beer consumption of Vietnamese per year is 8.5 liters. With the fast growth rate and good quantity and quality of products, Vietnamese beer production is gradually replacing imported products and raising the value of agricultural products.

Through the flow of history, beer has become an indispensable part of Vietnamese’s culture cuisine. In Saigon – an active and busy city of Vietnam, like coffee, beer is a beverage that can connect people from any status. Being in Saigon is a great chance for tourists to try the local beer. Going downtown with friends, family, co-workers in the evening for a cup of beer is one of the must-to-do things when you travel to Vietnam, especially Saigon. There are unique ways to enjoy beer. You may drink beer on a rooftop of a bar while immersing in the picturesque sunset or you can make your own beer’s name when visiting a pub,… Here in Saigon, we offer some special tours that will take you along the streets of this busy city for local beer and street food. Saigon On Motorbikes is the best choice for clients who want to know more about “Nhau” (Drinking-beer culture). Book our tours and join us for joyful and memorable experiences!

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