Thai Beer: Cold but So Confusing

Beer is aside from the right temperature, intense flavour and a lasting aftertaste, what better way to enhance the taste of a cold beer.


We have all seen the travellers in their eye-roll-inducing Chang and Leo vests, putting into perspective the sheer impact of Thai beer laws. Take a Country like Belgium or Germany, do we think all of their beer exports could be restricted to just three T-Shirt designs?


With the craft beer revolution starting out as what felt like another fad, it now seems as integral to the drinking World as vodka or tequila. With SEA Brew coming up at The Berkeley Hotel it is the fandom and following of craft beer have retained a constant growth and proved with success its right to longevity. Thailand is one of the big players in the craft beer consumer game and has gone above and beyond to pledge allegiance to the movement, even breaking the law to do so.


The laws standing in the way of the Thai craft beer revolution are mainly affiliated with the mass production of beer and have been in circulation for around 66 years. Thailand only licenses beer factories and breweries that brew at least 100,000 litres per year if sold on-site or 10 million litres per year for distribution. These brewing laws are of course confusing to frequenters of Thailand’s fashionable craft beer bars who are used to paying way over 200 baht for a Thailand craft ale. The question is, why is Thai craft beer commonly the same price as European and American imports? Well, there’s your answer. Thailand craft beer is imported too.


Import of Craft Beer Seems to Be Confusing


The reason actually makes a lot of sense and is a way of the small-scale breweries working around the Thai laws and licencing acts.


Surprisingly, the process is rather quite simple. The ingredients, design and conception of the beer take place lovingly in Thailand. However, recipes are then tactically sent abroad with instruction, often to neighbouring Countries such as Laos and Cambodia, but also further afield and as far as Australia. Upon arrival, the beer is then brewed and bottled (exempt from Thai law) and returned as an imported product. Arriving back into Thailand just like your American favourites, yet sadly carrying the same hefty price tag due to import tax.

In its fifth year SEA Brew Comes Up promoting beer. Thailand Event Guide

In its fifth year, SEA Brew Comes Up. Thailand Event Guide

An intelligent and sophisticated route this is, of course, a great way of Thailand enabling involvement and enthusiasm in such a favoured industry. However, you can’t help but find the situation a sad and unfortunate one, especially in terms of employment and revenue.


The job creation being lost here and later sourced overseas seems a real pity, especially when considering the sheer size of an ever-growing market. Dedicated craft beer bars started subtly in ‘trendy’ neighbourhoods such as Ari and Ekamai but a week can’t seem to pass these days without a new stockist, opening in any area of Bangkok. If that doesn’t prove Thailand’s commitment to the cause, then the fact 7-11 now sell craft beer products should really eradicate any doubt here.


Brewery Big Boys Hold Majority in the Beer Market


Boon Rawd Brewery, which produces Singha and Leo beers, and ThaiBev the creators behind Chang, together with control anywhere from 90% to 95% of Thailand’s domestic beer market. Great news for the brewery big boys but equally as sad for the homebrewers that such industry domination exists here.


Interestingly, September of 2017 brought Thailand’s first craft beer festival to Show DC Outdoor Area BKK. ‘Bangkok Beer Festival – EP1 The Year Of The Hopster’ was hosted by ‘Stone Head’, a trailblazer in Thai craft beer and one of the first craft breweries to source legality. The festival was a celebration of independent breweries and featured presence from over 50 Thai craft beer labels including Lamzing, Wizard Beer, Maha Nakhon and SpaceCraft. The main sponsor of the festival actually turned out to be Singha, who also stocked up for the festival, undercutting the prices of local breweries by almost half. Singha has even contributed its own craft beer attempt to the market, and in 2009, it launched Est.33, a ‘Premium Thai Craft’. There have also been many rumours of ‘The Big Guys’ already seeking out investment or buyout opportunities of smaller and already established breweries.


Stay Cool with Laws


Despite the stigma and misconstrued reputation of Thailand being a Country obsessed with partying and women, it is vital to remember Thailand is, after all, a Buddhist country. And many of Thailand’s alcohol-related laws are influenced by Buddhism’s fifth precept, which is to avoid intoxicants. Many regulations regarding alcohol restrictions stem from this, including 2008’s Alcoholic Beverage Control Act, which bans displaying the names or logos of products to “induce people to drink such alcoholic beverages, either directly or indirectly.” These advertising laws don’t assist greatly with educating newbies on the art of craft beer, and it can be a challenging area to get started in. Even for the most seasoned of drinkers, being new to the craft can be a puzzling and also intimidating World of acronyms. Not knowing where to begin amongst IPA’s and APA’s, it sometimes feels easier and cheaper to just stick with a Leo.


Despite this, brewers remain determined to contribute and maintain a position in this thriving market and the craft sensation in Thailand does not look set to quieten down. The pioneers of the craft industry in Thailand look positively to change and hope for a new chapter where infrastructure for the community will be introduced, as well as brewing activity to be made legal. When considering yet again the job market and expertise involved here, It can only be hoped that some reconsideration is made in future to benefit not just the drinker, but also the state.