Thais show yet again their talent as food artisans with craft beer although, as of now, most are copies of American and European typesby Alex Eeckhout
Golden Coins’ promotional video for their next event features an out of focus, gloomy, and filtered take on their brewing process. The image is accompanied by Oscar Isaacs singing, “Hang me, oh, hang me, I’ll be dead and gone…” Bob Dylan might have been a better choice, but the point is clear: “We’re doing something revolutionary here, rising up against authority. We shall overcome.” This sounds a bit melodramatic, yet not entirely untrue. Golden Coins is one of Thailand’s many craft beers. You might not have seen them in shops or your local watering hole but the Thai craft beer scene is on the rise folks.
Imported craft beers have been popular for a while and for a good reason. It’s a hot country and good beers are better refreshment than the sewage water from the usual suspects. Yet the market that imported brands such as Hopsession, Beervana, and Whishbeer cater for is a premium one.
A beer that goes in the U.S. for a dollar per bottle will run you five U.S. dollars or more in Thailand. Foreign beers, which are a staple product, have become luxury products in Thailand and that’s a pity. Making good beer is cheap. It’s not like good wine or fine spirits where a lot of money needs to be invested before there’s any return. Thailand’s high import taxes are to blame for turning an inexpensive product into an expensive one.
So why aren’t Thais brewing their own beer? If the imported craft beers are so popular why don’t they make their own? Apparently I wasn’t the only one thinking this. Thais have been brewing their own beers for a while now. And this brings me back to the revolutionary folk song in Golden Coins’ promotional video. Brewing and selling your own beer without a license isn’t very legal.
Wichit Saiklao from Chit beer takes it even further in telling me it’s actually completely illegal. To attain a brewing license you need to produce one hundred thousand liters of beer per year; an impossible feat for a small time brewer.
Wichit runs a home brewery ok Koh Kret in Nonthaburi. He started three years ago and is one of the godfather of Thai craft brewing. Wichit would like to see the creation of different classes of brewing licenses allowing people to brew their own beer and be self-sufficient. When asked if he thinks the law will change, he says it will but that it needs time.
“Right now there are around 200 Thai craft brewers. When there will be a couple of thousand we will see the law change,” he claims. Wichit had some encounters with the police but it seems that the law hasn’t been bothering him too much.
The legal situation explains why Thai craft beer isn’t widely available. Events like the “Thai Craft Beer Exhibition” at Cho Why, however, show that all this doesn’t happen behind closed doors. Over eight brewers were present at Cho Why’s latest craft beer event, which drew a large crowd of Thais and expats alike. There’s definitely a demand for Thai beer but it seems like the scene is on a tightrope. A balancing act where brewers have space to and need to promote their beer in order for the scene to gain momentum without causing the government any major concern, resulting in a shutdown.
How about the beers? Are they actually any good? They are. Thais show yet again their talent as food artisans. As of now most beers are copies of American and European types. IPA’s, wheat beers, and stouts seem to be popular. Nonetheless doing those well takes skill and since this is a very young scene it’s only normal that they’re copying. Along the way more variety and originality will show up.
Some of the names you should look out for are Pheebok, Triple Pearl, Sandport, Udom Suk, Golden Coins, X Beer, Duck Fly, and Chit Beer. If you want to follow the scene, Facebook is your best bet. You’ll have to go to the right events, bars, and restaurants if you want to try them.
Craft, a cool and creative recreational space serving premium craft beers on draught is situated in the heart of Bangkok, on Sukhumvit 23. Craft beers incorporate quality beverages made by traditional, independently owned brewers and brings niche small-run products to avid drinkers in search of something different. Craft Bangkok was launched on a “pop-up” basis, but is now a full-fledged and will soon have 40 taps, making it one of the largest tap houses in Southeast Asia, it features unique hand-finished wood construction and a whole new vibe to quality al fresco sipping in the supremely accessible spot in Sukhumvit. And oh yes, in June another Craft opened in Bangkok, this time on Silom Road!
Thais seem to show talent for brewing beer and not capitalizing on this seems stupid. Hopefully, legislators will see its potential as a great addition to Thailand’s amazing culinary tradition. If not, there will always be Singha, Heineken, or San Miguel.
But that sounds like a sad world.