A Beer Quest in Thailand

Sawat De Krup – I just got back from an amazing two week vacation in Thailand and man was it fun. Elephants, massages, thai food, open air markets, friendly people, bug bites, humidity, and a whole slew of moments where you would admit to Home Dog/Toto that you definitely were not in Kansas anymore. What did I learn in Thailand? They tax their beer…a lot.  Getting a 12 oz. beer in a restaurant is as expensive as it is here in the states. When you are paying 10-50 Baht (US$0.33 – $1.5) for everything else, 150 – 250 Baht (US $3 – 9) is relatively expensive. It was as expensive to by a large flask of vodka or whiskey as it was to buy a 12-22 oz bottle of Singha beer. Crazyness. This largely depended on wether you were buying the alcohol from a 7-11 or a restaurant though. Japan is another country that heavily taxes their beer. I’m not sure exactly why that is, but I’m guessing it has to do something with taxes on ingredients such as malt. It may have something to do with the alcohol itself though. Cheers anyway or as the Thai’s say, “Chai-Yoh!”

This didn’t stop me from trying to find good beer in Thailand – it was very difficult. The country is overrun with two dominant beers…Singha and Chang. Both are american style adjunct pilsners…devoid of flavor, but somewhat refreshing in 99% humidity. Singha’s main adjunct is actually Thai sticky rice, which is the same rice they use in that amazing mango & sticky rice dessert. This made Singha slightly more interesting to me or maybe it was just my way of coping with reality as I settled for this beer over and over again. It’s still beer and therefore I will drink it. Also “chang” or “chiang” means “elephant.” Mind Blown.
Fortunately for the group I was touring with, I did research on breweries in Thailand ahead of time. This research was difficult to translate to Thai though so it was a bit of a task getting the locals of Bangkok to understand where I wanted to go. We had originally planned on going to Tawandang but that did not pan out so we hit up the Londoner Pub. Stepping into the Londoner was like stepping into Kasey’s in downtown LA or an authentic pub in Ireland. There was a football match on a big screen, a huge wood bar, and lots of lit Europeans. There was also a turn-key copper brew system in the back that I managed to get a photo next to. They had a Cream Bitter and Pilsner on tap. Both were good session beers. I have a sneaking suspicion that there is low demand for good beer in Thailand. Also a pitcher (1L) of Cream Bitter was 750 Baht ($25)…ouch. The food was phenomenal and the atmosphere was lively. I strongly recommend going here if you are in need of being near other foreigners.
Days and Days later we were out of Bangkok and in Chang Mai. I again talked the group into going on another adventure…as if riding on elephants, walking the buggy night markets, and riding crazy tuk-tuks weren’t enough. This time our destination was the Chiang Mai German Microbrewery. I found their link on beeradvocate.com so I had absolutely no idea what I was in for. The taxi driver had no clue where he was going so it took a little while to find the place, when we did we were excited. The place was huge and chocked full of interesting sites. Giant bar, turn-key copper brewery, giant copper wort chiller, huge music stage, beer baths, and lots of tables. The only downside was that the place was empty. Again, I don’t think micro/craft beer is attractive to the Thai people, but then again maybe it was just a slow night. The food here was sub-par, but the beer was okay (I would recommend getting the Thai food rather than going with the international menu). They had several things on tap including a Pilsner, Dunkel, and Wheat. They also had a bitter and coffee brown ale on special. The dunkel tasted a little like homebrew in my opinion, but it was still good. Sometimes this taste just reminds me that the beer was brewed by a person and not a machine, which ends up being a good thing. The coffee beer stole the show for my taste buds. I really wish I could tell you exactly what style it was…it was amber, intensely coffee-ish, and had a clean finish. I didn’t take tasting notes so I’m going off of memory. They also had a slew of mixed beer drinks. Beer with 7-up, beer with lime juice, beer with wine, beer with other beer, etc… Overall it was a fun night and we all enjoyed the beer.The trip was amazing and I highly recommend going. Smart Tours was a great deal and I would do it again in a heart beat. That about does it for beer in thailand. The rest of the trip consisted of Singha, Chang, and a beer called Leo. I also bought a flask of homebrewed Thai Whiskey from a guy at our thai paper making demo. Bananas, cinnamon, herbs, honey, it’s really good, but it will knock you on your ass faster than you can say CHAI-YOH!

– Kip B.
Los Angeles Ale Works™
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