Back in late January, Thai craft beer-maker Taopiphop “Tao” Limjittrakorn was busted and fined
for brewing beer in his own home for sale. Not long after, Gen. Prayuth Chan-o-cha made his first public statement on the subject of Thai craft beer, quipping to the media in typically rhetorical style, “Would you drink beer that is brewed in a toilet?”
Our local craft beer scene has been booming for around three years now, but only recently have police actually bothered to crack down on any illegal breweries. This spells a dangerous new climate for beer-makers who, until now, have continued with their craft unaffected by legal challenges.
In an effort to foster a safe community for Thailand’s beer-makers, a collective of the country’s leading brewers—Nonthaburi’s Chit Beer and Deva hops farm, Pattaya’s Wizard Brewery, Red Stone Brewery from Phatthalung, Kitten Beer in Prathumthani and Mickleheim Brewery from Bangkok—have teamed up to build a craft beer cooperation called Mitr Sam Phan (friendship) Brewery. Here, they hope to provide space for young brewers to perfect their product in a safe environment before going the expensive route of bottling their beer abroad for import back into Thailand—one of the few ways for Thai craft brewers to operate legally.
“The main purpose for Mitr Sam Phan Brewery is to create a playground for the craft beer brewers to come test out their skills and test the market before they move up the scale and set up their own brewery overseas,” says Wichit Saiklao, one of the main partners in Mitr Sam Phan and the owner of Chit Beer, Thailand’s first and only craft beer brewing school.
To do this, Wichit and his team are establishing a “brewpub,” the other legal alternative for Bangkok craft brewers. The stipulation for running a brewpub requires two things: 1) that you brew between 100,000-1 million liters of your product per year, and 2) that you never bottle your product or sell it to the outside market—beers must be poured and drunk on premises.
“You need two licenses to do this,” says Wichit. “The first is to build the factory, which we got back in December. Next, once the factory is complete—we hope around the end of March—we will need to get the brewpub license, like Tawandang [another Bangkok brewpub], which will require a B10 million safety deposit to register legally and properly. We have all of that covered. We are very positive that we will get the brewpub license. We are doing everything correctly and have invested a lot of our time and money on this.”
Brewpubs are nothing new to Thailand. Tawandang on Rama 3 Road has been brewing up its own lagers since 1999, which it serves nightly along with kitsch cabaret acts and German pork knuckle. Mitr Sam Phan, however, hopes to take the brewpub format and sell it to drinkers who are more interested in esoteric hops blends than dodgy comedy shows.
“For the past 17 years, Tawandang has only served three types of beer,” explains Wichit. “They are not focusing on the beer quality but rather entertainment, making people buy food and watch their live music. This is not the definition of craft beer,” says Wichit of Chit Beer.
He expects Mitr Sam Phan Brewery will be up and running around October of this year, with the capacity to produce around 8,000 liters per month. Within one facility, there is also scope to accommodate up to 10 different brewers, so that aspiring beer-makers can practice their craft legally and let the public taste their product.
“It’s like a brewing academy,” says Wichit. “We may find someone really good from this project now that we provide the facilities for them to come and test out the market.”
Wichit and co have even managed to secure a rice field in Nonthaburi where they plan to grow their own barley for beer production, while a yeast lab will make every step of the production local.
For Taopiphop “Tao” Limjittrakorn, the brewer who spent a night in jail and incurred a B5,400 fine for his operation, Wichit’s plans sound like a welcome addition to the scene. “I’ve heard about the Mitr Sam Phan Brewery project from the start,” says Tao. “I think it’s a very good idea, it will benefit the microbrewers because people will have the space to brew on a larger scale.”
Pipatnapon “Pieak” Pumpo, the founder of Golden Coins beer, which brews in Vietnam to be legally sold in Thailand as an imported beer, also likes the idea of Mitr Sam Phan Brewery. “It’s another step forward for the Thai craft beer scene, definitely a very good model and I support this idea very strongly,” he says. “Mitr Sam Phan focuses on the quality of beer and gives the microbrewers an opportunity to develop their skills.”
In a city where brewers have until now been protected only by a look-the-other-way attitude both from authorities and the big-scale breweries, the arrival of Mitr Sam Phan is more than just a new brewery; it’s an open challenge to the law.
“The government says they are concerned about the facilities that the craft beer is brewed in and paying taxes,” says Wichit. “So now I want to challenge the government; to see if, now that we are doing everything correctly, the police will still have a problem with us. With actual equipment and a clean and safe environment that pays taxes, it does not make any sense that you wouldn’t be allowed to distribute your product. What logic applies to that regulation? If we could just get this bit of legislation fixed, then we will succeed.”
Check out Mitr Sam Phan’s Facebook page (www.fb.com/mitrcraft) for updates on the project. Boonrawd Brewery, the producer of Singha beer, declined to comment for this story.