Bangkok’s craft beer scene is making the move from illegal underworld business to above-board cottage industry. Here are the two officially licensed new brands and how they managed it.
Chalawan Pale Ale (4.7% ABV)
The story: Sukij Thipatima, who has over 10 years’ experience in the booze industry working with leading companies like Thai Asia Pacific Brewery and Diageo, founded this company as a progression of the Full Moon Brewworks microbrewery which he started in 2010. Largely unheard of in Bangkok, Full Moon is located and registered as a microbrewery on Phuket, meaning that Sukij can’t bottle or distribute the beer elsewhere. He started Chalawan last year, first selling on tap but now having the beer bottled in Australia to import it back legally (see box, bottom right). The taste is designed to be easygoing and light to suit Thailand’s tropical climate, playing around with local ingredients like brown rice, brown sticky rice and wild honey.
The beer: Yellow like a lager in color yet with a sharp, floral aroma which spells out its craft credentials. The taste is very malty with a hint of citrus (this actually comes from lychee), sweet and with a bitter finish. The texture is not too heavy and nor is it too fizzy—easygoing all round.
Where to get it: Bo.lan (24 Sukhumvit Soi 53, 02-260-2961/2), Err (394/35 Maharaj Rd., 02-622-2291), Rabbit Hole (125 Sukhumvit Soi 55, 081-822-3392) and Tep Bar (69-71 Soi Nana, Charoenkrung Rd., 098-467-2944).
Chiang Mai Brewing Company
The story: After a bit of trial and error with last year’s first batch, Chiang Mai Beer now has a mass-produced product which finally arrived Bangkok in February with a party at Wishbeer Home Bar. Chiang Mai Beer is brewed in Laos and imported legally to Bangkok. The brand has two styles: Red Truck IPA and Chiang Mai Weizen (both 5% ABV).
The beer: It has actually received good and bad feedback about taste changes since going mass. We called the Red Truck IPA very bitter, floral and with citrus notes coming both on the nose and in the taste, but lacking in the hoppiness you might expect. The Chiang Mai Weizen is lighter in both body and taste. However, we haven’t lost any faith that the team will hit their stride again soon.
Where to get it: Wishbeer Home Bar (Sukhumvit Soi 67, 02-650-2113), Teens of Thailand (76 Soi Nana, 081-443-3784)
and Bricks & Bone (2 Rama 9 Soi 41, 091-040-5174).
Founding partner and head brewer at Full Moon Brewworks and Chalawan Beer
What do you think about how the Thai craft beer industry has developed?
“It is great to see more people interested in home brewing and enjoying it as a new cool hobby. They are becoming more creative with their brewing, too, using advanced techniques. But the most important thing is to understand the basics. Brewers have to ensure that every brew they make, whether for personal consumption or sharing with others, is done under the highest sanitization and hygiene standards. Safety needs to be the top priority no matter how fancy your style of brew.”
The Trouble with Thailand’s Liquors Act
Since 1950, Thailand has only licensed mass-production beer factories turning out volumes of 100,000 liters per year, while smaller operations needed to register as brew pubs and were banned from bottling their product for retail—hence the rise of lively breweries-slash-entertainment halls like Tawandaeng. Since this minimum requirement of brews per year is too high and costly for craft manufacturers, the easiest way to get licensed is to brew or bottle outside the country and import the beer back to Thailand as a foreign product. The bottle will get the stamp and be taxed at 60% for customs duty and another 48% excise tax.