The 2014 craft beer boom flooded the market with enough choices to make a hipster’s head explode, but there’s a new wave of craft brews headed our way. These brews are friendly on the wallet and take advantage of all the beautiful flavors Thailand has to offer—that’s right, they’re made right here in the Kingdom. Why didn’t this happen ages ago? Well, that’s the one minor issue: these heady ales are technically illegal (so is prostitution, right?), as the law hasn’t yet been updated to address the slew of new brews coming from the small-scale craft brewing gray area. For now the scene is mainly underground, and one must put in some effort to swill these suds. Despite the draconian laws working against them, these passionate brewers are making heads buzz with hops and stomachs swell with flavors like passion fruit, Thai pumpkin and chrysanthemum. So here’s where to try them before they proliferate and become a part of the hipster uniform, or, even worse, disappear forever.
Udomsuk has long kept a very low profile, serving only select brews at Mad Moa
, a tiny, Polynesian-themed Old Town haunt packed with an adventurous culinary crowd. But at last week’s Made by Legacy market, they debuted Amber Ale for the public. This is a brewer worth following closely, as they take traditional styles and experiment heavily. The branding pays homage to the brewers’ Bangkok roots, featuring a Thai ridgeback dog.
What to drink: Their one-beer-buzz-inducing Belgian Ale eschews sweetness in favor of a maltier, smoother flavor that’s easy to drink and disguises the mammoth 10.5% ABV.
Seven Two Brewing
The man behind Seven Two Brewing, Third, learned his craft in the USA and brought it back to Thailand, brewing for personal use before discovering that beers beyond mainstream choices are becoming more popular. His first commercial release retails for B100 a bottle and can be ordered through Facebook.
What to drink: Five Hops Exploding Heart, Seven Two’s core brew, is named after the “five-point-palm exploding heart technique,” popularized by the character Pai Mei in Kill Bill. This hoptastic beer represents a great value proposition, as IPAs are usually the most expensive style of ale available in Thailand due to their hefty alcohol content.
Pipattanaphon, the creator of Golden Coins craft beer, attacked the market by aggressively distributing his brew to venues like Summer Street
, Ari’s hip seafood-focused food truck on Ari Soi 2, and Camp at Vue community mall (707 Charoen Nakorn Soi 13. Open daily 5pm-midnight). From what he tells us, the beer is moving quickly, so expect to see Golden Coins at more outlets soon. It’s also possible to order through Facebook at B100 a bottle, regardless of whether it’s the IPA, American pale ale, stout or amber ale.
What to drink: Golden Coins is based in the Yaowarat area, so when it came time to formulate the recipe for the stout it was a no brainer: Chinatown’s legendary roasted chestnuts would be incorporated, lending a sweet and nutty flavor to the heavy, opaque stout.
Self described as “The fellowship of beer,” Sandport is a group of friends who play heavy metal and brew tasty beer together. They can be found at pop-ups, flea markets and one-off events around the city, just keep an eye on their Facebook page to see where they’ll serve their irreverent ales next. They usually brew a batch for each specific event, and their recipes aren’t often what you’d find in Thailand, like last years “Broken Sword Red Ale.” The name Sandport pays homage to the brewers’ hometown of Nonthaburi.
What to drink: The Sandporter blasts you with a strong coffee note and then mellows out to a sweet, warm finish. If you’re into the current trend for heavy porters, you’ll be able enjoy this viscous brew, but hurry before the weather gets too hot to even think about it. The Rah IPA is also interesting; a strange white film appeared during the brewing process and Sandport thinks it gave this beer a little something extra. We agree.
Team Alpha Brewing
Taey, a suave young man with a day job at one of Bangkok’s best craft beer bars, is behind Team Alpha Brewing. This is a project to keep a close eye on, even though growth isn’t even on their radar. Taey’s distribution policy is simple: you have to prove that you’re really, really into beer to get a taste of the good stuff. He brews one highly experimental batch at a time, and when it’s gone, it’s gone. His most recent release, Bangkok Sunburn, is long gone, but we still remember the crisp taste of five heady hops meant to combat (or complement) the blazing Bangkok heat. The exclusivity, the macabre and fantastical artwork, and the experimental styles all make Team Alpha a brewer to follow closely.
What to drink: The details surrounding Taey’s next batch are hazy, but we know it’s going to be dark—very dark. In fact, it’s called Lion Funeral. Follow his Facebook to get the scoop on its release.
The investment: fighting traffic to get Pak Kret, taking a ferry to Koh Kret and tracking down a riverfront shop-house called Chit Beer. The payoff: sipping a delicious pint of Kolsch, a light and crisp beer that was made for Thai weather, while watching the tugboats slowly pull barges up the Chao Phraya. P’Chit, the proprietor of Chit Beer, is the grandfather of the Thai homebrew scene; he even holds classes to help aspiring brewers perfect their craft. The brewery is open to the public on weekends, complete with bar snacks like zesty chicken wings, french fries and some legendary dry-rubbed ribs.
What to drink: P’ Chit’s pumpkin ale, which has a flavor profile that embodies autumn in a temperate climate: expect nutmeg, cinnamon, sweet malts and a pungent pumpkin flavor. There’s also a beer that uses chrysanthemum, reproducing the familiar gek hoy flavor in a refreshing brew.
Meet The Brewers
owner of Mad Moa
How many people order your Thai-made craft beer over mainstream lagers at Mad Moa?
Right now about 30 percent of people order the homebrew—but it’s not even on the menu. People know about it by word of mouth, asking me for it directly. But if they don’t then I’ll still recommend it. Almost everyone is willing to give it a try, but it’s difficult to keep in stock. It isn’t made in large quantities.
Do you have any reservationsabout serving this beer?
Not really, no. I think the customers understand the situation, and if they don’t, I’ll educate them.
How do you work with the brewer (Udomsuk) to make beers designed for your menu?
We’ve been friends since high school, so we understand each other well. We all got into craft beer together. They came and ate my food and got the feeling of the place, and then designed a recipe for beer around that. The Moa is from New Zealand, so naturally they used hops from NZ and crafted that citrusy, tropical taste.
Mad Mao. Chakaphatdiphong Rd., 085-155-2601. Open Tue-Sun 6pm-midnight
How did you get into brewing beer?
After I graduated from the US and came back to Thailand, 12 years ago, I told all my friends, “I’m gonna brew beer for you!” About three or four years ago I saw the rise of imported beers and had an “aha!” moment. I knew it was time to make good on my word. People were gaining interest in new beers and so I started brewing.
Why do you brew out in Koh Kret?
I just wanted a lazy place near the river where I could work slowly. In hindsight, it was the best place I could have chosen. It’s hard to get to, but at the same time the effort is worth it for the experience.
Have you ever had any legal trouble from brewing?
Once, yes, and the cops hit the jackpot. I explained to them why I’m brewing, but I still got fined. Some of them totally understood, and I’m sure the order came from higher up. They were just performing their duty. We had a man-to-man conversation and now it’s better. That still doesn’t mean another team of cops can’t come pay me a visit at any time, though.
What’s the future of Thai-made craft beer?
I’ve always said that a Thai craft beer brand is imminent. It takes time, sure, but it’s coming. My guess on the time frame? Five years will be enough time for the powers at be to address that market need. In the meantime, I’m trying to educate people at my brewing academy. Hopefully it will make that point come a little sooner!