Check out Koh Samui’s hot new mixologists, craft cocktail lounges and even a rum distillery, all pouring island spirit into every drink.
Koh Samui’s party reputation may lag behind neighboring Koh Phangan, but the larger of the two islands has styled itself as the Gulf of Thailand’s king of cocktail culture. From a rum distillery set amid coconut groves to specialist lounges pouring tonics to rival those found in Hong Kong and Singapore, the island's bars have never been better.
The recently launched Cocorum specializes exclusively in rum and sits beside the beach at the luxurious Four Seasons Koh Samui hotel. In a calm, tropical setting, it serves nearly a hundred different rum labels—straight, as tasting flights or in delicious mixes like Tiki Rum in Barrel, a mixed of white rum (Guyana’s El Dorado) and dark rum (Jamaica’s Appleton) aged for two months in an American white oak barrel—while paying a nod to the tropical beach bars of the Caribbean.
“When I arrived in Samui three years ago, I missed the great bar scene we had in Bangkok,” says Reto Moser, the resort's director of food and beverage. “As the island evolves, there is demand for even greater quality, moving away from mass products towards unique spirits, handcrafted cocktails and pride in the cocktail profession.”
To ensure its cocktails match the highest global standards, Four Seasons has worked with Proof & Company, a Singapore-based bar and spirits team which is responsible for a number of bars in last year’s inaugural World’s 50 Best Bars list—including the guide’s number one entry, 28 Hongkong Street.
“The modern cocktail and spirits scene in Thailand is developing so quickly, much as we’ve seen in Singapore and Hong Kong over the past five years,” says Paul Gabie, CEO of Proof & Company. “Koh Samui is unique in that it has a slower pace than Phuket and attracts a wonderfully diverse group of travelers. These ingredients make it the perfect setting.”
The location is truly tempting. Designed by Bill Bensley, the regional master of tropical-luxe architecture, the bar sits under a soaring beachside pavilion surrounded by coconut trees. While the setting is unmistakably Thai, it also brings to mind rum-making’s legacy on Caribbean sugarcane plantations.
Discover more of Koh Samui’s cocktail scene by heading to the south-east of the island, where Magic Alambic Distillery K&S Rum doesn’t just pour rum; it makes it. Samui’s first rum distillery began life in 2003, taking up residence in an area where there used to be only palm trees. French couple Elisa and Michel Gabrel have now turned it into a destination in itself, where people come to sample their white rum in five unique flavors: lime, orange, coconut, pineapple and naturally sweetened with sugarcane spirit.
Bees Knees Koh Samui
Another spot creating its own booze is Bees Knees Koh Samui, which London-raised brewer Jim Smith calls the only craft beer brewery on the island. Set one kilometre away from the main Koh Samui strip, the bar offers five different brews all made in-house, ranging from the light, Pilsner-style Summer Bee, made from Australian and German hops to the Black Bee, a full-bodied, English-style porter.
“I grew up in the southwest of London where we always had good beer,” says Smith. “While I was living in Singapore, I saw the Red Dot Brewhouse and started to draw my own project. A series of holidays introduced me to Koh Samui where the mix of Thais, tourists and expats seemed like a strong audience.”
The bar opened in 2015, and, like all Thai craft beer enterprises, is registered as a “brewpub” rather than a brewery. Strong laws governing distilled and fermented drinks made in Thailand mean that small-batch brewers can’t bottle their product for retail.
The chic Library Koh Samui hotel was one of the first places to introduce Chaweng Beach to craft cocktails when it opened Drink Gallery a couple of years back.
“We tried to create a cocktail culture on Samui at a time when there was nowhere for people to have a casual, creative drink,” says Chutima Chitpitak, general manager of The Library. “It quickly became a must-check-in spot.”
Cafe de Pier
At the ever-evolving Fisherman Village, Samui’s most-famous night spot for shopping and drinking, Cafe de Pier has already earned itself a reputation for amazing drinks. Bar manager an partner Phacharaporn Nontakanan doesn’t take the role too seriously, though.
“Our clients are just looking for a place to eat and drink with a great ambience,” she says. She provides that in the form of crafty cocktails like Vanilla Coffee-tini, which mixes vodka with a shot of espresso. She serves these delicious drinks alongside Thai dishes from a space right beside the sea which references fishermen’s rustic houses.
Along the same road, you’ll find Coco Tam’s, where a large, stylish cabana hides a vast bar offering island-style cocktails and craft beers for guests to enjoy at candlelit tables on the sand. Nestled on the beach at Bo Phut, it’s a world away from the fast-paced party scene that rages long into the night along Chaweng Beach, allowing for visitors to Koh Samui who ask for a slower pace of island life to also get in on the nightlife action.
“After all,” says Gabie, “guests who come to Koh Samui often stop off at one of the regional gateway cities first. There’s no doubt they expect the same modern drinking standards on the island that they can enjoy elsewhere.” Thanks to places like Cocorum, Magic Alambic and others, they can now find it.
Bees Knees Brewpub. 83/3 Moo 2, Bophut, 085-537-2498
Cafe de Pier. 50 Moo 1, Fisherman Village, Bophut, 077-430-680
Cocorum. Four Seasons, 219 Moo 5, Angthong, 077-243- 000
Coco Tam’s. 99/1 Moo 1, Bophut, 087-592-7900
Drink Gallery. 14/1 Moo 2, Chaweng Beach, Bophut, 077-422-299
Magic Alambic Distillery K&S. 44/5 Moo 3, Namuang 7, 086-282-6230