IT’S BEER TIME IN BANGKOK
It’s a good month for beer drinkers. Oktoberfest is well underway throughout Bangkok even though it has wrapped up in its home city of Munich in Germany. It’s origin dates back to 1810 when the lead-up to the marriage of Prince Ludwig to Princess Theresa featured two weeks of horse racing, music and the copious indulgence in Munich’s famed beer. Through various iterations over two centuries and numerous interruptions due to wars and various economic crises the festival has become a mecca for 6 million globe hopping beer lovers who this year quaffed 7.3 million liters of brew from six major Munich breweries during the 16 day drinkathon.
Thailand’s beer aficionados do their part to keep the world’s breweries in business by consuming an annual average of nearly 34 liters per capita among those of legal drinking age. Based on tax records for 2017 this amounts to approximately 180 billion baht in annual sales. The country’s original commercial scale brewery, Singha, was started in 1933 as Boon Rawd Brewery by Phraya Bhirom Bhakdi.
Boonrawd dominated the local beer market until 1995 when Thai Beverage, known primarily for its distilled spirits brands of Mekhong and SangSom rums, introduced Chang Beer. In less than 10 years Chang overtook decades-long leader in beer sales, Singha, to take a 60% share of the market. Singha responded with a new brand of its own, Leo, which remains popular due in part to its lower price.
Federbrau from Thai Bev and independently produced Phuket Beer are the only Thai beers following the German purity law known as Reinheitsgebot, using only malt, hops and water, are options available in major supermarkets. Import duties on foreign produced beers of over 60% have led to partnerships with local brewers to avoid the tax including Asahi with Boonrawd and Carlsberg with Thai Bev, the latter agreement being terminated in 2005 following contract disputes. Locally brewed Asahi has become one of the leading sellers in Bangkok among imports.
Despite high excise taxes on imports the craft beer craze continues apace with multiple dozens of hop laden IPAs (India Pale Ale) available in 330ml bottles retailing for about 250 Baht to over 500 Baht each. Several restaurants and nearly all pubs offer extensive selections of specialty beers on tap as well as in bottles and cans. Mikkeller Bangkok on Ekamai, Robin Hood on Sukhumvit and The Cellar on Silom are a few of dozens of sites with dizzying arrays of various brews. Bei Otto on Sukhumvit Soi 22 has classic German fare to enhance the Oktoberfest fever and the Roadhouse at the corner of Rama IV and Suriwong has a special on a succulent smoked pork hock, mash and sauerkraut for Bt550 to accompany its well-chosen draft and bottled “bier-fest” offerings. Prosit!
Written by: R. James Mullen