There is no legal craft beer brewed in Thailand. You might find some, but it’s probably beer produced by insurgents who’ve taken their skills across the border into Cambodia where brewing artisan beer isn’t illegal.
Or it could also be craft beer brewed for Thailand’s black market.
In Bangkok you can find covert bottles of hand-labelled craft beers in moving marketplaces, but you need to be careful because even posting a picture of these illicit brews could land you in jail.
You see, beer operations in Thailand remain the domain of big producers like Thai Beverage, which produces Chang beer, and Boon Rawd Brewery, which produces Singha and Leo, majors who control 90% to 95% of the country’s domestic beer market.
And according to Channel News Asia they enjoy a dominance ensured by the government, by laws that prevent “small homegrown operators from entering the fray.”
Thailand’s regulations demand that beer manufacturers must have a minimum production capability output of ten million liters per year, which translate into about 30,000 bottles and that’s daunting for new brewers just entering the market.
Additionally Thai laws stipulate that new breweries must have about US $300,000 in upfront capital, an almost impossible sum for most startup operations in that part of the world.
The government’s rationale is both one of taxation (they fear that these small producers will escape paying taxes) but also concern over hygiene standards.
When just a few major beer brands dominate a country that also precludes smaller competitors from entering the market, you got to wonder about the directives of its political leadership, and just who’s taking who out to lunch.
But every action gives birth to a reaction…
These laws are giving birth to a new generation of craft rebels who circumvent Thailand’s strict regulations by brewing beer destined for cities like Bangkok at Cambodian border breweries like Stone Head Beer.
And although Thailand imposes the highest importation of beer in Southeast Asia (between 300 and 400 per cent), Stone Head’s beers are in demand in that country. Stone Head’s is truly a Thai brewer in exile, that’s how they see themselves And even though they brew across the border, where regulations are more relaxed, they proudly bill market their brewery as offering the “First Thai Legal Craft Beer.”
But Cambodian border breweries such as Stone Head are just part of Thailand’s craft beer rebellion…
CNN reported that Thailand’s repressive beer laws are also spawning more rebels – a growing community of almost 200 home-brewers who are profiting far below Thailand’s radar by offering their beers on their Facebook page.
So Thailand finds itself in the midst of a full-fledged craft beer rebellion from both within and without and it’s only accelerating
And no matter how much the country’s leadership and big beer producers might hope – the passion for real craft beer is in this South Asian country is not going away.