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Beer in Thailand

Beer_May21_ABeer, arguably the world’s more popular drink, comes in numerous varieties. Those of you who have been to a big retail store in the US have likely seen aisles the size of a 7-11 here in Thailand with over 100 different kinds of beer. It’s enough to make any aficionado here in the Kingdom green with envy.

While the selection of beers available at stores here in Thailand is seen to be paltry by some, this is rapidly changing. This article aims to provide an overview of beer in Thailand and what we think the market will look like in the coming years.

What is ‘beer’ in Thailand?
Beer in Thailand is primarily lager. There are numerous reasons for this, the most obvious being that lagers are commonly served ice-cold and are great in warmer climates. Beyond that, lager beers pair great with the local food. There is just something awesome about sitting on the street enjoying a fiery som tam with a cold bottle of lager.

A short history of beer in Thailand
Beer as we know it, the kind made with a water, hops, barley (or rice) and yeast, has been brewed on a large scale in Thailand since around 1934. In 1933 Boonrawd Srethabutra founded the Boon Rawd Brewery and started brewing the ever popular Singha. Singha enjoyed near total domination of the beer market until the mid 1990’s when popular spirit maker ThaiBev launched Chang.

ThaiBev and Boon Rawd fought for market supremacy for the better part of a decade, with Chang eventually surpassing Singha as the most popular beer in Thailand. Both brands are incredibly popular with numerous beers. Leo for example is brewed by Boon Rawd, while Archa is brewed by ThaiBev.

For the better part of the past two decades, Thai-based companies have enjoyed market dominance. While there are foreign lagers like the ever popular Heineken and more recently San Miguel and San Miguel Light, the Thai beers are by far the most popular.

A taste for something different
While the Thai lagers are fantastic for the climate and food, the local market started to develop a taste for something a little more substantial. That ended up being Belgian beers, which first started appearing in supermarket shelves and on taps in the late 2000s. While we can’t say for sure which beer kicked off this rush, we are pretty sure it was InBev’s Hoegaarden which started appearing in stores and bars in mid 2005.

As many beer drinkers have found out, Hoegaarden and many other Belgian white beers are actually quite good in the heat, and go well with spicier food. This, combined with an increasing number of bars selling premium beers, opened many eyes in Thailand, and demand for quality beer rose.

From the mid 2000’s to around 2010, the number of foreign beers available continued to grow, despite high import taxes levied by the Thai government in an effort to shield Thai brewers.

A new-age explosion of awesome
The first decade of the 2000’s was an interesting time for the beer industry. America saw a massive boom in craft beer, which in turn sparked a similar boom in Europe. Belgian ales also became all the rage (again), and the numerous beer giants merged and merged again to form some of the world’s largest beer companies. All through this, quality kept improving.

This did not go unnoticed in Thailand, as many beer drinkers who had grown accustomed to the various big Belgian and Thai beers wanted the chance to try the quality beers the Americans, Japanese, Danish, Germans and British were turning out. In mid 2012, a number of importers popped up, almost overnight, with craft brews. Suddenly, it seemed like there was a new beer bar in every trendy area selling premium craft beer.

As demand caught on, the importers were more than happy to oblige by bringing in more and more beer. To this day, it seems like a new beer is being made available to the mass public on a near weekly basis.

We think that this is just the beginning of a beer revolution in Thailand. Yes, import tax is still high and likely will remain that way for the foreseeable future, but the demand for quality beer is there and will continue to rise as more people get access to all the wonderful beer the world has to offer.

While seeing your favorite American IPA on the shelves at your local BIG C is likely a ways off, we predict that demand for imported beer will continue to rise, especially as the number of beers available increases.

What do you think will happen to the beer industry in Thailand? Will there be a craft beer revolution? Let us know.

Wish of the week
Mikkeller Kiin Kiin It looks like the rainy season has started, that means steamy nights that call for a beer that not only has flavor, but is fresh like the air after an afternoon deluge. Kiin Kiin is that beer, it’s a malty beer with a nice lemon lime nose sure to refresh. Give it a try today.

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2 Responses

  1. gary says:

    What I’d like to ask is why we are so reliant on imports, when is the craft beer revolution going to come to Thailand, with local producers brewing a wider selection of brews? I for one can’t afford 170-220 a bottle for beer.

  2. Rob says:

    Good question Gary.

    I agree, not everyone (me included) can afford the cost of imported beer on a regular basis. I for one would love to see local producers turn out (or even make) something more than the standard lager.

    From what we can see, there are a number of reasons as to why consumers are reliant on imports here in Thailand, and why there is a dearth of local craft beer. We will actually be writing about this topic in next week’s article! So be sure to check back with us.

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