Thai Craft Beers – A Rich and Fascinating Selection!

When you think of Thailand, craft beer probably isn’t top of the list of things you associate with the “land of 1000 smiles” (yes, Thai people are very happy people!).

People more commonly know about the food, the beaches, and the Buddhist temples.

The closest many of us have come to Thai beer is the occasional bottle of Singha at a local stateside Thai restaurant, but the affluent youngsters of Bangkok have developed a passion for craft beers.

The city now has a booming craft beer scene, despite draconian alcohol laws which make the brewing of beer, even homebrewing, illegal unless you are one of the government-owned major breweries.

Yes, that’s right, even brewing a small batch of beer at home can land you with a hefty fine, or even imprisonment – just ask Taopiphop Limjittrakon (Tao for short), a new MP who is challenging the outdated alcohol laws in the legislative house of Thai government.

In 2017, Tao spent a night in jail as he couldn’t afford the hefty fine when military officials came knocking on his door while he was brewing his beer. Tao was even fined just for owning brewer’s yeast.

So how do the Thai people brew “Thai” craft beer?

The answer for most is to produce their beer abroad in nearby countries like Cambodia and Korea, or even as far away as Australia, then import it back into Thailand as Thai “crafted” beer, ie brewed by Thais but not in Thailand.

In major cities like Bangkok, Chiang Mai in the North of Thailand, and even some of the idyllic Thai islands like Koh Samui, there’s been an explosion in craft beer bars.

Despite the challenges which were brought about by COVID-19, which effectively stopped tourism to Thailand for the last few years, the craft beer movement in Thailand has never been healthier.

Partly this is because of the popularity of craft beer with young affluent Thais rather than tourists.

At one of the more popular craft beer bars in Bangkok, a bartender recently told me that 70% of their clientele were Thai with foreign ex-pats making up most of the other 30%.

Although tourists are rare in Thai craft beer bars, you are more than welcome, as is always the way with Thai people.

If you’re planning your next overseas adventure, why not head to Thailand and sample a few of their delicious Thai-crafted beers for yourself?

Let me talk you through where to find these beers, along with some of the best beers to sample, many of which are now imported to the US.

Hopefully, you will be just as fascinated with Thai craft beers as I was.

The Law and Craft Beer in Thailand

blue and yellow auto rickshaw on road during daytime
Photo by Mos Sukjaroenkraisri on Unsplash

Under a law that is over 70 years old, The Liquor Act of 1950, beer can only be made in a factory or a brewery.

A further Ministry of Finance regulation from 2001 states brewers must produce over 100,000 liters of beer per year and be a public limited company with capital of at least 10 million baht (approx. $300,000 US dollars).

It’s pretty hard for a microbrewery beer startup to challenge the big producers like Thai Beverage, which produce Chang beer, and Boon Rawd Brewery, which make Singha and Leo.

Between them, these two majors control 90 to 95% of the country’s domestic beer market.

Although many claim the law is protectionist and designed to maintain the monopoly of the major brewers, changes are afoot which challenge the excise tax laws with an aim to help the craft brewers.

A first step was taken as recently as November 2022 when a new regulation on beer and liquor production removed many of the curbs on smaller brewers.

Under the new regulations, smaller breweries can use larger machinery and employ up to 50 workers.

The regulations also remove the restrictions on brewpubs’ minimum registered capital and production capacity. Previously, brewpubs had to produce between 100,000 and 1 million liters per year.

Now, only large breweries are required to comply with requirements for annual production and registered capital, set at 10 million liters and 10 million baht.

Under the new regulation, any legal entity, or individual aged at least 20, can seek a license to brew up to 200 liters of booze per year. This clause is designed to make it easy for people to brew their own beer or distill spirits.

The license covers non-commercial operations only. Selling homemade brews remains illegal.

Taopiphop, who we mentioned earlier, is now an MP for the opposition Move Forward Party and argues the new laws don’t go far enough and will only really benefit the brew pubs, not the many smaller craft brewers.

His own progressive liquor bill was subsequently voted down.

It aimed to relax the market rules to make it easier for individuals to brew beer either for personal use or commercial enterprise via small businesses as well as brewpubs.

Tao continues to campaign that villages using local ingredients and wisdom to create signature brews could help tourism and boost the supply chain, especially agricultural markets such as rice, wheat, and often used local exotic fruits.

Thai Crafted Beers – The Legal Thai Craft Beers

brown wooden chess piece on green book
Photo by Sasun Bughdaryan on Unsplash

So which beers are Thai Crafted and brewed outside of Thailand by budding Thai brewers?

3 Bears Craft Brewery (Brewed in Taiwan)

With 5 beers to their portfolio, Goldilocks Blonde, Hunter’s IPA, Gorilla Stout, Jackal Pale Ale, and Summer Snow Champagne Ale, 3 Bears was the ninth craft brewer to make their operation legal by brewing their beer in Taiwan, and they have their own taproom/brewpub located right in the heart of Bangkok on Sukhumvit Soi 22.

You will find all the 3 Bears range on tap in the cozy little beer bar and a wide range of food including a chicken thigh dish that has been marinated in their own 3 Bears Hunter IPA.

6PM (Brewed in Japan)

Along with a Pale Ale which is their most common beer, 6PM also produces a Belgian wit and a Black IPA.

Although they don’t have their own taproom in Bangkok yet you will find bottles of their beer in many of the beer fridges of Thailand’s craft beer bars.

The Pale Ale is quite easy to spot with its distinctive pastel green and yellow label and is a craft beer full of the flavors of Thailand rather than the macro-brewed beers of Chang, Singha, and Leo which are poor versions of skunk beer (in the example of Chang) or international pale pilsner style lagers (Leo and Singha).

The larger brands lack flavor and character, a problem that will be familiar to many of the US drinkers of beers like Budweiser or Coors.

Beat Brewing (Brewed in Vietnam)

Originally brewed in Cambodia under the watchful eyes of Thai brewers, their most successful beer the IPA Agogo now proudly boasts that it’s produced in Vietnam, that other South East Asian nation renowned for its burgeoning craft beer scene.

Other beers in their range which you can find in their central Bangkok taproom include a hoppy pilsener that goes by the name of Analog, a slightly stronger but not quite Imperial IPA at 6.5% ABV called Harmonics, and a Belgian-style orange wit called Pitch Orange Wit.

Changwon Express (Brewed in South Korea)

Originally a craft beer bar slash Mexican-Korean fusion restaurant in the Asoke area of central Bangkok, Changwon Express owner Ted Anh recently released his first beers which he produced in South Korea, including the Asoke Pale Ale and Chaophraya Stout named after the river which runs through Bangkok.

A popular dining venue, the fridges are full of beer bottles from around the world including many US craft beers from companies like Stone or Deschutes Brewery and many of the “legal” Thai craft beers we have mentioned here.

Chiang Mai Beers (Brewed in Laos)

Advertising on the table "Local Beer from Chiang Mai"
Image courtesy of private collection David Healey

Chiang Mai Beers Red Truck IPA was one of the very first legally Thai Crafted beers that were distributed nationwide and can often be found in the catalog of many a US beer importer of craft beers.

Initially brewed as an IPA, they found the taste didn’t quite suit the beginner beer enthusiasts of Thailand so they went back to the drawing board and reformulated it as more of an Irish Red or American Amber ale.

A bit of crystal malt was added to enhance the amber color of the beer, and a combination of hops, Motueka, Centennial, and Chinook was used to create tropical fruit notes in the original beer, which was medium-bodied and very hoppy.

The aroma of freshly baked biscuit was accompanied by lychee, a favorite fruit of many Thais which is grown almost exclusively in Chiang Mai and adjoining provinces.

After the recipe was adjusted and it was recategorized as an Amber Ale, it offered flavors of toasted caramel malt and a hint of fruitiness with a lightly bitter and refreshing finish.

It went on to win the “Best In Country” award at the 2017 World Beer Awards and a Bronze Medal at the 2018 Asia Beer Championship.

For those looking for something a bit “softer” tasting, Chiang Mai Beer also produce a decent take on a Bavarian hefeweissebeer, which uses raw Fang wheat from Chiang Mai for a fragrant but mellow beer with a nice balance of ripe banana, floral notes, and an aroma of cloves.

D’X Brewerkz (Brewed in Cambodia)

D’X Brewerkz produces a version of a Belgian Wit Bier using orange peel and coriander with a hint of banana.

Last seen in the beer cooler of Chit brewery (more on that later) it pours a hazy amber color with a small white head.

The aroma is malty, grassy, and piney with a flavor that has a slightly earthy grapefruit to it along with a trace of piney bitterness. The finish is that of lasting grapefruit bitterness.

Devanom (Brewed in Cambodia)

Another brewer which has been crafting Thai beers in Cambodia (it is only next door after all), the Ungsiwong brothers are key players in the Thai craft beer movement and have even been experimenting with growing their own hops on their farm in Nonthaburi in Northern Bangkok.

Their only craft beer so far is the IPA called Devanom IPPO Pale Ale, which is served on tap in their taproom in Nonthaburi (85/4 Tivanun-Pakret Soi 21).

IPPO is a well-balanced beer complete with a woody, vanilla, and coffee finish which is recognized as Thailand’s best IPA.

Full Moon (Brewed in Australia)

From the island of Phuket, Full Moons Chalawan Pale Ale has been designed to be an easygoing and light beer to suit the tropical climate found in Thailand.

Named after the ruthless but slightly charming crocodile king, Chalawan from Thai folklore, it’s an easy-to-drink pale ale that balances bitterness with the sweetness of lychee.

They also produce an IPA called Chatri IPA which is much more intense and full-bodied.

Golden Coins (Brewed in Vietnam)

Bar Golden Coins
Image courtesy of private collection David Healey

One of Bangkok’s earliest legal craft brewers, you can find the Golden Coins taproom in Ekkamai Soi 10 just around the corner from the Mikkeller bar.

They offer a pilsner, amber ale, pale ale, stout, and cream vanilla beer on tap in their cozy little half-al fresco bar. Ideal for the walk home from Mikkeller if you are looking for a slightly less expensive pint than the ludicrously priced beers of the Danish nomadic brewhouse.

Happy New Beer (Brewed in Australia)

One of the most famous of Thailand’s craft brewers alongside Stonehead, Mahankhon, and Lamzing, Happy New Beer produces three craft beers including a pilsner, an IPA, and a New England-style Grapefruit hazy IPA.

Originally brewed on the island of Khao Yai, they now brew bottled beers in Australia. The Pilsner in particular is worth checking out and combines an old-school pilsner flavor with subtle notes of tropical fruit in only a way the South East Asians seem able to pull off.

Lamzing (Brewed in Australia and South Korea)

Lamzing is one of the most established craft brewers in Bangkok and their infamous Sticky Mango Fruit beer divides many of the craft beer fans into either love-it or hate-it camps.

Personally, I find it a little too sweet. Much more preferable is the Saur Ground American IPA they produce which has tropical fruit notes of pineapple, lychee, and rambutan.

Other beers they brew in Australia include a Farmhouse Ale/Saison called “If You Like Pina Coladas” (flavors of pineapple and coconut), an American Stout “Morning in Monsoon”, a Witbier/Blanche wheat beer “KaoMao Man”, and an Imperial IPA “Watthumaowai IPA” at 14.5% ABV.

As well as the off-the-wall names, you will always recognize a Lamzing Beer in the beer cooler due to its wacky and offbeat, colorful labels.

MahanaKhon (Brewed in Australia)

Seen in virtually every supermarket and bar around Bangkok, Mahanakhon Breweries White Ale is a smooth, cloudy witbier that uses something similar to Belgian wheat.

dangerously drinkable, this crisp witbier is well suited to Bangkok’s often muggy hot weather of the summers. It has also picked up many accolades including a Gold Medal at the World Beer Awards in 2017.

Although the White Ale is by far the most common of the MahanKhon beers you will see, they also produce a White IPA, a Hazy IPA, a Pale Ale, and a craft-brewed lager “Sivilai Lager”.

Apart from the lager, the branding is very simple – it straightforwardly states what is in the can/bottle.

Mikkeller (Brewed in Various Locations, a Nomadic Brewer)

Thai Craft brewery
Image courtesy of private collection David Healey

Not really a Thai Craft brewery, but you will find many of the Thai-crafted beers we have looked at in Mikkeller’s extensive “Tasting Room” along with a wide selection of craft beers from around the world including Belgium, the US, and, of course, Mikkeller’s many collaborative beers.

Craft beer isn’t a cheap option in Thailand, with the import excise on bringing all these beers into the country being at one of the highest rates in S.E. Asia, but Mikkeller’s prices can often seem on the ridiculously high side.

For the widest range of beers in Bangkok, including normally 30 beers on tap, it’s worth a visit, but many of the beers you may find in other craft beer bars pop up around Bangkok at much less expensive prices.

You will normally find this a Mecca for craft beer-loving ex-pats, many of who lament the lack of quality craft ales in Thailand (what are they talking about, just open their eyes and they will find some of the best craft beer in the world!).

Sandport (Brewed in Taiwan)

Guy in a black t-shirt and cap holding a bottle of Sandport beer
Image courtesy of private collection David Healey

Sandport is often described as the “fellowship of beer”, being a brewery created by a group of friends who shared a love for both rock music and great beer.

Their Bang Bang IPA is seen as one of the most important craft beers in Thailand and even won a Bronze medal at the 2017 Australian International Beer Awards.

The American-style IPA adds a twist of orange peel floor to help cut through the IPA bitterness.

They also do a witbier which is appropriately named Wheat of the Wall and my personal favorite, Broken Sword Red Ale, which is an Imperial red ale that takes its color and aroma from the roselle flower.

Stonehead (Brewed in Cambodia)

bottle of stonehead beer
Image courtesy of private collection David Healey

Stonehead brewery was founded by a group of students who studied at Koh Kret’s renegade brewery, Chit Beer, and was set up in Koh Kong, Cambodia by the legendary ex-army colonel Wichit Saikalo (known as Chit), who has done more to inspire the craft beer culture of Bangkok than anybody else (more later).

The brand name Stonehead comes from the This “Hua Khang” which literally translates as “stubborn”, and these guys have been stubborn when it comes to producing the best quality craft beers representative of Thailand.

Their best-known beer, which you will find in many of the craft beer hangouts of Thailand, is a fruity cream ale called Tuk Tuk, but looking through their portfolio of over 10 beer styles you will find interesting Thai takes on classic beer styles such as their Lemongrass Kolsch.

Easy to track down, you will even find most of the Stonehead labels in shops such as the Family Mart on the ground floor of Silom’s Holiday Inn.

Taopiphop Ale Project (brewed in Cambodia)

Famously arrested in 2017 for brewing his own beer at home, the law grad, who is better known as Tao, is now an MP for Thailand’s opposition party, and campaigns to change the laws which restrict the smaller craft beer breweries.

Tao even now serves his own craft brews, including his first legal craft beer, Hustle, which is a Saison you can find on draft in many of the tap rooms across Bangkok.

Of course, to keep things legal, he brews the beer in Cambodia before re-importing it back into Bangkok but hopes that one day he can change that.

Ther (Brewed in Australia)

Our final brewer of Thai Crafted beer (and there are far too many for us to mention them all) is an all-female brew outfit called Ther – which is Thai for “she”.

Just like most places in the rest of the world, brewing craft beer seems to be dominated by the men in Thailand. But that’s now changing, with many women not just liking to drink craft beer but also brewing some pretty good beers too.

Billed as Thailand’s “first all-female brewers”, a group of friends met while taking weekend classes in homebrewing under the watchful eye of Chit at his Koh Kret brewhouse/academy.

After a successful event called Ladies Tap, where the five women sold their first batches of beer, they decided to experiment and brew products together under one brand, and so “Ther”, the brewing project, was born.

Unfortunately, Thai law meant it was still illegal to produce beer in Thailand and sell it, so they made the 6,400 km journey to Melbourne and teamed up with the Australian Craft beer brewery Red Dot Brewhouse.

They brewed their first beer, the floral Rose Bud Pale Ale, there, before putting out a second beer known as Berries Bomb XPA which used nearly 100 kilograms of berries.

But this time the beer was produced and bottled closer to home in Cambodia’s Koh Kong and Phnom Penh.

Nowadays, the girls are better known for their Mojito Cider which has won awards in such acclaimed competitions as Singapore’s Asia Beer Championship.

Mojito Cider can now be found in many of the local bars of Bangkok, Tops, and Villa Market.

Ther even has an online distributor in Group B Beer.

The Renegade Brewery That Is Chit Beer

The Renegade Brewery That Is Chit Beer
Image courtesy of private collection David Healey

He may not seem like an outlaw, and the idyllic rustic island of palm trees and Buddhist temple in the middle of the Chaophraya river, just uptown from central Bangkok, is an unlikely place to start a revolution.

However, that’s exactly what mild-mannered 48-year-old ex-army colonel, Wichit Saikalo, has been doing every day for the last 10 years – creating a revolution in craft brewing in Thailand.

Recently he opened the country’s first collaborative brewery called the Mitr Brewing company, where many of his students can now produce beer (officially only for home use!).

Chit, as he is known, believes some laws are not worth following, even for an ex-army man in a country now run by military generals.

Over the years, Chit has been fined more than 8 times, with fines ranging from just a few hundred dollars to over $2000 USD. But still, he continues serving a revolution with every pint of beer.

Known as the “godfather” in the Thai craft beer scene, over 3000 students have passed through the veranda of his Koh Kret home where he started weekly brewing classes every weekend.

An hour and a half away from Central Bangkok by bus/train and ferry, there’s a 2-month waiting list to enroll in one of his brewing classes.

Many of the young Thais are excited to try the fresh flavors of chocolatey stouts or pale ales which have been infused with local ingredients such as lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves, galangal, or exotic fruits (I’m not too sure about the Durian Sour ale he produces though, and neither would you be if you have ever smelt a Durian fruit!).

Many of Chit’s students have gone on to produce the legal Thai Crafted beers abroad we have already looked at, and Chit has even helped some students to set up their own breweries in Cambodia.

Chit beer isn’t just about teaching people to brew, though. The small bar on the island is only open at weekends but often has up to 10 different ales on tap.

When we visited, there were 8 different styles, including a Lemongrass Kolsch, a Kaffir Lime-infused Sour, and a Mango Pale Ale, just to name three of the outstanding beers.

In addition, the bar serves a great selection of Thai fusion food using many of the fine craft ales, including his now famous spicy buffalo wings which use beers produced at the brew house.

There’s also the Turtle Bar taproom/tasting room back on the mainland of Park Khret which serves up many of Chit’s beers and other selected Thai Crafted beers.

Turtle Bar taproom/tasting room back on the mainland of Park Khret which serves up many of Chit's beers and other selected Thai Crafted beers.
image courtesy of private collection David Healey

if you’re a fan of craft beer, making the trip to Bangkok then the island of Koh Kret and the Chit Beer brewhouse should be top of your places to visit.

Just look for a train to Nonthaburi, a bus to Pak Kret, and then the short, 1-minute ferry ride to the island of Koh Kret.

It’s even worth trying to find a nearby hotel so you can enjoy a few more beers at The Turtle Bar.

Chit believes once you can brew one style of beer, you can brew any – the only thing holding you back is your imagination – and of course the restrictive Thai laws!

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