Thai Beer

Published: 22nd April 2008Author: Know Phuket

When considering what information to add to this site, I sometimes check what are the most popular search keywords that bring people here. It is good to see how many people are looking for tips on Thai language. It is odd how many people want to know about katoeys. It is also strangely pleasing to see how many people are looking for information about Thai beer.

It is good to see so many visitors want to come pre-armed with the most important information so let's do a run through of the major beer brands you will come across in Thailand. It is a subject I was happy to research.

Background

High alcohol import duties mean that most of the reasonably priced beer is brewed in Thailand. The Thai beer market is a large one. Thais enjoy their beer so there are plenty of brewers who want a slice of the action.

Beer is sold in cans, small bottles (330ml) and large bottles (640ml). The tourist bars usually sell the small bottles, commonly served in a polystyrene bottle holder (they sometimes call a beer condom) to help keep the beer cold.

Thais will more commonly order the big bottles with glasses and ice. I know putting ice in your beer is a bit sacrilegious in most western countries but in a country like Thailand where it is so hot and where beer alcohol content is high, it actually does make sense.

Hangover Tip

Hangovers in tropical climates are worse than in temperate climates because the heat magnifies the dehydrating effect of alcohol. You should drink plenty of water or re-hydrating fluid before and after your boozing sessions. If you don't mind being wussy then drink the odd water or soft drink during your boozing session to keep yourself hydrated.

Beers

Singha

Brewed by Boon Rawd Brewery, Alcohol Content: 5%
Shop Price: 330ml bottle - 27-30 baht. 640ml bottle - 48-50 baht
Tourist Bar Price 330ml bottle 50-90 baht

Beer Singha (pronounced without the final 'a') is probably the beer most people associate with Thailand. It is mythically claimed to include formaldehyde in its ingredients although whether there is any truth behind this story is not clear. It certainly ranks amongst the higher quality brews and you will find it almost everywhere. It is the standard beer in stock at almost every bar and restaurant in Thailand.

Heineken

Brewed by Heineken (Thai Asia Pacific Brewery), Alcohol Content: 5%
Shop Price: 330ml bottle - 35-38 baht. 640ml bottle - 57-62 baht
Tourist Bar Price 330ml bottle 60-100 baht

This is brewed under license in Thailand. It is of course a Thai version of the famous Dutch beer with increased alcohol content. It is the most expensive of the Thai brewed beers but it is still popular with many tourists and ex-pats, mostly because they recognise the brand. It is stocked at most Tourist bars and quite a few Thai bars.

The Heineken name does ensure good quality control and a reliable beer. For my taste, it is a bit bland and lacking in character to be a really good beer.

San Miguel Light

Brewed by Thai Amarit Brewery, Alcohol Content: 5%
Shop Price: 330ml bottle - 30-32 baht. 640ml bottle - 53-56 baht
Tourist Bar Price 330ml bottle 60-100 baht

Many people assume San Miguel is a Spanish brand but it is actually from the Philippines. Since they started brewing in Thailand in 2005, they have claimed a significant chunk of the tourist market. They brew a standard San Miguel but it is the 'Light' version that has really taken off in popularity. The 'light' does not refer to alcohol content but to the calorie count so you can get sloshed without adding so many inches around your girth.

The popularity of San Miguel Light is because it is crisp and refreshing yet does not make you feel bloated or gassy. This means you can keep on drinking it all night so it is a great session beer. It is becoming more and more widespread in tourist bars but you are unlikely to find it in many Thai bars.

Tiger

Brewed by Thai Asia Pacific Brewery, Alcohol Content: 5%
Shop Price: 330ml bottle - 25-28 baht. 640ml bottle - 44-48 baht
Tourist Bar Price 330ml bottle 60-100 baht

Tiger Beer originally comes from Singapore and is now a widely available international beer. They started brewing in Thailand in 2004. It is a decent but uninteresting beer. It is available at quite a few tourist bars but you don't find it at so many Thai bars.

I refuse to drink it anymore after they claimed to be the 'Asian Beer of Arsenal Football Club'.

Chang

Brewed by Thai Beverages, Alcohol Content: 6.4%
Shop Price: 330ml bottle - 24-25 baht. 640ml bottle - 36-39 baht
Tourist Bar Price 330ml bottle 40-80 baht

This is the most widely sold budget beer. It is the beer of choice for those who want to get drunk quick and cheap. It certainly provides plenty of alcoholic oomph to the baht.

Chang is the Thai word for elephant and perhaps it is so named because you feel like an elephant has trampled you after you drink it. A heavy session on this stuff is inevitably followed by the infamous 'changover' - a hangover that cannot be surpassed by any other beer in Thailand. I do not like to think what they put in this beer to induce such pain. It also has a reputation for having varying alcohol content from one batch to the next.

The beer is quite widely stocked by both tourist and Thai bars.

The name is perhaps most recognised in the rest of the world as the sponsor of Everton Football Club. Apparently, the beer is available inside Goodison Park Stadium, which might explain the dazed look of many Evertonians.

Leo

Brewed by Boon Rawd Brewery, Alcohol Content: 5%
Shop Price: 330ml bottle - 22-24 baht. 640ml bottle - 38-40 baht
Thai Bar Price 640ml bottle 50-80 baht

The same people that make Beer Singha make Beer Leo. It is their entry into the budget beer market. This is a more civilised budget beer than Chang. It is a popular session drink with both Thais and ex-pats. It does the job without quite the same brutal after effects of Chang.

It is not stocked in many tourist bars and only a few Thai bars sell it. It is more commonly bought in shops and drunk at parties or at home.

Thai Beer

Brewed by Boon Rawd Brewery, Alcohol Content: 6.5%
Shop Price: 330ml bottle - 20 baht. 640ml bottle - 30-32 baht

This is Boon Rawd Brewery's entry into the really cheap beer market. They are aiming at the Thai market that wants the maximum amount of alcohol for the least baht. It is cheap and it tastes cheap but it does have the highest alcohol content of the major beer brands. You will only find this in the shops.

Archer

Brewed by Thai Beverages, Alcohol Content: 5%
640ml bottle - 24-26 baht

The brewery that brought you Chang felt there was room in the marketplace for an even cheaper beer so they introduced Archer. There must be a limit to how cheaply you can produce a beer and for it still to be decent. Archer Beer has crossed that limit. It is incredibly cheap but also a very poor beer. You can buy a whole case of the stuff for under 300 baht. You will not find this stuff stocked in any bars.

Beer Lao

Brewed by Lao Brewery Ltd, Alcohol Content: 5%
Tourist Bar Price 330ml bottle 60-100 baht

This is the one imported beer that you can buy in bars at a reasonable price. It has not made its way into mainstream shops yet.

As the name suggests, it is brewed in Laos, which neighbours Thailand at the northern border. Laos is a much poorer and cheaper country than Thailand so even after import duties, the beer is still relatively cheap. You can buy it at the Laos border for 20 baht a can.

The reason Beer Lao is finding its way into bars in Thailand is that despite being a poor country, they are producing a beer that is distinctively different, and arguably better than anything brewed in Thailand. The beer has a good bitter edge that makes it taste more like an ale.

You can find Beer Lao quite easily in the tourist bars of Bangkok and Pattaya. Phuket is much further from the Laos border so the beer is not so widespread but there are a few bars selling it. There are rumours that Lao Brewery will open a brewery in Thailand to avoid the import duties. If so then other Thai beers had better watch out.

Others

The beers above are the main brands you will come across but there are plenty of others around and a few variations on the above such as draught and light versions. Kloster is a German beer brewed under license in Thailand and aiming at the premium beer tourist market. Asahi is a Japanese beer brewed locally under license. It is a decent tipple. Phuket Beer is a small brand brewed in Phuket. It is a pilsner type beer with a lower alcohol content than most Thai beers. Cheers Beer is a new entry in the Thai budget beer market.

My Choice

I have to be honest and say I don't think any of the beers in Thailand are great. I come from the UK so I don't think any of these lager beers can compare with a good bitter. If you wanted really good lager, you would go to Belgium, Germany or Czechoslovakia. Still the beers in Thailand are good enough and certainly do the job for which they are intended.

If I am doing a session in the tourist bars of Patong, my current beer of choice is San Miguel Light. It is light, easy to drink and it does not give me the same brutal hangover as most of the other options. However, as Beer Lao becomes more widespread I may well find myself switching.

If I am drinking at a Thai bar or restaurant, I am more likely to go with Singha or Leo. They are crisp and refreshing enough and although they are not great beers, they are generally the best of what is on offer.

 




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