In Search Of Craft Beer In Thailand and Laos

To be honest, I didn’t have high hopes for finding anything other than light lagers on my recent family trip to Thailand. But then again, nothing satisfies quite like an ice cold Leo in that hot, humid climate so I wasn’t particularly fussed.

So on the first night, in Bangkok, we indulged in a Leo tower. It’s my favourite of the standard Thai beers – the others being Singha, Chang and Tiger (not Thai, I know, but it’s available everywhere) – as it has a slightly sweet finish that makes it very easy to drink and means it goes superbly with spicy food. Incidentally, I did try a Chang Export which I’d not seen on my travels there before, but I found to be overly malty and uninspiring. The Leos, however, slipped down a treat. Welcome to Thailand!

We then ventured down to Koh Tao in the Gulf of Thailand fpr Christmas and New Year, and I abandoned all propsect of craft beer. If it’s difficult to find in Thailand, it’ll be non-existant on a small island. I’ll be happy if they have Leo. So, when on a dive with a Belgian guy called Paul who was doing his 100th dive, he mentioned buying everyone a beer back at the dive shop, “..but not a Duvel!”. “Duvel?” I said, “On this island?”.  Goodtime Adventures bar stocked Duvel, San Miguel Light (didn’t try it, but I think I can imagine it), Paulaner, Beer Lao and Beer Lao Dark. I had a Duvel which was good, but did feel a bit heavy to have after diving. My mistake to sink an 8% beer like it was a 4% lager…

The next day, after a couple more dives (one of which being an old US Navy wreck, which was awesome), I went for the Lao Dark and was very impressed with what I tasted. It poured a Coke-light dark brown, full of bubbles and toasty aroma. And it was ridiculously easy to drink, with a lovely roasted finish that doesn’t overpower the light mouthfeel of the beer. Much better suited to the climate than a Duvel, in my opinion. But then it is brewed in Laos.

We went back to Bangkok for a couple of nights, and I did a bit of research to find some bars stocking interesting beers. I stumbled across Beervana – craft beer distributors in Bangkok – and through them found Brew Beers & Ciders, who boast the largest selection of beers in Thailand. And it is an impressive selection. Well, it looked like it from the website as we didn’t get around to actually going there due to the fact that only 2 of the 9 people in the group were interested in unusual beers, one of whom (me) had tonsilitis. God bless Thai pharmacies for selling antibiotics over the counter.

The next beer-related highlight was very unexpected. We spent a night in Chiang Khan, a small village on the Mekong river, right on the border with Laos. The village consisted of a little street with an abundance of small shops selling clothing made in the area, and lots of food stalls of various weird and wonderful titbits – fried bread on a stick, and little wrapped leaves filled with ginger, onion, garlic and chilli being a couple of my favourites – with a few bars, restaurants and cafes thrown in too.

As we wandered down through the village, I noticed an Erdinger umbrella outside one of the bars so I couldn’t resist popping in for a beer. The bar was called Ganga, and the selection was very, very surprising. Mutliple beers from Erdinger, Paulaner, Schneider Weisse, Weihenstephaner, Leffe and Fullers as well as various, innumerable others. The place was run by a couple from Bangkok, I think husband and wife, called Tim and Tim. Which must get confusing, but anyway…I went for an Erdinger Dunkel (which I was a little disappointed with actually, it didn’t pack as much of a deep, malty punch as I thought it would) and I chose a London Pride for my father-in-law which, although good, was a bit too cold. I asked Tim (the wife) about their selection and she told me that they loved to drink all these beers so decided to open up a bar selling it all. My wife and mum went for a Beer Lao, and altogether the bill was about £10, which although good for pounds is a bit pricey for beer in Thailand. Still, it’s the novelty of stumbling upon that amazing selection in such an unexpected place.

The next day we ventured over the border into Laos, spending the night in Vientiane – the first communist country I’ve visited, and I now have an awesome looking visa in my passport. Unsurprisingly, there’s lots of Beer Lao in Laos. I mean, it’s everywhere. Most bar signs are sponsored by them, all bars serve it, adverts, empty crates and delivery trucks for it are everywhere. But maybe that’s not surprising of a brewery 49% owned by the government. The only other beer I saw widley available was Calrsberg, which is brewed at the same brewery. Also, is it just in Asia that breweries also produce bottled water – Singha, Chang, Lao? I tried a bottle of Beer Lao Gold while I was there, which I found it quite thin with almost a sour finish, which was very dissapointing considering their other two beers. I did notice that the small shop next to our hotel stocked a few decent Belgian beers – Duvel, Vedett, Maredsous and Chimay – probably due to Laos French history. My father-in-law told me about a night he spent there in the past where he had tom yum soup, steamed mussels and a Kwak. Sounds delicious!

So, those are the highlights of my holiday, apart from snorkling, diving, kayaking, cycling, climbing up (and then going through) a mountain, seeing a lake of lotus flowers in bloom, watching lots of sunsets (but only one sunrise), seeing lots of temples and buddhas of various sizes and importance and, of course, eating so much amazing Thai food.

And now it’s Monday, I’m back at work, it’s snowing and we have to start looking for flats. Woop.

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Categories: Beer | 1 Comment

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One thought on “In Search Of Craft Beer In Thailand and Laos

  1. Alan

    What a good read on your travels in SE Asia, will definitely be stocking more beer laos in Buffalo Bar in future! I must add however that the “Dean Road Dingo” brewed @home by Bibacity & brought over to Thailand took first prize on an amazing taste, what a good herby beer & not too over powering….good job!

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