In Thailand, home and small-batch beer brewing remains as illegal today as it was 83 years ago, when the launch of Boon Rawd Brewery (Singha Beer) laid the foundation for a monopolized domestic industry. Yet, in the past few years, a craft beer rebellion, led by an eccentric cast of home brewers, has altered the landscape of Thailand’s drinking culture.
Almost all Thai “craft beer” is technically home brew, but no matter how the end product is defined, making beer in your kitchen still breaks the local laws. Despite facing fines and jail time for pursuing their passion, home brewers have made Thai beer more diverse and delicious than ever, with porters, pale ales, wheats, stouts, and saisons available in bottles and on draft at dozens of places in the capital alone. You can taste Thailand’s best bootlegs at these Bangkok bars.
Craig Sauers is a writer, runner, and craft beer geek based in Bangkok.
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1. Chit Beer
Essentially a lean-to on Koh Kret, a small island in the middle of the Chao Phraya River, Chit Beer may seem one good gust of wind from tumbling into the brown water, but it has nevertheless become a Bangkok mainstay for Thai craft beer. It's run by the lively, eponymous Chit, army colonel by day, rebel brewer by night. (Rebel for now, at least—he recently received a license to open his own microbrewery in the city suburbs). Featuring more than a dozen taps and a fridge full of bottles, the weekends-only bar doubles as a brewing academy, where Chit teaches the tricks of the trade over two days. Stop by for the best selection of Thai-made beer in town: an assortment of ambers, pale ales, porters, and saisons, as well as the much-loved lemongrass kölsch, most of which are brewed by the bar owner.
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2. Changwon Express
Bangkok's only Korean-Mexican fusion joint also serves Thai craft beer on draft. And it's some of the most consistent Thai beer on the market, too. Owner Ted Ahn, a craft beer enthusiast, selects kegs from locally loved labels Sandport, Happy New Beer, King Kong, and X Beer, among others. The restaurant even boasts its own beer, the Changwon Session IPA, brewed by Happy New Beer, a small operation based in nearby Khao Yai. The kegs change frequently—often multiple times in the same night, which makes the chalkboard the tap list is scribbled on a veritable beehive of activity—but there are usually a few different pale ales to pair with dooroo or kimchi tacos. A narrow space painted black and yellow, with a graffiti-covered accent wall, Changwon Express is only capable of seating maybe 20 people at a time—and at least that many are always there.
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3. Let the Boy Die
The only bar for miles on the border of Bangkok's warren-like Chinatown, Let the Boy Die cops its name from a line uttered by Jon Snow in Game of Thrones. "Kill the boy and let the man be born," he says. In this context that quote is meant to urge Thai brewers to cast aside fear of failure or running afoul of the law and give the people the beer they crave. The bar has only six taps, at least three of which are typically reserved for the bar owners' brews: Pieak Pipattanaphon's Goldencoins and Avi Yashaya's Uppercut Brews. But never mind the seemingly limited selection. There's live music each night and cool interior design punctuated by patina on the walls, warm hanging lightbulbs, and long benches designed to encourage conversation. The atmosphere alone makes this one of the most exciting places to try Thai craft beer.
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4. Craft 'N Roll Cafe
It's a trek to get to this riverside bar, which is so far out it's almost in another province, but those who make the journey are rewarded with 10 taps of quality Thai craft beer in a sprawling and surprisingly relaxed space. The massive waterfront patio is as ideal for sundowners as any location in Bangkok, but Craft 'N Roll also offers more intimate seating in a minimally furnished main floor and a loft that overlooks the bar, where draft beer predominantly comes by way of Sandport and Happy New Beer, both friends of the bar owners. Expect a rotating selection of pale ales and wheat beers from other top labels, as well, like What the Pug and Outlaw Brewing, the latter an expat plying his trade in rural northeastern Thailand.
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5. Where Do We Go
All puns aside, Where Do We Go is the latest destination-bar to preach the gospel of Thai craft beer. Located in the narrow alleys of the Lad Phrao neighborhood, the bar is loosely connected to Craft 'N Roll Cafe, and it shows in the Spartan decorations, upcycled seating, and raw concrete softly illuminated by hanging lightbulbs. On tap are a mere four beers, but the kegs rotate as soon as they run dry, so you can still try a good half-dozen (or more) brews on any given night. The tap list features the likes of Triple Pearl and Thomas, as well as the ubiquitous Sandport and Happy New Beer.