Bangkok: Thai beermaker Toon’s hoppy Sandport brew will be out of stock on Friday’s International Beer Day — a far cry from the parties of previous years — as the kingdom’s small brewers struggle under the strain of tough booze laws and the pandemic crunch.
Thailand has the highest alcohol consumption rate in Southeast Asia, according to the World Health Organization, with locals typically reaching for the ubiquitous Chang, Singha and Leo beers. But Thai alcohol regulations demanding minimum production levels skew the market towards beverage conglomerates, making it harder for smaller outfits to enter the market.
The vibrant community of craft beer brewers have adapted by making their ales abroad, but are now hit hard by border closures caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
Toon — real name Supapong Pruenglampoo — has travelled to South Korea, Cambodia, Vietnam and even the US to produce his Sandport brew. “I can no longer go to other countries to brew my beer and send it back to Thailand,” he says, adding many of his clients’ bars have closed too.
Thailand’s 2008 Alcoholic Beverage Control Act forbids the display of booze logos or any advertising that could “directly or indirectly appeal to people to drink”. Small producers have long had to rely on word of mouth, event parties or private groups to hawk their brews. The broad scope of the law means anyone posting a selfie with a beer could see themselves fined up to 500,000 baht ($16,000).
Facebook beer reviewer and enthusiast Nattorn Wongphum calls the law “ridiculous” and fears regular drinkers could be targetted. For Toon — who has so far suffered an estimated 1.5 million baht ($48,000) loss in revenues this year — there is little to celebrate this International Beer Day.