Thai beer is becoming quite expensive in relation to the cost of other consumer activities. The Thai government has placed increasingly heavy taxes on liquor and beer, so that now the majority of the price that you pay for a large beer is tax. Whether this is an effort to raise more tax revenue (the result has been a sharp decrease in the consumption of alcoholic beverages for perhaps a net decrease in revenue) or to descourage consumption, drinking can wreak havoc with your budget. One large bottle (630 ml) of Singha beer costs nearly onequarter the minimum daily wage of a Bangkok worker.
According to the Un's Food & Agriculture Organisation (FAO), Thailand ranks fifth world-wide in consumption of alcohol, behind South Korea, the Bahamas, Taiwan and Bermuda, and well ahead of Portugal, Ireland and France.
Beer Three brands of beer are brewed in Thailand by Thai-owned breweries: Singha, Amarit and Kloster. Singha (pronounced ‘Sîng’ by the Thais) is by far the most common beer in Thailand, with some 66% of the domestic market. The original recipe was formulated in 1934 by nobleman Phya Bhirom Bhakdi and his son Prachuap, who was the first Thai to earn a brewmaster's diploma from Munich's Doemens Institute. Singha is a strong, hoppy-tasting brew thought by many to be the best beer produced in Asia. The barley for Singha is grown in Thailand, the hops are imported from Germany and the rated alcohol content is 6%. Singha is sometimes available on tap in pubs and restaurants.
Kloster is quite a bit smoother and lighter than Singha and generally costs a little more per bottle, but it is a good-tasting brew often favoured by western visitors, expats and upwardly mobile Thais who view it as somewhat of a status symbol. Amarit NB (the initials stand for 'naturally brewed', though who knows whether it is or not) is similar in taste to Singha but a bit smoother, and is brewed by Thai Amarit, the same company that produces Kloster. Like Kloster it costs a few baht more than the national brew. Together Amarit and Kloster claim only 7% of Thailand's beer consumption. Alcoholic content for each is 4.7%.
Boon Rawd Breweries, makers of Singha, also produce a lighter beer called Singha Gold which only comes in small bottles; most people seem to prefer either Kloster or regular Singha to Singha Gold, which is a little on the bland side. Better is Singha's new canned 'draught beer' - if you like cans.
Carlsberg, jointly owned by Danish and Thai interests, is a strong newcomer to Thailand, As elsewhere in South-East Asia, Carlsberg has used an aggressive promotion campaign (backed by the makers of Mekong whisky) to grab around 25% of the Thai market in only two years. The company adjusted its recipe to come closer to Singha's 6% alcohol content, which may be one reason they've surpassed Kloster and Amarit so quickly.
Singha has retaliated in advertisements suggesting that drinking Carlsberg is unpatriotic. Carlsberg responded by creating 'Beer Chang' (Elephant Beer), which matches the hoppy taste of Singha but ratchets the alcohol content up to 7%. Dutch giant Heineken opened a plant in Nonthaburi in 1995, so look for more sparks to fly.
The Thai word for beer is bia. Draught beer is bia sòt (literally, 'fresh beer').
Thai liquors come in cheaper varieties such as lâo khão, or 'white liquor', of which there are two broad categories: legal and contraband. The legal kind is generally made fom sticky rice and is produced for regional consumption. Don't expect to find any recognizable brands as most are produced locally and aren't labeled for mass sales. Like Mekong and its competitors, it is 35% alcohol, but sells for ..(50).. to ..(60)..B per klom, or roughly half the price. The taste is sweet and raw and much more aromatic than the amber stuff - no amount of mixer will disguise the distinctive taste.
Thai liquors also comes in illegal varieties and are made from various agricultural products including sugar palm sap, coconut milk, sugar cane, taro and rice. Alcohol content may vary from as little as 10% or 12% to as much as 95%. Generally this lâo thèuan (jungle liquor) is weaker in the South and stronger in the North and North-East. This is the choice of many Thais who can't afford to pay the heavy government liquor taxes; prices vary but ..(10).. to ..(15)..B worth of the stronger concoctions will intoxicate three or four people. These types of home-brew or moonshine are generally taken straight with pure water as a chaser. In smaller towns, almost every garage-type restaurant (except, of course, Muslim restaurants) keeps some under the counter for sale. Sometimes roots and herbs are added to jungle liquor to enhance flavour and colour.
Thai liquors are also infused with herbs at times. This practice has become somewhat fashionable throughout the country and can be found at roadside vendors, small pubs and in a few guesthouses. These liquors are made by soaking various herbs, roots, seeds, fruit and bark in lâo khão to produce a range of concoctions called yàa dong. Many of the yàa dong preparations are purported to have specific health-enhancing qualities. Some of them taste fabulous while others are rank.
Thai wine is on the rise as Thais become increasingly interested in wine-drinking. However, Thais still manage only a minuscule one glass per capita average consumption per year. Various enterprises have attempted to produce wine in Thailand, most often with disastrous results but that is beginning to change. There are several areas around the country that are having some success growing wine grapes. Khao Yai in Nakorn Rachasima province is fast becoming one of the most famous. These wineries are beginning to produce very drinkable wines mostly from Shiraz and Chenin Blanc However, growers are experimenting with other varieties as well.
Thai spirits are also becoming famous. Rice whisky is a big favourite in Thailand and somewhat more affordable than beer for the average Thai. It has a sharp, sweet taste not unlike rum, with an alcoholic content of 35%. The two major liquor manufacturers are Suramaharas Co and the Surathip Group. The first produces the famous Mekong (pronounced 'Mâe-khõng') and Kwangthong brands, the second the Hong (swan) labels including Hong Thong, Hong Ngoen, Hong Yok and Hong Tho. Mekong and Kwangthong cost around ..(120)..B for a large bottle (klom) or ..(60)..B for the flask-sized bottle (baen). An even smaller bottle, the kòk, is occasionally available for ..(30).. to ..(35)..B. The Hong brands are less expensive.
Thai spirits came together in the late 1980s, when the two liquor giants met and formed a common board of directors to try to end the fierce competition brought about when a 1985 government tax increase led to a 40% drop in Thai whisky sales. The meeting has resulted in an increase in whisky prices but probably also in better distribution - Mekong and Kwangthong have generally not been available in regions where the Hong labels are marketed and vice versa. A third company, Pramuanphon Distillery in Nakhon Pathom, markets a line of cut-rate rice whisky under three labels: Maew Thong (Gold Cat), Sing Chao Phraya (Chao Phraya Lion) and Singharat (Lion-King).
Thai spirits also include more expensive Thai whiskies appealing to the pre-Johnnie Walker set and include Singharaj blended whisky ((240)..B a bottle) and VO Royal Thai whisky ((260)..B), each with 40% alcohol.
Thai spirits also include one true rum, that is, a distilled liquor made from sugar cane, called Sang Thip. Alcohol content is 40% and the stock is supposedly aged. Sang Thip costs several baht more than the rice whiskies, but for those who find Mekong and the like unpalatable, it is an alternative worth trying.