Why is Craft Beer Illegal in Thailand?

Thailand has a unique attitude towards alcohol, particularly beer. The Liquor Act of 1950 states that beer can only be legally produced in a factory or brewery, and the Ministry of Finance regulation from 2000 requires producers to have an annual production of at least 100,000 liters and a capital of 10 million baht. This makes craft beer and home-brewing illegal in Thailand. However, a growing number of beer operations are thriving underground, honing their craft, experimenting with friends and neighbors, and sometimes relying on crowdfunding.

Foreign brewers are also joining the race. Bangkok's craft beer scene is shifting from illegal underworld businesses to craft industry. Pak Kret is known as the center of the Thai craft beer scene, with American craft brewers introducing new beers. The bans have changed the level playing field for craft beer manufacturers and suppliers, especially during the pandemic when sales shifted online.

Taopiphop, a craft beer brewer, is pushing legislation to amend a law regulating the issuance of brewery permits that favor large brewers over small brewers. Wichit rents tank space in its two licensed breweries to about 50 small-scale craft breweries to meet its annual capacity requirement of 100,000 liters. Boonrawd and ThaiBev have traditionally claimed about 95% of the local beer market, leaving about 5% for premium beers, imports and local craft beers. There are an estimated 50-80 craft brewers in Thailand; it's not clear how many have sunk during the pandemic. In Bangkok's craft beer bars, “Thai brands cost almost as much as their non-ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) cousins.

However, in recent years, Thailand's craft beer culture has thrived, especially in Bangkok, where the city's bars and restaurants serve locally made craft beers illegally or have devised creative solutions. What Thao is referring to is the fact that, in order to get around Thailand's strict regulations, most of the 200 “Thai craft beer brands” are brewed outside the country. According to Charoen, the rules against craft beers imposed in 2001 are designed to prevent competition. The bans have had a much greater impact on craft beer suppliers who have only been operating for a few years and have not yet established their brands and distribution networks. Other craft breweries consider the brewery's business model too restrictive. It shouldn't be too hard to imagine a near future when craft beer is readily available and affordable throughout Thailand.