All about beer

October 14, 2002

Many love it. Some loathe it. More than a few have sworn never to drink it again upon waking with an aching head after a long evening enjoying its company. Beer plays an important part in daily social engagements and also is an important aspect of global travel.

Among Thais, beer consumption has increased seven-fold over the last ten years and there certainly is no shortage of visitors to the country quaffing them down, too. Beer drinking is much like the Thai concept of having fun: there is no specific time frame or place assigned to it. Beer vending machines can be found outside some major supermarkets. Drinking beer goes hand in hand with hanging out in the park, fishing, swimming, singing, taking a stroll or enjoying breakfast, lunch or dinner.

Beer is accepted in Thailand. No policeman is going to walk up and fine you for having an open container. Forget being asked for ID when you head into a club. Many visitors revel in the ‘freedom’ of lax alcohol141002k1.jpg consumption laws and can be found drinking inside the airport, outside the airport, in the taxi on the way to town, while strolling through marketplaces - well, pretty much anywhere, actually. Although laws require drinking venues to close at 2 a.m., that doesn’t stop herds of people heading to the store after last call, buying more beer and continuing the party on the sidewalk. Thai passersby greet all of this anarchistic beer behaviour with outward acceptance and sometimes a bit of inward scorn.

One of my favourite Thailand beer scenes involved a Heineken delivery truck going about its business in the afternoon with all the Thai beer deliverymen sitting on top of it drinking Heineken as they went about their day’s work. Another beer and alcohol related phenomenon in Thailand: when traffic jams get out of hand, doors open, beer and whisky bottles come out, and spontaneous parties with neighbouring cars begin.

With all the beer-drinking going on, you might141002k2.jpg wonder just what it is people are drinking. There actually aren’t that many choices out there. The beers most readily available all over Thailand are Singha, Leo, Carlsberg, Chang and Heineken. Singha beer is the best-known and most popular Thai beer out there and has been around the longest. Leo beer is produced by the same company, is cheaper and has a higher alcohol percentage (7%). Heineken and Carlsberg came on the scene in the 1990s. Carlsberg also produces Chang beer, similar in price and alcohol percentage to Leo. These beers are brewed under license within Thailand along with Black Tiger, Amstel, Kloster and Mittweida beer, all of which are a bit more tricky to find. It is possible to find imported beer such as Guinness on tap, but you’ll pay 285 baht (US$6.50) for a pint.

Thailand is well known for its cheap food, accommodation and wares and it is not uncommon to find people traveling on a budget of less than US$20 a day. Truth said, you could live quite well on141002k3.jpg this low figure - unless you drink a lot of beer. Beer prices are more reasonable in Thailand than in Western countries but when you can eat a decent meal of Thai food for 20 baht (US$0.50), one beer can end up costing you twice as much as your entire meal. And let’s be honest, many people tend to drink more than one beer a night, especially when they are on vacation.

Beer prices vary a staggering amount within Thailand. You can spend up to 300 baht (US$6.90) on a domestic beer in a hotel lobby or choose to drink one at a roadside venue for 40 or so baht instead. Even when sold at the lowest of prices, beer drinking is very often too expensive for many Thais. A large bottle of beer can represent more than half a day’s wage for many, so drinking whisky becomes the more obvious and economical choice.

One of the first things most any visitor to Thailand learns to do is how to order a beer in Thai. It’s quite easy too. Beer is simply pronounced ‘bia.’ Add the brand you want after the word ‘bia’ and you are good to go. You can barely turn a corner without running into an establishment ready to fulfill your need of some cold amber liquid.

Outside beer gardens hosting concerts, bamboo huts haphazardly constructed on the side of road, pushcarts, pick-up trucks converted to full bars, restaurants of every shape, size and price structure, market vendors with wobbly tables, your local grocery store and hundreds of pubs with every kind of theme imaginable are all ready to serve you up a beer. If it’s not cold, just add ice.

Back to the table of contents...