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E-Malt.com News article: Thailand: Craft beer movement in Thailand stifled by archaic law protecting interests of large firms
Brewery news

The increase in craft beer in Thailand faces an archaic law that protects the interests of large firms and has forced many brewers to cross the borders to ferment their drinks legally, the Latin American Herald Tribune reported on December 16.

During weekends, Koh Kret, an artificial island in Nonthaburi province, to the north of Bangkok, witnesses craft brewers from across the country coming together to share their latest creations at a local bar considered as the Mecca of craft beer.

“I have thrice had problems with the police. Three times they have tried to close the joint. All three times I asked the officials, are the laws fair? I don’t know how much time we have left, but I know that sooner or later change will come to Thailand,” Wichit Siklao, considered the dean of craft beer in the country, told EFE.

Brewing beer for private or commercial use is illegal according to a Thai law dating back to 1950, which stipulates fines of between 500 and 5,000 baht ($14-140) or up to six months of imprisonment for offenders.

However, the law allows for a special license for companies with a capital above 10 million baht ($280,000) and a production higher than 10 million litres a year.

“In Thailand there are only three beer companies for a total 60 million people. The power of these companies rests with their strong ties with the authorities,” said Wichit, a former army colonel who discovered the craft beer movement in the 1990s in the United States and began to brew his own beer in 2011.

Wichit, the owner of the joint where the brewers meet, says he seeks to fight the unjust law and is not afraid of going to prison as the movement that has begun cannot be stopped.

“Five years ago, nobody knew how to make craft beer in Thailand, now there are nearly 100 companies involved,” he said.

Pushing for even stronger change, some years ago Wichit decided to teach the craft to new enthusiasts and, according to him, he has taught some 1,000 people.

“The success of the joint (Koh Kret) lies in not knowing what beer you are going to try. The menu always changes according to the brewer and their latest experiments. Craft beer is an art, you design your own beer,” Wichit said.

At least half a dozen brewers have opted to establish their production in neighboring countries such as Cambodia and Laos and even Vietnam, Taiwan and Australia, and they export their produce to Thailand legally to avoid problems with the authorities.

“My idea is to make beer increasingly cheaper and of a greater variety to reach more consumers. The more people learn about craft beer and problems in legislation, the faster change will come,” Panithan Tongsiri, founder of the company StoneHead, told EFE.

Panithan, who was Wichit’s student, established his company two years ago in the Cambodian city of Koh Rong to sidestep the “unjust law.”

However, both of them believe that legislative change in the near future would be a complicated matter.

In contrast to beverages with high alcohol content, the fermentation process used for making beer leads to production of small quantities of methanol that does not pose a risk to human consumption.

However, on being illegally manufactured, they are not subject to a health assessment by the competent authorities.

Among Wichit’s future endeavors is the construction of a brewery that will be jointly operated by around 20-30 “craftsmen” in order to comply with the legal requisites and obtain a license.

“Change in the beer industry is just an example. Things don’t change overnight; one needs to work with a perspective for the future. Everybody needs to be guaranteed the same opportunities. Beer is a symbol, a change that can be extrapolated to the entire economic model,” Wichit said.

16 December, 2016

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