If you’ve been to Thailand, you’ll know that the Thai beer market is dominated by three big names: Singha, Chang and Leo.
These brands are ubiquitous in bars, clubs and on billboards. But they’ve also become an intrinsic part of backpacker culture. You’ll see travellers along Khao San Road donning vest tops or shorts covered in their logos. Markets across Thailand sell t-shirts with Chang branding and Koh Phangan is full of revellers wearing Singha singlets (say that after a few beers!).
While all three Thai beers differ slightly in taste and strength, they can all be described as crisp, pale lagers. Locals, expats and travellers will often have a favourite and they’ll be quick to tell you why their favourite is the superior option. You’ll have to try them all for yourself to find your favourite – a hardship I know.
But there’s more to beer in Thailand than just the big three. Many smaller brands are available in different parts of the country. Phuket Beer is common in, you guess it, Phuket but it’s actually brewed in the San Miguel brewery just north of Bangkok. Amarit Beer is only available in Bangkok but you’ll need to know where to look – it’s officially only brewed for export but you can find a bottle for sale with just a small amount of detective work.
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What about Craft Beer in Thailand?
Unfortunately, craft beers don’t have much of a foothold in the Thai beer market. Strict laws surrounding the production of alcohol mean it’s impossible for microbreweries to operate in the same way as they do in the US and Europe. That’s not to say they don’t exist entirely though. A few brave individuals are making waves with their radical home brews and even dipping their toes into politics!
5 Tips for drinking your beer Thai Style ?
- ICE ICE BABY! – In Thailand, it’s common for beer to be served with a glass (gaew) with a good few chunks of ice in the glass (nam keng). Yes, we know this would be seen as sacrilege in many parts of the beer-loving world but in Thailand’s hot climate, it works – believe us!
- SHARING IS CARING – The beer bottles in Thailand are often large and much like in South America, it’s normal for one bottle to be shared among a group… This ensures that your beer doesn’t get warm as you drink it! (And you never know how much you’ve actually drunk…)
- CHEERS! – If you’re clinking beer bottles with new Thai friends, be sure to say “chorn!” – that’s cheers in Thai.
- ORDERING A BEER IN THAI – The word ‘beer’ is the same in English and Thai. To order a beer in Thai language, you would say ‘neung beer kap’ (if you’re a male) and ‘neung beer kaa’ (if you’re female). See this article for more useful Thai phrases.
- BEER COOLERS – If you opt for a smaller beer bottle, it’s likely that it will be served in a squishy bottle cooler… This is designed to keep your beer cold for as long as possible (though we doubt that it will last you that long)! These bottle coolers are often emblazoned with the brand of the beer or some other colourful Thai design and can be bought at markets and stores across the country. They make great souvenirs for beer loving friends!
History of beer in Thailand
Until 1933, beer in Thailand was all imported. Even then, there wasn’t much of it around. The Godfather of Thai beer, Praya Bhirom Bhakdi, was introduced to the drink in 1929 during a meeting with a German business partner. It is said that after just his first mouthful, Bhakdi saw the potential of beer. He decided to produce the first Thai beer, so headed to Europe to study what the breweries there were doing.
Upon his return to Thailand, Bhakdi set his plans into motion and in 1933, opened Boon Rawd Brewery. One of his first beers, Singha remains one of Thailand’s three most popular beers to this day. Boon Rawd also produces Leo, another of the big three beers in Thailand.
The final of the big three, Chang, didn’t exist until 1995. It burst onto the scene and remains a favourite, thanks to its relatively high alcohol content and low price.
The Big Three Thai Beers
- ABV: 5%
- Price: 40-50THB in supermarkets. 90-150THB in bars and restaurants
Singha (pronounced “sing”) is the oldest Thai beer. It was released in early 1934 and originally sold for 32 satang a bottle. Today, 32 Satang is worth less than a single US cent! The price of Singha has risen significantly over the years and it’s now the most expensive of the big three Thai beers. Don’t worry though, you can still find it for less than $2USD per bottle!
Singha is named for the Sanskrit word “Singh,” which translates to “lion”. The bottles stand out thanks to the use of a big golden lion as their logo. It’s only produced in Thailand and is made using European hops and 100% premium barley. This gives the beer its strong malty flavour and hoppy character which pairs nicely with a good Thai curry!
You’ll notice the Garuda symbol atop a Singha bottle or can. This royal warrant is given to Thai companies who supply their products to the King of Thailand, or who produce excellent products while showing transparency, virtue and trustworthiness. Singha received the warrant in 1939 and have been proudly displaying it ever since!
When it comes to Singha, there are a few old myths floating around. The most common of which is that formaldehyde is used as a preservative in the beer. This rumour has spread so well among backpackers and travellers that it’s worthy of the Donald Trump fake news award.
It’s believed that early travellers to Thailand didn’t understand that Singha was stronger than the beer they were used to drinking. Therefore they’d get drunk quickly and end up with raging hangovers. Obviously, there had to be a problem with the beer and not the lightweight drinkers…
This myth has no basis in fact and is well understood to be false. But I bet some smart cookie will try to tell you all about it as you mind your own business swigging a Singha in the sun on a Thai beach!
- ABV: 5.2%
- Price: 35-45THB in supermarkets. 75-140THB in bars and restaurants.
The cheapest of the big three Thai beers is Chang. This backpacker favourite is a light pale malt with very little head. It’s easiest to describe as tasting like a classic light lager, similar to Budweiser. It’s pretty inoffensive and goes down well on a warm evening.
Chang can be found everywhere across Thailand and you’ll see backpackers sporting Chang vests wherever you go. The word Chang is Thai for elephant and the beer’s logo has two elephants facing each other – fitting, if not a bit predictable.
Until 2015, Chang was the strongest of the big three, clocking in at 6.4%ABV – no wonder a night on this stuff has caused many a backpacker to suffer from a monstrous Changover… In 2015, the recipe was changed and the new Chang Classic is just 5.2%ABV. Still a bit stronger than your Fosters or Coors though.
Not to be outdone by Singha, Chang has a few myths of its own. The most common is that the Chang recipe was changed because they had terrible quality control issues with their beer. So much so that you could sometimes reportedly be given a “strong bottle” of Chang in a bar. This would be up to 10%ABV but your next bottle might be less than 3%.
Again this myth seems to come from travellers not being able to deal with stronger beer, looking once again to blame something other than themselves!
Chang is brewed outside of Thailand as well but as with Guinness, only the stuff brewed in its country of origin is worth talking about. Outside of Thailand, Chang is made with 100% malt barley. Within Thailand, they use rice as part of the recipe. This gives the drink a unique taste that isn’t replicated elsewhere.
- ABV: 5%
- Price: 40-50THB in supermarkets. 80-140THB in bars and restaurants.
The last of the big three Thai beers, Leo, is produced by Boon Rawd – the same brewery that produces Singha. Leo is a slightly cheaper option than Singha but not quite as affordable as Chang. Its name refers not to a lion, as is often believed, but is short for leopard. There’s also a leopard on the logo.
Leo Beer was introduced to the world in 1999, just as Thailand was recovering from the Tom Yam Kung Crisis. Boon Rawd had seen their leading beer, Singha, lose huge market share to Chang and the company knew they needed to innovate to survive. They created Leo as an affordable alternative to Singha. It worked. Leo took off and became one of the country’s most popular alcoholic drinks.
It’s easy to drink and has a subtle sweet grainy taste. If you like lager, there’s not much to dislike about Leo. It became super popular with backpackers when travellers began to shun Chang. They believed Leo to be of higher quality and that it wouldn’t give them the same nasty hangover.
Other Popular Thai Beers
This 5%ABV beer is a little pricier than Chang or Leo and is available throughout Thailand. It has a sweet, grassy flavour that can be lost in the bubbles. It’s a very fizzy beer! Generally inoffensive, Cheers Beer can make a nice change if you’re getting bored of the big three!
A slightly more potent version of Cheers Beer, Cheers X-tra is 6%ABV. Aside from that though, it has very little going for it. The flavour is okay but not as drinkable as Cheers. However, it doesn’t taste like a 6% beer so if you’re looking to get messy, this could be the beer for you.
Archa is produced by the same company that makes Chang. Per can, it’s one of the cheapest beers in Thailand. Archa translates to “equestrian” in Thai. So, you guessed it, the logo is a horse! It’s certainly not a high-quality beer but chilled, it goes down well on a hot day.
Brewed just north of Bangkok but aiming for the chilled out Phuket vibe, this beer is popular among travellers to Thailand. It was the first Thai beer to receive a gold medal at an international beer award. It’s light and fruity, perfect for sipping while lazing on the beach!
Brewed in Thailand’s San Miguel Brewery, Amarit Beer is generally produced for export. You can find it at the brewery, where it’s freely available. If you want to sample it outside of the brewery, you’ll need to hunt it out as it’s not commonly sold. Overall Amarit Beer has a light, floral flavour but it’s nothing to write home about.
One of Thailand’s newest and hippest brews, U Beer is characterised by its standout yellow label. This pale lager is aimed at the younger crowd of drinkers who are looking for a sweet hint to their beer. It’s produced by Boon Rawd and is available throughout Thailand.
This Thai made German Pilsner is a favourite among beer aficionados in Thailand. It’s brewed according to German purity laws. It’s more expensive than the typical lagers we see in Thailand but certainly more flavourful. You wouldn’t want to do a night on it but Federbräu makes for a nice change every now and again.
Imported beer in Thailand
You’ll be able to find most famous international beers in Thailand, especially in popular cities like Bangkok or Chiang Mai. They’re favoured by wealthy locals as well as travellers but they’re not kind to your backpacker budget. Importing beer comes with massive duties. These can reach up to 60% in some instances, so drinking foreign beer is a quick way to burn through your travel fund.
Heineken is an exception. It is actually brewed in Thailand so there are no import duties on it. That said, it’s still more expensive than local beer so you’re pretty much just paying for the name.
Want our advice? Stick to the proper local stuff and you’ll see your money stretch much further!
Beer in Thailand FAQS
Is Heineken brewed in Thailand?
Yes, Heineken is brewed in Thailand. Since 1995, the Thai Asia Pacific Brewery has produced Heineken from its Nonthaburi brewery.
When Is Selling Beer In Thailand Forbidden?
By law, there are a number of occasions where you cannot buy alcohol in Thailand. Every day between the hours of 2 pm and 5 pm, the sale of alcohol is forbidden in Thailand. This is supposed to prevent underage drinking. However, many shops still sell alcohol to tourists during this time.
There are also five Buddhist holidays in which you cannot buy alcohol. These are: Visakha Bucha, Makha Bucha, Asarnha Bucha Day, Khao Phansa or Wan Org Phansa Day. The dates for these holidays change every year so check online to ensure you know when they are.
Finally, it’s also illegal to sell alcohol during local or national elections in Thailand.
What is the most popular beer in Thailand?
Leo beer has the largest market share in Thailand. Closely followed by Chang and Singha.
What is the Thai beer with Elephants?
The Thai beer with elephants on the bottle is Chang. This is the cheapest of Thailand’s “Big Three” beers.
Which Thai beer is best?
Deciding which is the best Thai beer is up to you… we encourage you to try them all! However, the three most popular Thai beers are Singha, Chang and Leo.
Team South East Asia Backpacker’s favourite Thai Beers:
- Nikki: Leo with namkeng!
- Dave: U Beer – As their slogan goes… “A beer that values ideas & creativity”… Who could ask for more?
- Sheree: Anything but Chang – I can’t cope with the Changovers anymore…!
- Tim: Chang – it’s a classic!
Have we missed your favourite Thai beer from this list? Let us know in the comments below!
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