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Thread: Brewing Rebel

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    Thailand Expat tomcat's Avatar
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    Brewing Rebel

    A renegade soldier leads a revolution in Thailand — for craft beer

    Shashank Bengali
    LA TimesJune 12, 2020, 6:00 PM GMT+7

    He hardly seems like an outlaw — a 48-year-old army colonel who holds a doctorate in computer engineering and teaches at Thailand’s most prestigious military academy.

    On a rustic island of palm trees and moldering temples upriver from Bangkok, Wichit Saiklao owns a weekend brewhouse where Thais flock to sample his latest selection of specialty beers — and learn how to make their own.

    With empty bottles lining the walls, a bitcoin machine in a corner and a pop soundtrack playing overhead, the pleasantly ramshackle bar seems like just another outpost of the global craft beer craze. But in Thailand, selling homemade brews is banned under a decades-old law that protects two giant family-owned corporations, which control 90% of the country's $5.7-billion beer market.

    Small-time brewers face fines, potential jail time and the constant risk of raids by police and tax inspectors. To many Thais, the rules are the product of a political system that has grown more authoritarian since a 2014 military coup, squashing innovators while indulging the wealthy and well-connected.

    Chit, as he's known, believes some laws are not worth following — even for an army man in a country ruled by former generals.
    So he pays the fines and endures the searches but carries on, serving up a quiet revolution with every pint. More than 3,000 home brewers have cycled through the Chit Beer academy, building a movement that has begun to challenge the alcohol law — and, he hopes, the strictures of Thai society.

    “I don’t care if you make craft beer a business, or even if you make good beer, but I want you to feel the experience of releasing your potential,” Chit said. “For me, beer is just a way to change the country.”

    Wichit "Chit" Saiklao conducts a beer-brewing class in February 2020 in Thailand. (Lauren DeCicca / For The Times)On a warm Saturday afternoon weeks before the kingdom locked down against the coronavirus, buoyant young Thais in canvas sneakers and flush-cheeked foreigners sweating under straw hats bellied up to wooden tables on Chit’s veranda on Koh Kret, an hour and a half from central Bangkok by train and ferry.

    Frank Sinatra’s “My Way” played on the speakers. Chit’s younger brother Porn worked the taps, pouring fruity, straw-hued Amata Weizens and golden Mosaic Hop Drop Saisons — among eight beers on offer that weekend — into glasses featuring a turtle logo and the motto, “It’s Good Chit.”

    The terrapin is a reminder to slow down, Chit said — to leave the frenzy of Bangkok behind and drink in the measured, earthy process of beer-making. Under a hand-painted “Brewing Academy” sign, grains steeped in a drum of water as Chit talked three pupils in their late 20s through the finer points of malt and yeast, amber and ale.

    “If you can make one kind of beer, you can make them all,” he told them. “The point is to figure out what you like, and to know that you have choices. The power is yours.”

    The two young men in the class nodded. The lone woman took notes.

    Since the army entered politics, dissent in Thailand has been harshly punished. But the alcohol law remains irregularly enforced. Chit has been fined eight times, paying anywhere from a few hundred dollars to $1,500.

    Still, he finds no contradiction between his renegade hobby and his job teaching engineering at Chulachomklao Royal Military Academy, the training ground for a century’s worth of army chiefs and politicians — including the sitting prime minister, Prayuth Chan-ocha.
    “I’m not going to compete with any of them for any position,” he said. “I’m not going to threaten their career path. So nobody in the army cares about what I do.”

    Chit's malt storage facility is a converted garage near his brewhouse on Koh Kret island in Thailand. (Lauren DeCicca / For The Times)Seventeen years after ending his service as a soldier, Chit, who retains his officer's rank, still has the close-cropped hair, trim build and raw vigor of a young recruit. His hunger grew out of a poor, lonesome childhood in Phatthalung, a southern province of rice and rubber farms.
    The oldest of three children, Chit often watched his father come home drunk and scream at his mother. He would hide in another room when they fought, reading books through his tears.

    “I felt so unlucky,” he said. “I always thought: Why did my parents get married? Why did they have me? I turned that into the energy to change.”

    The pudgy teen excelled at school, earning admission to a military academy in Bangkok. Endless pushups slimmed him down. Still, he chafed at the discipline and yearned to go abroad, believing it was the only way to deliver his family from poverty. Many nights after lights out, he sneaked off to the bathroom with his backpack, burying himself in books until morning.

    He got a chance to go to the U.S. with a scholarship to the Virginia Military Institute. From there it was on to Georgia Tech in Atlanta, where on a Saturday night in 1996, an American buddy gave the sober young cadet his first taste of home-brewed beer.

    Bartenders pour pints at Chit Beer. Chit has been fined eight times for running the unlicensed brewery. (Lauren DeCicca / For The Times)Chit used an expletive to describe the taste. “But what impressed me was the idea that you could make this at home. I wanted to brew beer too, but mainly so I wouldn’t feel lonely. I thought, if I had beer, friends would come over.”

    Juggling side jobs as a computer programmer and a bartender at Buffalo Wild Wings — whose recipe he adapted for the spicy chicken wings served at the brew house — Chit completed his PhD in 2003 and flew home to Thailand. He spent the 30-hour journey scribbling a manifesto for his future.

    “When I was in the U.S. I looked at my country like, ‘Why? Why?’” he said. “I came back at 31 and I felt like I was starting my life.”
    He launched a successful logistics startup, built his parents a house, put his brother and sister through college — then turned back to beer.
    It was 2012, and artisanal beer didn’t exist in Thailand. Customs officers probably didn’t know what they were looking at when a home-brewing kit addressed to Chit arrived from the U.S. via Amazon.

    His first batches turned out treacly and flat. It wasn’t until the third try that he realized that the little white packets he was discarding weren’t desiccants but yeast, which catalyzes fermentation and gives beer its alcohol content and bubbles.
    Soon he was hosting nighttime tastings at his house on Koh Kret and gaining a following on Facebook. After launching the weekly classes in 2014, he helped former students set up a brewery in Cambodia and ship the beer back to Thailand. Soon Thai beers were being made in Vietnam, Taiwan and Australia.

    The new varieties cost a premium because of heavy import taxes. But trendy young Thais thrilled to the fresh flavors of chocolaty stouts and pale ales infused with local ingredients: berries, lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves, a type of ginger called galangal.

    Chit brews several craft varieties, from pilsners and pale ales to rich stouts, for customers at Chit Beer. (Lauren DeCicca / For The Times)In Bangkok’s craft beer scene, Chit came to be known as “the godfather.”

    “He’s really nice and generous — and a visionary,” said Taopiphop Limjittrakorn, a 31-year-old home brewer who goes by Tao.
    Lanky and affable, with a slacker vibe that belies his law school education, Tao became enchanted with craft beer after tasting a refreshingly bitter India pale ale on a visit to New York. Back in Bangkok, he ditched his corporate job and set up an illicit brewery in a rented building, importing malt and hops from the U.S. and Europe.

    In early 2017, police arrived and demanded a hefty bribe. Tao didn’t have the money, so he spent the night in jail and paid a $150 fine.
    But then he went on TV to denounce the alcohol laws and became a sensation. Thailand was beginning to prepare for 2019 parliamentary elections, the first since the coup. A progressive new party called Future Forward was casting around for young candidates, and Tao’s name came up.

    Taopiphop "Tao" Limjittrakorn pours a beer at his Bangkok pub. (Lauren DeCicca / For The Times)A pro-military party won the heavily skewed election, but Future Forward finished a surprising third with 80 seats — including Tao’s. He became the second youngest member of the legislature, turning the ground floor of his new pub, the Taopiphop Bar Project, into his parliamentary office.

    On a warm night in January, Tao sat behind a microphone, beer in hand, at a small bar above a Bangkok bookshop. He had invited some of Thailand’s roughly 70 craft beer makers to discuss his party’s proposal: to eliminate the minimum requirements for brewers and distillers, allowing them to manufacture beer and spirits domestically.

    Licenses are currently granted to brewpubs only if they produce at least 100,000 liters a year — the equivalent of 800 single-serving bottles a day — and have more than $300,000 invested. Industrial bottlers must churn out 100 times that amount, which leaves the two conglomerates that make Chang, Singha and Leo, pale lagers that are as unremarkable as they are ubiquitous.

    “People want to see small businesses fight against big corporations,” Tao told the brewers. “They really want us to be the symbol of change in this country."

    Moments later, the door creaked and in walked Chit. Brewers put down their beers, some joining their palms in respect.
    When Chit spoke, he was measured: “We need to unlock home brewing so that people have peace of mind when they make beer. But as far as a commercial business, I don’t know how far we can go.”

    Thai home brewers call Chit "the godfather" of the country's craft beer movement. (Lauren DeCicca / For The Times)Afterward, sipping a pale ale at a picnic table outside his taproom Turtle Bar, he marveled that the movement he'd launched alone and in secret could be on the cusp of a breakthrough. But he predicted Tao's upstart party would provoke a backlash from the military.

    Weeks later, a court dissolved Future Forward over a campaign finance violation. Tao and other members, regrouped under a new party, have vowed to press ahead with the liquor bill.

    Back on Koh Kret, Chit steers clear of politics. His classes usually have a two-month wait list, but patience, as a brewmeister will tell you, is part of the process. Students must return to the island 14 days after the lesson, when their batches are ready to be bottled.
    In Chit's view, the wait teaches them to value the future — a catalyst, like yeast, for political awakening.
    Majestically enthroned amid the vulgar herd

  2. #2
    Hangin' Around cyrille's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by tomcat View Post
    A renegade soldier leads a revolution in Thailand — for craft beer


    I'd thought that the 'Bloomberg' take on Thailand was amusingly clueless enough, but this is a real barnstormer.

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    hallelujah's Avatar
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    Most craft beer is undrinkable pretentious shite. Especially those mega hoppy IPAs which taste like washing up liquid.

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    “For me, beer is just a way to change the country.”

    Now here is my kind of revolutionary.

    I have had a few very good Thai craft beers. Those were brewed in well-equipped microbreweries in Cambodia by Thai brewers. The Thais rent the breweries for a single batch then 'export' their beers to Thailand where it is heavily taxed.

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    Thailand Expat tomcat's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by tomcat View Post
    Chang, Singha and Leo, pale lagers that are as unremarkable as they are ubiquitous.
    ...fortunately, these aren't the only options...

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    Hangin' Around cyrille's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Shutree View Post
    Those were brewed in well-equipped microbreweries in Cambodia by Thai brewers. The Thais rent the breweries for a single batch then 'export' their beers to Thailand where it is heavily taxed.
    Yes, this is to get around the restriction mentioned in the article...

    Quote Originally Posted by tomcat View Post
    Licenses are currently granted to brewpubs only if they produce at least 100,000 liters a year — the equivalent of 800 single-serving bottles a day — and have more than $300,000 invested.
    Unfortunately it looks like it'll be a while before drinkable and affordable beer will result.

    Imo Thais are getting a bit carried away with the...err...'innovations'. Anyone for a 180 baht++, 33cl bottle of Galangal beer?

    Nah, thought not.

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    Cenosillicaphobiac
    Plan B's Avatar
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    ^
    Yes, I'll take two bottles.

    Thanks Snoozille.

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    Hangin' Around cyrille's Avatar
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    So, I have another injured fanboy with nothing to say on topic.

    How not at all boring.


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    aging one's Avatar
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    Chit is a great guy and host. Good food, better beer, and nice food to snack on. Right on the river and just a nice short walk from the pier on Koh Kret. Always enjoy my time there. Chit in the middle.

    Brewing Rebel-79932076_10156322240321266_260611988386742272_n-1-jpg

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    Thailand Expat Dillinger's Avatar
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    ^ Chitty has a nice tan there

    Quote Originally Posted by cyrille View Post
    Anyone for a 180 baht++, 33cl bottle of Galangal beer?
    That's quite cheap. I was paying over 220 baht for bottles of Duval in Pattaya

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    Hangin' Around cyrille's Avatar
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    Which would you choose, between the two?

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    Thailand Expat Dillinger's Avatar
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    ^
    Girlongirl sounds good.

    Had to google Galangal. It comes up as Thai chicken soup

    Sounds like Duval or a Craft beer though.

    I'll put down the shovel now.

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    Cenosillicaphobiac
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    Quote Originally Posted by cyrille View Post
    So, I have another injured fanboy with nothing to say on topic.
    I answered your very own question and you accuse me of being off topic?

    Damn, Snoozille. You a special kind of stupid.
    Have you tried reading with your eyes open? It has been scientifically proven to increase comprehension.

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    Its all gleaming
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    Quote Originally Posted by tomcat View Post
    fterward, sipping a pale ale at a picnic table outside his taproom Turtle Bar,
    Thanks Tom, will have to look this place up, last went to Kret 8 years ago now have a reason to pop back up there with a pleasant boat ride.

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    Thailand Expat reinvented's Avatar
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    whilst i applaud, i dont have the beard and braces, much happier with the belgians

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    Thailand Expat
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    Quote Originally Posted by Plan B View Post
    Thanks Snoozille.
    nice one

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    Quote Originally Posted by tomcat View Post
    But in Thailand, selling homemade brews is banned under a decades-old law that protects two giant family-owned corporations, which control 90% of the country's $5.7-billion beer market.
    Well known problem. So, if I decide to boycott these two giants what am I left with?

    I disagree with the tainted brush on craft beers. There are some excellent quality ones in Germany sold at decent prices.

  18. #18
    Its all gleaming
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    ^ yep and across Europe for that matter and the States, the label is Graft Beers in Thailand.

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    Thailand Expat harrybarracuda's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by aging one View Post
    Right on the river and just a nice short walk from the pier on Koh Kret.
    Is the DC3 still there? Someone told me it had gone.

    Added: This one

    Brewing Rebel-8032680601_b0b605ca36_b-jpg
    Last edited by harrybarracuda; 13-06-2020 at 05:35 PM.

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    Hangin' Around cyrille's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Troy View Post
    I disagree with the tainted brush on craft beers. There are some excellent quality ones in Germany sold at decent prices
    Who is arguing against that?

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    ความรู้ลึกลับ HuangLao's Avatar
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    We should be expecting the beer controlling walls to fall before long.

    Up the revolution.
    Free and open market.

  22. #22
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    Craft beer would be a very welcome addition to Thailand.
    One of the things I like(d) about a trip to Vietnam was to sample the craft beers available.
    Good flavours, good strength and much less hangovery than Thai beers.
    But...until such time as craft beers are available in Thailand, Paulaner weissbier, (and salvator), and Duvel tripel and others are available in Pattaya at least, for flavoursome alternatives.
    Eat, drink and be merry.

  23. #23
    Thailand Expat harrybarracuda's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by HuangLao View Post
    We should be expecting the beer controlling walls to fall before long.

    Up the revolution.
    Free and open market.
    Jeff thinks there's going to be a revolution.

    Arf.

  24. #24
    Hangin' Around cyrille's Avatar
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    Well, Coalman thinks craft beer in Thailand ‘would be’ a good idea.

    Go figure.

  25. #25
    Thailand Expat harrybarracuda's Avatar
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    So the current law is:

    To receive a brewing licence, a company must have paid-up capital of at least Bt10 million.

    But there is still some room for pubs that brew their own beer, 15 of which are now registered in Thailand, with the stipulation that they produce no less than 100,000 litres and no more than 1 million.
    The chances of that opening up are as likely as King Power relinquising its "competitively acquired" strangehold on Duty Free.

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