Where to Drink in Bangkok, Thailand
In 1933, upon returning from a trip to Europe where he had toured breweries in Denmark and Germany, Boonrawd Sreshthaputra established the Kingdom of Siam’s first commercial beer company. Eighty years later, Boonrawd’s Singha Corporation has grown into an international beverage business, with bottles of its somewhat sweet, golden lager now ubiquitous throughout the Thai capital, from ritzy rooftop lounges along the Chao Phraya River to steamy outdoor dives in the backpackers’ ghetto known as Banglamphu. For decades, beaches, not beer, were the reason to visit Thailand. But things have been changing recently, with Singha opening a pair of brewpubs and Belgian imports like Tripel Karmeliet appearing on drink lists with increasing frequency.
Gone are the days when the Tawandang microbrewery and The Londoner Brew Pub were the only places to go for a German Hefeweizen or an English Bitter. Across the city, community malls with trendy beer bars have sprung up like bamboo, while places like Thong Lor, which has long attracted a younger crowd with a plethora of nightlife options, has only added to its concentration of stylish clubs and restaurants pouring beer from Europe, Asia and now, the United States. Just in the past year, craft beer importers Beervana and Hopsession have joined the party, supplying bars with Rogue Dead Guy Ale and Nørrebro Bombay Pale Ale, while Wishbeer, another newcomer, introduced the concept of home delivering premium ales and lagers.
For a visiting beer hunter, getting around a city that covers an area twice the size of New York isn’t the easiest prospect, but fortunately many of the best watering holes are close to either the BTS Skytrain or the underground MRT. For everything else, hail a taxi or a tuk-tuk, and be prepared for some serious traffic delays.
Brew Beers & Ciders
A smallish watering hole tucked into the back of a community mall, Brew Beer & Ciders prides itself on stocking the largest selection of beers in Thailand. One visit to this bar and you’ll see they aren’t exaggerating. Several circular tables occupy the center of the room, while cases of Yona Yona Tokyo Black, Coopers Sparkling Ale and Green King IPA claim the remaining floor space. Brew also features a wide selection of Mikkeller beers, which appear in their own dedicated menu. If you can stand Thailand’s heat, grab a spot in the outdoor seating area they share with Clouds cocktail bar next door.
Four Points by Sheraton, Sukhumvit Soi 15
Another early proponent of beer in all of its delicious families and styles, BeerVault, in the ground floor of the Four Points hotel, serves six beers on tap and maintains an international bottle collection that approaches 100 varieties (counting quite a few familiar Pilsners and light lagers). Food ranges from nachos to Niçoise salad, although the Thai green curry chicken pie is among the tastiest options. Frequent “buy one, get one free” promotions as well as a sampler that includes three half-pints of draft beer make this one of the more affordable places to find imports, which are heavily taxed in Thailand.
Since opening on busy Sukhumvit Road near Benjasiri Park in 1997, the Londoner Brew Pub has dependably kept two house-brewed beers on tap: the dry, golden-hued and slightly watery Pilsner 33, and the grainy, medium-bodied and more flavorful Pride Cream Bitter. They also advertise a Splitter, a beer cocktail of sorts that’s equal parts Pilsner and Bitter. As for atmosphere, this subterranean establishment caters to a soccer-loving expatriate crowd, with brass railings around the bar, murals depicting double-decker buses and the Fab Four, and ceiling-mounted televisions at regular intervals.
House of Beers
Aree Garden, next to Soi Ari Samphan 11
Further from the center, the successful House of Beers chain opened its second branch in a quiet little shopping plaza called Aree Garden. White tablecloths, soft lighting and a view of the landscaped courtyard arguably give this location the advantage as far as ambiance is concerned. The beer list varies little from the other three outlets, however, offering Leffe Blonde, Leffe Bruin, Hoegaarden, Stella and Boddingtons on tap as well as bottles from the likes of Bosteels, Damm, Orval and now, BrewDog.
1/8 Sukhumvit Soi 49
As big as the beer trend gets in Bangkok, this will always be a foodie city first and foremost. Bringing a meat-heavy farm-to-table philosophy to the Thai capital’s dining scene, Smith makes beer the star of its drink list where other restaurants only bother with a token beer selection. This spot is also one of the few places outside of Singapore to find Golden Ale, Honey Apricot Ale and White Rabbit Wheat from Brewerkz Microbrewery.
Shuffle Restaurant at Rain Hill
777 Sukhumvit Soi 47
A classic American menu calls for American craft beer, and in this, Shuffle doesn’t disappoint. Think crispy, gooey quesadillas and hoppy West Coast ales from Rogue, like Dead Guy and Yellow Snow, as well as the maltier ales such as Shakespeare Stout and Mocha Porter. And while it may elicit a weird look from the waiter, if you ask politely for a bowl of vanilla ice cream on the side, you can make your own beer float here, too.
Crystal Design Center, Building E, 1420/1 Praditmanutham Road
In late 2009, perhaps anticipating a shift in tastes, Singha opened a stylish brewpub at the Crystal Design Center, a luxury shopping district in the city’s Bang Kapi district. As well as a pale lager brewed with Thai jasmine rice and German Tettnanger hops, Est. 33 offers a traditional Weissbier, a beer made with black sticky rice that falls somewhere between a Dunkel and a Schwarzbier, as well as a dozen different beer cocktails.
CDC Phase 2, 1420/1 Praditmanutham Road
Once Est. 33 demonstrated that a beer-forward menu had broad appeal, others soon followed this brewpub to the Crystal Design Center. First came Aston Gastro Bar and Beerology, and then, more recently, White Beer’D. It might be the best of the bunch. Spend your time and money at this bar and your reward could be something from Italy’s Birra del Borgo, Denmark’s Bøgedal Bryghus or Japan’s Kiuchi Brewery.
Niche Beer Ville
482 Praditmanoontham Road
Sleek and spacious inside, with an exterior apparently designed to resemble a Belgian village square, Niche Beer Ville offers a Thai fusion menu, an outdoor stage for live music, and four days a week, a three-hour beer buffet for 855 baht, or about $28. Expect to find cold bottles of Anderson Valley’s Boont Amber Ale, Lagunitas IPA and Deschutes Mirror Pond Pale Ale. Plans for a homebrew school are rumored to be in the works—never mind the fact that it’s technically illegal to homebrew in Thailand.
Yes, Tawandang brews a respectable, low-alcohol version of a lager, a Weizen and a Dunkel, but the food and entertainment here are as much of a reason to seek out this spot as the beer itself is. Bring a friend, order the gigantic deep-fried pork knuckle with sweet-spicy Thai chili sauce, pair it with a 3-liter tower of beer, and settle in for one of the most over-the-top stage shows you’re likely to see in Bangkok or anywhere else. ■