A homebrewing army unleashed
Pheebok Beer distributes around 50 bottles per week and sometimes they sell out in a few hours.
courtesy Pheebok Beer
Back in Bangkok at buzzy Sathorn hotspot Junker and Bar, twentysomething journalist and homebrewer Hook, who withholds his last name due to legal concerns, fills our glasses with Serious Ghost and Wife, a hoppy, full-bodied IPA that's among five core brews from Pheebok Beer, which he co-founded in 2014.
A self-taught brewer, Hook spent a year experimenting on a refitted soda-making kit before going public with Pheebok, distinguished by the ghoulish imagery splashed across its bottle labels.
Keen to avoid the long hand of the law while also subverting it, Hook exclusively distributes Pheebok Beer
to Junker and Bar
in limited 40- to 50-bottle shipments per week.
Followers keep tabs on availability via Pheebok Beer's Facebook page. "Sometimes these sell out in a few hours," he says.
Like Hook, another homebrewer, Toon, started brewing last year using modified kitchen equipment. He and a group of friends soon co-founded Sandport Beer
, which only makes its beers available at private parties, live gigs for local indie bands, and, on occasion, select Bangkok bottle shops.
"We'd been friends for around 20 years, and we needed something to do together," he says. "Last time we made a football team and joined a league, but we lost every match."
"Everybody likes brewing and drinking our own beer a lot more."
When I caught up with Toon over the phone he'd just returned from trips to Vietnam and Cambodia, where he and his Sandport partners scouted breweries where they could potentially contract-brew.
That is, give their recipes to a brewery, pay them to handle the beer production and packaging, then have the finished products shipped back to Thailand, legally, as taxable imports.
Hook says that he's considered contract-brewing for Pheebok Beer as well.
"Nobody wants to be illegal, so we're trying to find another way," says Toon.
Based on online homebrewing forums activity, Toon estimates that while there were only a handful of underground Thai microbrewers when Sandport debuted in 2014, today there are upwards of 200.
As the number of brewers has increased, so too have the suppliers. Initially limited to one or two varieties of hops, yeast and malts, Toon says Sandport now brews with ingredients sourced from the U.S., UK, Germany and Belgium.
, a new online homebrew shop based in Bangkok, sells Australian hops and yeast.
"At first it was only in Bangkok, but now there are brewers all over the country," says Toon. "I think the laws will change, but it depends on how we spread the culture because many Thai people don't know anything about beer beyond the lagers that're everywhere."
Boon Rawd Brewery, which produces Singha and Leo beers, and ThaiBev, makers of Chang, together control anywhere from 90% to 95% of Thailand's domestic beer market.