Craftier Than Before: An Inside Look Into Bangkok’s Exploding Craft Beer Scene
As I write this article, I’m sitting at a first floor café in the same building that hosted a craft beer festival six days ago—and I can still see the splintered plastic cups with the event’s logo printed on the side littering the ground. While I could easily write a different article about how sad it is to see plastic garbage cluttering the space of an otherwise developed area, this article will be about something a little more uplifting: Bangkok’s exploding craft beer scene.
Despite frequenting the trendy new beer bars like Mikkeller and Wishbeer, I hadn’t heard anything about Hopsession’s 2016 Craft Beer Festival until one of Facebook’s omnipotent algorithms suggested it to me. I RSVPed yes and expected to be let down.
Other than a handful of these new, and overpriced, craft beer bars, the only beer available in Thailand is the unending rivalry between the unexciting Chang and the tasteless Leo. Both are usually served on ice because the more you kill the flavor, the better off you’ll be. They’re both famous for sponsoring gigantic parties and raves hawking their heavily discounted fizzy water, and I prepared myself to find as much at Hopsession’s event.
Plurals and a New Hope
By the end of the week I felt my anticipation begin to grow. The event had begun announcing tap lists—plural! Even when you could find a good, imported Rogue Brewery beer, it was almost always in bottles. Draft beer was a holy grail. I spread the word to my friends and boarded the hype train.
The event was on a Saturday night and everyone I knew was coming at 7pm or later. However, I had been religiously refreshing the event page and knew that the organizers had warned that they may have to turn away latecomers on account of reaching capacity. The event started at 4pm, which meant I would be there at 4pm. When I arrived the line was already snaking around the building and my girlfriend said she had never seen so many foreigners gathered in one place in Bangkok.
Behind Door Number One…
The event was on the roof and two elevators were taking eight people heavenward at a time. The event invitation had promised 1,000 free beers, one for each of the first 1,000 people to arrive. Like a contestant on The Price is Right, I waited for the elevator doors to open to the disappointingly familiar sight of a Thai woman in a Chang bar skirt holding a tray of the seaweed-green bottles.
To my surprise, when the doors opened, the trumpets sang and the doves were released. I saw brewers standing alongside their creations, one hand resting on the tap handle like it was their best friend’s shoulder. I hopped in line with the polite urgency of someone who wanted nothing more than to ruthlessly push their way to the front, were it not for the respect I had for others who had come to pay their respects to the deities of ale and brew.
Shockingly, the free beer handed out with the purchase of beer coupons was on par with those being sold mere meters away, calming the nerves of anxious and skeptical early comers. The sun was setting over the city and the day wasn’t quite as hot as those that had preceded it. I walked around, half-full plastic cup in hand, letting my fear of disappointment wither and die.
The event had promised food and I found it among popular food truck vendors that had had a much easier time migrating from hip western cities to Southeast Asia than craft beer. The free beer paired well with a juicy, in-n-out style burger from Daniel’s Thaiger Burger, and I knew I would need food in my stomach before what was to come.